Dear Patti,

My husband unexpectedly passed away 10 years ago. He was only 52 and I was 45. We owned a very successful company in the athletics support business — not only was my husband an athlete, but he was also a genius in business. When my husband died, I was devastated. However, I took over the business and over the last decade it’s doubled in profitability and size. I’ve had many suitors whom I’ve enjoyed immensely, but mostly I’ve focused on the firm, creating a legacy in honor of my husband.

In the last 15 months I’ve secretly been seeing someone who is completely inappropriate. Kelvin is a nerdy genius scientist who I met at a fundraiser. I remember on that evening he explained that his name stands for the unit of measurement for temperature. He’s 32 years old; I’m 55. Kelvin is skinny, pale, a little weird, and overly intellectual — the antithesis of the athletes working for our corporation. Oddly enough, in spite of the ridiculous age difference, the chemistry between us was instantaneous. We became lovers fairly quickly. I was thinking that this fling would soon burn out but it’s becoming deeper and more profound. Kelvin is the first man since my husband that has completely captured my heart.

I’ve never felt so beautiful or alive in a relationship. The sex is incredible. He always makes me laugh. He treats me like I’m classy, beautiful, brilliant and unbelievably special — feelings that are totally new to me. In my world, youth and overt sexuality always win, but with Kelvin it feels like I never have to compete.

I’m not in denial. I know this relationship probably won’t work for the long term and that I’m headed for complete heartbreak. We are very different and while we are wonderful together, we would have a hard time living in each other’s worlds.  I know I should I break it off now, so I don’t fall more in love and become even more attached than I already am. But I hate the idea of going back to my old life deadened and empty without him. 

— Kaylee

Dear Kaylee,

There’s always a risk of heartbreak when you lose someone you deeply love. And, yes, there’s a greater possibility of that happening when there’s not only a large age discrepancy, but also different financial and education levels, social statuses, dreams and ambitions, and dissimilar developmental life stages. The hardship of sustaining such a fragile relationship is very high. It’s not my place to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t take a risk. Only you can decide whether you’ll look back in 10 years with regret for being so romantically impulsive or disappointed that you didn’t see it through to its end, whenever that may be.

Sometimes in life, a mentor can arrive in a form you least expect, and it seems like this is the case here. Despite this man’s unusual demeanor and lack of athletic prowess like you’re used to, he’s coaching you to open yourself up to new experiences, open your heart, and connect to undiscovered aspects of yourself. He’s supporting you to value your beauty, sexuality, and intelligence. No matter what happens, Kelvin has given you invaluable lessons; respect him for that.

While he’s very good at inspiring these lovely parts of your personality, realize that a lot of what you feel when you’re with him are actually parts of your personality that can come out whenever you want. It may hurt deeply if and when this relationship ends, but it will hurt less if you take a fuller and more complete self with you. Likewise, you’re teaching him valuable lessons he’ll always remember. After the experience of being accepted and loved by someone he views as classy and brilliant, he might possibly be changed for the better.

Among the many reasons there’s a strong chemistry is the possibility that — even if he doesn’t merit a lifetime commitment — the exchange between you two enhances you both in some fashion. For as long as you stay in the relationship, be respectful of Kelvin, his feelings, and what he has helped awaken in you. If and when the honeymoon aspect starts to wear off, don’t respond to him as a broken person needing to be fixed. Nor should you allow him to do the same to you. Appreciate that you’ve given each other the gift of feeling what it’s like to be cherished and loved, for however long it endures.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has an office in Pasadena. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her website,