Whose baby is it?

I'm pregnant, but I'm not sure if it's my husband's or my friend's, with whom I had a one-night stand.

Published May 21, 2002 7:38PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

These days with high airport security, how does one travel discreetly with their toys?


Dear T,

You mean sex toys, right? Myself, I don't exactly travel with sex toys. I just bring clothes and toiletries and things to read. But I would think if you put your sex toys in your checked luggage, your privacy wouldn't be affected now any more than it was before Sept. 11. Restraint devices, because of their potential use in an attack, might be viewed with greater suspicion than vibrators or dildos, and whips might actually be viewed as weapons, but I wouldn't think there'd be any problem as long as they're not in the cabin of the airplane.

Check your bags. That's what I would do. I traveled from San Francisco to New York last week and they went through my backpack and me with remarkable attentiveness -- I think the guard had a thing for me, actually -- but I don't think they messed with my checked luggage. I like checking luggage, I must say. I don't get any pleasure out of stuffing bags into the overhead bin. What's the point? I like to walk around the airport with just a knapsack; I don't like wheeling some suitcase around the airport. I say just check it and forget it, and don't put anything in there that you can't afford to lose.

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend and I have been struggling for some time with what we are going to be doing this coming summer. (We are writing this together.) We are currently in college (the same one), and have been going out for three years. In the past couple of months, our relationship has ascended to its greatest heights, and we are both so happy in it.

The conflict is we are each going to a different part of the world for the coming summer. I am her first boyfriend, and we both know she will need some time to gain perspective, apart from me, if this is going to continue to work in the long term. (Is this itself a mistaken assumption?)

But then we both realize that we would be devastated by each other's dalliances, and that this could do nothing but bad things for the relationship ... or would it? At the same time, we both feel that such perspective would be good, but don't want to screw up a really good thing. And if not now, then when will we be ready (if such a thing is necessary)? We are both terribly frustrated and in need of assistance. Please chime in.

Mental Block

Dear Mental Block,

Why don't you both agree, now, that whatever happens in your time apart from each other, you don't have to discuss it upon your return. The important thing is not what happens when you are apart but whether, when you return, you wish to stay together. It sounds like you do. If after three years your relationship has just gotten better, it probably is worth sticking with.

But you are naturally curious about other people and hungry for new experiences, so you might very well experiment even if you feel ambivalent about doing so. Guard against mistaking the intoxication and excitement of new people and new locations for the kind of love you currently have. If you find yourself head over heels over someone you meet while you two are apart, don't think you have to tell your partner all about it. Take some time once you get back to see what happens; if you truly fall in love and can't get the person out of your mind, then you might have to do something. But don't muck it up thinking you have to discuss your private affairs. You don't. Let it be your adventure.

Dear Cary,

I am waging a daily battle against depression, and I think I'm losing. I would never kill myself, so there's no need for an automatic form letter urging me to seek immediate help. I need your poetic third-person POV of this situation. I was let go from a job that I hated with a passion three months ago, and I have decided to carve out a career as a freelancer in a creative field. I realized that I had to work for no one other than myself, or my life just wouldn't mean that much.

I'm also trying to date as aggressively as I can. As a somewhat shy 29-year-old male, I have not had a good relationship in seven years. I did have a nightmarish yearlong relationship with a wretchedly immature woman who was just a terrible human being, but that's another letter. On average, I've been meeting and dating one girl a month since I got laid off. Each was worse than the one who came before.

The point of all this is that I feel so socially and professionally isolated that it is driving me insane. I am sex-starved and I spend almost all my free weekend time with my parents and my sibling's children. Not only is that not natural for a man my age, it often underscores my loneliness and I wake in the middle of the night sometimes wondering what I'll do after my parents pass away and all I have to keep me company is my work. It frightens me.

I did have several successful long-term relationships in high school and college with attractive, exciting women, so I don't think that I can classify myself as damaged goods.

It's so hard some days, I feel absolutely morose. Please don't suggest an antidepressant. I did it once years ago and they worked so well, I put on 40 extra pounds (that I've worked off) and they killed my sex drive. Those pills can stay in the bottle.

Needing a Second Wind

Dear Second Wind,

Thank you for your thoughtful and moving letter. I think I understand what you are asking for -- some encouragement, the kind everybody needs occasionally when the chips are down -- but the more I think about your having lost the job, not sleeping well, being anxious about the distant future, having tried antidepressants and gone off them, having had good relationships in the past but not being able to connect with women, deciding to go freelance, the more I think you really ought to talk to a professional, just in case this is not simply a phase, but the beginnings of a serious bout of clinical depression.

Promise me you'll do that. And then, if it is just a spate of bad luck, a rough patch, here's what I think: Don't go freelance. Not now. Not when you're already a little rocked back on your heels. Even a job you hate has a lot to offer. It gives you a steady income and gets you out of the house at the same time every day -- as mundane as that is, it can help keep you from excessive brooding. And it puts you in the great brotherhood of people who hate their jobs; it gives you a common enemy; it's something to belong to. There's nothing like feeling superior to a crass and irritating supervisor, and sharing your disdain with others after work. It's those little shallow pleasures that get us through life; we bitch and moan and feel better. In a dark and perverse sort of way, it gives your life meaning.

So losing that steady job, even though you're glad it's gone, may be contributing to your depression. And dating a new girl every month can't be helping. That sounds like a regular regime of rejection and failure, which doesn't do much to help a guy feel good about himself.

I get the feeling something else is going on here. Something has happened between now and high school What's different about now and then? Are you not in as good health as you were? Are you drinking and taking drugs regularly? If there's some overall pattern like that, that's why you need a professional to help you get your head above water and begin swimming to shore.

Dear Cary,

I hope you answer this because I don't have anywhere to turn and I really don't know what to do.

I'm very happily married.

One night, which I wish I could take back with all my might, I drank too much with a male friend and made the mistake of my life by sleeping with him. Sorry to be blunt, but it's important: He didn't ejaculate inside me, but we did not use a condom. The next day, I slept with my husband.

And now I'm pregnant, and I seem to have conceived within those few days. If it's my husband's, I'd be nervous and scared but still happy to have a child. My husband wants to keep it. It would be a financial strain, and it's not what we planned, but many parents have had to deal with worse. On the chance that it's the male friend's, though, that makes me sick. It's bad enough I did this, but how could I do something like this to my husband, who is the wronged party in all of this? I know the chances are better that it's my husband's, but there's still a chance that it's my friend's. I just picture a 5-year-old carbon copy of the friend, and I get sick.

I'm thinking about getting an abortion and saying it was a miscarriage. That seems very wrong too. Please help.

Confused in Colorado

Dear Confused,

I wouldn't say or do anything yet. You don't know how it will turn out. Chances are it is your husband's baby. It might be that you never have to say a word. If you are careful and wise the only damage will be to your ego, and you will eventually be able to put the incident out of your mind and move on.

But no matter whose genetic material made the baby, morally your husband is the father; he's the one who has committed himself to raising children with you, not this other guy. In my mind, the child belongs to you and your husband no matter whose sperm made it. The genetic facts may be legally and scientifically relevant, but I don't believe they are morally relevant. Morally, the child deserves to have parents who raise him unequivocally as their own, and if that means one of the parents doesn't know the whole truth of the child's paternity, so be it. If it should come to light one day that the child, genetically, is from the other guy, I would try to keep that secret until the child is grown, and then only reveal it after grave and careful deliberation. Such knowledge could only cause the child confusion. As an adult, surely he could reasonably assert his rights to know his paternity, but I would not lightly volunteer such information unsolicited. Your foremost obligation is to love and care for this new life, wherever it came from.

You are probably imagining the worst: What if the newborn looks so strikingly unlike your husband that on first sight he can't help feeling it isn't his? I would still pretend that the baby is your husband's at least until you have had some time to recover from childbirth. After all, it's not easy to judge with certainty how the features of a baby correspond to those of its presumed relatives. Your husband might think it was merely odd, particularly if it's his first child. But here it gets dicey. If your husband has clear misgivings about the child's paternity and insists that you tell him the truth, then I think your moral obligation is to give your husband the truth. But not in the presence of the baby. It might be superstition, but still, I would not utter such truth in front of the baby.

According to Fairfax Identity Laboratories it is possible to determine the paternity of the fetus as early as 10 weeks into the pregnancy, and you might feel that such knowledge would put your mind at ease. However, it might also add a whole new layer of moral complexity. For instance, having taken such affirmative steps, would you not, in the one case, feel under a greater obligation to disclose the baby's outside paternity to your husband, and would he not feel a stronger sense of betrayal if you did not? And would you not in the other case feel compelled to share with him your sense of profound relief and thus disclose your infidelity? I think anyone might feel these things strongly and perhaps act on them, and the stress and disruption that would cause might not be in anyone's best interest. At any rate, however, if you carry the fetus to term and then suspect that it is not your husband's, you should consult your doctor privately about any genetic conditions that would affect your care of the baby.

The bottom line, morally, it seems to me, is avoiding harm to the ones you love and protecting the innocent and the powerless from the consequences of your own mistakes. If you keep that in mind as you make your decisions, you will have done your best, no matter what happens. And if you have any sense of the miracle of life, if you have any faith at all in the mysterious forces of nature that shape our lives, you may feel better simply accepting the fact that a new life has begun, and while you have responsibilities toward it, its final course is now and forever profoundly and inexorably out of your hands.

Apart from the agonizing moral dilemma, I must say that what fascinates me about this is the possibility that whoever the child is, whether from your husband or from this one-night stand, he or she might one day come to know the circumstances of her birth and realize how strange and wondrous are the ways we come into existence. How profoundly are we all just children of a dice roll, the unknowable payoff of a passionate gamble!

Dear Cary,

I am two years into a relationship with -- you guessed it -- a wonderful man. He shares most of my interests, is sincere and kind, is strongly committed to his principles, treats his mother well and likes dogs and children. We have both been married and divorced, and although my marriage lasted much longer, he seems to have deeper scars from his. He has had many relationships, most ending before two years, while I have had very few. He lives in another city, about an hour from mine, so we usually see each other Saturday night through Sunday afternoon. He has a demanding and time-consuming job, is a published writer and a speaker at just about anyplace that asks him, and is always ready to help out a friend or acquaintance or cause. This leaves little time for a relationship and he is always exhausted.

I think that we are destined to end up as his other relationships have gone -- as former lovers and now friends. I do not want another marriage, but it seems odd to me that we have yet to get beyond the "I like you" stage. I need private time as much as the next person, but at some point I would like to spend more than 20 hours a week with someone, and preferably not watching them taking a nap.

The work he does is important and he is passionate about it. I would never want him to give it up even if he could. His idea of living together or being married would be to buy homes next to each other so each person has his and her own space. I think this would make it very easy to hide from the responsibilities of a relationship. What do you think?

I think he has a full life that doesn't really require a partner, just a friend to hang out with during a lull. He's a very sweet man, attentive and fun to be with, but (what is the phrase?) emotionally unavailable? Overscheduled? His female friends have warned him that I "won't put up with this weekend thing" for long and we have talked around some of these points, but we never seriously discuss anything as there is never enough time.

Should I just enjoy the companionship and stop analyzing everything? Or start looking for a simple man who isn't saving the world, but who has more time for me? Am I selfish, stupid or just mixed-up?

Dear Selfish,

This is an interesting and compelling question that is difficult for me, as a man, to answer. But I will try, mainly by confessing to you some things about myself. Like this man, I am temperamentally independent, obsessed with my work, jealous of my time and often "emotionally unavailable." In a sense, and I think many men would agree with me, this man has achieved the Holy Grail of manhood: He does his work, keeps his own hours, lives in his own place and keeps his relationships with women on his own terms.

But I describe the virtues of his position somewhat cynically, because the greatest gifts I have received in my marriage were not the gifts I thought I wanted but the ones that were, in a sense, forced upon me. How do I mean that? Well, as I say, I would love to be the cowboy and, in fact, I thought I would remain the cowboy even if I got married. I would just be a cowboy who happens to have a wife.

But it turned out that my wife did not really want a cowboy who happened to be married; what she actually had in mind was having a husband. This was of course a shock to the cowboy, who believed the range still needed riding and the fences needed tending regardless of what changes had occurred in the cowboy's marital status. But as he rode the range and tended the fences he began to realize that he was doing it not out of ambition or love but out of a kind of arid desperation, that the clear starry sky looked good because it was a palliative for some emptiness bigger than the sky itself. He was not as self-sufficient as he thought.

The difference between me and my wife is that when she misses me she can tell me in so many words. But when I miss her I think maybe the range requires some riding or the fences are deteriorating and I'd better saddle up to check on them and the night sky looks like a martini looks to a drunk and so my impulse is to ride out into the desert and it takes me days to realize that I don't really want to ride out into the desert but that's just what I'm used to doing when I'm lonely, because I cloak my feelings in ideas and suppress them with assumptions out of long and steady habit, and only when I realize I am trembling, I am angry, I am hungry and scared and empty and lost do I then conclude with a slap at my forehead: Buddy, you miss your wife, yes you do but you don't hardly even know it.

So as I said, it's difficult for me, as a man, to suggest what to do, because I empathize so acutely with who he is. You know the joke about how many psychotherapists it takes to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change. This guy may not want to change, and if he doesn't, it would be nothing but heartache for you to persist. Some men will always prefer the arid authority of their work to the rich vulnerability of a shared life. For them it is simpler and cleaner, if also thinner and poorer, to stick with what they know.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Pregnancy Sex Since You Asked