I would like the hive's insights on 'going too fast' in a relationship.
August 28, 2014 10:39 PM   Subscribe

I met a chap in July, and am now entirely done with dating unless widowed early. I would probably benefit from advice on relationships that go through the usual relationship stages at a rapid pace. With kid in tow. Assume 'don't do that' is not going to happen.

I was not on the prowl to do this or anything. I had in recent years thought it would be nice to have a boyfriend, but I have a nice life of my own, and a young grade-school aged child, and good friends, and things are happy. And dating, never mind serious high-level commitment stuff, seemed overwhelming because he would have to meet such high standards. Especially with a kid! We'd both have to love him and who on earth was going to live up to two of us being picky?

Then in July I met an old friend's old friend who I had not previously crossed paths with. Now he is at my house every weekend and everything is terrific.

Terrific except for the vague awareness that we are doing things at a more accelerated pace than one normally does these things, and the feeling that if one is going to do that anyway, perhaps it might be good to pause and ask for counsel.

Practical whatnot: we are late 30s/mid 40s. He has no kids. My kid's father is not in the picture. There is a bit of a commute involved to see each other, but nothing unmanageable. Neither of us are what one might term "career-oriented" so I don't see huge concerns about sacrifices on either side for the other's work. We have checked in here and there to find the other one of us enthusiastic over the nice-to-meet-you, here's-a-dresser-I-emptied-out-for-you path we're on. (Google of interest here to me: "sliding vs. deciding.") We are both sane, intelligent, stable grown-ups not prone to relationship dramas.

So the request here is for the sort of advice you might want to give a friend who was single for years but suddenly all "Hey I just met this guy, and that's it, I'm set for life here partner-wise. Cool."

He comes with an endearing collection of old friends who keep being lovely to me and my kid, and if there is any hint of disapproval at all in those circles it is entirely imperceptible. My own circles seem to generally assume I've got it together enough to be making good choices but I know I've gently raised an eyebrow or two -- to be clear, while my kid likes him loads and expects to keep seeing him around (and, er, I think early on I may have threatened his life or something if things went pear-shaped and he involved any drama in the exit, but I just cannot see him being a locus of drama under any circumstances and would be eager to keep having him as a friend if for some bizarre reason we couldn't be a couple), kid is used to Mummy having friends; we have a little extra space and a sort of unique community so weekend houseguests are not something you are surprised by or would rush to bond to forever, etc.

I am not a fan of the hackneyed advice given to single mothers about dating, which tends to lean to the "don't even say their name in front of your child until you have a ring on your finger!" side. By that logic one should never have a close friend in one's life at all, because they might move away or die or stop being your friend or whatever, and then your child might be hurt. And how are you supposed to assess compatibility with your offspring like that? I don't want a relationship with anybody my kid dislikes; I don't have the time or child care to sneak around, and my kid has excellent taste in people and has consistently been the canary in the coal mine for alerting me to flakes and baddies on the periphery of our lives. My view is that the risks lie in encouraging the kid to think along this is your new parent! lines. Which: ew. But shortly after it was obvious that he was a boyfriend I tucked my kid in one night and got "You know, I wouldn't mind if [he] was my stepfather," which completely threw me because the kid had previously been wholly anti-stepfather in general. I had had sort of boyfriend-lite things twice before and my kid couldn't have cared less, but now it is "Please can we have him over again? Soon?" (I have not mentioned the seriousness with which I am taking the whole thing, just: yes, we will, I'd like to see him too...)

So I am also open to advice on throwing a second adult into a single-parent family, early as it may be to be thinking even further down the road here. If you were the kid in this situation (assume of course your mother's boyfriend is the bees' knees as far as you are concerned) your perspective would be useful.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A lot for me would depend on your history. People in the past you've fallen for -- did they eventually turn out to be pretty good people? You don't tend to fall for, say, angry alcoholics, right? I assume you would've mentioned that.

In the absence of some worrisome historical trend, I'd probably say "you're old enough to know what you want when you find it" and not be overly worried.

The one thing is that you won't know for sure what X is like with a new person until it happens, so if you haven't had a lot of joint experiences, you might wait to see how the person handles, e.g., feeling very upset about something, or being there for you (or not) when some sad event happens.

Good luck, and congrats on your newfound love!
posted by salvia at 11:43 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

My husband and I were just talking about this last night on our 20th wedding anniversary. We had that feeling right away too, and ended up marrying 1.5 yrs after we met, which for Gen-X of our socioeconomic class + our particular complications was whirlwind. And well, 20 years.

That said, here is my mantra. If those feelings are like the ones we had, and valid and solid and all...they will never be changed by behaving truthfully, ethically, and with some degree of caution. If we were meant to be together forever, then there was a way for us to work out the complications with care for all involved and not in haste.

There was time to sit down in a formal counselling-type environment and hash out really important "permanent couple" issues like money, kids, how to handle extended family, time, home management. There was time to meet each other's friends and family and to listen to their truthful responses. There was time for me to find a dealbreaker, ask him to change it, and see that it did change. And vice versa.

There was time, in other words, to check in with the facts as well as our feelings. We might have been also rolling around like bunnies and whispering to each other forever promises, but our behaviour was to continue to admit the possibility that feelings are not facts, and continue to fact-check. Was he a person who kept his word, who was respectful of the feelings of others, who did not insist everyone tow the line as soon as his feelings changed, and so on. (And for me, questions around maturity, etc.)

I don't know about single mom dating except from observing the errors of others from afar but in theory I think it is important to leave the ambiguous space for your child. You really like this guy a lot and he is over often. But he is not a parent, your child may wobble on the initial ok about the guy, there will be conflict and other stuff...your job is to listen to your child and really take in the information, not to be trying to ignore information in favour of the family unit to come.

If you all are destined to be A Family then you have time for everyone to Come To A Family Conclusion In His Or Her Own Sweet Time. And so on. If your kid needs time with you one on one, do that. If that means missing a weekend here and there, so be it. If Great Guy cannot handle it, let that information in.

Enjoy the limerence. Don't let it drown your brain. Trust that if this is the one, the one will keep being there.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:02 AM on August 29, 2014 [46 favorites]

I'm not sure what the question is? Are you asking him to move in with you? If not what's wrong with keeping things as they are and just seeing how it goes?

If you are in fact considering asking him to move in/get married/have kids I would simply counsel that you are OUT OF YOUR MIND ON LIMERENCE right now and you should think about how that may or may not impact your ability to think things through. Would you trust your ability to rationally assess the impact of a major decision whilst drunk or stoned or otherwise mentally incapacitated? Because that's kind of where you are at right now.

It doesn't mean that you are heading into certain calamity should you act on these desires, it's just that you maybe don't have adequate perspective right now in fully considering the ramifications.

Thing is, you will have to deal with the reality of your relationship at some point - the limerence will cool and you'll start to get a greater appreciation of how the two of you work on a day-to-day emotional, physical, practical basis. You can either deal with that whilst you're each still relatively independent, or you can deal with it when you are already irrevocably linked via marriage, parenthood, shared domestic finances or some other difficult-to-dissolve bond. There are advantages/disadvantages to either scenario and only you can judge which of those makes more sense for you and your kid, but I'd argue that your current OMG-4-EVA!! connection may not be the best place from which to make that call. Hence the usual advice of give it a bit of time.

But many congrats on current joy!
posted by freya_lamb at 3:23 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am not a fan of the hackneyed advice given to single mothers about dating, which tends to lean to the "don't even say their name in front of your child until you have a ring on your finger!" side.

I agree that the above is silly advice, however, as the "child" in that scenario, I can tell you from bitter lived experience that dragging your kid through a disruptive and whirlwind romance - even the best disruptive and whirlwind romance - is very hard on kids.

Why is it hard?

1) Lots of disruption to established routines and patterns. Children need stability in their lives and it often comes from set routines. Whirlwind romances can through these out the window, both logistics-wise ("no more fish and chips on saturday nights, it's watching sport night now!") and traditionally ("fuck that reading at the table shit! I know we've done it practically your whole life, but not only is it banned now, it's actively Evil and wrong!")

2) Inevitable feelings of inferiority and being put second after a long time being put first. Adjusting to someone else's presence in your life can be hard as a kid, it is doubly so when it is transparently clear your primary caregiver would loan them both kidneys if asked.

3) Feelings of having to do false or forced intimacy. This includes new partner being framed in some kind of quasi-parental role, but also just generally having to voice approval and support. I'm saying your kid might not like your new boyfriend as much as they are pretending to you, as it will be very obvious what you want to hear, and bless their cotton socks, the little buggers do like to meet expectation when they can.

There are other reasons, but - for me, at least - those were the broad categories. And let me state, I have and have nearly always had good-to-great relationships with my parents' other partners. However, my parents' willful and breath-taking selfishness in embarking on whirlwind romances at a sensitive time in my life, and almost completely taking their hands off the wheel, parenting-wise, because they were besotted and attempting to make up for lost time, has had a huge impact on my life, my parenting and partner decisions, and the lives of my siblings - especially one them who needed special support and got none.

You are not my parents; I am not your child; this is not your relationship. But, for your kid's sake, don't let it become any of those. Work to mitigate the three factors mentioned above, and always always make your kid think they are your first priority, whether they are or not, and you will be doing better than my parents did.

PS I will say most older, divorced couples do tend to move faster in my experience. I don't think it's always "catch up" - you do, after all learn a lot more about yourself and what you like in relationship as you get older, especially when you've had one major break-up. Older people know what they want, what they are prepared to accept, and probably practice better relationship hygiene; studies show divorce/separation is the most traumatic, unhappiness-making and high-stress experiences most adults go through. No one wants it to happen twice.
posted by smoke at 3:30 AM on August 29, 2014 [31 favorites]

You sound stable, intelligent, and well-grounded. Sometimes a fast pace is the right pace.
posted by yclipse at 4:05 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm colored by a bad experience, but at less than two months of dating you are still in the showing-your-best-self stage. There is nothing lost by waiting to make sure that the best self you're seeing from him is the real him. With your child's heart at risk too, consider that taking your time is generally the prudent move.
posted by cecic at 5:10 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

My mother married an old family friend after two months of dating. She divorced him after ten years of emotional abuse, toward her and toward my younger sister who still lived at home.

Be careful. As others have said, if this relationship and this person really are as fantastic as you think they are, giving yourself the time and space to ease yourself into things can't possibly hurt.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:38 AM on August 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

There are many stories out there about people who fell in love instantly, married in whirlwind fashion and are still blissfully happy today 20, 30, 40 years later.

But there are equally many stories about people who fell in love instantly, married in whirlwind fashion and were just miserable, miserable, miserable and irreparably damaged by said union.

This relationship sounds great. You sound well rounded and intelligent and aware. But you're right to put the brakes on a tiny bit. It can't hurt to slow things down, take a look around and just smell the roses for a while.
If you guys are a good match, that shouldn't change with time - it will only deepen.
posted by JenThePro at 7:08 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wow, I love this-- thank you warriorqueen!

... feelings are not facts, and continue to fact-check. Was he a person who kept his word, who was respectful of the feelings of others, who did not insist everyone tow the line as soon as his feelings changed, and so on.
posted by travertina at 7:35 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Like others have mentioned, if it's good, going at a prudent pace isn't going to break anything. I'm also a 40 year old, so I get that by this age you have a solid handle on who you are and what you want in a partner, so I don't doubt your assessment that this is a good guy for you. On the other hand, I'm also old enough to know that two months in, you know nothing REALLY about this guy except what he's told you. I just watched a 50 year old friend sure that she had met her soulmate, a similarly-aged guy with a 10 year old child. 8 months later, the guy changed his mind about everything he'd been saying up to that point and she's heartbroken. So, you know, you have to give time for the actions to match up with the words. I'd especially do that in the case of someone who doesn't have kids. As a childless person I can tell you that I like kids, that I'd be very excited in theory to partner with a guy who has kids, but in reality I know nothing about what the day-to-day is like. And neither does your guy at this point. So be as crazy, head-over-heels in love feeling as you want at this point and enjoy it! But keep your practical hat on and set good, solid timelines for things that are hard to get out of. He's in a different town, right? So think about him moving to your town for a 6 month to a year trial of having his own apartment near you. It might seem like overkill when he could just move right in, but it gives you both the breathing space you need to let the limerance goggles wear off a little.
posted by MsMolly at 7:51 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every relationship, no matter how good, requires a lot of work, and I think you learn that someone is really the one by how well you two can do that work together. So, I think you can honor your feelings and tell your friends that you think this guy is really important and that you're really excited about him, but I would hold off on talking about him as your life partner for two reasons.

First, because I think you really can't be sure of that yet: a life-long partnership isn't just about feelings after all. You can love someone really deeply and still not be able to stay in a relationship with them for a hundred and one different reasons. Figuring out that you're not just in love, but that you're truly compatible with someone in a long-term sort of way takes time, and I don't think there are any short-cuts for that.

Secondly, because I think labeling someone you've known for a month and a half as your "life partner" might make you more susceptible to avoiding or minimizing big problems in the relationship, since it won't fit your narrative. And I think--particularly at the beginning of a relationship when you're still getting to know each other--it is really important to listen to your gut and to deal with problems as they come, rather than hoping they'll just go away. So I wouldn't (even just to yourself) make any ironclad, life-long commitments to him before you've accumulated a bit more proof that he's really worth that commitment.
posted by colfax at 8:06 AM on August 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Well, maybe stop assuming this is "forever" right now, until you know it is. It's fine to say "wow, I am very happy right now. Let's keep doing this!"

We had no kids involved but the husband and I got engaged about 3 months in, informally (sort of a mutual "I'd really love to marry you!" declaration). And it was love, but for me it was way fast and a little scary. So, we didn't get married for another year, but lived together. I figured, well, if he turns out to be an asshole, it should show itself. But he didn't, and here we are 16 years on.

What you really need to know is: are you missing something because you haven't known him long enough?

It helps that you have mutual friends. Can you talk to them about him...how he was in other relationships? Good and bad things they know?

Have you met his family? Are they fairly ok, or do they have Issues?

Have you and he traveled together? A road trip/vacation can be an excellent relationship test, because you can't rely on routine and something always goes wrong. You also get to see him interact with wait staff/service folks which can tell you a lot about men, especially.

If it's good, then waiting will hurt nothing. If it's not good, then waiting can save you a lot of heartache. Give yourselves a year and work on really getting to know each other. Then let yourself start thinking in forever terms, for real.
posted by emjaybee at 8:58 AM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

colfax's point about potentially avoiding the big problems in your relationship because they don't fit your narrative really hit home for me. I had a true whirlwind romance once - we were immediately inseparable, and he seemed perfect to me and perfect for me. He moved in with me after 3 months. Not long after that, all the imperfections - his and mine - started to reveal themselves. Not long after he moved in, I started catching him in lies, and it was devastating. I began feeling terribly depressed, but because we had so quickly committed to one another, we felt obligated to keep working on things long after we should have parted ways. He kept lying, I kept scorekeeping, we both became incredibly codependent and both lost our sense of selves. And yet, in true codependent fashion, we kept upping the ante to prove how right we were for one another. We got engaged after one year, married 3 months after that, and eventually had two children together. Fast forward - two weeks before our 10th anniversary, he finally left me and our two special-needs children. He moved in with his "soulmate" and had a baby with her well before we were even divorced.

Ugh - I hate to use my life as a cautionary tale. I just want to reiterate that when you rush the labels, rush the commitment, rush the partnership, sometimes your judgment can become clouded and red flags can be ignored. Instead of evaluating things as they unfold naturally, you may find yourself trying to protect your "story" and that can lead to unforeseen consequences. I do wish you all the best and hope your relationship remains as fulfilling as it is now - you and your child deserve nothing less. I just agree with those who've said that taking things slowly can bring no harm but possibly a world of good.
posted by justonegirl at 9:58 AM on August 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

I met Husbunny in person in July (after knowing him on-line for a couple of years.)

We were engaged by December, married the following July.

I was 39 when we married. At some point you just KNOW. Once you know his middle name and that he's not an axe murderer, you're good.

If you were very young and kind of stupid, it would be a different story, but you have overlapping friend groups, and you're both adults and intelligent.

Not only that but your kid is totes on board. Stop worrying, roll with it. You're good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not fair to put the burden of creepdar onto your kid. She's a kid.

She can tell you're into this guy. You're bringing him around too much. You have a special community? Get one of those people to be a babysitter and stop putting your kid in the position to feel responsible for making decisions like this.

I say this as a single mother who has been there. You're putting your kid in a place to feel like she can't communicate with you because she knows this guy is what you want. Stop bringing him into her life and tacitly requesting her approval.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

You just met him in July. Your vague feeling of "too fast" is caused by your mix of feelings -- new love accentuates the positive out of all proportion, and your sensible side knows that feelings will settle down, flaws will become apparent, and real life will set in.

Try to enjoy what's happening now. Tell yourself it's too soon to know what the relationship might become. Your heart's saying "He's the one, maybe forever!" All you really know is that he's a good person, his friends are good people... and those are very real predictors of good things to come.

Everybody has certain traits and anxieties that can complicate a relationship -- you have to wait and see if your issues and his issues are compatible. You know how, when you had breakups in the past, you've looked back and seen that there had been clues early on that things weren't right? When something comes up now in this new relationship, you need to say something. You might not want to make a big thing about something small, or you might want to be "reasonable" -- you could start making excuses for bothersome things he does. This is natural, but it creates problems down the line. Examples of things I should have said earlier to my now-husband: "When you made jokes with other people about my _________, I felt embarrassed." "When you said you'll be here at 6 and then showed up at 8, I felt like you didn't care about my time." "I know you don't like to say no to people who pressure you, but I felt like I was on the back burner when you canceled our date to do that other thing." Notice that each of these addresses a single instance. Just talk about one thing, instead of "you have a tendency to...." or "you always..." and "you never...."
posted by wryly at 1:26 PM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was 39 when we married. At some point you just KNOW. Once you know his middle name and that he's not an axe murderer, you're good.

If you were very young and kind of stupid, it would be a different story, but you have overlapping friend groups, and you're both adults and intelligent.

As a sad counterpoint to this, I took up with a man in his 30s when I was in my very late 20s. We're both super intelligent people, adults, and shared friends. We seemed sane; I thought he was sane, anyhow, and I am not that wacky. And then he emotionally abused me for three years. It's pretty tragic, the damage that caused me. He wasn't a murderer and I knew his middle name, but that was not enough.

Going slowly seriously has no downsides, other than the fact that you're not indulging your inner limerance imp. Had I gone slowly, I would have backed the hell away. As it was, it was too late and I was too in love. Now I have a deep-seated hatred of myself (my inner voice turned into his outer voice and I abuse myself now, so that's fun).

It takes a long time to know someone. I've dated my current boyfriend for about 1.5 years and I still don't feel like I know him well enough to tie myself to him. No harm in that. None at all.

I know you don't want to take it more slowly but you might want to at least examine that impulse. Why not? What is stopping you?

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am going to say another word from the kid's perspective. I was never in this exact situation, but my business partner at one point "fell in love" business-wise with a new CEO for our business. She brought him on very quickly. She had stars in her eyes for him. I had to deal with the exact false intimacy stuff described above -- I didn't know him or trust him, but suddenly he had an important role in my life where my finances, success, etc., depended on him. It sucked. I didn't choose him - she did. I didn't even like him. My partner was sure he was The One as our startup's CEO.

I hated the experience. I can imagine it's 10x worse if someone is quickly being put into a "dad" role very quickly.

(In my case, the startup went separate ways and I lost the friendship/relationship with my business partner, and the new CEO turned out to be nice enough to her and a douchebag to me. Kind of like what happens with new dads sometimes. Be careful for your kid's sake.)
posted by htid at 1:31 PM on August 30, 2014

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