Dear Thelma: It’s true love but my parents object as he is much older

My family have always called me a white worshipper because since I was five, I have found foreign movie stars more attractive. Furthermore, I’ve been exposed to the English language since I was very young because my parents wanted the best for me.

However, being born and raised in a Chinese family, I’m constantly mocked for being better in English than Mandarin. They’d tell me to be less arrogant when I speak Endlish fluently. As an unrestrained kid, I’d say, “You can’t even spell that?!” after spelling something out for my parents. They didn’t like me being too “western”, “open-minded” or “selfish”.

Being the “black sheep” of the family, I was never very close to my parents.

Fast-forward to the present, I am now 24. He is 46. He’s foreign and I met him four years ago while picking up a new language. He was my teacher. My parents suspected that we had more than merely a teacher-student relationship and confronted us. Since then, I’ve kept my relationship with this man a secret.

Due to the pandemic, my parents convinced me to come back to Malaysia. Thinking that being together for four years would prove to my parents that our feelings are genuine, I came clean and tried to convince them to give him a chance. Instead, they pulled out the ultimatum and told me to choose between him and my family.

I just don’t understand why my parents can’t be happy for me. Yes, it’s true that he’ll pass away way sooner than me but accidents happen all the time and there’s no guarantee that a younger partner wouldn’t die before I do. My partner is the only person that I share everything with. Before, I never did and kept everything to myself. He’s helped me through depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. I think my parents chose to ignore my self-inflicted cuts when they saw them.

What should I do, Thelma? I love my family and I love my partner too. I don’t want to have to choose. My family’s always been there for me, paying for everything I need and working so hard just to give me the life and education I have now. But I’ve met the man of my dreams, someone who loves me and accepts me for who I am.

Have I made the right decision to leave my family? Will I be able to see my grandmother who’s been diagnosed with dementia before she forgets everything? What about my younger brother whom I am close to? Will he be traumatised because I’ve made the selfish decision to leave my family and focus on my finals and eventually my life?

Will I ever be able to reconcile with them?


I think you should step away and get some perspective. What would you say if one of your 24-year-old male friends started a relationship with a 16-year-old girl? Would you say that he will be great for her? I suspect not. Instead, you’d probably be wondering what kind of man would want to date a kid.

Ask yourself, why is it that age is a factor in relationships?

In a healthy relationship, the partners are equal. They lean on each other and develop individually but also as a couple. They work through similar life experiences (first love, college, first job etc) at the same time.

When one partner has a massive advantage in terms of age, experience and status, the relationship is unequal. The junior partner is more like a child or inferior.

That difference leads to all kinds of problems, the biggest of which is that the youthful partner loses the opportunity for important rich and fulfilling life experiences.

You see your teacher as someone who nurtured you; I see him as a man who took advantage of his contact with a vulnerable foreign student who was suffering from depression, anxiety and self-harming issues.

As teachers are in positions of power over inexperienced people, ethics codes are very clear. What he should have done is refer you to counselling and act as your mentor. If he had any personal feelings for you, he should have gently handed your mentorship to a colleague.

All schools have ethics codes that set out the rules clearly. There is no way he didn’t know that having sex with a student is a gross violation and a firing offence. And the fact that you were very young, very far away from home, and unwell too, makes this particularly heinous.

As you are still in school, you have access to free counselling. I strongly suggest you make an appointment immediately. If you are still self-harming, that needs addressed first, along with the depression and anxiety.

As for your family, we both know they love you very much but there is a lack of open, loving and respectful communication. From your letter, it sounds as though you’re struggling for power and control. This is rather unhealthy and needs to change.

In addition, I hope that you have the strength to report this man. We should not allow a person with such poor ethics to be in a position of power over young people.

I’m aware this is probably not the answer you were hoping for, but do consider it very seriously. Thankfully, you’re still very young and you have a lot of opportunity and support. Please reach out and take it.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name, address and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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