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My Boyfriend Started Dating Me When I Was 16 And He Was 21 — Is He A Creep?

"I've always kinda told myself we were an exception."

Hello, world. My name is Stephen LaConte, I'm a writer here at BuzzFeed, and sometimes I give our readers advice.

So I've invited you to message me on Instagram and Twitter (@StephenLC in both places) with your biggest problems. And I'm solving 'em right here on BuzzFeed, one DM at a time. Let's get right to it.

Today we've got this young woman whose boyfriend started dating her when she was 16 and he was 21. Three years later, they're still together — but she's starting to question the way their relationship began. Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:

Can there be exceptions where it's okay for an adult to date a teen? Well, the law in your state might say yes — but I vote no. Even the "happiest" of those relationships would be built on an imbalance of power and questionable (or nonexistent) consent from the teen. This is one area where I feel comfortable drawing a hard line, because the hard line protects young people from abuse.

But if my math here is correct, you are currently 19, and your boyfriend is 24. That means you're both adults now, capable of making your own choices, and while a 19 vs. 24 age difference is significant in some ways, it's not as alarming as the age contrast you started with. If you're happy and fulfilled in your relationship these days, you are certainly within your rights to stay in it. That's your call.

And the truth is, I really can't tell you whether your relationship is healthy now. I also won't try to guess, because I think it's important that you be the one who decides what's right for you. I'm not convinced that you were able to make that decision for yourself at 16, but you can (and should) be the one to make it now.

There are a few things I can tell you, though. For example, I can tell you that what your boyfriend did would have been a crime in several states, if not yours. And the way you two met gives further cause for concern — Tinder's minimum age is 18. I won't fault a teen for sneaking somewhere they don't belong (that's called being a teen), but I will absolutely fault an adult who finds a minor on the app and, instead of blocking or reporting the account, asks to meet up with them after school.

And here's another thing I can tell you: The fact that you were dealing with trauma at age 16 may have made you a more vulnerable target to this guy. Teenage years can be extremely unstable, tumultuous, and difficult. Good adults in your life will see that instability as a sign that you need help. Bad adults will see it as an opportunity to pounce.

And that brings me to the final thing I can tell you with 100% certainty: A well-adjusted and well-intentioned adult does not pursue a romantic relationship with a teen. It doesn't matter whether or not their state will send them to jail for it. It is a huge red flag. At best, it reveals extreme emotional immaturity on their part. At worst, it indicates something more sinister, like a desire to have a partner they can manipulate, control, or abuse.

You're asking some important questions about your boyfriend's character right now, and I'm glad you are. I also wonder what, specifically, is prompting these questions now. Are there things he did or said to you when you were 16 that are bothering you now? Are certain aspects of his personality becoming more apparent as you get older? Do you see some of his past behavior in a different light, now that you're an adult yourself?

I'm not asking these questions to convince you to dump your boyfriend. Again, that decision is only yours to make. But it sounds as if your gut is telling you that the way your relationship started may have been fundamentally wrong — and I want to validate that instinct, because I think it was wrong too. As for what that means about who your boyfriend is now, well, only you can be the judge of that.

Ultimately, the right path forward will be the one that comes from you, based on your experiences with this man and your gut feelings about him. Trust your instincts on this — please don't turn away from them, even if they are painful or difficult. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.

That's all the advice I'm giving today, folks, but if you've got any words of wisdom for our DMer, share them in the comments! I'll be reading...

Want more advice and updates on previous DMers? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@StephenLC in both places). And if you want to submit a question to be featured in the column, DM me — just be sure to read the rules below first.