GSOH is killing my love life.
February 10, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

My stepson revealed the greatest stressors in his life is my self-deprecating sense of humor. What can I say?

My personal and joint goal with my partner is for her to do the parenting and for me to be an aide and support, a cleaner, a nurse, a husband, etc. Their dad is useless and a deadbeat with no rights but who his two children feel a responsibility toward and are often outwardly disappointed about. My sense of humor is very dry. I run my business with a silent partner I only see once a quarter and because I work alone in sales I use self-satire as a dynamic to work harder.

I am not the anti dad or competing for love. I met their mom randomly, and we had a long distance relationship for almost a year before I moved in. I have my own business and work from home, so I see the boys when they get home and make them snacks but also steer clear of them and give them space as requested and when required.

The change in attitude, especially of the older boy, has made working at home almost impossible. I have nowhere else I can take the business now except to close it and move on to something that will take me completely out of the house for 8-10+ hours everyday. My girlfriend suggests that ideally I find a job that will take me out of the house for 72 hours or more each week, possibly including nights away. It makes me sad because my partner and I were comfortable with the live-work arrangement. We both work, if that makes a difference. Older stepson is sexually active and a high achiever, which I think makes it harder to know who is responsible for his depression. Younger one is okay and is a big advocate for me being there when he gets home and for my business.

I am prepared to compromise to working away but I do not think I can change my sense of humor. All I can think of is trying to minimize confrontations by not being there. I do not wish to break up with his mother because our love is very personal and fulfilling. I would like to tell my stepson that I will do anything it takes to make his life better but there are some things I cannot change about myself but can only hope he can ignore or not be around when I exercise them. Any advice is welcome to
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You moved in to their home after the LDR and now you are always there. Find an office or some other way that you can give the kids a little more space. They are not adults and do not have the choices to be elsewhere. It's unclear how long you have lived there but I'm unclear why you are calling this kid your stepson? I think if you are out of the house more, the issues with your sense of humor will be less front and center. You may not be able to change your sense of humor internally but you can definitely change how and when you turn it into actions that affect and impact other people. This is something you can control and, again, you are the grownup.

I think makes it harder to know who is responsible for his depression.

This is a nonsense statement. Your question has not indicated in any way that the kid is depressed.

I'd also talk to your partner about this and try to find compromises that are real compromises. I sort of don't understand why she's not figuring more highly in this question.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on February 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

You're kind of jumping all over the place here - you opened by saying that your sense of humor is stressing him, but then you say that you need to start working outside the home. That's not usually the first mode of action when someone says that your sense of humor stresses them out.

Are there other issues? What is this change in attitude that you mention in your stepson? Can you supply more details about his complaints about your sense of humor? Have you guys tried to discuss that?
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:15 AM on February 10, 2014 [18 favorites]

You can't change your sense of humor when the possible cost is your relationship, or your business? You can't change it when a young person under your care tells you it's causing them stress and pain? Why do you believe this? You may not be able to make great changes in how you view things, but why do you believe you can't change your actions?

The vast majority of the time I've encountered (and been!) someone who says "I can't change XYZ" what they (I) actually mean is "I don't want to." We're not talking regrowing a limb; we're talking about changing *your* attitude, which is something you have control over.

To answer your question (I guess): Since you can do your business from home, find a small apartment nearby and move in there. Live separately. Couples do this, and it doesn't have to be awful.
posted by rtha at 8:19 AM on February 10, 2014 [19 favorites]

I don't quite understand this. What exactly does your self-deprecating sense of humor consist of? How does your stepson encounter it? Are you working in the living room when he is there? Is this more "I sometimes call myself The World's Most Ridiculous Salesman" or more "I call myself a shithead all the time, loudly, while pounding on things"? Is this related to his being sexually active, ie, is he upset about the new person in his mother's life and is experiencing it as 'this guy embarrasses me with his self-deprecating humor in front of my girlfriend'? Is it "stressful" for him because he finds it embarrassing, and this is really about the upheaval in his home life? Is it stressful for him because your "self-deprecating humor" isn't gentle dorkiness but scary rage and self-insulting?

Is he depressed? If he is clinically depressed, this is about more than just your self-expression (unless it's scary in some way).

Do you have an office room at home, or are you working in the living room?

How well do you know the kids? How well do you want to know the kids? You don't need to "compete for love" to give them the impression that you care about them.

If the kids are depressed or anxious about family upheaval, your presence may be a catalyst but it's not the root cause.

Also, I personally would not give up a viable business to start over at random in middle age in this economy. I think that would be bad choice in terms of family financial stability. Can you work somewhere else or sequester yourself in the home somehow?
posted by Frowner at 8:21 AM on February 10, 2014 [42 favorites]

I wouldn't take on too much ownership of his feelings. When I was a teenager everyone got on my nerves no matter what. You can try to dial it back when he's around.

Can you find an office space outside your home? I know people who are self-employed and rent or share an office space so that they can 1) avoid being home all day 2) have access to additional resources 3) be around other people who are working on simar projects.
posted by bunderful at 8:22 AM on February 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

A lot of cities now have "workspace sharing" places, where it's just a big space with a bunch of cubicles in it and you pay monthly rent on one of the desks or cubicles and have access to their conference rooms, coffee maker and pantry, copier, receptionist, etc. Maybe you could find a place like that in your area? The rents are generally pretty low, and the office support pretty decent - and you'd have 24/7 access to the space, most likely.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on February 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

I am prepared to compromise to working away but I do not think I can change my sense of humor.

I don't think you have to "change" your sense of humor; you just have to keep it to yourself. You absolutely can learn how to censor yourself to avoid upsetting your partner's child; it may require a little work with a therapist, but surely that is a small price to pay for a happy home life.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:23 AM on February 10, 2014 [20 favorites]

My stepson revealed the greatest stressors in his life is my self-deprecating sense of humor.

You start with this and then never touch on it again in any meaningful way. But part of being in grown-up relationships is being sensitive to other people and the ways in which they communicate. If your stepson's "greatest stressor" is truly your sense of humor, then you should make it an effort to not use that type of humor around him. People do this all the time.

I do not wish to break up with his mother because our love is very personal and fulfilling.

The fact that you would even mention this is telling, IMO. And the solution you have come up with is to get a job that takes you out of the house overnight? Come on. Find some cheap office space or a nearby apartment, work on your business, and work on how to better communicate with these kids that are now part of your life.
posted by jbickers at 8:24 AM on February 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

On one hand you claim you stay out of the way of your girlfriend's kids. On the other hand, the oldest son says your sense of humor is stressing him out. How is it stressing him out if you're generally staying clear of the kids? Are you using the kids as your audience? If so, you're not steering clear of them. Or quite possibly the oldest kid is generally stressed and unhappy and looking for any excuse to blame you to get you further away from him mother. And given that your girlfriend suggest you spend at least 70 hours a week out of the house, it's working.

I echo the suggestion you find a low cost co-working office space.
posted by deanc at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

In the absence of a coherent question or consistent information, I can say this:

It is not reasonable to be expected to switch from a viable job to one that requires you to be out of the house for 72 (!) hours a week.

Also, that's a bizarrely specific number. There's nowhere near enough information here for us to tell you much of anything.
posted by cmoj at 8:32 AM on February 10, 2014 [19 favorites]

"Self-deprecating sense of humor" could mean a lot of things. Is this spilling over into comments that might be interpreted as deprecating others? Are you implying that the kids' mother would have to be desperate to be with you (this would be worth changing)? Are you referring to aspects of yourself that would be uncomfortable for them (again, worth changing)? Is it possible that "sense of humor" is code for something else that's bothering them?

Being able to discuss this in more concrete terms would be helpful not just to us, but also to you in looking for solutions.
posted by amtho at 8:32 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend suggests that ideally I find a job that will take me out of the house for 72 hours or more each week, possibly including nights away

Wait, what? That's really weird.

Are you sure this is about her son, and not a relationship issue? Why would she want you gone so much?

Your description of the problem is very jumbled, maybe you are really rattled by all this. Maybe you need to take it in this order:

1. Is your relationship with your girlfriend ok on both sides; do go out on dates, like each other, support each other? Is marriage on the table, or long-term cohabitation? I'm not clear how long you've been together.

2. Do her sons understand the nature of the situation? Did they get to know you before you showed up with your stuff? Was their mom dating anyone between their dad and you, or are you the first?

You don't have to tell us all this, just take it into account as you're trying to grasp the situation.

The part where your girlfriend wants you gone so much is really troubling to me; if a partner said that to me, I'd start reevaluating our relationship.
posted by emjaybee at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I mean, my immediate guess based on my own adolescence would be "the kid is really stressed and angry because of the family situation and he feels a lot of ambiguity about his own father; you come into the picture, complicating things and causing stress just by existing; everything you do has an extra irritation/stress factor on it as a result; the kid is having trouble processing feelings and can't really articulate (or doesn't feel good about articulating) his feelings about his mother's relationship, his father, etc; so he settles on "well, this might be okay if my mom's boyfriend weren't so terrible, his terribleness is what causes me stress". And perhaps all this is made worse by your having in incomplete or weak relationship with the kids.

This is just a total guess, of course.

But if it's accurate, it might be worth while to work on the relationship with the kids. If that's the problem and you stop being self-deprecating, the kids will find something else that is stressful for them, because they are stressed about the whole situation. I'm not saying that you shouldn't make any changes in your sense of humor or work habits in the meantime, but be prepared that this may not actually be the solution.
posted by Frowner at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Came in here to say that it could be growing pains for the son - he is hitting those teenage years where everyone is stupid and quite possibly taking the frustration of his father out on you (criticizing you for not being perfect, which he can't say to his dad).

I don't think the solution is less of you... be yourself, be kind & firm and be the stability they don't have right now.

Hard to say without any more details or a clearer history.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't have to say everything that comes into your head. Think of it less as "changing your sense of humor" and more as "Not telling jokes or using sarcasm all the time, or ever, around your stepson."

The rest of your question is really confusing to me. Is your stepson depressed? Fighting with you? Both? Neither? Have you all tried family therapy?
posted by jaguar at 8:34 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Can you give us an example of some of your self-deprecating humor which is apparently bothering your son? (Without other context, I'm getting a mental image of the Kids in the Hall skits in which Kevin McDonald plays a comically depressed dad.)

I'm confused as to why your girlfriend had brought up you spending "nights away". Why did your girlfriend suggest this?

Also, 72 hours outside the house is quite a bit more than a normal working week. What's going on here?


Working from home can be extremely stressful, especially when other people are involved. How difficult would it be to to find office space, or even just a library, a cafe, etc? I've been on both sides of this equation, and compromise always figures into the answer.

If you two were both roommates and both above 22 years of age, then you two could have a dry, mature conversation about each person being able to use the house as they see fit and about respecting one another's boundaries. But, you're not both fully adult peers. This is more complicated.

I assume that the "sexually active" kid is a pre-college-age teenager, yes? If so, then on top of the usual stresses of working from home, then surely you also know that teenagers do not want to deal with parental-type figures any more than they have to.

Since you are in a stepfatherly role, it would behoove you to be especially deferent to his needs. Since you're older and more mature, you can be more flexible, both in terms of resources (you can find office space) and mentally (you are better able to work from more places).
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't the type of jobs you have skillsets for (office skills) take you out of the house during the times the sons would be in school and therefore negate you being out of the house? You'd really only be gone for 2-3 hours of the time they're at home.

Getting a new job is not the answer to your problem. It kind of reads to me like both the kids and the girlfriend aren't as prepared for you to live in as they thought they were. Maybe take it a step back and get an apartment nearby?
posted by royalsong at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Honestly if someones sense of humour is this kids "greatest" stressor he has an easy life. Is he diagnosed by a professional as depressed or is he just at that wonderful moody teenage I hate all adults stage? Your response would be different depending, if he has been professionally diagnose then talking to the professional involved would probably be a good first step. If he's just a teenager being a teenager I'd suspect he is grasping at things to find to drive a wedge between you and his mother. If his mother is so eager to jump on the go away and not be here for 70 hours a week and stay away over night band wagon I'd be having a serious talk to her about your relationship. I'd suggest possibly family therapy as a way to get to the core of what the issue really is, as it seems you are aware something isn't right. A good starting place might be for you to find your own place nearby, many couples, especially when one of them has children from another marriage live separately. You can then give her her space and work in what ever style you like and keep your sense of humour as you see to want to.
posted by wwax at 8:36 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, what other changes has your presence made in the home routine?

If the children are in school, they should be gone during most of the work day, right? Or do you work an off schedule?

Prior to your moving in, did the sons have a lot of time by themselves at home in the afternoons and weekends, time they could spend with friends or girlfriends or time they could use to do private stuff of one kind or another? Up to a point, they might just have to deal with your increased presence at home (because that's just a consequence of having two working adults around rather than one) , but making sure they get some alone time would be good as well.

How has all this changed their access to space? Are you working in what used to be TV-watching space during the weekend or evening? Is your schedule much later or earlier than theirs? Have mealtimes or meals changed? Again, I'm not saying that you are the one who needs to change everything (because family income is important) but there might be some workarounds that would make things easier.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

If by self-deprecating, you mean that you're always putting yourself down, albeit in a "meant-to-be-amusing" way, I'd work to curb it. The boys are probably used to having to try to boost mom's (and possibly dad's) spirits, so you're just one more load to tote. Kids shouldn't be responsible for adult's moods, but they've had to grow up faster than kids with two functioning parents. Saying stuff like "I"m such a klutz, I'm Klutzy Klutzenfeld" might seem hilarious to you, but to the kid, it's more like a command to sooth you "No, you're awesome!" which must get really old. You don't have to perform in an artificial fun-uncle way, which is what you sound like you're doing.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2014 [26 favorites]

I see two things going on here, and the cause of the problem is some combination of both:

1) Your sexually active teenager is pissed that you're constantly home, leaving him no place to go to be sexually active on the regular. In my youth those hours between when we got off school and when our parents got home were solid gold. Don't be surprised if he's doing everything he can to drive a wedge between you and your partner

2) Your partner (and her kids) weren't ready for a full-time live in boyfriend/husband, especially one who seems to rarely leave the house. This line is telling:

"My girlfriend suggests that ideally I find a job that will take me out of the house for 72 hours or more each week, possibly including nights away."

That sounds a lot like asking you to move out without actually asking you to move out. I'd bring up renting a studio apartment to use as an office, and see what her reaction is, I wouldn't be shocked if she said "maybe we want to try living separately for a while".
posted by Oktober at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2014 [41 favorites]

Maybe you just really aren't funny. I don't know. But I have been in a relationship with someone who desperately wanted to be a funny person, and that desperation came through loud and clear as hugely unfunny and awkward/inappropriate statements. All the time.

It made friends and family uncomfortable. Like, that *bad* kind of uncomfortable. That please-don't-leave-me-in-the-room-alone-with-him uncomfortable. That please-don't-bring-him-with-you-because-we're-dealing-with-serious-stuff-right-now-and-can't-handle-his-inappropriate-comments-also uncomfortable.

The problem is that if this is you... well... you'll never know it. So it's maybe time to assume this is you, and act accordingly. Accept that you're not funny. Stop trying to be funny. Just full stop. When the urge comes up, snap a rubber band on your wrist or something. Find something to be instead of a funny person. Be a quiet person. Or be a listening person. Or be a curious person. Those are all more likely to win you friends.

It's also important to reframe this as behavior and not personality. Your humor is not your personality. It is a behavior that you are engaging in, and that you are choosing to engage in. You will be the same person, even without the humor. It seems pretty clear from the feedback you're receiving that this behavior isn't doing you any favors.

(At the same time, it sounds like the feedback you're getting is more of a red herring. It sounds to me like hanging these issues on your humor is a convenient scapegoat. What's really being said is that the transition to having you living with the family is not going well, and that it is having a negative impact on your relationship with your girlfriend and with her kids. Going from long distance to cohabitation is a pretty huge leap. Going from long distance to cohabitation AND WORKING FROM HOME is way beyond that. But you don't have it to go back and do over again, so you're going to need to work out a system where you can make yourself scarce more frequently. Give the family space to make room for you. Otherwise, your presence will continue to feel like an occupation to them.)
posted by jph at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Honestly, as someone who works at home, you need to make an effort to get out of the house in the evenings or something. I'm pretty religious about my gym time precisely because being ALWAYS AROUND can be such a grind on people I live with so those 2 hours or whatever give them and me some much needed alone time. I don't know if you need to get a full offsite office or just go for long walks or run errands in the evening, but give them some time alone.

And have you been around someone that's constantly self-deprecating? It's exhausting to hear, even when it's well-intended.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:00 AM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

As someone who's dad worked at home all through high-school and beyond, I can say it did put a noticeable drag on my romantic life. Not that he was too involved and wanting to be buddy-buddy (he didn't), but that the abovementioned gateway-to-freedom-and-adulthood, empty house afternoon time window, simply did not exist.
posted by rhizome at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

My personal and joint goal with my partner is for her to do the parenting and for me to be an aide and support, a cleaner, a nurse, a husband, etc.

This seems very limiting and I'm confused about why you're calling him your stepson as you seem to be declining that role, and I also don't understand why you mention he's sexually active, as if being sexually active means one shouldn't be depressed. But in any case, that's his private information and I feel like your boundaries are kind of all over the place in terms of your role, and furthermore, that your complaint is that her kids are 'killing your love life' when it seems like it's not killing your love life as much as the fact that having these new relationships all over the place is upsetting your household dynamic left and right.

Bottom line is that if you want to stay in this relationship, it really sounds like you need to benefit from some family counseling and go 'all in' or cut your losses and flee, because she cannot choose you over her kids - she just can't.

because I work alone in sales I use self-satire as a dynamic to work harder.

Nthing finding this a little baffling.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:13 AM on February 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's interesting that you are referring to the kids as your stepsons when you aren't married to their mother. If you think of them as stepchildren, but they don't consider you a stepfather, that is a big disconnect. And if you went from a LDR where you were rarely around to working from their home and being always around, that is a huge and sudden adjustment for the kids to have to cope with. And for your girlfriend, for that matter.

I think renting a separate apartment makes sense. You can use it as your office during the day and stay there a few nights a week, to sort of dial back the living situation that seemed to have shocked their systems. It's great that you want to be "an aide and support, a cleaner, a nurse, a husband, etc." but it sounds like in fact your girlfriend and her sons are feeling a bit overwhelmed and may actually prefer a bit more cluttered household if it means having more space to themselves as a family unit. At least for now.
posted by payoto at 9:14 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does GOSH stand for "general sense of humor"?
posted by ElectricGoat at 9:23 AM on February 10, 2014

They've gone from having you there 0 hours per week to 24h per day, 7 hours a week, 4 weeks a month.

You need to find a shared office space. Look into co-working or leasing a desk from a start-up. There are lots of those types of resources around. Use your question next week if you need help moving in that direction.

You seem pretty over-dramatic. The kid somehow mentions that your constant and needy presence is a drain on their mental health and physical space and you make it all about you shutting down your business? No wonder they're irritated and need some breathing room.
posted by barnone at 9:26 AM on February 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

Why is your question so all or nothing? 72 hours a week? Greatest stressor? Can't change? It sounds like either things have reached a dramatic climax, or you're (hurt and?) hearing them in an all or nothing way. Look for shades of gray. You can try to change. You can find a way to work from somewhere else eventually. In the meantime, you can work from cafes more. Don't frame other people's requests as unreasonable (as I suspect you may be doing with the 72 hour bit); look for ways to accomodate those goals.
posted by salvia at 9:28 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, as others have stated, this is kind of a weird question in that you do not explain what it is about your humor that upsets the kid, or how that might be related to his depression, or why you getting a job that regularly takes you out of the house for long stretches of time is the only solution being discussed. I think people could offer better answers for you if you clarified those things.

That said, if you live in or near a decent-sized city, I assume there are a number of options for coworking spaces that you could explore that would not be nearly as expensive as renting your own separate office. Can you look into ways you can take your at-home job out of the house more often? If the stress and isolation of not seeing adults all day is causing you to use coping measures that are irritating the people you live with, then it sounds like getting out of the house might actually be a healthy change for you.
posted by BlueJae at 9:37 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If my GF/Partern/Wife asked me to be gone 72 hours a week, I'd think that we were breaking up.

Kids may feel weird about some random dude in the house, but if you've been in the picture for awhile, then I'm rather baffled by the whole thing.

Here are some things you can do right now.

1. Move out to a studio apartment. You can go there on a daily basis to work, and if there's tension around the house, you can stay there. If a break up is in the offing, then at least you'll have moved out and that's one less thing you have to worry about.

2. Couples/family counseling. You're not telling us what the real problem is. Are you loud in the living room? Are you screaming obscenitites at yourself? Whatever it is, family counseling will give everyone a voice and help everyone articulate the issues.

3. Prepare for this to be over. Because, Honey, I think it is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is she asking you to be gone for 72 working hours, as in you will never see each other? Or is she asking you to find somewhere else to be 3 days a week, spending 4 with her and her family? Because if it's the latter, it seems reasonable, and phrasing it the way you did seems overly dramatic. If it's the former, then, yeah, I think it's over.
posted by Kriesa at 9:57 AM on February 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

There are two things you'll need to do, and both of them are totally doable.

Thing one: rent an office space and start using it. People do this all the time, for lots of reasons. My ex-wife had an office space for a long time just because she didn't enjoy the experience of working at home, which is just as good a justification as any other; doing it to show respect and care for your stepson is a much better justification, I'd say.

Thing two: acknowledge, explain, and improve. Assuming there isn't a dynamic of his mother telling you about his feelings without him knowing it, do this:

- Sit down with your stepson and briefly explain that you use self-deprecating humor because it's a habit, nothing more. That you know you're a good, strong person and worthy of respect, and so you feel confident and comfortable using self-deprecating humor to disarm situations.

- Acknowledge that you hear his discomfort with your sense of humor, and that you respect him for sharing this with you. If his mother shared this instead of him sharing it directly, sit down and acknowledge that you're aware of his feelings and you consider them valid, and that you're glad to know of them so that you can take action on it. Let him know you're going to take action on it because even though you feel comfortable with your sense of humor, you respect that he does not and you want to make choices that work for both of you.

- Let him know that you're taking two steps: getting an outside office space, and working on your habit of using self-deprecating humor. Note that you might still work from home on occasion, but only when necessary, and that he can help you quit your habit by pointing out when you do it (with a simple "please don't do that" or similar.) Let him know it will take time to get the space and lose the habit, but you're willing to do it if he's willing to be patient and help.
posted by davejay at 10:00 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Actually, having written that in good faith that you're reading the situation correctly, I actually think you're not, and this is the correct answer:

"My girlfriend suggests that ideally I find a job that will take me out of the house for 72 hours or more each week, possibly including nights away."

That sounds a lot like asking you to move out without actually asking you to move out.

Perhaps it is time to sit down with your girlfriend with this: "We're living together, and I understand your son wanting me around less -- he's a teenager, after all, and I'm not his dad -- but I get the feeling you think we moved too fast, and you aren't ready for me to be a full-time live-in boyfriend. I'm willing to move back out into my own apartment, and I'll start looking right away, so that we can take things more slowly."

I think she'll agree, and be relieved. However, if her response is that she really doesn't want you to move out, follow up with: "In that case, I will find an office space to work out of. But if I live here, you can't ask me to find somewhere else to be nights. Living here means living here, and that's what you're signing up for if don't want me to get my own place. Think about it, and let me know by [date and time two days hence.]"
posted by davejay at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

The youngest is an "advocate" for your presence and business? What does that mean? Why should he have to?

You hope the eldest can "not be around" or "ignore" you when you make bad jokes (to motivate yourself to sell?)?

You make them ask you to leave them alone?

All these are unfair expectations. You're the adult. And you're an adult who is a newcomer to this family.

It's not all about you and your business and your personal love with their mom. Listen to what the people you live with are telling you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:07 AM on February 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

Asking you to be away for 72 hours a week is basically asking you to move out--or at least get an office and a separate social life--if you do the math and assume a 40-50 hour workweek.

You may benefit, personally and professionally and relationship-wise, from looking into a coworking space near you. They're the hot new thing, especially for solo or near-solo entrepreneurs who still have social/collaborative needs.

As mentioned, you gave no examples, but I can tell you the one example in my life where I've experienced seemingly-benign humor as grating or even aggressive: a coworker who would make corny, annoying, unfunny (but G rated, non-offensive, etc.) jokes and then demand some sort of positive acknowledgement or response from you. Every. Time. All. Day. (It was "old white grandpa" privilege directed towards younger women on staff, if you want to frame it like that.)

Kids aren't there to meet your social or attention needs, and they will be more aggressive than grown-ups in denying it to you and expressing outrage that you're expecting it--just lay off entirely.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:21 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I interpret this as, your stepson revealed that the greatest stressor in his life is you.

It's difficult to get a clear picture of what a "self-depreciating sense of humor" means without any examples. I'm wondering if you think of your sense of humor as purely self-depreciating, while also making jokes at the expense of others.

It sounds like you had a long distance relationship with their mom for a relatively brief period of time, so they didn't get a good opportunity to really get to know you and spend time with you, before you moved in and were constantly there. That is quite a difficult situation for two teenagers to deal with.

Look at it from their perspective: they didn't know you very well, didn't get to decide about you moving in or your work situation, and you now are a constant presence in their home. They have to ask to be left alone. They don't like your jokes. Any sense of comfort they might have gotten from being at home is now at risk because you're always in it.

Don't try to figure out who is "responsible" for your stepson's depression. That's not how it works. You might want to consider family therapy, I think talking to your stepson about how you're willing to make changes to make his life better is great, but I think a depressed teenager might not be able to understand or verbalize what they really need from you.
posted by inertia at 10:27 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sexually active 16-year-old does not want you around after school because it's interfering with his potential freaky time. No need to overthink and certainly I wouldn't re-arrange my whole schedule to give them a sexy comfort zone.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:41 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

First: Kids can't have too much love in their lives. You can love them, and act as a parental figure to them (if you want to) without "competing for love".

Second: You all are a family now, whether you use that word for yourselves or not.

Third: If your communication with your (new) family is anything like your communication with us in this question, I think that's probably the core of the problem ... you are not communicating well with them and also you are not understanding what they are trying to communicate with you.

I'm surprised that it's gotten this far without this suggestion, but my recommendation is some time with a family therapist. You are creating a new blended family, and clearly the road is not smooth. Sit down with a professional and see if you can all improve your communication with one another.
posted by anastasiav at 11:10 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Rent a shared office space. These are cheap. Consider getting a room at the local YMCA and stay there a night or two every week. Having some time to yourself can be a good thing. Rooms at the Y are cheap. Honestly, it just sounds like some space would be a good thing for all involved. I wouldn't worry too much about the humor thing. If anything, that sounds like something your typical kid would say about a parent, which is not necessarily a bad sign.
posted by xammerboy at 11:53 AM on February 10, 2014

My personal and joint goal with my partner is for her to do the parenting and for me to be an aide and support, a cleaner, a nurse, a husband, etc.

Yeah, I see the biggest problem here. You refer to this kid as your "stepson", but it seems you're unwilling to be involved as a parent - you want your 'partner' to take on all of the childrearing duties, while you take on all the lover-husband duties. It sounds like you don't want these kids, but now have them around, and don't want to have to compromise your living situation for them - even though you, not they, are the interloper.

I share the request for clarification of what, precisely, "self deprecating sense of humor" means. What I suspect, is that it's not just confined to yourself (because really, what teen cares if their parent says they're a klutz or whatever?) but is related to your position in the family and the family itself.
posted by corb at 12:04 PM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Does the deprecation extend to the concept of fatherhood in general and more specifically to "useless and ... deadbeat" ones? So for example could you be running yourself down in a self-mocking way as the de facto male role model when actually you're making a comparison between yourself and the bio dad that the older boy in particular finds grating or offensive in some way? You say that the boys feel a sense of responsibility to him - that would suggest a degree of emotional attachment that might cause stress if they perceived an attack on him was taking place, however humorously it was meant.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Older stepson is just pushing your buttons to hurt your feelings and drive you out. Don't change jobs. He'll be heading off to college soon right?
posted by w0mbat at 1:39 PM on February 10, 2014

The people dismissing this as "teenager wants to get laid so wants you out" or "teenagers are generally jerks" are being unnecessarily flip though they're probably partially right. The kids probably have challenges with father figures if theirs is no good, and you going from LDR to moving in... that's a challenging dynamic even if your partner didn't have kids. Having people around all the time is annoying for humans of any ages, but especially if you're being very present where you were previously not that welcome.

I'd like to nth family therapy, or at the least an open conversation with your partner. I would guess that the 16 year old doesn't object to your (G?)SOH so much as your presence at all, and especially your constant presence. I didn't grow up with parents who were home all the time, and it would have deranged me to have a virtual stranger move in and start being constantly home.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 4:52 PM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am prepared to compromise to working away but I do not think I can change my sense of humor. All I can think of is trying to minimize confrontations by not being there. I do not wish to break up with his mother because our love is very personal and fulfilling. I would like to tell my stepson that I will do anything it takes to make his life better but there are some things I cannot change about myself but can only hope he can ignore or not be around when I exercise them.

Nobody is asking you to change your sense of humor but you also don't need to involve these kids "exercising" your work-related self-deprecating humor. Why do you have to make your humorous comments out loud? You can think them to yourself or write them down or type them in a blog. I keep like at least 3/4 of my humorous thoughts to myself in life, that's part of being an adult. Save them for your buddies when you hang out or your wife when she gets home and you guys are having couple time.
posted by cairdeas at 7:32 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Younger one is okay and is a big advocate for me being there when he gets home and for my business.

You provide no information as to the boy's ages other than the bit about the older one being sexually active. I am going to go ahead and guess the younger boy is between 11-14.

So, the younger boy is advocating for your business (I assume you mean he is making the case to his mother for you to not have to relocate your office out of the house). That means he is overinvolved in the relationship between you and his mother and that is not healthy.

Try and create some appropriate boundaries for the boys sake.

It sounds like there is a lot going on that you have not told us and frankly I think it sounds like a mess.
posted by mlis at 8:01 PM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Ah right, sorry, I’m slow. You don’t actually want to bond with your elder step-son (and probably don’t much care about the younger), you’re happy blaming him for tearing his mom away from you. Which he can do because he’s smart (and wants the house to himself to get laid, you say). You just want to shut him up.

You say he’s pegged it on your GSOH, which you of course need for work and therefore can’t do anything about, and you feel terribly victimized by this unfairness.

And, you suggest, your partner’s extremely weak-minded and prone to being persuaded. The upshot is she’s not having sex with you anymore and wants you out (some think).

But she can’t find a way to tell you this because you have peculiar ways (we have mostly all decided), and are probably, at the very least, passive aggressive. (You’ll notice many could not even understand the basic narrative, here).

Well I doubt you can do anything about the boy, because your efforts will stink of insincerity, and both he and his mother -- yes, on her very own -- won’t fail to smell it. (I’m betting the younger one’s closer to 8 than 11.)

They're a package deal. Sort something out for yourself independently of these people and move out. Is my advice.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:06 AM on February 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Like others, I'm not entirely sure what your question is. However, pulling out the bit about your sense of humor and your stepson, let me tell you this: you better change it, at least around him, and not to save your relationship with his mom.

Whether this boy is depressed or just a moody teenager, he needs some positive male role models in his life and you're responsible for it as the closest adult in the room. If his dad isn't in the picture, that leaves him looking to you for how to be a man, whether he'd admit it or not. Self-deprecation is telling him that (1) no matter how hard he tries, he'll never be good enough; (2) his failures are funny; and (3) there's no chance he's ever going to grow out of his self-hatred.

You do not have to be self-deprecating in front of a teenager to make sales. You don't. There is no logical connection between the two. Even worse, you can drive home his sense of failure and the futility of manhood if you blame a teenager for failing at your job. So, change your sense of humor around this kid or get out of his life and make room for someone who can care about him.

Also learn that depression, if he is depressed, is not anybody's "fault" and blame cannot be placed. If he's clinically depressed, it's like looking around for someone to blame for his diabetes -- it does no good, just get the kid some damn insulin.

Sit down your girlfriend and ask her what she really wants: does she want you to rent office space or does she want you to move out? Leave her kids entirely out of this discussion. (If she says she wants you to work outside of the house for exactly 72 hours a week, then yes, she's saying she wants you to move out.) If she wants you to keep living there, rent some office space, give the kids some room and work on your relationship with all three of them. Blended families are noooo fun and difficult on everyone, but they can work and be productive. I love my step-dad even though I hated him for most of the time I lived under his roof, but I hated him because he was being a good dad with rules and boundaries and support and all the things that kids scorn but secretly crave. Now as a grown woman, I have a hard and fast rule that I do not date men with kids, period, at all, ever, but only because I know in my heart I don't have what it takes to care about and nurture kids. I'm probably missing some great guys, but once there are kids in anybody's picture, it is 0% about me and 100% about them. Weigh your ability to take this package deal and please be honest with yourself and with this family.
posted by mibo at 4:06 AM on February 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Get everyone to a family councilor. It doesn't sound like people are communicating well or thinking of small, incremental steps to fix the situation rather than giant ones.

Though with your humor, if you are one of the people that has an out-loud ongoing conversation with themselves, I will say that is something that can be incredibly annoying to be around, particularly if it's filled with self-deprecating comments. If you do that and look into renting office space, you should look for somewhere you won't be disruptive to others with it.
posted by Candleman at 5:46 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

there is mountains missing from this question. any way you'd send an update through the mods to give some examples or answer some of the questions raised in the responses?
posted by nadawi at 8:15 AM on February 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

There's a lot of agreement on one point at least: We can't answer a question we can't understand.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you need to make more of an effort to communicate in general. My sense is that the rather opaque style of your question is deliberate and that your humor is somewhat like the way you write here. If so, you need to give it a rest and just talk straight with your girlfriend and her family-- at least when it comes to dealing with actual issues. People who are really attached to their sense of humor and think other people have a problem because they don't appreciate it are often very tiresome to be around. Your girlfriend can choose to be around you, or not; her sons are the ones who have no choice in this matter.
posted by BibiRose at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm wondering - have you ever lost your temper and really exploded, hit one of the family or came out with enough of a violent-type uproar that it made someone in the family afraid? Then, after the explosion, you become sorry and sad and self-deprecating?

There's just not enough information here to figure out what to do, but it strikes me that Mom is between son and you and damn, that's a hard spot to be in. If she truly feels deeply in love with you and seriously wants to build a future with you, she's going to want the family to know that you and she stand together and the children will have to conform to what the two of you establish as the family rules. If, however, she's no longer so deeply certain that the two of you have that kind of bond, if she feels that your behavior toward her son is inappropriate in some way - immature or jealous or overly critical, etc - she may very well be wishing you'd just find someplace else to work - even someplace else to stay - to take the tension off the home environment. If that's the case, she should say so, but if she's a bit afraid to because it might set you off or something, she may be just trying to gently move you into a different situation, slowly and carefully.

I rarely suggest therapy, but I think it might be a very good idea for each of you to discuss your thoughts openly with a third party - a licensed third party - until the whole truth comes out, whether you will or will not stay together being the result.
posted by aryma at 10:18 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older I kissed a girl at work – and I want to do that...   |   GypsyJazzFilter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.