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how do I avoid saying something stupid or inappropriate about your x, the father of your child?
December 23, 2010 9:29 PM   Subscribe

Guy trying to date a beautiful single mother don'ts filter: Young single mothers who date: how do I avoid saying something stupid or inappropriate about your x, the father of your child?

So. I'm guessing he's a nice guy, although I haven't gotten to know her well enough to know if he's a jerk or not. Either way, I need to show some serious respect and not cross any lines. I've dated girls in the past who will talk trash about their family's & their baby's daddys, but the second I stepped in with an attempt at chivalry and honor-defending ... it was to the doghouse for me. Arf. Arf. Rahr. Doh. So... any tips on things to absolutely avoid, if I stand any chance with this beautiful mother of a one year old?
posted by eli_d to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
A simple rule that can apply almost universally: Don't say anything about anyone that you would be embarrassed if you found out they were listening.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:33 PM on December 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


Disclaimer: The only part out of "young single mothers who date" that fits me is "mother".

I think you avoid making any comments about someone you have never met and don't know. The father may be a jerk. He may be wonderful. You can't possibly know. If she's criticizing him, listen, offer support of the "that sounds like it was really rough for you" variety, and don't pass judgments on someone who is a complete stranger to you.
posted by bardophile at 9:35 PM on December 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


You avoid saying something stupid about someone you've never met by saying nothing at all. You don't know them, how can you comment, it's not your place. They talk, you listen. End of story. You're only ever hearing one, very biased, side anyway.
posted by Jubey at 10:13 PM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm not a young single mother, but... don't say anything judgmental about the father. You don't know the guy, and as your own experience shows, even if she's saying he's a jerk, it's not your place to do the same.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:19 PM on December 23, 2010


Do you ever do the thing where you're complaining about a family member, and then someone who's not part of your family starts talking about how much that family member does indeed suck, and then suddenly you're defending that family member who you don't even like that much, because you don't want strangers talking crap about your family? It's like that.

Let her vent and talk trash about him as much as she wants; the extent of your response should probably be nodding and sympathetic noises. Especially don't say bad things about the dad in front of the kid. Not even if the kid is only a year old. Because eventually that kid will be old enough to understand.

I speak as a kid of divorced parents whose mother had a boyfriend for a while. He was a great guy, but he didn't know the family and he had no authority to talk about our father. He just wasn't there for some critical stuff in the family's past, and no amount of time could change that. If he'd badmouthed our father in front of us kids - regardless of how much we and my mother might have agreed! - we would have been very offended, and he would have been dumped so fast his head would have been spinning.
posted by mandanza at 10:31 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


the second I stepped in with an attempt at chivalry and honor-defending ... it was to the doghouse for me. Arf. Arf. Rahr. Doh. So... any tips on things to absolutely avoid

Yeah, I have something for you to avoid: stop conceiving of yourself in such dramatic terms. "Chivalry and honor-defending"? What? You're just having a conversation; don't make any judgment at all about anyone's family members, exes, etc. This is just basic etiquette. You can drop the heroics.

It is not your job to come up with any judgment at all for the ex. Is he a "nice guy" or a "jerk"? Who knows? Who cares? (Seems like you want to feel like you're having an active role in their post-breakup relationship by applying judgments.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:48 PM on December 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


You avoid saying something stupid about someone you've never met by saying nothing at all. You don't know them, how can you comment, it's not your place. They talk, you listen. End of story. You're only ever hearing one, very biased, side anyway.

This. This this this this this this this this this this this this this this this this this this this this. This.

Seriously.

Just listen. And then listen some more. She's not ranting to you so that you'll pile on. Doing so can actually put someone on the defensive when their "I know I just said something bad, but this douche is talking about the FATHER OF MY CHILD" sense kicks in. And it can.

Don't tread that way. Let them vent and quietly agree. Don't defend his actions or agree terribly strongly. Just let her vent.
posted by disillusioned at 10:59 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


When you bash another's ex, it induces cognitive dissonance. That is, instead of them agreeing with you and the two of you having a hate party together, it actually makes her think of reasons why she WAS with him. She can't change the fact that she was with him (a locked-in behaviour), so she has to bring her cognitions in line with her behaviours. This makes you look like the bad guy, because while you're reminding her about all of the bad things, she's thinking about all of the good aspects of the relationship. And you, my friend, have successfully self-sabotaged yourself.

Never bad-mouth anyone's ex's. Even if she's an abuse-survivor.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:59 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nthing just listen. But speaking from my own experience as a single mom who's dated single dads, you might want to avoid dating people who complain excessively about their ex or only speak of them in nasty ways.

Relationships end because something wasn't working and an emotionally healthy person will discuss their ex in those terms most of the time (like if the dad doesn't pay child support your gf won't go into a tirade about what a monster he is; she'll just figure out her legal options).

Being a single parent (and dating one) can be especially difficult because we don't have the option of cutting the ex out of our lives and moving on; there's always going to be around and we need to deal with them. So we need to move past blame and try really hard to be nice and it's very very difficult because they're our exes for a reason.

I once dated a single dad who spoke of his ex-wife in very nasty terms (she no-showed visitation, she had a string of boyfriends, she didn't pay child support) and I would always think, "...and that's why you're not married to her anymore. Deal with it and move on."
posted by dzaz at 2:51 AM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


*they're always going to be around...
posted by dzaz at 2:52 AM on December 24, 2010


Keep in mind that if he really is an evil jerk, she probably feels like an idiot for ever being so stupid as to chose him to have a baby with - so it's best not to rub that in. Plus, it's not really your place to get angry, and it might seem to her that you won't be able to parse out appropriate times to be angry, and thus be a risk (of causing trouble directly with the ex, bad mouthing the ex in front of the kid, whatever). From the way you wrote your post, it sound like you would find it easier if her ex was a jerk, but allow things not to be so black and white especially since their is a kid in the picture.

If your new lady starts bad mouthing her ex, I think the best tactic you can take is to focus on her - if he didn't pay child support for 6 months, then you tell her how smart and strong and hard working she was to get through it.
posted by fermezporte at 5:08 AM on December 24, 2010


Say nothing. Just nod your head in agreement with whatever she says about her ex/whatever.
posted by freakazoid at 5:59 AM on December 24, 2010


Say nothing. Just nod your head in agreement with whatever she says about her ex/whatever.

I mostly agree, but I'd do a little more than that-- non-committal responses that let the other person know that you're listening. Examples:

"Oh, wow! That's got to be rough. I can't imagine."

"Jeez. What did you do about it?"

This way you are commiserating but you're not taking a strong position that your partner will remember. You can't quite stay out of it because you're expected to empathize, but you also can't say anything that will make you seem strongly vested in it. This is the way I handle all negative comments about exes, whether there are children involved or not. The point is to express "I disagree with that person's actions and would never act in such a manner," not "I despise the individual about whom you are talking despite not knowing them."
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:21 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with the above comments that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. However, if you feel like you're backed into a conversational corner where you MUST say something, focus on his behavior and not his character:

Her: My ex didn't visit, and the kids are disappointed.

You: Oh! How frustrating!

Her: I mean, isn't that just like the bastard?

You: He should have shown up when he said he would.

(Note: if you get backed into this conversational corner with any regularity, there's a different problem -- see the above about people whose conversation consists mostly of talking shit about the ex.)
posted by endless_forms at 7:10 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, even if you think she's being unreasonable and unfair, try not to defend him or come up with explanations when emotions are running high. You may be able to see his perspective a little more easily than she can, being objective, but I don't think telling her, in effect, that how she feels isn't how she should feel is going to do you any good. Especially if you don't know him. I had a friend who did this and it upset me a lot; I don't expect blind acceptance, but I do kind of hope that the people who love me will automatically be on my side, not defending someone who has hurt me and treated me badly. Focus on HER. on how she feels, on how the actions she's describing made her feel, be sympathetic. It might just be me, but -- it was a joke with my ex, that I taught him the magic words (and variations thereof) that I wanted to hear when I was venting or complaining. "I'm sorry, honey, that sucks." That's all I wanted - a little indication that he felt bad I felt bad and that the situation did indeed suck.
posted by lemniskate at 7:19 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am neither single, nor a mother, nor female, nor have I dated any single mothers. But as a general rule I try not to get involved in conversations about the exes of women that I'm involved with. I mean, there is a time when one will want to have that discussion with a significant other, but generally I will wait until it's clear that the relationship is getting somewhat serious. I certainly wouldn't bring it up as a casual topic of conversation on a date.

On the other hand, if she's bringing up the topic, you should listen thoughtfully and sort of reflect back what she says. But don't do any shit-talking - presumably she's capable of doing that herself if that's what she wants. If you're trashing her ex, that (to me) makes it seem like you feel insecure about your relationship with her.

On the third hand (?), if she is bringing up the ex a lot and talking about him in a negative way, beware. That means that she would probably do the same about you.
posted by number9dream at 7:25 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the same rule as not talking shit about a friend's ex - don't. Be sympathetic, nod and listen, express general hope that any bad situations improve.

Remember that if you and this beautiful mother stay together long term, that guy is always going to be the child's father and unless he is actually bad for the child in some way, the best possible outcome is that he continues to have a relationship with the child, which requires the mature, thoughtful, careful consideration of the three participating adults. You need to orient yourself in that direction and do not waver, because you are the least forgivable and most disposable adult involved.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:25 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've dated girls in the past who will talk trash about their family's & their baby's daddys, but the second I stepped in with an attempt at chivalry and honor-defending ... it was to the doghouse for me. Arf. Arf. Rahr. Doh. So... any tips on things to absolutely avoid, if I stand any chance with this beautiful mother of a one year old?

Things to absolutely avoid:

1) your attempts at chivalry following a date bashing her ex
2) your attempts at honor-defending following a date bashing her ex
posted by 23skidoo at 8:41 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Avoid talking instead of listening.

Avoid focusing on anything except your sweetie's experience.

My BFF adores her new boyfriend, but she wishes he would be less of a dick to her ex-husband than he is. Now, her ex-husband was pretty much of a dick to her and their daughters, and she shared that with her boyfriend, but he seems to have his own grudge against the ex-husband now and she finds it annoying. (It also gets in the way of the whole co-parenting thing, which she really really wants to go smoothly.)

I think the mistake my BFF's boyfriend made was letting her battles become his battles. That's not always a bad thing--sometimes it's nice when someone else yells at the electrician for you, or whatever--but it almost never works out well when the battle is with an ex-spouse, especially one who's a co-parent.

If your sweetie wants your help in dealing with an ex-husband situation, she will probably ask for it. If she doesn't, ask her if there's anything you can do to help--don't just jump in.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:09 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


What exactly do you mean by chivalry and honor-defending? Do you mean starting a fight or causing a scene? Doing those things usually makes a difficult situation even more difficult.

If you want to help these women out when it comes to their exes, ask them how (and whether) they would like you to help. Like this:

Woman: My ex is horrible and does horrible things.
You: I'm sorry to hear that, that sucks. Is there anything I can do to help?
posted by Ashley801 at 1:23 PM on December 24, 2010


There's not a lot more personal than who you choose as a parent for your child. That's why people get offended if you insult their ex, even (sometimes especially!) if the criticism is true.

Most people raising kids in a single parent household have gotten enough judgment for a lifetime and have probably spent a bit of time regretting their past choices. If you add to that chorus by piling on, you're criticizing her past, her judgment and half of where her kid came from.

Proceed accordingly.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:40 PM on December 24, 2010


I never, ever talk about their exes. Even months into the relationship. Even if they bring it up. I expect this would go double for women who've had their ex's child.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:42 PM on December 24, 2010


Listen to the words, acknowledge the emotions, promise your support for any actions they feel are needed to make things better... in that order.
posted by Green With You at 9:34 PM on December 24, 2010


you say it best
when you say nothing at all
posted by iviken at 8:48 AM on December 25, 2010


I've dated girls in the past who will talk trash about their family's & their baby's daddys, but the second I stepped in with an attempt at chivalry and honor-defending ... it was to the doghouse for me.

There is nothing chivalrous or honorable about bashing someone about whom you know nothing.

My personal experience is that it's best to just let your partner vent about her ex, and be supportive to the extent that you can without ever offering any opinion on the guy. Anyone who requires you to cast stones at someone from her past that you don't know and will probably never meet is someone who is trying to draw you into her drama. It's a trap; don't walk into it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:58 PM on December 25, 2010


You know how you could beat up on your sibling when you were annoyed with each other, but if anyone outside the family touched them, you would get defensive? It's like that.

Young mom has a permanent link to her ex, through the child, and likely always will. She can hate that connection, but she needs you to support her as she deals with it. Also, imagine that the child is ten, instead of one: would you want him/her to hear you say anything negative about his/her biological father? That would probably make the child defensive, too. Kids may be defensive toward their biological parents, even absentee ones, because of the idea that that parent contributed to their existence. (May feel differently as they get older, though.) Moms may feel defensive toward their ex, simply because he is someone they chose to be with and once loved - criticizing that person (when you are a new beau) might be seen as a criticism of her judgement.
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:50 PM on December 25, 2010


Thanks everyone. I appreciate all the suggestions and constructive criticism. When I mentioned chivalry and honor-defending, not only was I trying to spice up the question a bit, but I was also thinking back to an ex who would consistently talk about how annoying or overbearing her family was, but anytime I'd step in and say something like "Yeah, like the time they blah blah blahhed about blah blah blah to me" ... well... I got a serious A**-chewing for those statements and would have preferred not to.

Thanks again. Right now (about 1 month after meeting) I've made headway into what seems to be a very promising friendship with this young woman. She still won't let me take her out on an official date, but I can tell she's very interested and the interest only seems to grow with time. I'm very optimistic about the future of this friendship and the possibilities that it could bring for the three of us.

Happy New Year
posted by eli_d at 4:28 AM on January 10, 2011


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