When 19-year-old Darnell Jones* worked up the courage to ask Valerie Dutton out on a date, the 32-year-old mother of three was just coming out of a difficult relationship. Initially she dismissed him because he was 13 years younger. But with a little persistence on Darnell’s part, the two began a meaningful love affair. Ready to make things official, they have been discussing the next step: marriage. But the happiness they have found has been interrupted by the disapproval of Valerie’s family. Is their love strong enough to survive the condemnation, or will her relatives tear them apart?

After what I went through with my ex-boyfriend, I can’t take any more drama—and Darnell doesn’t bring any. His personality is like a breath of fresh air. Darnell is a good man, and he understands that I am at a point in my life where I need stability. Not to mention that when we met he had a good job, his own place, a car and no children. When I was looking, I met so many men who didn’t have it together.

“Even though my friends are extremely supportive, my family disapproves of our relationship. My mom doesn’t think it’s appropriate for me to date someone so young. It’s become so bad that I no longer take him to my family functions because I don’t want him overhearing their hurtful remarks. To make matters worse, my kids have the same negative attitude and act as if they don’t have to listen to him.
 “I’ve worked two jobs and raised three kids on my own since I was a teenager. Being with Darnell makes me feel young again. I see myself spending my life with him, but I worry that my decision will destroy my relationship with my mother, and at some point he’ll feel like he missed out on his youth.”

I understand firsthand how short life can be. I was in a gang a few years ago and saw my older brother killed. Because of that and other experiences I’ve had in my life, I’ve decided to follow my heart with this relationship.

 “I love everything about Valerie. She’s beautiful, easy to talk with and a good friend. We have a natural connection. I know that she cares about me for who I am. I’ve had enough relationships to know it’s the real thing.

 “When I left my job in retail to pursue my dream of riding motocross professionally, Valerie supported me unconditionally. She’s understanding of my crazy practice schedule and the financial sacrifices I’ve had to make to be successful in this sport.

 “I’d like her family to respect our choice to be together, but I won’t let anyone’s negativity affect us. I know it weighs heavily on Valerie, but her mother is entitled to her opinion, and I can get along with her kids. It’s a process. I’m not missing out on anything at all. I intend to marry this woman one day and become a family. I just wish that she could be as sure as I am.”
Subjects’ names and identifying details have been changed.


An Expert’s Opinion

My LaDawn Black
What draws a woman to a much younger man? Sometimes she falls because she has met a brother who’s not jaded when it comes to love. Most younger men haven’t been in the game long enough to have drama or baggage—exactly what Valerie is trying to avoid. While Darnell can offer her the love, passion and caring she needs, it’s important to note that she may still be holding on to hurt and disappointment from her previous romance. In addition, Darnell’s obliviousness to how their union affects everyone may leave the relationship boxed in with no chance of moving forward. Here are a few tips to keep them progressing in the right direction—together.

Begin to heal.
Valerie and Darnell can work on relationship goals, but they also need to work on themselves as individuals. The major losses and emotional battles they have both experienced in their lives have taken a toll on them. Because they have so many issues going on individually, Valerie and Darnell should consider the negative imprint those experiences may have left on them and identify personal goals for getting past them.

Focus on the family.
The couple must step up when dealing with Valerie’s family. She needs to ask them to respect her decision—and back off. Valerie and Darnell should also sit down and have an open conversation with her children about their intention to make their relationship permanent. They should remember to include the children every step of the way because they need to operate as a family unit if that’s what they plan to become.

Seek affirmation.
Valerie must come to grips with the fact that, as an adult, she doesn’t need people to approve of her decisions. She should find films, books or people that are supportive of her relationship. Learning about the successes of couples with a similar dynamic can reinforce her feelings on the chances of finding happiness with a younger man.

Radio host LaDawn Black is the author of Stripped Bare: The 12 Truths That Will Help You Land the Very Best Black Man (One World/Ballantine).