I am a 40-year-old nearly divorced dad (should be final soon) and I am seeing a woman I care very much for. In fact, I may even love her. I believe that her feelings for me are mutual.
The issue comes with regard to our children. I have two, 5 and 7, and she has one, 12. I have not met her child and she has not met my kids, though we have told them that we each are "seeing" someone. This is my first serious post-breakup relationship, while she has been married three times and I am her first since her last marriage.
Here are the questions. She is in a state I could best describe as thrice bitten, thrice shy. She is very cautious about wanting to introduce me to her daughter, which I respect. However, our relationship is hampered by the fact that with work schedules, child custody, etc., we never get to see each other. Though we live 10 minutes apart it feels as if we are in a long-distance relationship.
I believe that relationships are like sharks in that they need to keep at least a little forward momentum to work and I believe we have stagnated. How can I ease her into the idea of introducing me to her child (and her to my children) without causing her to want to push away from me? Or how can we find a way to connect while not physically together?
I should add that we have been seeing each other for two months and have a very healthy attraction to each other (we both like sex).
Lastly, how do you introduce yourself to your new partner's child? And how do you introduce your children to your partner? Do you go out to a theme park or on a picnic?
Dear Dating Dad,
You know, I've got no kids so I wouldn't know how hard it is to raise them. But I do know how hard it is to be one. And maybe it's hypocritical or I'm on some weird trip but all I can think about is that this woman's daughter has been through three divorces already and your kids are experiencing the pain of their parents splitting up for reasons they can't possibly comprehend and so while you're an adult and you need love and sex and all that, my sympathy is not so much with you as it is with the kids.
As far as whether to go to a theme park or have a picnic, those are practical questions, almost in the realm of etiquette, and I have no idea what is best. I would think that no matter what you do, each individual child will perceive the situation in his or her own way, and that the job of the adults would be to discover how the child is perceiving the situation and accommodate that child's perceptions and meet that child's needs, whatever they might be. (I make it sound so simple, don't I? Ah, the joy of having no kids!)
In particular, I can't help thinking about the 12-year-old daughter. Ages 5 and 7 are just so young, I can hardly imagine what that's like. But I can imagine how it feels to be the 12-year-old. How is she going to feel, meeting another of her mom's boyfriends, thinking is this guy going to end up married to my mom, are we going to have to move again, is he going to be creepy like the last one, is he going to assume he can tell me what to do just because he's screwing my mom, is my mom going to get all weird again like she did the last time, are there going to be other kids I'm supposed to get along with that I'm not even anywhere near the same age as, much less into the same things, and are they going to throw us all together like we're supposed to be best friends all of a sudden, and what's going to happen when she starts spending the night at his house? Am I going to have to stay with Grandma again, in that house that smells funny and with her snoring and that weird man who comes around and knocks on the window? I'll just say it's OK, I can stay here alone or I can invite friends over, which of course I don't have any friends because we move so much and besides I don't really want to make any friends because who knows what kind of creepy situation we'll be in. I just want to stay in one place and get into seventh grade in one school and make some friends and play my clarinet and stay out of the way of the big girls. Mom! I'm going to be in the seventh grade! Do you have any idea what that means? You can't be dating! You can't be dating! You have to stay home at night!
Likewise, I'm sure your own kids, though they are so young, want nothing so much as for their lives to continue in their accustomed fashion, without too many challenges and frightening situations. So if you have to carry on this relationship, what I would advise is that you acknowledge that the kids and their needs may indeed be an impediment to your adult desires, but you assiduously, mindfully, work around those impediments. Leave those impediments in place. If it's not time for the kids to meet, then don't force it. If the kids' schedules don't work with yours, change your schedule, not theirs. If taking care of the kids leaves too little time for the other things you think you want to do, then let some of those other things go.
I am suggesting you focus on your kids and what they need. I think this will be a good thing not only for them but for you as a person going through a divorce. As I see it, a divorce is a rupture, a destabilization, a time of rocky insecurity. You may be able to satisfy many of your desires for sex and intermittent intimacy, but the stability and serenity you found in marriage will remain elusive. I suggest you be careful not to confuse the two. That is, if you disrupt whatever orderly pattern your life now has in a search for sex as an illusory substitute for the serenity you used to have in marriage, you will be doubly screwed.
Having a clear moral compass and sense of mission at this point will help you. Knowing what your primary objective is may help you make the big decisions you will need to make. For instance, if you cannot be happy with this woman without subjecting the children involved to various disruptions, then on that basis you will know what to do: Let the woman go. All you have to do now is take care of your children. Everything else is gravy.
You do not want to begin seeing your children as obstacles to love. Instead, imagine your children as your protectors. If you devote yourself to them, they will bring peace and order to your life. You will not have to live in conflict. You will know what to do.
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