Dating while complicated
September 2, 2019 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I am dating someone I really like. Great. However, I am also raiding a disabled child and have an ex who is a huge, unpredictable financial burden. I feel like it's not fair to ask someone to be in a serious relationship with me. Should I just wait 10+ years until these issues are outgrown to date?

I have been "officially" dating someone for a couple months who I really like. I am generally chill and responsible, so is he. However, my child is has disabilities and is emotionally volatile and often melts down in the evenings. I love my child and of course our time together, but I know we have a lot of difficult moments.

I also have an ex who refuses to compromise or negotiate in any way with me. He was previously physically and verbally abusive. Now he has been filling court motions (poorly) on a regular basis for full custody. He doesn't attend to my son's physical and emotional needs, and I have full custody because of it. However, the cost of showing this is still true through various crazy accusations is insane. I am in debt now, and predict these motions will continue.

I am not looking for someone to support me financially or help me raise my child. However, I am not really able to figure out what that looks like in a more serious relationship. I catch feeling easily and in my head, love progresses towards marriage, inevitably. I know this isn't true for all people, but I have never "casually" dated, and it generally makes me feel uncomfortable.

I haven't dated for several years to try and get to a stable situation. I achieved all my goals (good job, location near family, older child) but I still feel like it may be unfair to persue a serious relationship with the type of man I would be attracted to. How do other people navigate these life issues?

For clarities sake, I have mentioned my child's medical/behavioral issues lightly and exes anger. I've said these issues are why I haven't dated and that I want to take things slowly. I am feeling increasingly dishonest for not coming out with more specifics/my concerns. But also don't want to dump it on someone all at once. Plus I should figure out how I feel.
posted by Kalmya to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Let the person you're dating make up their own mind about what they can handle instead of preemptively cutting yourself off from connection.
posted by praemunire at 7:41 PM on September 2, 2019 [87 favorites]

For clarities sake, I have mentioned my child's medical/behavioral issues lightly and exes anger. I've said these issues are why I haven't dated and that I want to take things slowly. I am feeling increasingly dishonest for not coming out with more specifics/my concerns. But also don't want to dump it on someone all at once. Plus I should figure out how I feel.

First off you gotta work out what you want long term from your new someone. Do you want them around? That's like the super basic starting point here. In a perfect world, if you'd want them around, you need to let them in a bit more. Anyone who can't handle your kid or your ex is not going to be worth having around in ten years, twenty years, whatever. If you've told them and they are sympathetic and supportive, open the doors a bit more. Let them see what's in your life.

My younger brother is a clinical sociopath. It started manifesting when he was young and has just continued. He's in his mid thirties now and is fairly stable but a demanding child never stops being your baby. I've basically cut off contact, but my mother has not and never will. There's never going to be a point when your baby is going to be less important than your lover. He may never outgrow them, or outgrow them in a fashion that still needs you in his life a lot more than an able bodied kid will be. He may just wind up being very close to you. He's always going to be there.

My mum remarried when I was a teenager. Best thing to happen to us - my stepdad - my real dad - has been a constant source of support and love for my mother, even and especially when my brother was really bad.

You, OP, deserve to be happy now, not in ten or fifteen years. Let them in, a little bit at a time. Keep a bit of space safe for your son, so if the new lover goes he's not going to feel abandoned. You may find they're ready to love your son in a way your ex can't and help support the two of you in ways you can't imagine are even possible in these situations. If they aren't up for it they'll let you know. If they are? You will wonder why you ever doubted.
posted by Jilder at 7:46 PM on September 2, 2019 [30 favorites]

We all have our issues -- some are bigger than others, sure, but very few of us come into a relationship with a clean slate. I really don't believe your life needs to be perfect before you get into a relationship with someone else (and I don't think anyone who believes that is worth having a relationship with). Everyone has some kind of baggage. That's just what life is.

It's worth deciding how much you want to let this person into what you're facing at this point in your relationship, but you sound stable and self-aware. But you get to decide what your relationship with this person is and what it means to you. But no, you don't need to wait until some point to have a relationship. You deserve to have one now.
posted by darksong at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

If someone likes you enough and wants you enough, they will put up with the price of admission in order to have you in their life on that level. They'll put up with your horrible ex and your kid situation, or any other damn thing. Hell, that lady awhile back with the in-laws trying to poison her with mushrooms still married her husband instead of running away to find someone with better parents.

Saying, "I have to wait ten years to find love until my situation is less of a situation," well...look, if you find it, it's REALLY rare. Don't throw it out. I doubt you'll really "outgrow" the situation anyway if those are the circumstances, so are you going to have it forever ruin that area of your life?

We've all heard of plenty of shitty dudes out there who dump women for the slightest of anything or dumping their wife because she had cancer. If this dude isn't that great, isn't that into you, or whatever, he'll run on his own. Don't dump him because you're too hard to handle or for his own good. If he can't take it, it's on him to figure out. If he can, then let him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I am not really able to figure out what that looks like in a more serious relationship. I catch feeling easily and in my head, love progresses towards marriage,
Many of us grow up with the idea that relationships are supposed to be like an elevator - you start at the first date and rise slowly through the stages until you end up at marriage. This is only one way to do it. Spend some time thinking about different ideas of how a happy loving relationship might look for you. Maybe, if he's a hardy sole, marriage could be a good option. Maybe you live together, sharing a home but keep your finances separate if you think it would make money issues for your kid easier. Maybe you live separately but talk every evening and share your lives on a regular basis.

This guy may not be the one capable of being the partner you want but if you have a better idea of what the end game might look like then it will be easier to image in a path in the right direction.
posted by metahawk at 8:46 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ok, I am coming at this from your dating partner's point of view. I dated, for over a year, a woman who had 3 kids under the age of 5 and a restraining order against her ex. If she had dumped me because she thought her life was too complicated or did not want to subject me to it, I would have been angry. I am a big person with issues of my own. As time went on, over the course of the first 3 or 4 months, she was increasingly transparent about her situation. Sure, it made my life a little more complicated, but I was dating her because we really liked each other and had good chemistry. Both of our goals was to meet someone with whom we could grow old together. Whether that was a formal marriage or a simple commitment did not matter. What mattered was us together.

Like any relationship, we learned to work around each of our issues. Her ex would usually lose it around the 1st of the month because that was the day he sent money. I learned to not be around. We learned to work around our kid's schedules. We did not see each other as often as we would have liked, but we were grateful for the time we had together.

I told her early on that if we let her insane ex get between us, he was winning and as far as I was concerned he was not even playing the game.

I would never have occurred to me to not date her (or her me I hope) because of complications or "baggage". As someone said earlier, disclose and let him make the decision. It is actually a great qualifier. He if runs, you find out sooner what kind of person he was. If he stays, you find out a lot about him as well.

(We eventually broke up not because of anything between us or her kids or my kids or her ex, but because one of her parents fell ill, and she moved the entire family to be near her parents. We are still in touch as friends.)

I have dated women with no ex issues and able teenagers. I have seen plenty of 15 year olds have their own meltdowns. It is all part of life. COmplications are just part of being a parent.

I suggest you not cut this off, but rather slowly disclose more. Being in a relationship is about being partners. I would hope he would be supportive and help the situation.
posted by AugustWest at 9:25 PM on September 2, 2019 [29 favorites]

Everyone's situation is different, but nobody goes through life without accumulating some baggage. I think most mature adults know this, everyone has their own stuff going on. You don't need to apologize for your life, it is what it is and it surely includes joy alongside.

If you respect your partner, you can show that respect by letting him make his own adult decision (just as you do with whatever is going on in his life). But you must be honest about what the deal is for him to make an educated decision. I agree you should disclose more, but let your partner choose.
posted by epanalepsis at 5:53 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I didn't think my now partner/step-father to my kid would want to do the whole shebang of living together and being a family and all that entails, but he does and I'm so glad he's in my corner. My son doesn't have extreme meltdowns but is sensitive and different than a lot of kids, my ex isn't abusive but is often very frustrating and doesn't contribute financially, and my family is dysfunctional, so maybe not as severe as your situation but comparable in that I don't really have any solid sources of support outside of my friends and what I've created for myself. I have huge stressors pop up periodically thanks to my family and a lot of student debt to pay off. He has his own family issues and personal foibles too, but we are really happy together, my son enriches his life and vice versa.
It sounds like you've done the work of creating a good life for yourself and your son and what you've shared with your new person sounds really reasonable, try to trust that everything is workable and that you are as worthy of a loving relationship as anyone else.
posted by lafemma at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

This question makes me sad because it sounds like there's some negative self-talk at the heart of it: at some level, you aren't sure you're "worth" it because of your life circumstances. But of course you are, for the right person. I also wonder if some of this is related to fear: if he really knew the real me, would he like me? But we can find ourselves being fearful of that regardless of the situation in our lives. It's about being vulnerable and falling in love and risking hurt. You're wondering if you should reject him first, for his sake, before he can reject you. But really this would be a self-protective measure. You probably had to do a lot of work to move past your abusive relationship with your ex, and maybe you even built some walls to keep yourself safe. And I'm sure it was hard to go so many years without an intimate relationship, even while you were focused on other goals. And now that you're here, in a good relationship with potential, it's scary to let down those walls.

It sounds like you are being honest and thoughtful in how you share the complicated details of your life, which is totally reasonable and appropriate. Let him decide if he wants to be with you; don't decide for him.

What do *you* want? That is what your focus can be now.

For what it's worth, while my situation isn't analogous to yours, I did find myself pretty scared to share some details about some things happening with my kids with a newish partner once. And you know what happened when I did share? He gave me a big hug and held me close. He wrapped me in his arms. I was so glad I took the risk of telling him because I was relieved of the discomfort of feeling like I wasn't being totally honest and because it made me realize it wasn't such a terrible thing about me. I think he gained some appreciation for all that I was dealing with, and it brought us closer.

That's not to say your situation will play out the same way. And if this man knows what's going on with you and doesn't want to be with you because of that, better to know it sooner rather than later. But that seems unlikely. It also seems like that needs to be his decision, not a decision you make for him. Because making that decision for him is about protecting you, not him. Love requires vulnerability, which is scaring because it means risking hurt.

Good luck moving forward with this relationship. For what it's worth, I think what you've done and where you've gotten yourself is pretty damn amazing. I think your guy might feel the same.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:38 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I could have written this post a few years ago. Hugs. So, I feel like these answers probably do mean really well, but are kind of dismissing your core concerns, and are thus missing the mark in a major way because so few of us have actually lived this experience you’ve described so thoughtfully and carefully. As a fellow survivor of abuse, and as a parent who is also repeatedly being abused both financially and through the legal system by a “vexatious litigant” or “high conflict” ex partner, I feel like very few people genuinely get it, even though they really want to. This is not about you having low self esteem as a woman or selling yourself short or being an island or whatever (though we all could use a bit of a boost in these areas, sure), rather it’s about you needing right now, above all else, to survive, to thrive, to keep a stable situation for your family, and crucially, to avoid getting with another abusive partner, and to remain solvent while keeping custody of your child. It’s a freaking lot to deal with and it’s ok, it’s understandable, and to me it’s downright impressive that dating is not your top life priority right now. You’re doing great.

Chump Lady would be a great place for you to ask this question. I feel like you’re not quite being validated here in particular for the restraint and wisdom I see in your deeply knowing your own situation and your own personal limits. There is nothing wrong with you for understanding that anyone who dates folks like us is basically dating a predictable series of lawsuits, with discovery, depositions, and harassing, expensive court shenanigans. It’s hard for us to give voice to this reality in the dating context of getting to know you— and we sort of feel a duty of warn romantic prospects. But it’s so hard to talk about, and it’s triggering, and you’re maybe told by professionals you’re not supposed to talk about your case.

There are some of us who cannot and choose not to do regular-way relationships until we are far more confident we are no longer subject to being sued all the damn time in family court. It’s just not worth the drama and unpredictability. Do not expect people to readily grasp this though. At least not right away. There is obviously a lot of social pressure on women to re-partner. And with our kinds of potential vulnerabilities, and amazingly loving, giving personalities, there is also the sense we are sitting ducks for well-resourced abusers. Hang in there, you are an incredible mom, and independent person, who is due so much respect indeed. Your day will come.
posted by edithkeeler at 10:15 AM on September 4, 2019

Edith raises a fair point, but I do want to point out that Kalmya has already waited (according to her words) "several years" to date and has achieved "all her goals" and has already told her partner some of what she's been dealing with. She sounds like she's been thoughtful and cautious. I hear a person who is (legitimately!) scared of vulnerability rather than a woman who doesn't want to date. Edith, respectfully, while you are raising legit issues, too, those aren't the issues that the question raised directly. She's not asking if she should date. Rather, she decided to date, after a long careful consideration, and now she's maybe getting cold feet as she's developing some feelings.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:30 AM on September 4, 2019

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