You're not my mommy
July 26, 2011 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Dad wants me to meet the woman he left Mom for. Do I have to?

So, just about two years ago my father called me four days before a trip my parents had planned to visit me at college to tell me he had fallen in love with an old friend he had been emailing with and would be divorcing my mother. About six months after that he moved 2000 miles across the country to move in with her and her six year old daughter.

Needless to say, I was and am angry. I'm angry that he unilaterally decided to dissolve our family. I'm angry that he (and she) recklessly destabilized the living situation of a six year old. I'm angry that I'm now my mother's only source of financial support (only child.) I've met a wonderful, loving man who I want to build a future with, and when we talk about marriage it makes me positively livid to think about the impossibility of celebrating with my family. That said, I recognize that my dad is a human being who deserves happiness and while I might not agree with his choices, he's the only dad I get and I've worked really hard to keep our relationship positive.

But. I recently visited him and he mentioned repeatedly how much this woman would like to meet me. Apparently the two of them will be visiting my home town where my mother and I live (not to spend time with me, to go to a concert) and he thinks this would be a good opportunity to get to know one another. I just can't even deal with this idea. Frankly, I kind of hate this woman. She seems to have extremely dubious ethics and she's done something directly hurtful and traumatic to me. If it was up to me I'd never have to see her. It doesn't seem like she's going away, though. How do I deal with this? Do I have to have even a cordial relationship with her, eventually, and if so how the hell do I get there?
posted by animalrainbow to Human Relations (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would not meet her right now, at least in your current frame of mind. You have a lot of (justified) anger towards your dad and the Other Woman that you need to deal with in a healthy way before you can begin to entertain the notion of getting to meet her. Your dad can ask all he wants, but he has to respect your right to say no. Don't let him guilt you into it either - as your title says - she's not your mommy and you are (presumably) an adult who can make your own decisions.

That being said, run, do not walk, to a therapist. This is one of those issues that really needs to be addressed by a professional. Do this before you even begin to contemplate whether to have a relationship with her. This is not a question that you can even begin to answer in a healthy way right now, so don't even ask.
posted by Leezie at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Go ahead and meet her. At least once. It may not be now if you are too angry and unhappy, but maybe later. Perhaps that is what is needed for you to either confirm or deny your perceptions of her, and even then, a one-time meeting is sure to be awkward and uncomfortable. It will probably take more than one meeting to feel anything BUT awkward and uncomfortable.

It's easy to say this being an outsider, but I'd take the high road and at least give her a chance, see what she's like, to give your father the opportunity to show what it is about her that made him give up everything he had to be with her.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:10 PM on July 26, 2011

You're probably going to have to at some point (I don't know about right now) if he wants to make her a permanent part of his life, and so far it sounds like it's going that way. Or more specifically, if you want your dad in your life at all, you'll have to at least make nice around the woman for a few hours once in a while. If you can't do that, I doubt your dad will want you around (and uh, especially since there's a cute little 6-year-old he can play daddy with instead) in his life.

I don't know about cordial-- maybe "coolly polite" might be the best you can shoot for. Act like she's someone at work you don't like much but have to work with on an occasional basis and thus must be polite to? Basically yeah, you need to stifle your rage for a few hours (make sure you don't have to hang out with them for a solid week or something) and make nicey-nice once in a while when you can stand to, if you want your dad around.

Seconding therapy. Eventually you'll get more used to the idea and the rage will edge its way down. Plenty of people have had to put up with stepmothers they can't stand, in the same situation that you're in, so it's doable.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:10 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

They can meet you when he starts paying your mom spousal support, because that part, I really don't get.

Did your mom sign away her rights? Are they perhaps not formally divorced.

Lastly, has your father concretely apologized to you?

I've, uh, kinda been here. It doesn't go well down the road unless your father owns his mistakes. You can't meet him 3/4's of the way, or 95% of the way - he has to own that in his search for happiness, he harmed you and your mom. Ditto the lady friend.

If they apologize and your mom's financial interests are appropriately taken care of by your dad, than sure! Move ahead with forgiveness and forging new dynamics.

But not until the opetransactions from his previous marriage & family dynamic are closed out. No way.
posted by jbenben at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011 [26 favorites]

You don't have to do anything, and I think it would be OK if you continued to see your father away from his girlfriend until you feel ready to meet her, whenever that may be. However, I think if you agreed to meet them for a (quick, casual) lunch in a neutral environment you'd be able to put in some face time and leave if you feel you need to. In no way should you feel obligated to hang out with her all day or anything like that just to make your dad happy.
posted by phunniemee at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011

I don't blame you for not wanting to meet her. But remember: while she did a terrible thing by deciding to be a party to the dissolution of your family, its actually your dad who decided to dissolve your family, not her. Don't put all you hate on her just because its' easier than hating your dad.

That being said, though i think your hate for this woman is serving as a proxy for the hate you might otherwise feel for your dad, hate is not a good thing to feel under any circumstances, especially not towards your father.

I'd recommend that you let a combination of time and therapy do its work to lessen your feelings of hate. And then meet the woman. There's no rush to meet her now - meeting needs to happen when it's your decision and when you're comfortable, not when your dad and his girlfriend want it. They've opened the door to meeting but you get to choose when to walk through.
posted by Kololo at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

"open transactions from his previous..."
posted by jbenben at 1:12 PM on July 26, 2011

You don't have to meet her, you don't have to be cordial with her. But I think maybe a little perspective might be in order here. Love and life are complicated things, and everyone suffers, and everyone deserves to love and be loved.

You're an adult. You're out of the house. Your father was your father throughout your entire childhood and all the way into college. A lot of people aren't that lucky. Was he a good dad while he was there?

I just don't see, in anything you've said here, anything incredibly hurtful or traumatic that either one of them did to you, or her 6 year old daughter.

Unless there's more to the story that you aren't saying, I think the mature thing to do is to give her and your father a chance. And perhaps to be a positive role model to a 6 year old girl who is probably also dealing with similar issues and doesn't have the years of life experience that you do.
posted by empath at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2011 [32 favorites]

I mean, you do have a right to feel anger at your dad, and (to a lesser degree) this new woman. And yeah, if he hurt you so much that you have to withdraw from him for a while, or forever, to protect yourself, do that. But if you want to keep positive contact with him, you should try to at least tolerate her. You don't seem to know much about her really, and honestly this is a pretty good opportunity to see her for the first (and possibly last) time. They're in town for an event, so you guys can have dinner first and there is a built in time limit on the encounter. You don't have to seem rude if you want to keep it short. Maybe you'll hate her guts and never want to see her again. That's fine, at least you made an effort. Maybe you'll see how happy your dad is with her and forgive him a little. Maybe you'll see how happy your dad is with her and throw a drink in his face. That's fine too (as long as there is no citrus involved). It's worth a try.
posted by Garm at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2011

You don't have to meet her. But what sticks out from your question for me is that you're willing to recognize this:

"that my dad is a human being who deserves happiness and while I might not agree with his choices..."

...but you're not willing or ready to acknowledge that this woman is also a human being who, presumably, also deserves happiness. Now, you didn't invite her, and I don't think you're obliged to meet her. But there's just something about the contrast between the above statement and this one:

Frankly, I kind of hate this woman. She seems to have extremely dubious ethics

that doesn't ring right to me. I agree that you aren't ready to deal with this idea right now, and even that you shouldn't have to, but from my completely outside the situation perspective, it seems like you should try to work on recognizing that your dad's new partner is a human being, and that your (admirable!) goal of being more forgiving of him doesn't mean it's right, healthy or logical to shift all that blame onto her.

On preview, what Kololo's getting at.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

i was you a long, long time ago. i was angry, and hurt, and frustrated and i had a hard time even being in the same room as my dad, much less the woman he left my mom for. i wanted absolutely nothing to do with her. i made it my mission to let her know that i was girl in my dad's life and she should get used to second place. i was fond of saying "i was here before she was and i'll be here after she leaves." i was awful.

and, you know, for almost 15 years she has been with my dad and supported him and cared for him and helped him and loved him. she and i have grown to a sort of truce. there's still some barbs, but i genuinely love her. our relationship now would be so much easier and progressed if i hadn't been so bratty for the first few years.

this isn't to say my brattiness wasn't justified or that i think i was wrong about what i thought about her - but, just that in the long run it did no good. your disapproval won't turn back time, it won't get him to leave her, it won't put your family back together.

pretend she is someone at work you don't like, be cordial but distant. think about if you had a boyfriend or girlfriend your dad hated, how you'd want him to treat them out of love for you, even if he felt they were bad for you - wouldn't you eventually just want him to trust your judgment and be there with loving arms if it crashed and burned?
posted by nadawi at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2011 [14 favorites]

I am very firmly in the camp that people who cheat on their partners are not people I can trust. I would be frank with your father. Tell him you're hurt that he did this to you and your mother, and that while you understand that he wants to be happy, his happiness came at the expense of your family. That's not okay with you, and meeting his new wife will only deepen the wound. He is a grown man who needs to take responsibility for his actions; if he tries to guilt you into accepting his new life "if you truly love him", make it very clear that you are under no obligation to do so just because he's your father.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:16 PM on July 26, 2011 [11 favorites]

Short version:
I don't think you have to have a cordial relationship with her, but I can tell you it will ultimately make your life easier in the long run. That said, I agree with Leezie that now may not be the best time and that therapy can help.

Long version:
My dad left my mom when I was 8 years-old for his secretary. Obviously, at that age, my response was very different than yours would be as a young adult, but I can see that there are still days today that I feel anger, hurt and pain. I still wonder why my dad did what he did, though there are some pretty obvious "answers" (my mom is mentally ill and certainly a handful). To this day, he has never apologized, never given an explanation, never so much as expressed sorrow or sadness for hurting my sister and I.

A few months after my parents' divorce was finalized, dad married his secretary, and they're still married to this day - in fact, at this point, they've been married longer than my parents were. Her daughters were the bridesmaids to my maid of honor in my sister's wedding. I entered therapy in college and it's done wonders for processing my feelings about her and her family. She knowingly and willingly broke up a family and did a real number on my childhood. But ultimately, I know that dwelling on that anger will be good for no one in the long run. I still have to see her. I'm not close with her, but I can at least be pleasant.

As far as my dad is concerned, at 24 I finally see him for what he is, like you said: a human being who deserves happiness. As someone who continues to be in a tumultuous relationship with my mother, even outside of her home, I know that he was in a miserable situation and he didn't know how to get out of it. While I know he loves my stepmom, I also know that what happened was very likely influenced by the misery he was experiencing at home, even when my sister and I were around.

So, as someone coming from the other side, as it were: the anger will subside over time if you let it. Get into therapy. Talk it through. Keep working on recognizing that while what dad did is pretty awful, it's done now, and everyone is human.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:17 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

You should not meet your father's new girlfriend at this point. If you want to keep a cordial relationship with your father, you will have to meet her eventually, but you can tell him you are not ready yet. And you're not.

Do you know that the girlfriend was married when she started up a relationship with your father? Because if she was already separated, meeting your father did not destabilise her daughter's life.

I also think you're putting a lot of your anger at him on her, and that you want to give her much more of the blame so that you feel okay keeping a relationship with your father. She did not do anything hurtful and traumatic to you, your father did that.
posted by jeather at 1:19 PM on July 26, 2011

I believe that you have to sort out at whom your anger is directed. You can't possibly be angry with "this woman" without actually knowing what she has "done" other than crossing your dad's path at some point. Actually, if her wish to meet you is as persistent and genuine as he says, she might be genuinely a caring and kind person.
So: seconding others that it might be a good idea to sort this out before meeting her.

(This line "I'm angry that he (and she) recklessly destabilized the living situation of a six year old" certainly needs some sort of revision. Unless there's something you know about that child that you haven't written here, her mother's finding a new partner could have been quite stabilizing. And it really seems none of your business at all.)
posted by Namlit at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2011

its actually your dad who decided to dissolve your family, not her. Don't put all you hate on her just because its' easier than hating your dad.

Nthing this sentiment, which has been expressed a couple of times so far. It's not uncommon to put most of the blame on the woman in situations like this and give the man a bit of a pass — "Everybody knows men have no self-control, so what do you expect, but she's another woman and should have known better!"

That's unfair to her and lets your father get off way too easy. Regardless of what this woman did, your father is the one who chose to have an affair with her and end his marriage.
posted by Lexica at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dad wants me to meet the woman he left Mom for. Do I have to?


There will be fallout, but no. That fallout was created by your father, and that's the way it goes.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

My Dad had an affair with a woman that broke my parents' marriage up.

That was nine years ago. Only this past Christmas was the first time I was willing to spend a holiday dinner with her at my grandparents' house. (My Dad never pushed me to get along with her, but my grandparents did.)

I was never really angry at her, but I was never really comfortable accepting her as part of my family. I am still kind of not, to be honest. I will go to the family Christmas party this year, though.

I honestly believe that this is something you have to be ready for. Your dad can't force it onto you. Tell him you're not ready if you truly don't want to meet her.
posted by royalsong at 1:24 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, perhaps therapy plus telling your dad that --- while you're not ready to meet her right now --- you'll let him know when you ARE ready and have reduced the anger you feel about the whole situation. I doubt that meeting her now would be a very good idea: even if you tried to present a "coolly polite" attitude towards her, I'm guessing you've got too much anger built up to maintain it, and the resulting bad impression she'd get of you might color your family relations far worse than merely waiting a little longer to meet her for the first time.
posted by easily confused at 1:27 PM on July 26, 2011

Ugh, I'm sorry you're in this situation.

But no, you don't have to meet her. It sounds like you are a grown-up or at least old enough to know for damn sure how you feel. Your dad chose between his family and her; he picked her and gets to live with the consequences. He should have at least considered one of those consequences would be that you don't really want to hang out with the two of them together.

Frankly, I still don't like hanging out with my dad's wife. He left my mom for her 25+ years ago and sometimes it still makes me angry to think about. I'm cordial and polite but also passive aggressive (sorry, it's inherited). I live 10 minutes away and visit less than once a year. I don't think I need [any more] therapy because I've come to terms with never liking her and all the guilt that caused me; if my dad's happy with her good for him, but that doesn't mean I have to like her or see her.
posted by motsque at 1:28 PM on July 26, 2011

First off, you don't have to do anything. If you're not ready, you're not ready, and that's it.

But that said, if you want to build/fix your relationship with your father, at some point, you'll need to meet this woman since she's an important part of your father's life. And the longer you put it off, the bigger a deal it's going to be.

Frankly, if you even put in some minor face time with your dad and this woman -- even just coffee -- it'll probably be good in that a) that pressure of meeting her will be off, even though you haven't really done anything substantive, and b) you'll get to put a face to this woman and deal with her as a person, and not as some abstract object of hate, and that'll probably be good for you in the long run.

It'll be tough, sure, but it seems like a reasonable baby step to me. Putting it off isn't going to be any better.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:28 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The lady friend is an adult and a mother. She engaged in an affair that broke up a marriage.

She sure did have a hand in harming the OP. I don't see why it's on the OP to go to therapy and be civil before certain formalities (acknowledgement & apology) are met. And I'm still wondering about the OP's mother's financial situation, because that would weigh heavily upon me in a situation like this.

Of course you can't walk around angry forever. But getting over your anger doesn't mean the OP should reward bad behavior. I can't think of anything more soul destroying than to force yourself to give approval for a situation that isn't really approvable.

Getting over the anger in your own heart and being on friendly terms are two way way different things. OP, you need the first. The latter? Not so much.
posted by jbenben at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

All you have to say is that you aren't ready, and that you'll let them know when you are.
posted by hermitosis at 1:40 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Do I have to have even a cordial relationship with her, eventually, and if so how the hell do I get there?

It took me five years of anger and pain and screaming and sobbing and feeling completely alone and scared before I finally went to therapy after my mother left my father. Five years. I was lost. I simply did not have the emotional resources to handling all the pain and anger I felt. For five years, I looked at my anger and I felt terrified it would never go away. It was this big, unmanageable thing I could barely understand, let alone process. I did not have the tools to make it go away. Five years, I spent waiting and hoping the anger would just magically disappear. Turns out, it doesn't. Time doesn't heal wounds. Passivity cannot make this situation better.

Therapy. Seriously. Therapy. It will give you a better understanding of your anger and pain, and it will help you figure out what it means to successfully interact with your father.

Therapy is the standard, "your problem is too big for the community to help you" response, I know. But it's more than that, here. Therapy is useful for situations where your emotions are so big that you don't know how to help you. Therapy is there to teach you how to process them, express them, and live with them. Therapy is the process by which you can learn how to handle situations, like this, that seem downright unhandleable.

I don't see why it's on the OP to go to therapy and be civil before certain formalities (acknowledgement & apology) are met.

To be clear: the therapy isn't meant to change the OP so that s/he is a "better" child, able to live up to some so-called social obligations. That's not the point. OP, please don't think of therapy as meant to "fix" you. In my experience, anger like what the OP describes hurts. I suggest therapy not because the OP has to learn how to be nice to this woman -- s/he doesn't. (One of the first things my therapist taught me is that it's okay if I need to insist on not meeting my mother's new partner.) I suggest therapy because, given what the OP writes, it sounds like s/he is suffering. I suffered (and am suffering, still) in the same way. Therapy helped me, and is helping me. I bet dollars to donuts it will help the OP.
posted by meese at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just want to suggest you don't assume he's destabilizing the 6 year olds life. You have legitimate grievances. Don't muddy them with things that don't concern you.
posted by milarepa at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your Dad didn't just leave your Mom, he left you. He doesn't sound like he's doing a good job of being close to you. You're angry, with good reason. Therapy should help. If you want to see him, do. If you want to meet her, do. If not, that's okay, as long as you're civil about it. Eventually, you will probably want to have an active relationship with him, and, by extension, her. She might be a terrific person that you want in your life. But it's okay to do this in your own time.
posted by theora55 at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

She sure did have a hand in harming the OP. I don't see why it's on the OP to go to therapy and be civil before certain formalities (acknowledgement & apology) are met.

Echoing meese's sentiment that the therapy has nothing to do with the OP learning to be civil. The therapy is meant to be a way for her to air out her emotions, talk about them, and learn how to process them in a healthy way.

Of course you can't walk around angry forever. But getting over your anger doesn't mean the OP should reward bad behavior. I can't think of anything more soul destroying than to force yourself to give approval for a situation that isn't really approvable.

This is what I get my mom allll the time. My dad did something terrible. He left his family, and most hurtful to me, he left me alone in a situation that he knew was damaging. By having a cordial relationship with him and the "other woman," I'm not accepting their behavior. This has nothing to do with them. It has to do with me: I don't want to hold on to toxic anger for the rest of my life. It's done. It was traumatic and hurtful, but it's done. Being cordial does not mean that you're encouraging the bad behavior. For me, it means that I'm doing my best to process what happened in a healthy way. OP may feel differently.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You don't know why your parents' relationship failed, that's between them.

Just to give you a story from my own perspective, I'm the kid from the second marriage. My Dad left his first wife because she cheated on him more than once, but he never told me this until he was sure that I was old enough to understand that it could *never* be shared with his kids from his first marriage. He just let himself be seen as the bad guy who left his wife for a younger woman, and even though he's gone, I've still never said anything. (and my half-sister is a bitch, but that's another story) I also recognize that since I never met his first wife, there's a whole other side to their relationship that I'm not privy to.

So - focus on your relationship with your Dad. Not your protectiveness towards your Mom, not your guesses about a six year old kid you've never met, not your imaginings of how future family celebrations might go. You don't have to meet her right now. "Dad, I know this is important to you, but I'm not ready yet. I don't know when I will be, but I love you, and I'm glad you're doing well."
posted by HopperFan at 2:03 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

"She engaged in an affair that broke up a marriage."

Conjecture. No one here knows what was going on with the marriage, even the OP.
posted by HopperFan at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

You should realize that your parents' decision to dissolve the marriage is not about you. It's about their relationship, or lack of a happy one, and you're not ever going to be privvy to all the details. Neither is likely to be a very accurate historian, though it's a safe bet that neither were particularly happy. It doesn't sound like either of them abandoned you--that's not a fair characterization when you pretty clearly still talk to both.

I went through this with my parents. Both made mistakes. Both hurt one another. All this resulted because they weren't really compatible. It generally sucked. As an adult, though I have a relationship with my dad's new(er) wife. She's a good person, and I'm glad I know her.

Your situation may be different, but there's not a lot to be gained from judging this woman (or your dad, for that matter) since you will probably never know what really happened. I'd resist the urge to talk to either of your parents about it, except if asked, you might advise that they both be generous in the divorce and to make the break as cleanly as they can. Otherwise, make clear that you have no interest in any post-mortem.

Tell dad you need time and that it's painful for you to see the demise of a relationship that lasted for your entire life. Ask him not to pressure you to meet his new lady friend, and tell him you'll let him know when you're ready for that. Then, go talk to a counselor. Not because you have a problem, but because they can be very helpful in helping you through a healthy grief process.
posted by Hylas at 2:06 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd have a cup of coffee, be cordial, in and out in twenty minutes or so. Then at least you have a concrete impression of your father's woman and won't be prone, possibly, to imagining things. I agree with some posters above that your father is maybe not such a moral swine as you currently feel, but even so you're not obliged to rush your emotions to suit him, he has to wait on you, and you may also like to get your mother's opinion. Re a cordial relationship eventually, just take it step by step. It depends not just on you, but on her, maybe on your mother, and on your father too. Best of luck.
posted by londongeezer at 2:12 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

No, you don't have to. Should you? I don't think you're ready.

I think empath has a very interesting point, though. Because your father and this other woman seem to be focusing on themselves only, her daughter might be going through some of the same things you're experiencing.

If you don't want to meet this woman, then don't. (I wouldn't in your situation, FWIW.) If your dad asks why not, tell him. If I were in your place, I would try to calmly explain why you don't want to meet her; you may want to add a "yet" onto that. Say that you need time to come to grips with the situation, and space. Seeing a therapist would be a wonderful idea. When you can - if you can - talk to your dad calmly, I would mention that it might be a good idea for the daughter to see someone, too. I know that this is a very hard time in your life and you're trying to figure out how to get over the anger, or live with the anger, and her well-being is really none of your business. These people sound very selfish, though, and imagining how difficult it is for you to come to grips it with only makes it clearer that a child would need just as much help with this. I think you should clearly say why you're not ready to meet the other woman (if that's your choice) and tell your father to be patient, and if you can, ask how the daughter is doing with all of the changes in her life.

On preview, Hylas and HopperFan both have a good point: there is no way to know everything that went on in your parents' marriage.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 2:12 PM on July 26, 2011

"Dad, I am just not ready for that right now. Maybe someday, but not now. Give me time."
posted by AugustWest at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really easy to hate "The Other Woman." Because if it's her fault then you don't have to hate your Dad. I hear that you have no trouble recognizing your anger at your father, but even so, I'm still thinking you're sticking her with the lion's share of the load. Something to mull over.

You are not required to meet this woman. Ever. Your father will probably continue to bug you about it. He's trying to get back the sense of family he lost when he blew up yours. There are lots and lots & lots of reasons to be mad here, I'm sure. But I just want to say, as a person who has put some criminal lapses in parenthood [mostly] behind her, that kind of anger is a very heavy load to carry. Whether you choose to meet her or not, letting go a little will help you.
posted by Ys at 2:18 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: not derailing starts by not derailing.OP is not anon, MeMail them instead of arguing points with other posters please. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2011


"I'm sorry dad, I'm not ready to be okay with this enough to spend time with her."

Boom, done. If he pushes you on this you respond courteously the way Ms Manners would ask you to respond to unreasonable requests. Stand your ground and do what's best for you first, your relationship with your family second and everything else - including your relationship with him, I'd say - after that.

As to the longer-term question -

I share many of liketitanic's concerns about your general mental health and reactions, as well as how you choose to phrase certain things, like "unilaterally decided to dissolve our family." There's no other way to dissolve a family. When one person is done then everyone is done.

I can't tell from your question how your parents' marriage ended. Jbenben could be right and there could have been cheating and betrayal. Perhaps their marriage had been pro forma only for who knows how long. Quite frankly I come from a mindset that says the less you know the better - their relationship is about them, not you, and it ended when you were an adult. Involving you in the details to any extent puts you in a crappy position.

But whether you know what went down or not, whether it was handled as well as it could have been or unbelievably horribly - that only matters as much as you choose to let it. The man is your father and you have to decide what sort of relationship you want to have with him going forward. Depending on what you decide you have to accept his feet of clay to varying degrees.

He's done things that upset you, but I think you could go a long way in doing right for yourself by setting down issues that are really not your business. Being angry with him for his role in the life of a child you don't know and who is not related to you? I mean, to some extent empathy is admirable but in these circumstances it's hard not to feel like you're looking for millstones to hang around his neck rather than just confront the things you feel he did to YOU.

To some extent I think anger at this woman qualifies as well. She could be a horrible skank homewrecker who preyed on a married man and didn't care about the end results. But she did nothing without your father's complicity and he's the one who had a bond with you and your mother, not her. You're entitled to your anger and your opinion of her but, like the 6-year-old-thing, I wonder if it's not a misdirection. Is it a way to be as mad as you are without the discomfort of aiming it at someone you spent your whole life loving?

Get as right with your dad as you can and finding a way to allow for this woman's life intersecting yours will work out along the way.
posted by phearlez at 2:48 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

In case it wasn't clear, my advise was not that OP must necessarily meet the other woman, only that OP shouldn't burn the bridge or set it up to fail. I'd also advise strongly against mentioning the other woman's child. It's going to be perceived as judgmental and manipulative. The only result will be to add unnecessary conflict, at no benefit to OP.
posted by Hylas at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2011

Is there something you're not telling us that's led you to conclude she has extremely dubious ethics? Or are you saying that because of the affair itself? (And/or the issue about her daughter? Which I honestly don't quite understand why you're sure they "recklessly destabilized" her life... presumably by the time he moved in they knew this wasn't just some fling, and they've been proven right. Perhaps she's trying to do the best by her child, she feels her daughter benefits from your dad's presence, and she wouldn't do a thing like this if she didn't feel as deeply committed to him as she does? I mean, I'm not necessarily saying that's the truth, and you obviously know more about the details, but I'm just saying that at least on the face of it it doesn't seem to be unethical to me.)

As far as the questionable ethics of the affair itself, is there any reason to think she's more ethically at fault than your father? Barring any specific details, it seems like he'd be the one who's more blameworthy. Now obviously I know he's also your dad, with all the redeeming features you know about him plus he's your dad, where she doesn't have any of that going for her, so it makes sense that you'd hate her more than him for it. But it might be helpful to remember that just like your dad is a flawed human being who deserves happiness, so is she. And that you (I assume) don't know what went on behind the scenes here. Do you even know if she knew he was married, at least at first? Maybe he was dishonest with her about your mom's feelings, telling her that they both wanted to get divorced, telling her that your mom did something horrible to him. Maybe she told him he was behaving unethically and that she wouldn't be with him unless he was honest with his wife and made a choice about what he wanted, and then he did. (Again, not saying the "best case" scenario here is necessarily true, just trying to point out that there's so many possibilities for nuance here, beyond the cartoon character husband-stealing villainess.)

I'm not saying you need to see her, at least not now, but it might be helpful to try to sort out to what extent your feelings about her actually have to do with her as a person, versus her sort of being a vessel for your pain and anger at your dad and the situation in general, especially if she may be in your father's life for a long time, in which case you'll probably be a lot happier if you can move past hating her and at least get to awkwardly cordial.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:57 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know quite a few people whose parents divorced whilst they were already young adults. There seems to be a pattern: those who see each parent's contribution to this outcome are a mixed bag, but, predominantly, what you would call well adjusted people. Then there are those who have resolutely placed blame with one parent for a long time, or still do. And they are having a very hard time, decades after the event (one of these people is in her sixties).

Two different things seem to happen in all these (latter) cases: with the dad leaving (in these cases it is the dad, too), they have become a surrogate partner for their mother, who becomes emotionally and often financially dependent on them. Resentment is directed at the whole constellation of things which has created the hole they have to fill: dad, other woman, work environment/hobby which "facilitated" the perceived betrayal, whatever. From what I could make out, in a very confused manner, the mother herself is resented, which is quite possibly the most complicating feeling here, because, of course, she is the victim of the betrayal. But also she is to a certain extent, one of the co-authors, if only because she didn't notice sooner what was going on. I actually heard this one voiced after twenty years of listening to one of the people I am talking about go on and on about how villaineous the dad, how saintly the mum, and after it came out the first time, it was given centre-stage for quite a while.

Secondly, all these people identify with the mother. All of them are women, it probably would happen differently with men. They are also the only other woman in the family (either single or with brothers, no sisters, or, in one case, a much older sister).

So their young selves were unimaginable battlefields: split loyalties, and internal battles in which they are absorved and consumed by these various roles that have been thrust on them, and by the feelings of others. Decades on, the devastation is still visible and at work.

So - whether or not you decide to meet the lady in question, I think it is most important you try to detach as much as possible from the situation as it seems to stand. Get your dad to acknowledge the hurt he brought to YOU, and deal with that, together or alone. Talk to him about honouring those obligations he has towards your mother, which might be financial, as someone upstream suggested, or otherwise, and make it clear that he owes this to you, as well. Tell him what situation he has left you in with regard to the family unit, and that it is unfair to you. If your motehr relies too much on you, it might be good to try to ever so gently rebuild that relation as well on a slightly modified basis. However old you are, and however able to assume quite a few of the adult responsibilities in relation to either of your parents, you are still their kid. It is unfair for you to become the sole support, emotionally, financially, etc., before old age and physical frailties make it inevitable.

Sometimes I have the feeling that parental divorce hits young adults, and especially young women, more than it does kids. Do take care of yourself, the kind of emotional turmoil such situations provoke can insiduously spread into your whole life.
posted by miorita at 3:46 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I think moving in with a man you haven't been in contact with for over 30 years after a few months of emailing and even less time in a romantic relationship when you have physical custody of a young child is, in fact, irresponsible bordering on unethical. (Trying to imagine the AskMe responses if she had asked for advice here at that point.) I can acknowledge that that doesn't make her child any more of my business, though.
posted by animalrainbow at 4:05 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think being up front with your dad about your feelings is the best in the long run, not just meeting the new girlfriend. Let him know that while your relationship with him is important, you're hurt by his actions. Let him know that at the present time you aren't interested in meeting his new girlfriend and you would appreciate his patience and respect on the matter. You could also communicate that you may never feel up to it, so he isn't asking regularly if you've change your mind. I feel like you're doing your best to be fair but you're absolutely aloud to feel hurt. Don't put his needs ahead of your own.
posted by smirkyfodder at 4:21 PM on July 26, 2011

While you're hear, can you clarify what you mean about being your mother's only source of financial support?
posted by empath at 4:24 PM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, that was badly phrased. My father was the primary breadwinner for most of my parents' marriage. My mother has a job and I don't know the financial details of their divorce settlement, but she has no safety net whatsoever or retirement savings. Should anything go wrong health, job, or finance wise I would be the fallback, and I have already begun working on having an extra savings cushion for what seems like an eventuality to me. I know this is by no means an unusual situation nor do I consider it a huge burden but it does bother me that my dad doesn't even seem to have considered it or discussed it with me.
posted by animalrainbow at 4:31 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

she has no safety net whatsoever or retirement savings.

My father left my mom when I was eleven and I saw him go through that divorce and another one before he died. His last wife was married to him for ten years before leaving. Less-charitable people suggested that she stuck around until the ten year mark because she would then be entitled to benefits after he died. This would be true for your mother too, most likely. It's also likely that a divorce settlement took this into account and it might be worth channeling some energy into this.

Anyhow, I think you're letting your frustration over this [admittedly annoying-as-hell] situation get in the way of choosing a good way to move forward. Many people have given you scripts for talking to your dad about not wanting to meet his new wife. I'd also suggest that as you move forward, you make it clear to your dad that you expect to have you+him time in the future and not just you+him+his new family time only. That said, I think it might be worth trying to prioritize things that are going to be useful for you to work through and things that time may be better spent learning to let go of.

You still have a family though they're not in the same configuration as you are used to. Having some time to grieve that may be something that is useful for you to go through independently of whatever you decide to work out with your parents. I wound up getting along quite well with my dad's second serious partner, much better than with either his first or second wife. I had to put aside an awful lot of anger and at some level realize that my father [and my mother] were flawed human beings who made some bad choices throughout a long part of their relationship together. It's tough to see your parents as fallible and even assholish, and worse yet, realizing that they're still your parents. I wish you well in the coming months and years.
posted by jessamyn at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, I'm you. Dad left mom two years ago, during my sophomore year of college, for a woman he'd known for 7 months. I was terrified of meeting my dad's new girlfriend, and imagined every possible horrible scenario that could happen when we finally did meet. Every possible scenario, that is, except for actually liking her. Not only is she delightful, but it actually makes me happy to see my dad when he's with her, because he's like a different person than he was when he was with my mom.

Meeting my dad's girlfriend and seeing them together made me realize that there were lots and lots of things wrong with my parents' marriage. It made me understand what impelled my dad to leave. Before I met her, it was really easy for me to think that my dad had had a psychotic break, or that his girlfriend must be some sort of evil harpy who seduced him away from my mom. Having met her, I realized that she was actually nice to him, unlike my mother had been, and that I was seeing him happy for the first time in 15 years. (Your parents' marriage may have been happier than my parents', but I have a hard time believing that anyone would just walk out of a truly happy marriage. This is an assumption on my part, and I'm willing to admit it may be flawed.) The whole situation still sucks. The divorce was acrimonious, my mom has money troubles, and I, as the only child, feel responsible for her. Deciding who to spend holidays with is ridiculously complicated. On the other hand, having met her, I understand why my dad did it, which means I blame him a lot less. His relationship with his girlfriend is a better example of a happy, functional couple than my parents ever were, and when I think about the relationship I want to have with my partner, it's my dad new relationship I want to emulate.

Moral of the story: meet this woman. Doesn't have to be now, if you're not ready yet. She may surprise you. In the meantime, I know it's tough, but try cutting your dad a little bit of slack. You can MeMail if you want to talk; I'm so sorry you're going through all this. I know how rough it is.
posted by coppermoss at 6:12 PM on July 26, 2011 [11 favorites]

Man, I would practically kill for Jessamyn's or coppermoss's, experiences. Truly.

My dad was also in an unhappy marriage for about 20 years with my mom. While he did leave her once for another woman, they eventually divorced many years later for reasons not directly related to infidelity. I know the thrill of seeing you parent finally happy. It's such a positive change!

My father started dating my future step mother while he was still with a serious girlfriend in a three year relationship. I discovered he was dating someone else when I found another woman's clothes (my future step mom's) hidden in my dresser at my dad's house.

In contrast to the OP, my dad did make sure my mom was taken care of in the divorce, so that's a twist. But still.

My step mother turned out to be a fantastic political operator in the years before and after she officially married my dad. She embraced my brother and I right up until the wedding, then started a campaign to ostracize us from our dad. She wanted kids, which apparently my dad wasn't keen for when we were still involved intimately with him, so we had to go.

Of course, my dad showed poor character and bad judgement all along. Absolutely! But we would probably still be at least talking today if not for my step mother. Interestingly, they've been together 16 years now and still seem really happy. That part rocks! It's the fact that it couldn't be Win-Win, that it came at the expense of his kids, this I don't respect. We actually liked her.

For many years, I forgot they got together while cheating on my dad's longterm GF.

The OP's potential step mother has the priority of her child in mind, and there is something about a person who engages in cheating + that priority that kinda poisons the well and inspires suspicion.

OP, maybe this woman isn't a savvy political operator, and maybe it is difficult coming to terms with your parents' unexpected break up, the knowledge your dad could do something like this....

Still. It's ok to go with your gut here. It's hard to make a good case for this woman (or her character) beyond the fact that she makes your dad happy.

You might need patience. See how she treats you after they get officially married.

Be prepared for anything. Hope for the best.
posted by jbenben at 7:10 PM on July 26, 2011

I was in a situation where I was very angry at my father for having done something that had a negative effect on me. I was livid at having to change my life because of the decisions he had made that had nothing to do with me.

A few weeks later he died.

The time for you to be an adult is now. Stop playing the victim, it rarely ends well. You either meet her or you don't. But all that other stuff, you need to talk to a therapist about, deal with maturely, and get on with your life.
posted by mleigh at 7:10 PM on July 26, 2011

The OP's potential step mother has the priority of her child in mind, and there is something about a person who engages in cheating + that priority that kinda poisons the well and inspires suspicion.

What? Why should this woman's focus on her eight-year-old child inspire suspicion? It is, in fact, a good thing for a parent to have their child's best interests in mind. Moreover, nothing in the information provided by the OP indicates that her father's involvement with this child is unethical, contrary to what she says. In fact, rather than, say, breaking up with your father immediately and introducing the child to other men, it sounds like your father has been a stable presence in this child's life for two years now.

I often agree with you, jbenben, but I don't here. I don't have a horse in this race (my mother was widowed, not divorced, and my personal experience with divorced parents only goes as far as my own in-laws), but I suspect you're really letting your own personal experiences color your interpretations of the events as OP has related them.

animalrainbow, I usually have a very low tolerance for cheaters. But my view, as a disinterested outsider, is that it sounds like your father has done as well as he could given the circumstances: he ended his relationship with your mother when it became clear that infidelity was likely or shortly after it began and began a whole-hearted relationship with this woman. I understand how that feels disempowering to you--he didn't ask for you or your mother's permission to do this. But given the options--stay in a marriage when in love with someone else, stay in a marriage where he was unhappy and end the relationship with someone he cared about--it sounded like what he did actually would have caused your mother the least pain long term. I know it might be hard to see the kindness in that, but if you truly want to maintain a relationship with your father, that means accepting who he is and who he loves. You don't have to be best friends with her. But just accept that hanging onto your negative emotions toward her aren't going to bring your old family back. That's gone. It's time to make due with what you have.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:21 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Didn't meet my dad's 'other woman' until ~10 years after the divorce. It was not uncommon for me to do things like send graduation invitations to my dads office, addressed just to him. I honestly don't regret not meeting her. Miss some of the time I coulda spent with dad... maybe. Her, no. Kicker? Shes nice. (though the fact that shes SO MUCH like my mom is creepy)

Do you have to meet her? He!! no. If you aren't ready, you aren't ready. Will he whine? probably. My dad very much had a sense of 'if everybody is ok... or pretending to be ok.. the problems all sorta go away and everything is ok.'

Your father may never apologize. Your father may never apologize with the force of 'i understand how what I did hurt you' behind it. My dad always does a sort of 'i'm sorry I hurt people' thing which always comes across as... less than what I want. Its tough. Its disappointing and infuriating. Your dad is not who you want you/him to be. There will be, as said above, fallout. But, I say go into your decision with open eyes and stick to it. Just dont be afraid to change your mind when said decision.... however many years down the line... hurts you more than its worth.
posted by Jacen at 7:19 PM on July 27, 2011

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