The end of love?

My husband-to-be has a child, and I'm afraid that if she lives with us it will ruin our relationship.

Published July 29, 2004 7:19PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My fiancé, who I am truly happy with, has a 7-year-old daughter. There is a possibility that she may be moving in with us permanently. My dilemma: I do not like kids. I do not enjoy their company. The constant noise and activity and questions make me insane. Even a perfectly behaved kid will make me crazy in time.

So, I've been doing some pondering and soul searching trying to figure out just why, exactly, I seem to have such a problem with kids in general and why their mere presence makes me ill. We covered the activity and noise issue. But the real problem is this: I firmly, truly, absolutely, 100 percent, with all my heart and soul, believe that kids kill relationships.

I have never in my entire life seen a relationship survive kids. The parents either end up divorced, hating each other, or in a lifeless, empty shell of a marriage. I cannot think of one single example of an exception to this rule. Not any of my friends' parents, not any of my friends, and certainly not my own parents.

So, my fear is that now, somehow, I have managed to find a relationship that makes me very happy. Someone I am truly in love with. And I am terrified it will all go away the second his daughter unpacks her suitcase for good. And I can't, no matter how hard I try, get over this or convince myself otherwise. I've always been afraid to have kids for fear of losing myself, but my true fear now is that I will lose my relationship with my fiancé on top of losing myself. I do not want to leave him. I have considered it if only to allow him to find some kid-loving woman that will make his life easier. But I have decided I do not want to run from this any longer. On top of the fact that I am madly in love with my fiancé, this is obviously an issue with me that will eventually, no matter who I am with, need to be dealt with.

Can you please, for the love of God, give me one example of a relationship you know or have known that survived kids? Please. Just one...

Don't Like Kids

Dear Don't Like Kids,

What a strange moment in history, that we can spend all of our energy on the survival of those very relationships whose prime purpose used to be the production and survival of children -- those very children who we now claim stand as a threat to the survival of our relationships! I mean, isn't it a striking contradiction?

The point is not whether there are any relationships that have survived children. There are countless examples of relationships that survived kids. The point is that while you are free to choose, you are not free of history. Whether you live in a marriage with children or without children, the institution itself arose as an arrangement to ensure group survival, and it still has that significance for us psychologically. So whether we have children or not, when we get married, we find ourselves engaging in ancient rituals of family survival. So I suspect the question is not so much whether the relationship can survive children as whether it can survive itself: that is, marriage, living together and all the ancient habits that arise in such a setting.

You are utterly free to decide whether you wish to live with a child in the house or not. But no matter what you decide, that doesn't mean you are magically freed from chaos, uncertainty and the tug of cultural conditioning.

You say you thought about the noise and chaos that kids bring but you had a "nagging feeling there was more to it than that." And indeed there probably is. But what you arrived at when you thought about it was not an insight but an apocalyptic proclamation. "I firmly, truly, absolutely, 100 percent, with all my heart and soul, believe that kids kill relationships," you say. You may believe that with as many adverbs as you like, but it doesn't bear any relationship to observable truth, or to your own particular set of abilities and desires. So I think it would help if you expressed your intense feelings in more concrete terms. Could we say, for instance, that you fear that after an hour's exposure to a child you will feel exhausted and confused, and that you will become irritable and unable to think straight, that after two hours of noise and constant interruption you may feel violent anger toward the child and toward the child's father? Could you say that in the presence of the child you may feel an overwhelming desire to flee the house, and that you may actually at times have to leave and go stay somewhere else? What do you think would be the consequences of that? Would your lover go insane if you did that? Would he not let you back in the house? Perhaps he could think through that possibility and find a way to accept it.

Say that in order to have the child in the house you may require strict rules that provide you with privacy and control over the placement of objects on the floor. Is that something you could talk over with her father? Perhaps you would need a room the child was not allowed to enter. Perhaps you would need time when the child stayed with other relatives.

Now consider the pleasure you derive from being with this man. List the things you get out of the relationship, and consider their value to you. What might you do if you had to give him up? Are some of these pleasures attainable elsewhere, with other men? Or do you think this is the only man you can attain these pleasures with? What would be the cost, emotionally, physically and economically, if you decided to leave this man?

In this manner perhaps you can make a reasonable decision.

Of course, if you genuinely don't want to live with the kid, if that's a nonnegotiable item, then you don't need to do all this weighing of options. The solution is simple: You tell the man that he must choose you or the kid, but not both. Then he chooses between you.

That sounds rather stark and cold. But then, if you believe with such certainty that you cannot live with a child in the house, then you are left with stark choices.

It's in your hands.

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