Q. I’ve been with my boyfriend for about two years and he is incredibly kind, supportive, and loving. We have so much fun together, and while we have issues here and there, we’re usually pretty good about talking things through and finding solutions — except when it comes to his 6-year-old son. He acts almost coldly toward him and takes no initiative, which I find so hard to reconcile with how he is as a partner.
When we first started dating he didn’t talk about his son much, and then as time went on he seemed resistant to us meeting, but I sort of assumed he was being protective of him. Plus, his ex has primary custody and the pandemic made things harder logistically. I ended up meeting his son/seeing them together only a handful of times before he and I moved in together about six months ago. Now I see that he just isn’t a very involved father. It breaks my heart not only because his son is so sweet and silly, but also because my own father was absent and it had a big impact on my life. He says he doesn’t like being with his son because it’s exhausting, and yes, he can get a bit unruly … but isn’t that just how little kids are? I try to suggest activities we can do together where his son can run around and get his energy out, but my boyfriend tells me to stay out of it because I’m not a parent.
He and his ex have a very bitter relationship, so sometimes I wonder if that is at the root of this. I’ve suggested they try therapy but my boyfriend said it would be like couples therapy, and that it’s weird for me to suggest it. He’s recently started talking about marriage and even though when it’s just the two of us I feel fulfilled and loved, I honestly don’t think I could marry someone who chooses not to be involved with their child. Do I “demand” that we spend more time with his son? I would be devastated, but I’m not sure I can stay in this relationship if he won’t step up, let alone consider having kids with him. What’s the difference between an ultimatum and telling him the behavior that I just can’t accept?
HOPING FOR A SOLUTION
A. “I honestly don’t think I could marry someone who chooses not to be involved with their child.”
Well, yeah. There it is. Sorry.
I do like to remind people that some parents are fantastic when a kid is 10 or 14 (not everyone is great with the little ones), but he’s barely showing up right now, and you’re not OK with it. Also, his resistance to getting help — the idea that therapy, on behalf of his child, to be a better parent, is a “weird” suggestion — doesn’t bode well for when the two of you have problems.
This is about so much more than his son. It’s about how he relates to the world outside of your home, and whether you can live with it.
Also: “… let alone consider having kids with him.”
You don’t want to do that. This man treats you well, but if having children is part of your plan, he’s not the right partner.
I know you want a solution here, but an ultimatum isn’t it. He has to want to do the thing, whether it’s therapy or spending time with his own child.
You could ask about therapy for the two of you — which could be revealing — but you can also believe him when he tells you who he is.
I commend you for recognizing your boyfriend has a (major) flaw. So often you hear people making excuses for their partner’s poor behavior.
I wouldn’t even bother with the ultimatum because he’s not going to wake up one day and decide he wants to be an active parent.
This is a character flaw that you will not accept in a relationship.
^Yup; sure seems like a deal-breaker.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.