Q. Hi there,
My last boyfriend was verbally, emotionally, and a few times physically abusive. After a relationship that included him slashing my tires and obsessively watching everything I did, he left me for another woman. When he left, he listed out every single thing that was wrong with me and all the things that she did that I didn’t. Needless to say, this broke me, and I’ve been single for two years. I’ve met a couple of guys I thought I liked, but the insecurities because of my last relationship always seem to get in the way.
For the past four months, I’ve been dating a guy who I was friends with when I was dating my ex. Altogether we’ve been friends six years. He knows my situation having witnessed it, and he’s been great. He’s nothing short of good to me and is everything my ex wasn’t. We are awesome together. There is, however, one problem.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had no desire to have kids. I never cared for baby dolls or wanted to be the mother when I played house. Even now, in my 30s, I don’t really care for children. I’ve mostly managed to date men without kids, which is what I like.
New Guy, however, has a child from a past marriage and is constantly complaining about his ex. I’ve never met his child. While I try to keep talk about my ex to a minimum, he continuously tells me all the bad things about his and what a bad mother/person she is. Having grown up with divorced parents who constantly put me in the middle by bad mouthing each other, this doesn’t sit well with me. It almost looks like a red flag. He’s been divorced for several years and I don’t understand his need to carry on about her. I’ve tried telling him (nicely) that his bitterness isn’t healthy and that he needs to work on moving past whatever she did, but he always denies still being angry. So most of the time, I just keep quiet.
This leads to the reason for my letter. His child, who lives in another state, seems to be manipulating the situation by telling him all of the bad stuff her mother does. She sounds troubled, and most of the “bad stuff” is regular disciplinary things like taking a phone away for not doing schoolwork. But it only adds more fuel and makes him complain even more, and I’m starting to think that it’s a ploy to get him to take her in. Now he’s actually talking about doing so. We don’t live together, but I spend most of my time at his house, so this is a big deal.
This is going to sound selfish, but I’m not ready to play stepmom, especially to somebody who already appears troubled. He hasn’t asked me what I think yet. He and I haven’t been dating that long and I feel weird about having his daughter around all the time.
My question is, should I stick things out despite my hesitation or just walk away? I like this guy a lot and I can see us being together a long time, but the whole situation with his child/ex-wife isn’t something that I want to deal with. Plus, I like things the way they are. I understand that it’s a package deal and that I can’t tell him not to take his own child in, and that if we end up together for a long time, I’m going to have to deal with this eventually. I also don’t want throw away a perfectly good situation because of my own selfish needs. What do you think?
NachoMama, New Bedford
A. Please make it clear that the negativity is a turnoff. You’ve told him that the bitterness is bad for him, but you need to explain that it’s also bad for you. Sure, you’re bound to vent to each other about problems, but there must be some balance. At four months, there should be a lot of smiles.
If he can curb the unhappy talk, it’s worth continuing to date him to see whether there’s potential for more in this relationship. Everyone you date is going to have a past and a community, whether it includes a kid or other family members who need attention. Your situation is stressful because you’re dealing with unknowns. You’ve never met the kid and you don’t know what role she might have in your life. You’ve never met the ex. For all you know, you’d like them both. It’s too early to guess what’s what.
All you know, for the moment, is that your boyfriend’s frustration is hampering your ability to enjoy your relationship. Start by telling him that and see where it goes from there.
You are broken in many different ways. Fix yourself first before getting in a serious relationship or else they are certain to fail in one way or another.
Your needs here are not selfish . . . at least not in a bad way. You should be looking out for your own needs in a relationship. It sounds like that as great as this guy is, he comes with some major baggage with the ex and everything, so you have to decide if you want that.
You need to walk away from this. While I don’t want children either, I do have a stepfather, and if I ever found out that he had no interest in me or playing a role in my life and was just “faking” it in order to be with my mother, it would devastate me.
Your friend turned boyfriend might be very nice. That does not mean he is right for you. You are just beginning to define for yourself what YOU want in a relationship. (And the answer is not whatever you can get.) Now take it one step further and recognize that this current man is not it. These are called boundaries. Be clear what yours are, and stop trying to talk yourself out of them.
Why are you dating someone with a child if you have no interest in ever being a parent? This infuriates me.
I’d suggest therapy. You may decide you never want the child in your life, and that’s fine. You just want to be sure you are making that decision from a place of strength, or you may regret it later.
HIDETHESILVERColumn and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.