Under what circumstances is it acceptable to date your father? And before you wonder why in the hell anyone would ever even ask such a thing, let me draw your attention to an article in New York Magazine entitled "What It's Like To Date Your Dad." None of the words are metaphors or euphemisms. It is about exactly what it says it's about.
The article, which features a lengthy interview with a young woman who is currently engaged to her father, makes it seem that such a relationship might not be quite as outlandish as you might assume. In fact, when estranged blood relatives meet as adults, it is apparently not uncommon for one or both parties to experience a phenomenon known as Genetic Sexual Attraction or GSA, a term coined by Barbara Gonyo, the founder of a support group for adoptees and their new-found relatives. According to some estimate, GSA occurs in roughly 50 percent of adoption reunions in which both parties are adults. It is also not uncommon in cases when adult relatives are reunited after a lengthy estrangement.
The case of the young woman interviewed in New York Magazine falls into the latter category. Her parents were both teenagers when she was born, and her father was absent when she was a baby. He later re-entered her life for a few years until they were separated again when she was five. The two then had no contact until being reunited when she was 17. And when they did, she says, they both hit it off right away...and then started to feel something that wasn't your traditional father/daughter feelings.
Now on the one hand, I acknowledge that human experiences are a rich and varied tapestry and everyone is just doing the best they can and no has the right to judge and all that stuff. But — and you knew there was a but coming — what the holy hell?
This girl is currently engaged to her father. Who she also lost her virginity to. Just...what?
And actually, this relationship doesn't sound healthy for all sorts of reasons, not just the fact that she does still think of him as a father. When they met she was a mixed up teen, having grown up with a seemingly unstable and controlling mother and several step-fathers, none of whom she was close with. According to her own account she was also expected to help raise her younger siblings who she says she thinks of partly as her siblings and partly as her children. She struggled with chronic depression. Her previous relationships consisted of a boy who got another girl pregnant while cheating on her and a religious girl who felt guilty about their relationship. All of which is to say that she was a teen had to deal with a lot.
Which is all the more reason why her father, a grown ass man, really should have not gotten romantically involved with her. Listening to this story from the perspective of the unnamed daughter, it sounds almost understandable (though still incredibly strange) how she could get swept up in all these intense emotions. But when you think of it from the perspective of her father, it just gets creepy.
For one thing, here's an excerpt of how she describes her memories of her father when she was a child:
Can you remember much from your time with your dad when you were little?
I have some memories. He spoiled me rotten. I had this giant storage tote of Barbie dolls and I had my own Mary-Kate and Ashley bedroom. It was a little girl’s dream. We’d sit in the yard blowing bubbles together, and he took me to the zoo where he bought me a stuffed animal that I kept until I was 16. I ended up washing it and stupidly put it in the dryer, which melted all its fur. I remember he gave me a miniature tea set. I still have it.
And while I believe her when she says her father/fiancé never would have thought of her "romantically" as a child — consenting adults are vastly different than children, no matter what the biological relationship — I find it more than a little creepy that after being her dad, even for just a short time, this guy could go on to become her lover.
But even more unsettling, as mentioned above, from what she tells us about where she was at in her life when she and her father met, it's pretty easy to realize that this was an emotionally vulnerable teenager. It would be creepy for any man in his mid-thirties to get involved with her.
It's even creepier that the man in question was her father — and not just because of the biological fact, but because this was always bound to be an extremely emotionally intense relationship. Starting up emotionally intense relationships with vulnerable teens is just not a good thing for adults to do. Legal, yes, but almost certainly not beneficial for the teenager in question. And as her father, one would have hoped he would at least care about that.
I respect the fact that this young woman seems confident in the choice she made to enter into this relationship, and maintains absolutely that it was her choice as a consenting adult. I'm not here to take autonomy away from 18 year olds, and I also recognize that other people's relationships are mostly their own business. At the same time, though, this all just sounds so messed up.
Based on the sheer amount of anecdotal evidence, it seems GSA is a very real thing, one that can be incredibly intense and that definitely deserves more scientific attention than it seems to receive. And the issues it raises are complex and nuanced, and addressing them will doubtlessly challenge societal norms and force us to consider topics long considered taboo. None of which will, I imagine, be comfortable.
On the other hand, the relationship described in this interview just...doesn't sound healthy. As independent and mature as this young woman believes herself (possibly rightly) to be, she is still a young woman, one with a history of abandonment issues and one who, when asked what she likes most about her fiancé says, "I can go to him with anything and he will listen to me and give me good advice. He helps me fix problems." Which sounds so very parental.
I really hope that whoever she is, she winds up happy, no matter how things turn out. But there are so many issues with this relationship.
To hear about the relationship in this young woman's own words, you can check out the full interview here.