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The question

We have two long-time friends, Paul and Mary, who recently split up. Paul has reconnected with Sally, a girlfriend from his youth. Sally's 70 years old. Paul is 46. My husband and I recently hosted a dinner party and invited Paul. During dinner, Paul asked me why I didn't invite Sally. I said, without thinking, "I'm uncomfortable seeing you with someone else so soon, and I have a problem with the age thing." He let it go, but later told a mutual friend that he won't accept any invitations from any of us unless Sally is invited, too. Our circle of friends ranges in age from 41 to 51 - I just could not imagine subjecting them (or me) to dinner with a 70-year-old woman. I find it really creepy. Paul is handsome and successful and, if anything, we expected a rebound relationship with a twentysomething babe, which would honestly be a bit more comfortable. How should I handle this?

The answer

I'm quite shocked and surprised to hear these comments, especially coming from a woman.

Usually, the complaints go the other way. If I had a dollar for every woman who has complained to me that middle-aged men aren't interested in women their own age, let alone older women - well, I'd have a nice, fat roll, which I'd wrap in a rubber band and flash around at every opportunity.

Just last week, on vacation in Mexico, I met a vibrant, smart, funny, attractive 45-year-old woman who was divorced and online dating. When I asked how she was enjoying the latter, she said it was okay, except for the fact that the men her age on the site, when asked to state age preferences, unanimously opt for much younger women.

"Maybe, maybe a 45-year-old guy will grudgingly agree to go out with someone who's 35," she said. "But they won't go older than that. So what am I supposed to do?"

What, indeed? But now your friend Paul bucks the trend, dates an older woman, and what do you do? You pooh-pooh his relationship, snub his new woman friend, pronounce the entire arrangement "creepy," complain about having to "subject" your other friends to a septuagenarian, and wonder how you should "handle" the situation.

I'll tell you how you should "handle" it. Start by taking a long, hard look at the woman in the mirror.

And ask her: "How dare you judge a friend's relationship on a single criterion, and such a shallow one at that?"

And furthermore: "Even if you don't approve, where do you get off inviting him but not her to a dinner party?"

Moreover: "What prompted you to blurt out your objections to his relationship right to his face?"

I've said it before, but there are two things that should never be delivered at a dinner party: home truths and pizza.

Anyway, you don't even have righteousness on your side. That's acting loco, ese.All in all, it seems to me your friend Paul took the enormous insult you plopped in his lap with great grace and quiet dignity, merely (as I picture it) dabbing the corner of his mouth with his napkin, pursing his lips, remaining mum and then informing you later, through intermediaries, he would like his new "plus one" to be invited to all future shindigs.

A more rage-aholically inclined person might have thrown a plate against the wall and come after you with a candelabra in the face of such a thunderbolt of presumption and judgment.

You owe your friend Paul an ultra-sincere, no-holds-barred apology. And in this case, it should be face-to-face. Make a dinner reservation and when you get there, apologize without reservation.

Maybe what's really bothering you is the demise of his previous relationship with someone you've known a long time. Discuss that at dinner, too. But try to bear in mind: a) he doesn't have to justify himself to you - it's his love life (i.e. really none of your business); and b) your job as a friend is to be supportive.

You should be celebrating, not criticizing, Paul and his new relationship. God, I wish he were my friend, just so whenever women around me started complaining about how shallow and youth-obsessed men are, I could say, "Oh, yeah? What about Paul?"

Above all, eschew your ageist preconceptions, embrace Sally and bend over backward to make her feel welcome in your milieu, and your home.

It's possible you could learn a lot from her. You won't be fortywhatever forever, you know. You too will be a superannuated non-spring chicken some day, wondering, "Where did the time go?"

It all whizzes by so fast. Life hurtles down the track, like a freight train in the night. Toot, toot! You're 30. Toot, toot! You're 50. Toot, toot! You're 70.

Maybe if you make friends with Sally, she'll be able to show you how to comport yourself with aplomb once you get there. And maybe, in the meantime, to grow up and learn to treat people - especially your elders - with compassion, decency and respect.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book.

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