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November 8-14, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I am 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. All my life, I've had a problem with looking several years older than I really am. That has finally caught up with me and gotten me into trouble. I just started seeing this guy whom I really like. He's a real sweetheart, and he actually calls when he says he will, a trait I find rare in most guys. The only problem is that he's 19 years old. I know he's not some creepy pedophile, because he likes me even though he has no idea that I'm younger than he is. All my friends, my mom and even my brother, have noticed that I've been a bit happier lately, and I really have been. I don't want that to be lost because of an age difference.

I know if half the people who have looked at us like we were just some cute couple knew what was really going on, they would say it was wrong. The law says that he isn't allowed to feel this way about me, and that for the rest of his life he would be registered as a sex offender. I don't want that to happen because of my stupid crush. I know I have to tell him how old I am, but I don't want that to scare him away because I am truly happy and I think he is, too. I have always believed that if two people feel strongly enough about each other, age shouldn't matter. Sydney, how am I supposed to tell the best thing I've ever had that I'm four years younger than him?--Jailbait

Dear Jailbait: A 19-year-old who dates a 15-year-old is by no means a pedophile. A pedophile is an adult who is attracted to children, and though you are underage, you are by no means a child. In the adult world, a four-year age difference between couples is so insignificant it is barely worth mentioning. And, let's face it, you and I both know that for a mature and intelligent 15-year-old girl to find a boy her own age who is her equal in both of these regards can be difficult at best. However, by lying to your new boyfriend, you are doing a dangerous disservice to him. You have to tell him. It's not fair to endanger his future with a lie. If someone--your parents, for instance--decide that they do not want him around, they can report him, and he will be prosecuted, regardless of whether or not he was even aware of the fact that you are underage.

Add to this the simple truth that no relationship can blossom on a bed of lies, and you have no other option open to you. If you really care about him, then you should be able to be truthful, and he should be able to listen. You and he will have to decide whether the relationship you have is worth the potential risks. Evaluate the situation carefully. Yes, it's illegal for a 19-year-old, male or female, to have sex with someone under the age of 18, male or female. That's California law. Just the same, if you continue making the decision for him, without his consent, then that is the only dishonorable thing going on here. And one more thing--I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand more times--if you insist on having sex, use condoms. This is one decision you will never, ever regret.

Hey Syd, what are your thoughts about the following statement's veracity: "Men will invest time and money to feel good, while women will invest time and money to look good." Is it because women are smarter, knowing that by looking good the men will foot the bill for them to feel good, i.e., drinks, food and tickets to events? But that means sex is ultimately being purchased, for if the woman doesn't provide it, then another woman is sought by the man! --Just Wonderin'

Dear JW: In regards to the veracity of your original statement, I completely disagree. Men spend a hell of a lot of time and money to look good. Women, on the other hand, not only spend a lot of time and money to look good, they also spend a lot of money in order to feel good. Who gets the majority of the massages, the hot stone treatments, the spa days, the expensive lotions and tonics, natural essences of pretty smelling things and gourmet chocolate? Women love to feel good, and will go greater distances to achieve it.

As for your second statement, what men are you talking about here? Movie stars and millionaires? Do you honestly think that very many of the men you know are completely sexually satisfied by the person they are in a relationship with? For that matter, how many women are? And yet people very often remain true to those they love. Keep in mind, there are plenty of women out there who, when their men don't provide what they want emotionally or sexually, are just as likely to seek satisfaction elsewhere. In love's arena, no one is innocent. But thanks for pointing out some tired old stereotypes. Let's continue breaking them.

Dear Sydney: My partner and I recently started going to couples counseling, trying to shore up our young family. We have two small children, and are struggling. Add to that the fact that recently my husband's entire side of the family has moved into major chaos mode around his grandfather, who is being taken advantage of in horrific ways by two of the aunts and uncles who are stealing and committing substance and elder abuse, among other things. Some of the family is trying to get conservatorship over him, but the process is horrendous. The authorities only help to the point that the family kicks in. My partner is dealing with it very well under the circumstances, but I want the situation to be over with. I feel like our family is being buried alive in his family's business. How do I keep my sanity in all of this?--Messed-Up Missus

Dear Missus: Give yourself the necessary space, as much as you need, to catch your breath and focus on the things that really matter, like your partner and the family you have together. If that means not answering the phone, then don't answer the phone. If that means refusing to go to your in-laws for dinner, then refuse to go over for dinner. Spreading yourself thin over in-law problems is a dead-end street, and something that you honestly have no real say or control in anyway. I'm sorry to hear about gramps, but what can you, as a grand-daughter-in-law, do? This is out of your domain, and you and your partner need to focus on each other, and not let other people's insanity throw you on your face. Because if you let it, it just might.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.