¿Yo me enfrío o lo sufro?
September 24, 2016 3:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a wonderful, loving relationship but I can't seem to stop feeling pessimistic about what our future together would look like. I'm not sure whether to stay or go and need help thinking through how to go about doing either.

I'm a 31 year old woman. I've been dating my wonderful boyfriend on and off for 4 years. We've been long distance for the past year and have at least 2 more years ahead before we can possibly live in the same place. He is truly wonderful- smart, funny, kind, loving, reliable, and steadfast. There's nothing I'd change about him. Our communication is incredible and we both go out of our way to treat each other well. Our relationship is equitable, we share values, and I trust him fully. I love him deeply and no relationship I've ever been in has come close to this. But I can't stop thinking I should leave.

My work is extremely fulfilling to me and it's really important to me to be able to continue doing it. However, he can't move, and I won't know for about another year and a half whether I can find a job near him. Finding a job near him will be difficult. I would be devastated to have to give up my career.

He also is a single parent to an 8-year-old child (thus the inability to move) whose ex wife hates me. She's been talking shit about me to the child and to friends she has in my professional sphere. She tells people we had an affair, which we did not, but it makes a sympathetic story. His child believes I hurt his mom, and former friends/professional connections see me as a homewrecker, which is so so painful to me. He's talked to her about it and it just seems to get worse over time. I've really internalized the things she says about me and it's made me feel terrible about myself. I've been to therapy about this, but it has remained constant for the entire time we've been together. When I'm with him, I'm incredibly happy and feel fulfilled in many ways, but I also feel this constant underlying guilt and shame about being with him. I always feel stressed about running into his ex or one of her friends when I'm out with him. I've tried so so hard to get past this but I've all but lost confidence in my ability to do so.

When I think about the future with him, I think about all the love and adventures we'd share, but I mostly think about having to give up my career and transitioning into a step-parent role with his child, which would intensify the ex drama and the stress/negative self-view that comes with it. At the very least, I think about experiencing the things that lead to my feelings of guilt/shame regularly and having to constantly put emotional energy into reconciling with them. All this leaves me feeling intensely anxious and hopeless. I know that every relationship has challenges, and I worry that I'm wanting something perfect that doesn't exist. I worry that, if this was "really" right, I wouldn't feel so much ambivalence. And then I worry that maybe I'm just a secret commitmentphobe and I'd feel just as ambivalent with someone else.

He and I have talked all this through over and over and he's incredibly supportive- more than I could ask for. He's offered to help in any way he can. But there's no resolving it that I can see. I either have to try to accept that the cost of being with him might be losing my career and feeling shitty about the ex stuff forever, or I have to try to turn off my love for him and walk away forever. I would like a chance at getting married and (maybe) having a family, but I know that that finding a partner--especially one who would be able to move with me--becomes harder as you get older. Because of this, I feel pressure to figure this out now, rather than seeing whether I can end up where he is (when I'm 33) and making the decision then. While I feel so eager to be free of this stress, the idea of not having him in my life feels unbearable, and I can't imagine finding someone who is as great as he is.

This feels like an impossible choice with no good outcome, and I'm suffering so much from it. I feel paralyzed between both options and I'm struggling to make myself take action in either direction. I don't know how to get myself to feel better about our future together OR walk away. I would appreciate any clarity you can offer on which way to go and, more importantly, how to get myself to go that way.
posted by deus ex machina to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Very gently, what I see here is a sort of triangulation dynamic. He's a hero because there's a dragon at the gate - know what I mean? Like, without this outside threat uniting you, what would you guys be together? What would the relationship be like when there's enough space for acute stressors to develop between the two of you?

First of all, I think you should consult a lawyer about writing the ex a cease and desist letter - not that you will follow through with this! - but his ex is materially harming your career and reputation and you should know your options.

My next words might seem strange to you, but hear me out...

This man has brought unnecessary damage to your life. There is also damage to his daughter. I'm so sorry, but he's actually not that great or noble. He's carrying on with life as though there isn't unfinished business with his ex. There is substantial amounts of work he needs to do in that situation before he gets to move on in life. Instead, he's put you in the middle by dating you. He was married to his ex, he knows what she's like. This did not happen out of the blue, it's not a giant surprise for him the way it is for you. He gambled with your wellbeing, and he lost. He did not get his life organized before he started dating. This trouble was unnecessary.

You should move on to a partner who does the work required to have someone awesome like you in their life.

PS. I know the ex seems vindictive and crazypants, but you don't really know the situation there. Maybe he did cheat, just not with you? Or maybe she's entirely irrational? One thing is certain, he had business to square away and organize before moving forward with his life, he didn't, and the people paying the consequences are you and his daughter.

He should not have put you in the middle. Walk away while you can. See that lawyer just for your own information because you care about your professional reputation. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:02 PM on September 24, 2016 [16 favorites]

This is your boyfriend's situation to manage with his ex and it seems like his reaction is all "Meh, it sucks, whaddaya gonna do...". The ex is trying to destroy your reputation, career and any relationship with your step child and he's...letting her.

On top of that you're expected to move to him, give up your career and raise a child whose been taught to hate you, all whilst giving up any chance of having a child of your own. (That part is not clear but it seems like you're in doubt as to whether you'll ever get this.) Where is the upside to all of this and explain to me again why he's such a great guy?

All risk, no reward and a guy who makes no moves to improve any of it. You can do so so so much better. You're not afraid of commitment, you're afraid of ruining your life and with good reason. Run.

Oh, and are you SURE you weren't the other woman? You wouldn't be the first person to find out he was lying to both of you.
posted by Jubey at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2016 [15 favorites]

You don't have to decide anything right now- there is no actual rush, you will not suddenly be totally unlovable if you give yourself another year to see where this relationship goes. Give it time and things will become more clear.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:41 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the thoughts so far.

It would be helpful to me if you assumed for the sake of the question that it is extraordinarily unlikely that he cheated on his ex wife, with me or otherwise, for reasons that would take a lot of unnecessary explaining and are probably too identifying to them and me to post here.

He desperately wants to make this situation better for me--he has talked to her about it several times, consulted with his lawyer, and helped the child reframe the shit talking without disparaging his ex, among other things--and so advice about things he could do is also welcome. Him moving would make it very difficult for his ex to get her visitation with the child, so me moving is less of an expectation and more of something that we both agree would be the right thing to do.

My main question is, given the circumstances I presented, what can *I* do to move forward, one way or another?
posted by deus ex machina at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2016

My main question is, given the circumstances I presented, what can *I* do to move forward, one way or another?

You can start dating other people. Because as wonderful as he might be, he's not the right person for you right now. That may change in time, or it may not, but you should continue to date and seek a life partner whose goals are more in line with yours and what you want for your life.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 5:59 PM on September 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

I once had a friend who gave up what she wanted to move to live with her long distance boyfriend, because he didn't have a degree and knew he wouldn't be able to find good work in her city. She was miserable. They broke up. And everyone celebrated. This is without even adding the ex situation, which, real talk, is never going to change.

Find someone who is actually available to be with you. And let your boyfriend find someone who lives near him and doesn't have this level of toxic drama with his ex.
posted by Sara C. at 6:01 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

They could do counselling together (which assumes she sees this as being a problem to fix - I'd be shocked if she did) there's probably legal avenues you can explore regarding slander or you can try killing her with kindness but there's no guarantee that any of these things will work. The reason you're feeling paralysed about this situation working is because you're giving an outside influence (the ex) the power over whether or not you're happy.

Personally, I would leave, it sounds toxic as hell. The spillover from their relationship breakup should not be your problem to solve. If your boyfriend is left with messy ends from that, the onus is on him to deal with it before he gets into another relationship, not after.

Should you stay, you (or he) basically need to decide on an avenue of tackling it and then commit to it. If this woman figures out she's getting to you, it will just tell her that the tactics are working.

It is telling that a large reason you've given for staying is that you think it will be harder to date as you get older. What will be even harder is wasting four or five more years on this situation, only to throw in the towel, devastated, bitter and potentially no closer to getting the family you deserve - or actually having a child with this man and being caught in this web and woman for the rest of your life.
posted by Jubey at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Him moving would make it very difficult for his ex to get her visitation with the child, so me moving is less of an expectation and more of something that we both agree would be the right thing to do.

I think you're folding way too easily on this. Yes, time with his child is important. So is your career. You giving up your career is not "the right thing to do." It seems like you're ready to make a gigantic sacrifice without really taking into account what you want and need from your life. There might be tons of other options here, but if you just resign yourself to losing your career, you're not going to push to find those creative solutions.
posted by lazuli at 7:09 PM on September 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

But I can't stop thinking I should leave.
Well there you go then. If you yourself think you should leave, then I think you should too. Sometimes it might be the right person and the wrong circumstances. You've gotta put yourself first and this relationship, no matter how amazing the person is, is not compatible with your life right now.

Even though he's amazing, and breaking up with him would be heartwrenching, you know you need to do it. Get yourself out of this relationship and more fully into your own life. It's always scary to think about breaking up because you don't know what's on the other side and you start thinking, well maybe if I do this or look at it differently and tackle the problem differently... no. Just no. You said it yourself that you think you should leave and you should really really listen to that. And don't stay with him because you think it'll be harder to meet someone when you're older. You're 31 and tons of people meet partners when they're older and have kids. I don't think it'll be healthy for you to stay and work at this partly to avoid being alone and maybe not end up meeting someone and having a kid. There are no guarantees you will meet someone. There are no guarantees that you won't. So go live your own life the way you want to and not live in this toxic situation.
posted by foxjacket at 8:18 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm taking all of this feedback very seriously and I greatly appreciate it. Two quick clarifications and then I'll bow out:
-He has primary physical custody; if he moved to be with me, the child would move with him and his ex would have to travel to visit. I suspect this would feed in to the homewrecker narrative.
-I'm not concerned that I won't be able to meet someone if we break up now. I'm concerned that, if I wait until this is clearer to me and we break up, it will be harder THEN to meet someone. Not impossible, just harder than it is now.
posted by deus ex machina at 8:33 PM on September 24, 2016

-He has primary physical custody; the child would move with us and his ex would have to travel to visit. I suspect this would feed in to the homewrecker narrative.

I believe you. But you are putting his desires, his ex's desires, and his child's desires above your own, and you haven't shown that there's been some long calculus involved in determining that your needs are that far down on the priority list -- instead, it sounds like you've relegated your needs that far down. Stop doing that, and I suspect you'll be pleasantly surprised at what other opportunities arise.
posted by lazuli at 8:38 PM on September 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

Agree with lazuli. Why do you care this much what your boyfriend's ex thinks of you?

His custody issues are his, not yours.
posted by Sara C. at 8:45 PM on September 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

> at least 2 more years ahead before we can possibly live in the same place

Add to that the amount of time you would have to take living nearby and casually hanging out with him and his daughter to find out if you actually have some shot at wanting to be this girl's stepmother.

Talk to people who grew up with stepparents that they did not want and/or who did not want them, and whose bio parent pushed ahead and disregarded the kid's feelings and rushed forward with marriage to an adult who barely knew the kid.

One thing reading /r/stepparents on Reddit has taught me is that there are some distressingly sound reasons stepparents/stepfamiliies sometimes get a bad rap: some think the child(ren), the one whose personalities are still forming, the ones who have probably already been through at least one significant upheaval in their as-yet brief lives, are of little consequence in "adult" decisions. You can move a SO in and out of your home as you please; these are adult choices and children don't get a say and... (...and no wonder you are on here asking about how to stop the kid from acting out like mad, parenting with that little respect).

Many post from places of utter misery. The child(ren) loathe the step, the step loathes the child(ren), and -- pretty much without fail -- the bio parent is not the greatest parent. (Because who else would just chuck an adult into his family that his kids disliked?) It takes some next-level parenting skills to navigate adding a stepparent.

A guy who is rather "sucks, yeah" about his ex treating you terribly is perhaps not a man with those next-level skills. Also, take some time to consider: taking everything at face value here, this woman is a vindictive wretch who actively harms her child by talking smack about who her father is sleeping with. Yet this is also a woman your SO saw fit to reproduce with.

It happens. Perfectly nice people can end up in situations where they make poor reproductive choices. But has he done the inner work necessary to fix what was going wrong for him when he made that choice? You've dated "on and off." He doesn't seem to be doing much to alleviate a situation in which somebody in his life is so awful to you that it's sent you to therapy. Many people would haul their ex's arse back in to court for less, and not vindictively -- they'd do it because that type of drama is really hurtful to the kid. So he's slacking off on looking out for both of you. You're contemplating making some enormous sacrifices for a guy who is...not even close to doing the same for you.

Anyway. So. So two years go by. You go through tremendous upheaval to move to his city. For whatever reason -- perhaps you have never wanted to be a parent, and this is (most things are!) palpable to the child -- one can dislike children and be kind and respectful to them, but 'kind and respectful' is okay to occasionally have over for dinner (and the 'May I please be excused' comes very soon in the meal) but you do not want them living with you. Perhaps she is in the throes of the hormone storm that is the very start of puberty and, who knows, simply sees you as a competitor for her father's time -- no, I don't want go to some stupid garden! I want to go play mini-golf like we used to before SHE came! Etc. And who knows if the daughter will be amenable to any kindness from you after years of her mother's nonsense about you? That's a worry.

So quite possibly: it is 2020, you have made massive sacrifices to be with this man, he has made few if any sacrifices for you, and what happens is that the reality of the situation is that he doesn't have the next-level parent skills needed to engineer a smooth transition to adding you to the family, and your moving in with him and his daughter will mean a teen screaming at you regularly (and if the ex-wife -- clearly a wretch -- has left you feeling so hurt, I fear for your ability to take throwaway cruelty from a teen girl who you are trying to love and who would actually prefer to be friends with you but doesn't yet have the emotional skills to do that); it's not do-able, or do-able only at absurdly high cost to everybody's mental health.

I have been with my quite adored SO for over two years. He is over on weekends, and the odd weeknight. Dating with a kid is HARD and SCARY. At one point I had to say "Look, if this is ever not working out for you for any reason, I want you to tell me and I want you to end it as soon as you realise it's never going to be a permanent thing. Do not drag it out. Just rip off the bandage. Because we are at a state now where my kid loves you, and if we drag it out and hate each other, that will hurt her. But, we can work with 'Hey, we're in his neighbourhood! Let's go meet up with him for a sub!' and a slow fade..." What if you decide he's a bum at the same point the kid decides she wants you around forever?

Stepparenting is a huge amount of work, too. I am very, very fortunate that my kid and my SO get on fabulously. (Also sometimes terrified -- what if we fail as a couple? At this point it would be very traumatic for my child.) Even though he doesn't live with us, my SO does a lot for my daughter, and a lot to support me in parenting her. Do you want to volunteer at kids' track-and-field meets? Teach somebody to play an instrument? Give up nights out for family-friendly movies and Jiffy Pop? Siphon income away from your hobbies to cover the cost of Girl Guides?

My apologies for the novel and I hope at least some of it is helpful. This was a question about your boyfriend and his nasty ex and your feelings there, and all I could think was 'Yikes, those two things are so overwhelming she might be missing some of the reality of what it could be like to be a stepmother and how long it might take before you and he and the daughter were ready to live together after the LTR.' Sometimes that does work out and you end up in a mutually loving relationship that gives you the opportunity to make a tremendous positive difference in a young person's life -- but even in that best-case scenario, it is still a lot of labour.

Consider a third option, viz: dialling back. Date other people and encourage him to do so as well. You don't have to make a decision about sacrificing your career, moving in, etc, tomorrow. You are free to find out how green other grasses are. Perhaps you will find you miss him terribly and taking a new job will seem trivial, and the ex can be reduced to background noise; perhaps you will find it feels like a burden has lifted to be able to see other options. (Either way, I would really relish the opportunity to lessen the effect of the toxic ex. If this fellow is so wonderful and steadfast, he really needs to be back in family court negotiating an end to the shit-talking to the kid, and perhaps footing the bill for an attorney to deal with her slandering you in your professional circles {!!}.)

As for fretting about it being difficult to meet somebody later -- HA! -- when I was ready to date again, there was a sea of men who had decided, later than they might have, that they did want a wife and often kid(s) too. In my mid/late-30s there was quite a flurry of dating, marrying, and suddenly families with a baby, a baby and toddler, or perhaps three dogs and a canoe or whatever. The pool will be different but still well-stocked. The early-marrieds are often divorcing around that point, too. That would definitely be the least of my concerns in your shoes.
posted by kmennie at 10:05 PM on September 24, 2016 [11 favorites]

As a lone parent with full custody of my daughter I echo what kmennie has said.
This is on him and he isn't pulling his weight.

Single parenting is hard work.
Dating as a single parent is super hard work.
Balancing the needs of your child and your SO is insanely hard work.

But it's on the parent, comes with the job.

posted by fullerine at 8:14 AM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are three things I see here:

First, you say that you have a lot of shame and guilt about the things ex is saying, which suggests that even if you weren't actually helping this guy cheat on his marriage, you were a person who was around before he ended his marriage, and he possibly had some attraction to you before he ended his marriage. This seems especially likely because the ex and you share professional circles. It doesn't make you a bad person, but it means it's harder to check the narrative, because the bones of it seem true - that he might not have left the marriage, or fully left to the degree he did, without the impetus of having someone he had a connection with.

Second, you mention you've been "off and on". How off? How on? Why did you break up before and who initiated it? This really matters if you're considering uprooting your career for him. It really changes the advice.

Third, the kid is at the exact wrong age for this. If kid is right, and has absorbed negativity for four years, and its successful enough that kid believes you hurt his mom, that's not going to go away for the next year and a half, and a ten year old is much more "stuck" on it. It sounds like this guy started openly dating before kid was ready for it, which makes them much more resistant to a stepfamily at all. Also, have you talked with him about kids? How kids will be raised together? New kids in stepfamilies can also be fraught with drama, and it's good to look at that stuff now.
posted by corb at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I broke up with him. Thank you for all of your thoughts- they validated what I was feeling but thought was just coming from a place of irrational anxiety. It's going to be a hard road to move past this but I think it's what I needed to do for myself.
posted by deus ex machina at 2:44 PM on September 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

Might be good to keep in mind the step-parent story arc usually begins at :( and ends at :) in a very general sense.

I'm stepdad to three boys who were 5, 7, and 12 when their parents split. The 5 year old was fine, but the 7 and 12 year olds (especially the 12 year old) were tough. It wasn't just the poison adults cruelly trickle into the ears of children, but they were as freshly involved in the divorce and household splitting as the people getting the divorce. They were raw, sad, angry, and justifiably so. But that was a while ago. The 12 year old is now in his third year of college. The ex went from backing off to being a good person. Perspective changes over time, especially when there are kids involved.

I hear where you're coming from, but don't act in anticipation of events that haven't happened. Act in response to the events that are happening today, since those are things you can address (I see above someone mentioning a cease and desist, or some similar approach to dealing with the nastiness from the ex -- nastiness which really seems to be the point of origin for most of your troubles).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:41 PM on September 26, 2016

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