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Why is my boyfriend's behavior so inconsistent?
December 26, 2013 11:23 PM   Subscribe

Do other people see this as normal, or am I clueless because I've never had children?

I have been dating a man for about 2 years. He is divorced and has 3 grown children, who are 26 (son), 28 (daughter), and 31 (son). I am divorced and have no children.

I got to see him some during the holiday season, but most of the entire week is centered around his adult kids. I have family locally and out of town, but I worked to accommodate his and his kids' schedule so we could be together some.

The main issue I have regards his behavior when his daughter, who lives about 10 hours away, is in town. He and I generally spend each weekend together, but when she is in town, he doesn't want me to stay at his house. It's fine for me to stay over if it's just one or both of his sons, which happens sometimes--but not his daughter. Also, when he goes to visit her, he goes alone.

I would like to see him a little more during Christmas. I'm not asking him to prioritize his kids over me; I just want to be included more. I like his kids, by the way, and as far as I know, they all like me.

The reason I am hurt about not being allowed to stay over during this time obviously has nothing to do with sex but more about closeness. As I said, I was married before, and one of the things I miss is having someone with whom to spend holiday evenings and wake up together the next morning.

This year his daughter brought her boyfriend along, but I'm pretty sure they aren't sleeping together because so far they haven't stayed at his house but at their maternal grandmother's. I thought it might be different this year at Christmas because she brought her boyfriend along, and because he and I have been seeing each other now for about 2 years. I am afraid things will never change.
posted by femmefatale123 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He has a slightly different relationships with each of his kids. This doesn't strike me as particularly weird or inconsistent -- all three of them are different people. With a father / daughter relationship dynamic, he might be particularly protective or prudish or something -- or she's always just been a daddy's girl and he doesn't want to split his attention when he's visiting with her.

On the other hand . . . after two years it's about time to start mingling with the kiddos, particularly since they're adults. Bring it up with him and see what happens at the next holiday. Or maybe plan a trip to her town together?
posted by mibo at 11:41 PM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

My money's on the daughter not feeling super comfortable around you yet. You're obviously feeling a little in the dark about things so just ask your boyfriend about it without being accusatory or anything and he'll probably shed the necessary light on the situation.
posted by johnpoe50 at 11:44 PM on December 26, 2013 [15 favorites]

Is this the same man you have described in your previous questions? If so, since he is nearly 20 years your senior, you are probably closer to his daughter's age than him and that is a problem. He might feel uncomfortable when directly confronted with the fact that he is dating a much younger woman. Or his daughter might be uncomfortable with this and told her father so.
posted by moiraine at 11:51 PM on December 26, 2013 [41 favorites]

Agreed, maybe he was super-protective of his daughter when she was growing up, concerned about her being "taken advantage of" by boys, and now he feels weird letting her see him in a sexual relationship? Or, she has a pattern of being jealous of his girlfriends, and he doesn't want to rock the boat? Or she is uncomfortable with you?

Anyway, all this is speculation. The only way to find out is to talk to your boyfriend. I would start off along the lines of "hey I have noticed..." If the discussion goes well, you could tell him how much you would like to be with him on holidays.

In general, though, if he treats you well and involves you in his life in other ways, I would not see this as anything more than a quirk in his family dynamics. Odds are it is not about you at all.
posted by rpfields at 11:53 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

What @moraine said about the data points in your previous questions, in particular your question from October 2012. If you're 39 and he's 61, it stands to reason that his 28-year-old daughter might have a slight problem with the fact that you are only 11 years older than her. That, or she might be of the "no ring, no thing" school of thought: you're not married to her father (yet?), so she'd rather not create family memories with you at Christmas or have sleepovers with you until that changes. Or maybe you are just not her favorite person ever, but she loves her Dad and is therefore making nice with you even though her heart's not in it, and any deeper and more intimate interactions with you would be too much for her.

Only one way to find out: ask your boyfriend why he thinks his daughter does not want to spend time with you the way her brothers do. Is there anything your boyfriend suggests might you do to win her affections? Or has that ship sailed? Be careful digging here, OP, you might not like the answers you get. If I were you, I'd probably leave well enough alone.
posted by hush at 12:26 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Overall, you needed to start communicating about this before the point where it got upsetting, so you'll have to be a bit cautious from here. Good rule of thumb: You will never, ever, ever, ever win by trying to get your SO to choose you over their kids. Workable options are more "how can I start getting more comfortable with your kids so I'm a real part of the family" and "how can we make up for lost closeness before/after holidays".

I definitely agree that there is going to be very low chance of you becoming a part of Family Christmas without some real showing that you are a permanent fixture, but no idea based on your relationship dynamics whether that's the case or not. Honestly, you're not living with him yet... that more than the ring suggests that you may not really be at the stage of relationship where this is really an appropriate expectation. Go back a couple days, find the post of the girl whose mother was trying to get her to do all the holiday activities with the mother's boyfriend around. If the kids have any degree of social anxiety, you are still a stranger and are going to stay that way for quite awhile and you're going to have to get used to that for years yet. If they don't, given the distance involved, you're only really just starting to hit the "getting comfortable" time frame if you're really only seeing them once in a blue moon.

So, mostly, patience, patience, patience, and have reasonable expectations based on the actual level of relationship commitment here. I kinda feel like that might be the question behind the question, and that's not something we can answer.
posted by Sequence at 1:38 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Based on your previous questions, he always put the kids before his wife to the point that she wound up having an affair and they divorced; why would he do anything different with you?
posted by heyjude at 2:04 AM on December 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

No experience here, but this makes me uncomfortable on your behalf.

Screw the details. What is it that YOU want and have you asked for it? If no, do you feel adult enough to ask for it or are you willing to subsume your preferences indefinitely? It is a show stopper?

It may not be a show stopper, but it is a data point. Dad is willing to let Child rule his current adult relationships, at some cost to you. Adding to this is that Dad is different depending on the kid. The kids are now adults. They are independent entities, enabled of their own decision criteria. Like adults and all. Like Dad, presumably. Who here is not behaving like one? (Hint: the number is 2.)

At the very least, he owes you an honest explanation as to what is going on. I would not settle for not getting what you want AND not getting an honest explanation. Neither is unreasonable. A good explanation would be "I want QT with my daughter and she's shy around anyone but me", or "You remind her of her mom", or "She can't stand the thought of me having sex", or "She just hates you". No explanation is not acceptable in an adult relationship, and if you want one, you gotta get one.

Now, if you are responsible for having split up the marriage he used to have, that's different. If there isn't a clear, reasonable, adult explanation, I would be offended.

This should not be a contest between two women whose relationships with a man are different. Everyone in this scenario is an adult, and 2/3 are not acting like it.
posted by FauxScot at 3:37 AM on December 27, 2013

Balancing kids, even (or especially grown up kids) with new partners is difficult - even if everyone is principally cool around everyone else. One part of the problem is that divorced "sometimes-dads" typically have to catch up on together-time with their kids for way longer than usual.

The really gentle way to work with this problem would be if you'd let your boyfriend tell you a little about his relationship with his kids, and how (not why) it is important for him to have his own time with them.
posted by Namlit at 3:49 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify a few points:

1) I met him long after his marriage broke up. He has been divorced for over 15 years and hasn't really had a relationship with anyone but me.

2) The first time that this issue came up was when his daughter came for a summer visit, and he and I had been dating for only 6 months at the time. He had invited me over to dinner on one of our regular weekend nights with the family and said something to me like, "Tonight would not be a good night to stay." So I didn't. We had a discussion about it later, and he said he really didn't know how to approach the issue, and it made him uncomfortable having someone stay over while she was there. (Mind you, his ex-wife has been remarried now for some time. She remarried a year after their divorce.) He said when he went to visit his daughter that she never had anyone stay over. At that time, I chalked it up to our new relationship. When it happened 6 months later, last Christmas and we had been dating a year, I sort of chalked it up to a new relationship again. But now it's been 2 years.

3) As far as I know, she's comfortable with me. He and I have had this discussion. He said that as far as he knew, all of his kids like me. Of course, one thing I've noticed is that this is not a particularly communicative family when it comes to private lives and relationships. However, the daughter is very friendly with me. We are both teachers, and she generally initiates discussions with me about teaching, so we have that connection. Most weekends when we are together, she calls him at least once, and in the course of their discussion, he tells her what we are doing, so she knows we are together on weekends.

4) All of us (including the two sons and one's girlfriend) went to New Orleans in March. The daughter took her boyfriend, and they shared a room. He and I shared a room, so obviously we slept together there.

5) Regarding the "permanent fixture" reference or getting married as a future solution to this issue, he and I had this discussion this summer. He said he doesn't want to get married again or to live with someone. He basically said he's "been there, done that." He said he was young the first time at 25.
posted by femmefatale123 at 5:21 AM on December 27, 2013

Regarding the "permanent fixture" reference or getting married as a future solution to this issue, he and I had this discussion this summer. He said he doesn't want to get married again or to live with someone. He basically said he's "been there, done that." He said he was young the first time at 25.

He's happy with the way things are then. He's calling all the shots. You have to decide if this is something you can live with. If you're asking me, I'd say he's no more committed to you now than he was when you first started seeing each other. You are, as the song says, a "part time lover". Weekends and whenever else it suits him. You're not an equal partner.

If you want something more, I think you're going to have to seek that out with someone else.
posted by inturnaround at 5:28 AM on December 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

Do you want to address the issue of your respective ages raised above? If you and the daughter are closer in age than you and your boyfriend, then honestly yes that does explain why he treats sleepovers differently with his daughter in town than with his sons.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

One last thing I was trying to edit/clarify:

I said that one thing I've noticed is that this is not a particularly communicative family when it comes to private lives and relationships. For instance, back in the summer, the older son's live-in girlfriend of 3 years moved several miles away to attend medical school, and my boyfriend was afraid his son would follow her without establishing a plan for getting a new job there. He has a degree in psychology and basically works a low-paying orderly job in an institution. My boyfriend, who is an attorney, wishes his son would go to grad school (perhaps psychology) and do something better.

Ultimately, he didn't follow the girlfriend, and they broke up, but more than once I asked my boyfriend what their status was during this time (whether he was going with the girlfriend or not), and he never really knew until the final moment. He said he didn't ask but was hoping he wouldn't just follow her without a plan.
posted by femmefatale123 at 5:35 AM on December 27, 2013

Compare your wishes:
The reason I am hurt about not being allowed to stay over during this time obviously has nothing to do with sex but more about closeness. As I said, I was married before, and one of the things I miss is having someone with whom to spend holiday evenings and wake up together the next morning.

With his:
Regarding the "permanent fixture" reference or getting married as a future solution to this issue, he and I had this discussion this summer. He said he doesn't want to get married again or to live with someone. He basically said he's "been there, done that." He said he was young the first time at 25.

You want someone to feel close with so that you can share all of the important moments of life, large and small. You want to feel that you are central to someone's life, and you want to be with them on holidays and at family times. You want to have a partner by your side throughout your life.

Your boyfriend does not want that. He does not want a partner to be central to his life, and he does not want someone to always be there. He has done that before, and he does not want to do it again. He views close, lifelong relationships as something for young people, and views himself having moved beyond the need for that. In fact, he doesn't even want to have intimate, personal conversations with his own children, much less with a life partner. He wants a date on weekends and some sex and some fun, for as long as you will give it to him, and so long as it doesn't interfere with the rest of his life, which he has set up exactly as he wants it.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but your boyfriend does not want what you want. He does not want to be closer to you, and he does not want to integrate you into his family, and he does not want to be your partner. So at this point, you have three options. You could change what you want, and stop wanting that closeness, and instead be content to be his sometimes date, and disappear whenever he doesn't need you around. I suspect that's impossible, however, because you actually do want more, and it's extremely difficult to change those sorts of deep desires about the central parts of your life. The second option is to keep doing what you've been doing, which is that he pulls back and you repress your feelings or get upset, and then you forgive him, and nothing changes. That sounds to me like a recipe for unhappiness and for years of AskMe questions like the ones you've already written. The third option is that you leave him. Spend some time alone figuring out what you actually want in life and from a partner, and then when you're ready to date again, only date people who actually want what you want. That will be painful in the short term, of course. But it's the only option that is actually likely in the long term to give you what you want: a partner who really wants to be in a close, bonded, long-term relationship that is central to both of your lives. With this guy, you are likely never going to be more than you are right now; and it's pretty clear that you need more than that.
posted by decathecting at 5:45 AM on December 27, 2013 [30 favorites]

I am just popping in here to say that as an adult woman, I am still uncomfortable with my Dad's girlfriend. They've been together for 5 or more years now, and are getting married next summer. I don't think I'll ever be completely comfortable with her. I like her okay, I'm civil with her, and I strike up conversations because it's all what you're suppose to do.. but honestly I prefer spending time with my Dad one-on-one.

Just as a data point.
posted by royalsong at 5:51 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

This isn't an issue of how he's dealing with his children. This is an issue of what kind of relationship you want to have.

Your boyfriend has told you that he doesn't want to live with you or to marry you. Do you believe him?

This is the relationship you have had for two years and if you stay, this is the relationship you will continue to have. Is that okay with you?

He's not going to change, he doesn't want to change. If you decided that you want to be married again, and to have a partner, instead of a boyfriend, I'm sure that he would wish you well in your journey, but this is not a road he wants to travel.

What is it that you want? You need to be able to say it to your boyfriend, and you need to stick by it. If you want a partner, someone to spend holiday evenings and wake up together the next morning. This man isn't willing. If this is what you want, then this is not the guy for you.

It may be that in the new year, that you decide that you are allowed to have exactly what you want, and that you need to find someone who is on the same page as you are in this respect.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:59 AM on December 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to comment that all of your questions on Mefi so far have been to the tune of, I want more closeness and intimacy with my boyfriend and he seems disinterested/lackadaisical about it. You do recognize that is a pattern, right? Sorry to pull out of the archives, it just seemed pretty relevant.
posted by mermily at 6:24 AM on December 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

5) Regarding the "permanent fixture" reference or getting married as a future solution to this issue, he and I had this discussion this summer. He said he doesn't want to get married again or to live with someone. He basically said he's "been there, done that." He said he was young the first time at 25.

I definitely agree: This is your answer. Regardless of whether he's making great decisions about them, his children are his family and he is treating them as such. You are his girlfriend who he sees on weekends and is not willing to make a permanent commitment to. His kids are not going to be willing to make more of a permanent commitment to you than he is. I think you've got a reasonable expectation for everything to be cordial, but it sounds like everything is already cordial. You don't have a reasonable expectation of being there for family Christmas until something's happened that takes you from "girlfriend" to "member of the family". Some families are totally great about including all and sundry, but most aren't.

If you're fine with not being family, that's not a big deal, but I also have to agree that you sound kind of... progressively less fine with this.
posted by Sequence at 6:33 AM on December 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

"Do other people see this as normal, or am I clueless because I've never had children?"

My mom passed away a few years ago and my dad got serious with his new girlfriend very quickly... My brother and I gave him grief and he said we could either accept her or not, but we needed to accept his life choice or not visit. He was 68 then.

She doesn't like either one of us and they now live in a part of the country that I just don't go to ever (its in a different place than my hometown, not because of her) but we mainly have our relationship by email, my dad and I.

She would go agro had I expected her to vacate the premises... and my dad has considered them partners from day 1... I never would have gotten 2 years of expecting her not to be around while I adjusted.

So that is one benchmark of what is normal.

I agree with above posters who think that he is a bit older with the "been there done that" mentality...and I guess you can't expect him to change that.
posted by misspony at 8:46 AM on December 27, 2013

Also, to answer this question: Why is my boyfriend's behavior so inconsistent?

It seems that he IS really consistent- he shows you he cares regularly but also that you should not expect permanence... he really seems unfaltering consistent in showing those 2 things, which aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by misspony at 8:51 AM on December 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

Regarding the "permanent fixture" reference or getting married as a future solution to this issue, he and I had this discussion this summer. He said he doesn't want to get married again or to live with someone. He basically said he's "been there, done that." He said he was young the first time at 25.

There's a running theme throughout your questions. You want a different relationship than your boyfriend wants. It doesn't seem like he is going to change that.

His daughter bringing her boyfriend along doesn't seem like it's a sign of "hooray, family time now includes significant others!" but more that the daughter's relationship is getting more serious to where her boyfriend is family.
posted by inertia at 9:19 AM on December 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I honestly think that at this point you're going to have to have a conversation with your boyfriend that may not go the way you hope. I know it's scary, but is it worse than feeling this alone two years into a relationship? Good luck.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:34 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is inconsistent because he does not seem to be actually interested in being with you or committing to you in any capacity. His children likely know this. They are probably part of the reason why he's not interested in being with you fully or long term.

Why stay with someone who doesn't actually want you in the way that you need to be wanted? You deserve better than that.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:47 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of answerers seem to have missed that the OP's boyfriend has no problem at all with her staying the night while his SONS visit, he only has her leave when his DAUGHTER visits. And then, only has her leave for overnights. I don't know where people are getting this whole idea that you're locked out of your boyfriend's life entirely whenever any of his children are around.

You'll have to ask him what makes his daughter the special exception. My guess is that she feels somehow weird about another woman spending the night, and because she travels the furthest (and I presume, visits less often as a result) he indulges her preference.

You're just going to have to ask him what's up, and say in as many words that you would like this particular thing to change, if possible.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:34 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It made me so sad to see that you are still with this guy that you've posted about before. It's so clear what the problem is and what the solution is, and you keep avoiding that obvious solution. Why? Are you afraid you can't find anyone who will love you and commit to you?

To be frank, this guy does not sound like much of a prize. At all. His behavior doesn't sound inconsistent at all -- it's just not what you want it to be, and it's not likely to ever be, I don't think.
posted by ravioli at 8:29 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I belong to a couple activity groups in the same age range as your boyfriend's and have observed a number of long-term "weekend" relationships. They work when both parties totally understand that this is what the arrangement is: part-time. These acquaintances are divorced or widowed but have good relationships with their adult children and grandchildren. Each half of these part-time couples seems to get enough closeness and intimacy from the adult children. Sometimes you'll get invited to meet with the family, but sometimes not.

To more directly respond to your specific question about the daughter, your closeness in age to her may be a factor in your boyfriend not wanting you to stay over during the daughter's visit. Also, since the daughter lives so far away, your boyfriend may want as much father-daughter time with her as possible. As others have said, and it's painful, he doesn't see you as part of his family.

Your boyfriend has been totally consistent. The weekend relationship is just that--having an agreeable partner to do weekend things with, including sex. He's defined from the get-go that the part-time arrangement he has with you is what he wants. You need to ask yourself why you are not accepting what he has told you from the beginning. If you do not want the part-time arrangement, then end it.
posted by Elsie at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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