Unwanted gifts

Opposites attracted, conceived -- and now I'm with wife and child and don't know what to do!

By Cary Tennis

Published September 23, 2003 7:47PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

So here is the current situation; it is sad, happy, and, without outside counsel, extremely confusing. I have been with my current girlfriend for a little over a year. We met at my work, and it was a whirlwind romance that quickly led to bigger and better things -- including my moving in with her shortly after the romance began. It was fun, stressful and altogether quite lovely. However, I am a divorced guy in his late 20s. She's a late-20s woman who has never had a romance last longer than a year. A true "free spirit." She's a Democrat, I'm a moderate. She hates food, I love it. She hates fast cars. I own one. Opposites attract in our case. We found that we had some early problems that got worse six months in. In fact I was quite close to breaking up with her, although she has no idea that this was the case. We had a stressful move together and shortly thereafter we discovered that she was pregnant.

Which brings us to the current and extremely difficult part of the equation. Both of our families like each other and support of our union is high. We are OK financially. Because of these factors, and some additional life moments that I was experiencing, which I can't go into here, we decided to have the child. We are both thrilled about this -- now. At the time, "Lucy" was not pleased at all. A combination of vicious hormones and uncomfortable acceptance caused her to be increasingly angry, scared, lonely and difficult. She drove me away over and over again. I understood and stood by. Waiting, being the nice man, the good guy. Doing the right thing. Which has always been my way. The problem is that it worked. I'm alienated. She pushed me so far that now I don't want to go back. It should be said that I love her dearly and I am so happy to bring a baby into this world and we'll both be fantastic parents. But I don't love her the same way anymore. The bloom is off the bush.

We got married over the summer, in a civil ceremony, for insurance purposes. Neither of us feels that it is binding. In fact she has expressed her doubts about us on numerous occasions. I have always tried to understand her fear, but secretly I felt the same. The marriage is not emotionally binding for a number of reasons. We have spoken about it and decided recently that we should be friends and not rush the "wedding," but I can't shake the malaise and depression. The idea that she is not the girl for me hurts us both because of the steps we have taken, but it's increasingly obvious. Finally, and this where I have trouble being honest, I have recently, and this is the difficult part, been in contact with an old flame and have an e-mail correspondence that has blossomed. I talk to her easily and of course, it only highlights the inconsistency and frustrations of my current situation.

What do I do? I plan on taking a wait-and-see attitude until our child is at least born and on her way toward year one and Lucy's hormones have calmed down. Maybe the love will come back? I can't tell, but right now every instinct tells me to run. I want to make sure she is OK but I can't trap myself in a loveless marriage. Please help and guide me.

Lovelost and Baby on Way

Dear Lovelost,

Though I sympathize with the way you feel, I think the only way you are going to stop feeling confused is to stop trying to twist the facts. This woman you refer to as your girlfriend is not your girlfriend. She is your wife. You got married. You may discount the importance of the marriage, but that does not change the fact of it. You are married and your wife is about to have a baby. You are the baby's father. You and your wife chose to have the child. From those facts certain obligations naturally flow. I think it is your refusal to accept those obligations that is causing what you refer to as your confusion. To be precise, your confusion isn't really confusion. It's inner conflict. You aren't confused about anything. You know what the facts are. You are simply in conflict between what you know you should do and what you want to do.

To be fair, there are also genuine feelings involved, as there usually are when babies and marriage are concerned. It's not unusual to feel panicked, trapped, abandoned, unloved, angry, hopeless and confused. But it's one thing to feel those particular emotions; you might even understandably feel confused about those emotions; that is, you expect to be elated and live happily ever after and instead you feel dread, panic, etc. But you need not be confused about what to do. It's clear what you should do.

Sometimes strangely wrapped gifts arrive and we don't know what to do with them at first -- they come in a little pink blanket, say, or in little pajamas. Unexpected gifts arrive when our minds are clouded with ego and self-regard, with fear about the future and conflicting schemes of self-gratification; they come to us when we are idle and restless and need a purpose; they come to us when we're doing what we think we're supposed to be doing but it isn't working out and we're not happy with it but we don't know why. Often we're already so burdened with other gifts we don't even open these strangely wrapped, unexpected gifts right away; we put them aside: Oh, another stupid little miracle, why do they keep sending me this crap? And you put the gift aside and go back to what you think you're supposed to be doing, but you grow more confused and restless and irritable until, maybe it's because one of the gifts is an arrest warrant, finally you open the package and you make the phone call and you realize it's that old shoplifting citation down in Santa Monica that's been hanging over your head and making you nervous when the doorbell rings, and the gift is that you can finally pay the fine and put it behind you, or the gift is a little baby girl who's going to turn your life upside down and shake all the sand out of it, who's going to stare into your eyes with the self-satisfied wonder of brand-new life and make you forget all that talk about your hurt feelings and your limited horizons, and make you start thinking about some life insurance and a college savings plan.

Your wife, your baby, your families, your marriage, your health insurance: These are gifts that arrived in the mail and you haven't even opened them yet. So open up your gifts, assemble them if assembly is required, put the batteries in, and write a bunch of thank-you notes.

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Cary Tennis

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