Should I move -- with my kids -- to be with the man of my dreams?

My kids are still in school -- but we feel like four years is too long to wait to be together.

By Cary Tennis

Published December 5, 2005 12:15PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a single mother, 44, of two teenagers, with a decent white-collar job, and I'm the owner of a two-family home. We live in a city where the public schools are anywhere from horrendous to iffy to excellent (and the excellent ones have lots of competition). My older child is now a sophomore in one of the few really good public high schools in our area. I am waiting (with bated breath!) to see what will happen with child No. 2, who will be entering high school in the fall of 2006. (Applications are in the works, as well as the annual high school lottery process in our city.)

After a bad marriage and a worse divorce, I've been on my own for nine years. Earlier this year -- after pretty much resigning from dating and mate hunting -- I met a wonderful man, who is turning out to be the love of my life. "R" is five years older than I am, divorced (twice), and his kids (from marriage No. 1) are older and on their own. He's kind, funny, gentle, supportive, sexy ... shares my most passionate avocation, accepts me as I am, and in short is everything I could wish for in a prospective mate. (And he has said the same thing, in his way, to me.) I don't think either of us has any doubt that "this is it."

Since meeting, R and I became involved rather quickly (that is, emotionally). At the same time, we very openly discussed that neither of us was in a position to rush ahead with any fast moves like living together, marriage, etc. -- in the near future. Seven months later, we've moved from dating exclusively/being lovers into an ever-deepening relationship, where my kids have gotten to know him and genuinely like him (and he, them) and the four of us are beginning to come together as a new family (slowly and subtly) in a relaxed, easy, cozy way. It doesn't hurt that their father -- alternately distant and emotionally abusive -- is largely out of the picture (his own choice, apparently).

Here's my dilemma (a two-pronged one, actually): I find myself daydreaming of a wedding, of being married. I don't think this is what R wants ... he's been through two divorces, and the second sent him into a pretty deep depression (from which he had just emerged when we met). He's made some joking/offhand remarks to other people (when I've been within earshot) about his two divorces and not rushing to get married a third time, etc. Yet I know R wants us to be together: Just the other day when we were talking about his and my different schedules he said "when we live together ..." (Yes, the "when" as opposed to the "if" struck me, though I didn't react outwardly in the moment.)

I find myself -- an avowed feminist, no-nonsense type of female -- dreaming of an old-fashioned marriage proposal -- and a "real" (if unconventional) wedding. And I alternate between being embarrassed at the thought, and then acknowledging (to myself, not to him, not yet, maybe not ever!) that I have this need for romance, and ceremony about our relationship moving into this realm -- the realm of lifelong commitment. Accompanied by all the attendant private and public ceremony (both of which were absent for me, the first time).

A month or two ago, we started talking about some of the logistics that would be involved in combining our households. R lives in a very beautiful suburb 40 miles north of us: a really nice town, in fact, where the public schools are generally better than those in our city. R wants to stay where he is. I don't blame him! The area has its own cultural scene as well as the attraction of all the possible outdoor activities in that environment (mountains, a river, lakes). Although it would admittedly be a big adjustment for me, someone who's lived almost her entire life in this city and always in an urban environment, I can see myself being happy there. (On a practical note, the commuting wouldn't even be that much more than it is presently, for me.) Even the kids have offhandedly made comments on our visits there that they like it there, etc.

Which leads to little dilemma No. 2: By only a mile or so, R's home is in the distinctly second-tier school district of his town. (When he moved there, school districts were not a consideration for him.) He himself has expressed concern at the idea of my kids attending the high school for which his home is zoned. I make a decent living but circumstances do not make private or parochial school tuition possible. I have already started mulling over the possibilities ... each of us sells our respective home and we buy a new home in the better school district -- a move of perhaps two or three miles for him (I haven't broached this yet); I stay where I am for another four years, until both kids are out of high school (we have talked about this and both of us feel that's too long not to be together in the way that we want); I rent both halves of my house out, and the three of us move in with him; I sell my house outright, the three of us move in with him, etc. I wonder if maybe I've bought too much into the idea that my kids have to go to the "best" school ... and perhaps one with the opportunities of advanced classes, extracurricular activities, etc. -- is good enough (as opposed to one that was listed as one of the 10 or so best high schools nationwide).

I wonder how I'd broach the idea of both of us selling our homes -- and how do I -- and he -- gauge whether this makes sense -- for the two of us to buy a house that will doubtless be more expensive than the one he's in now (because of the better school district thing) -- in order to facilitate a short-term goal (a good high school education for both kids). The one piece of good news here, practically speaking, is that I have a lot of equity in my house.

My questions really come down to these: How do I tell him how important it is to me, after all, to be married, and how much I want (find myself for the first time wanting!) the conventional trappings of a marriage proposal and wedding ... and: How do we figure out the best thing to do -- long/short-term, financially, logistically, etc. -- about my relocating and the kids' educations?

Happy Dilemma

Dear Happy Dilemma,

I think you are extremely lucky. But you worry me. I'm afraid you're going to act impulsively and mess things up. Please don't mess things up. Things are really, really good right now. This is an amazing moment. So please stop making me worry. Tell me you'll stay put until the kids are out of school.

You may not realize just how good -- and how delicate -- this moment is. You have balanced some volatile elements -- love, kids, finance, real estate. You've met a wonderful man. You're in love (that's why the wedding fantasies: You're in love, dammit!). Your kids are doing fine. Is that amazing or what? Your kids like the man. The man likes your kids. Do you realize how incredible that is? You're financially OK. You're stressed, of course, because you live in a city and work at a corporation, plus you're raising two teenagers. But you're very lucky. Things are good in your life. Any change to this, I'm afraid, could introduce just enough extra stress and uncertainty to throw everything into chaos.

Just for instance: Your kids like this guy now, the way things are. He's a visitor. He's got his own place. He's not a threat to their way of life. That doesn't mean they'd like him if they had to live in his house and all of a sudden he tried to be their dad. Any change to the status quo, any indication that he is going to act toward them like a father, or that your relationship with him is going to upset their world, could sour everything. You don't want this guy occupying the father place in their heads. Because who is a father to them? A father is a guy who disappears, who makes things bad, who hurts you.

That's just one example. Everywhere I look in this situation, I see things that are really good the way they are. Your boyfriend, for instance, he's done raising kids. He probably likes your kids fine. But does he want to raise some more? I doubt it.

Your boyfriend has a good living situation where he is. He sounds like he's happy with the way things are. You have a fairly good living situation where you are -- gaining income from your place, in which, as you say, you have a lot of equity. And you're in a city that you know; it probably gives you a lot of things that you don't know are keeping you happy, that you wouldn't miss until they were gone. All these things are good.

But most important of all, your kids, after starting out their lives under a bad marriage and then going through a worse divorce, have a chance to finish out their high school years in relative peace and stability, with no major shakeups, nothing to threaten them emotionally. I think that is a huge plus in their lives. Please, just give them that. Get them through this.

Staying put may not be optimal for your romantic feelings. Which I guess leads to your other question: Why do you have these wedding fantasies? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's because you're human and you're a woman and you're in love. OK, I've said it. You're a woman and you're fantasizing about a wedding.

How controversial is that? Could it be that you are not simply the sum total of your ideology, that you may be a staunch feminist and also a little girl who wants a prince and feels like she's finally found him? And what is so incompatible about those two ideas? What's so retrograde about entertaining the possibility of two dissimilar visions existing in the same mind? What's wrong with acknowledging the constellation of interdependent dreams, desires, images, hopes, fears and ideas that make up your identity and your consciousness at any given moment?

I think what is truly revolutionary and controversial is not to cling to an ideology but to have complex and challenging ideas, one of which is that we embody contradiction, that whatever we claim to be true for us often implies its opposite, which is also true for us. For instance, that one is "an avowed feminist, no-nonsense type of female" implies that one is, or was, or has the capacity to be in some sense the opposite of that. What is truly revolutionary and difficult, I would say, is to be a heretic, to accept the contradictions within a certain ideology and within yourself. So I wouldn't worry too much about these wedding fantasies. I'd just tell him that's what's going on with you. It's kind of cute.

My main point is this: You two are very, very lucky. You're in love and you're happy. Your kids are doing fine. Why mess with it? Why not just spend a few more years with things as they are until the kids are through with high school, and then think about making a move?

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