I'm a nice person. Really!!
February 25, 2020 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on getting a teenager to not hate me. Dating a divorced dad with a 15 year old son. More below....

Sorry if this is long, but I want to lay out the information all at once. Dating a man (we are mid 50s; I am female; I have two grown sons who live with me) that I was friends with first then it developed into a really wonderful relationship. We've been dating since last September. He has custody of his 15 year old son. Ex wife sees son (by choice) once a week for dinner and occasional weekend days. No over nights, by choice. She has a live in boyfriend. She and my guy have been divorced for three years. Son wants nothing to do with me and it hurts. I am not trying too hard. We don't spend much time together because he visibly bristles at me. This past weekend, BF and I got back from a day out, and were discussing a photograph, when Son came in from being with friends. BF greeted Son; I said hi; and got crickets. When I left 10 minutes later, I said "see ya!" and was ignored, and after BF walked outside to walk me to my car, Son nearly slammed the front door shut.

What can I do? Do I just keep on being low key and pleasant? (I know I would not tolerate that kind of rudeness when my kids were that age). I didn't react; BF even noted that it was rude. I know Son is a little socially awkward; used to have some difficulties in school but has worked hard enough to get him off of needing an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). I'm not planning on replacing his mom, he has one. I did once make a joke to his dad that I loved where they live (I do!) and kidded that I was moving in (we could see Bald Eagles from his yard and I love bird watching). Apparently that upset him, even though his dad said it was just a figure of speech.

Please, anyone have any experience with this? I'm hoping for some coping tips, or just reassurance that it's not me - that he would be like this to anyone his father may have brought home.
Adding that his mom told his dad that he was horrible to her boyfriend in the beginning too. We generally see each other only once a week or so, or sometimes we have dinner after Son has gone to dinner with his mom. I am gone before he comes home. BF lets Son know ahead of time when we have plans for our one day together.

Thank you for reading this through.
posted by annieb to Human Relations (54 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First up - it's not you! Don't patronise him with attention but neither should you cool off. Carry on. It's a huge upheaval for him, and he's most probably testing you out to see how you react - will you go away?? You're very new to him. Once he's saying hi, up the ante and look to do something with him that he really likes, all together first, but just you as well when it feels natural. Engage on his level.
posted by london explorer girl at 7:46 AM on February 25, 2020 [17 favorites]

You can't really do anything you're not doing already, but your boyfriend could sit down with his son and let him know that Son doesn't have to like you (or even not hate you) but Son does have to be polite to you.
posted by mskyle at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2020 [85 favorites]

Secondly - it'd be nice to be more friendly but, really, you're not dating the son. And he's 15, not 5. Be upfront with yourself and his dad about a) what you'd like and b) what you're willing to accept in the way of a functional relationship with this teenager.
posted by mce at 7:48 AM on February 25, 2020 [8 favorites]

Remember that he is a teenager. There is a good chance he would act the same way towards you even if you weren’t dating his dad and we’re just a neighbor or teacher. I would continue to be pleasant to him but expect very little in return at least for awhile. With time and maturity he will warm to you.
posted by scantee at 7:50 AM on February 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've been through this as a 15 year old girl, so it's a little bit of a different perspective but I'll tell you what I was going through.
I considered myself quite grown up and emotionally mature as a 15 year old, but my parents divorce and my dad's subsequent remarriage was VERY hard for me.

My step mum was awful, but you seem GREAT. I think you need to plan to play the long game.

Keep doing what you're doing, be nice, be kind, be aware that you're the adult in the situation and your BF's son is likely dealing with some complex emotions that he likely isn't sure what to do with or how to handle. Personally, I think he just needs time.

When I was in this situation, I would say extremely snarky things to my step mum in the heat of the moment and then walk away and feel shame. I would vow to act differently the next time I saw her, but when that time came I couldn't control myself and would act out again. I could be sulky, snarky, snide... acting in ways I had NEVER acted before. I didn't really understand it. I was also extraordinarily angry. My dad moved on very quickly after the divorce and it hurt. I felt angry on behalf of my mum. it was all just a horrid time - looking back as a 38 year old I understand the situation SO much more and I'm more charitable about the decisions that my parents made. But at the time, all I felt was anger, and I acted like a little bitch at times.

Being 15 is hard. You're going to have to gain his trust, and I think the way to do that is just be cool, be awesome, play the long game. Let him be snarky, let him get annoyed... you will win him round if you love his dad and treat him well. Be sensitive that his world has been turned upside down... making jokes about moving in are all in jest, but to him it feels much bigger than that.... be patient and kind above all else and I'm sure he will come around.
posted by JenThePro at 7:51 AM on February 25, 2020 [48 favorites]

I could be totally making this up, but it does sound like a situation where, in addition to "my parents are dating, ugh," this might be a situation where his mom has moved on to a new boyfriend and basically downsized the kid's place in her life. And now his dad is dating someone and it's quite possible that on some level, conscious or not, he fears the same thing--is another parent gonna move on from him?

There's no way for you to make this okay. Be polite and tolerant, let BF do the parenting as needed, and be the grown up. This kid's life is hard and you are a symbol of it; there's nothing you can do to make that less true.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:54 AM on February 25, 2020 [76 favorites]

The *only* thing you should do is what you are doing - be kind, polite, open toward him, establishing yourself as a regular, safe, trustworthy adult that won't overreact to his teenage dislike of you. He is probably really hurting, upset, embarassed, confused, (keep on listing the feels of teenagehood in a divorced family.)

Its unknown whether this kid will ever grow to like you, but the *best* outcome possible is that in some years, he says "yeah I was really hurting at 15, but annieb was just there as an adult not pushing me, judging me, or making me like her. Now she's an adult in my life I can trust."
posted by RajahKing at 8:08 AM on February 25, 2020 [53 favorites]

just reassurance that it's not me

This internet stranger promises it is not you. Son is still in pain and sad about the divorce and upheaval. That’s not to excuse his behavior, but just, realize this is a sad kid acting out.
posted by sallybrown at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

If it were me, I would ask my boyfriend to handle this differently. I would say, “It really bothers me that you let him just ignore me like that. First, because I want you to hold him accountable for treating me with respect, and to uphold that in this house I am a person who deserves respect. And separately, I just think part of growing up is learning to be civil to people you don’t like - but you’re the parent not me, so we can set that part aside. I’m not ok with you allowing your son to treat me like this and I need you to at least enforce that I get a hello and a goodbye.”

He doesn’t need to like you, but he needs to treat you with the respect due to any human being. He wouldn’t be allowed to treat the housekeeper, busboy, or his school principal like this. His dad needs to stand up for you. (And the kid is going to have to learn to behave with a minimum of decency with people he detests, that’s part of life...which is his dad’s work to teach.)

Whether he *likes* you or not will depend on whether your personality and his are compatible. Just keep being friendly and open, and he may come around eventually. I think this will be easier for you to be unruffled about if he’s not treating you like you don’t exist.
posted by amaire at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2020 [14 favorites]

It's not you.

The kid's got no power over his situation - a situation that is really hard - and is at a developmental stage where so much is going on and he is just now building up his emotional tool kit and he...

"nearly slammed" the door on you? that's it? didn't even full-on slam? Didn't say anything when he didn't have anything nice to say? I mean, I can think of all kinds of things I would have said to you just because I'd be desperate for an enemy and I'm a relatively well adjusted middle aged person. Seems like kid is holding it together honestly and you're giving him no room. Leave him alone. Go watch step-brothers to re-set your expectations, breathe, check your ego and understand that your role in all of this is to just be supportive of your BF, and that's it. If the kid wants to interact with you, he will. Let him initiate.

Until then, just leave him alone because you are the adult and he is the kid and that is the kind and emotionally generous thing to do for a 15 year old whose already got enough to deal with. No more "joking" about moving in, either.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2020 [66 favorites]

This is such a common situation that there's even a Progressive Insurance commercial about it. Kids always feel resentful when their parents divorce and start dating other people. You are not going to be the one who magically solves this problem. The goal should be to have a civil relationship that can grow as he grows more emotionally mature. It's extremely difficult to have a relationship with a partner's 15-year-old child, but it's considerably easier to have one with a 25-year-old.

The way you're going to get there is by adding value to his life, somehow. There wasn't anything in your post about your interactions with the kid, so I'm left to assume that they're fairly minimal, and if so, that's part of the problem. Some of this is unavoidable; there just aren't a lot of ways to insert yourself into a kid's life. But be alert for when such a situation might come up. Maybe he needs help with his homework in the subject you majored in. Maybe he's looking for a job and your company is hiring interns. Maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him and he needs some reassurance.

I'm not a huge fan of the idea of transactional relationships, but kids are, even if it's subconscious. Think about things from his perspective: Why would he have any sort of relationship with you? He didn't choose you; you were just kind of thrust upon him. And so if you're not doing anything for him, you're just kind of there, why should he? When you are doing something for him, though, even if it's just (as RajahKing says) just giving him space to develop his own identity, he has that much more reason to accept you. And gradually, as he matures, the relationship will become less transactional.

But it's definitely not just you. This is a deeply entrenched cultural trope.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:18 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Keep doing what you're doing. Be an unchanging sea of polite friendliness in a sea of changes in the kids life. Don't try to be best buds, if & when you talk to him don't talk down to him, talk to him like another adult, but don't expect adult reactions. Give him space & let him come to you if he wants to, there is no magical phrase or thing you can do that will flip the switch. Time & consistency are the key. Low key & present as you suggest is the way to go. His rudeness though is something his father should talk to him about, in the you don't have to like my gf but you do have to be civil to her kind of way.

Pretty much none of his reactions are about you & are based on fear & complex feelings he doesn't have the words for yet. If anything he's mad at his Dad and you're just the target as he's mad at his Dad about you. As hard as it might be don't take it personally, give him space & let him process & work through what he needs to.
posted by wwax at 8:23 AM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Sounds like you're doing what you should be doing, and yes, it's a long game. As a longtime stepmom, I highly recommend finding an online forum for stepmothers (ideally one that has membership or can otherwise promise anonymity) as a safe place for you to vent about issues and get advice from people going through the same thing.
posted by Mchelly at 8:25 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

My stepkids are much younger (10 and 7), but as everyone else has said: it's not really about you, he would almost certainly act like this towards anyone new in his dad's life, and it will probably get better if you just ride it out without pushing the son to have a more intimate or active relationship with you than he wants to.

Be open and willing to have a relationship with the kid, and be aware that he may make kind of weird/stilted overtures, because he's a teen. So, for example, he may be apparently-offhandedly mentioning something about comics or Pokemon or... shit, I don't know, whatever kids like, but try to pay attention to anything that he starts a conversation with you (or his dad) about. The fact that the teen is starting the conversation indicates that it's probably important to him, and you should pay attention to that even if you think the specific thing is not a big deal. Keep on thinking of yourself as an extra supportive adult in the kid's life-- not a parent, but kind of a cool family friend or something, and let him take the lead on any kind of relationship between you two.

Also, since this has already come up, his dad should probably have a talk with him (without you there) to reassure the kid that no one is going to make major life changes without checking in with him. So, you know, don't joke about moving in-- make sure his dad has explicitly told him that he will be involved in family decisions. This doesn't mean that the kid gets to veto the arrangements if you & your partner decide to move in together, but it does mean that you are promising that he won't just be told one day "annieb is moving in next month! isn't that great!". Fifteen is old enough to be involved in a limited way, and it's also old enough that his feelings should (IMO) be taken into consideration.

I cannot promise that this will work, of course, but I can say that this is how I've handled my stepkids and I think we do pretty well. My stepdaughter sent me a Valentine's Day card this year, which was extremely sweet. I've been with their dad for just over 5 years though, so this was a long process. Which is fine, if you're playing a long game! If you marry his dad you'll be in this kid's life forever, so you don't need to rush things.
posted by Kpele at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2020 [18 favorites]

It's not you. Give it time, and in my opinion it is reasonable for the biological parents to expect respectful behavior from a child towards another adult. Child doesn't have to like you but ignoring you when you speak is rude. It is up to the bio parent to enforce respect, however. My oldest stepdaughter went through a phase of ignoring me when I spoke to her. I said something to my partner in private. My partner waited until he was present for the behavior and called it out.

Will it help if the 15yo resents you for their dad to encourage them to treat you with respect? No, but it's ok for children of any age to be reminded of whatever family rules are in place, and being respectful is a baseline expectation for many families. And I suspect teens still need the "security" of structure and consistent boundary enforcement, so maybe it would help him in that way.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:30 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

reassurance that it's not me - that he would be like this to anyone his father may have brought home.

+1 to this. Exactly. And it may help to think of it like this: he might respond even worse than this to someone his father brought home who pushed him too much, tried too hard, or took teenage grumpiness personally. If you can keep from taking it personally, you're very far ahead of the game.

And don't force an activity on him--even if (especially if) it's one that he enjoys. Wait for him to initiate that kind of thing, because it's a big deal to let you into his world, his realm of things to enjoy. But Kpele's advice just above is good: when he does initiate a conversation, be there for it. Don't overreact or get gushy; again, "trying too hard" is a cardinal sin for teenagers in his position. Just mirror his energy the best you can, play it cool, and understand that this process will take a really long time.
posted by witchen at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Teenage boys are like feral cats, don't meet his eyes and keep leaving food where he can find it.
posted by InkaLomax at 8:40 AM on February 25, 2020 [72 favorites]

While I would expect the father to talk to his son if he was outright saying insulting things to you, I disagree that he should be disciplined in any way into greeting you. Why would you want him to say hello to you just because his father forced him to be polite? Isn't the point of family relationships to be at least to be a tiny bit genuine? Just give it time. He's a 15 year old boy and they barely say hello to each other, let alone someone who in his kid brain is somehow making things change / taking his dad's attention away. Continue to be a cheery but noninvasive mature adult. Allow your presence to become increasingly normal and neutral. When he's 17 or 18 I'm sure he'll be telling you about his day -- at least sometimes -- with no coercion.
posted by nantucket at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2020 [25 favorites]

Been there on both sides of this. My dad's wife I did not particularly like. Never did. 30 years they were married. I was cordial, but never had a relationship beyond "Hi how are you?". My mom's husband I liked a real lot. I respected him and enjoyed spending time with him. Lived with him and my mom during college breaks.

My kids were tweens when I divorced. They are in their early 20s now. The woman I am dating and with whom I am very serious, will text with them without me even knowing.

It is not you. Not at all. I do not think your goal should be to be liked by him. I think he should respect you, but even that cannot be forced. He should be cordial to you and not a negative fighter with you.

I do not agree that he is just being a teenager. He is definitely being affected by the divorce. It sounds like he resents you. I would stay the course. COntinue to be nice, cordial, friendly and not worry about his response so much. If anything, I would talk to his dad about the response, but I think it will backfire to have his dad say anything to him.

I think as he gets older and does not see you as a threat to his relationship with his dad or his mom for that matter, he will be less intolerant. He may even like you. Fwiw, my kids don't like me sometimes when I made them do something they didn't want.
posted by AugustWest at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify about interactions with Son:

He has shown up in the store I work in, just once, with his mom, and smiled broadly at me when I happily recognized him. But that was before the "I love this house" comment.

At Superbowl, BF invited me to watch the game with them. I planned on staying until after halftime, because Son wanted it to be just the two of them (i didn't know that until I got there). I had given BF a recipe for baby back ribs in the crock pot, which he made. Son refused to eat them at all. He made himself Spaggettios and cereal. I asked him a couple of football related questions that I honestly didn't know, and he responded to me in an okay fashion. BF and I don't do any type of affection in front of him, because we don't want to make him uncomfortable.

Since then, BF and I will make plans on Sundays (because I don't work those days); he will let Son know what our plans are. Son never comes down from his room in the brief moments I am there. The whole door slamming thing was just a bit of an example. He couldn't see us at my car from the house - he was making a statement. The door slamming thing is not the "only" example.

I don't want him to be uncomfortable. And I really appreciate the expression that he is afraid of his dad making less time for him because that really resonated with me. I would like to do things eventually that HE'D like to do, but so far his dad is making sure to do extra events/activities with him to hopefully allay his abandonment concerns.
posted by annieb at 8:50 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

At Superbowl, BF invited me to watch the game with them. I planned on staying until after halftime, because Son wanted it to be just the two of them (i didn't know that until I got there). I had given BF a recipe for baby back ribs in the crock pot, which he made. Son refused to eat them at all. He made himself Spaggettios and cereal. I asked him a couple of football related questions that I honestly didn't know, and he responded to me in an okay fashion.

I put this one on Dad, not son. If I was planning some bonding time with someone important that I thought was one-on-one and they invited a significant other along who was asking me questions about the event, it would piss me off, and I’m not a temperamental teenager going through a family divorce.
posted by sallybrown at 8:56 AM on February 25, 2020 [30 favorites]

I mean no attack on you, I swear. I know you've done nothing wrong.

But from his perspective (I was a kid of divorce): why should he respect you? All you stand for, as far as he can see, is that his father dumped his mother and is the reason he doesn't even get to watch a game alone with his dad. He doesn't respect you any more than he'd respect a stranger who stole his taxi.

Leave him alone. Remember he's not the one who created this situation. Don't try to dictate his feelings. Eventually if you guys become a family, things will be different.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:58 AM on February 25, 2020 [19 favorites]

My kids are 15 and 17 right now and I’m a single mom. The only time my younger kid has done things with someone I’ve dated is when my then-partner tagged along on stuff my kid and a friend wanted to do. Kids that age aren’t super into outings with their parents, anyway, and never mind one where they’re sharing attention. I would think of this as a long game.

His dad can help by having quality one on one time with his kid.

You can help by trying never ever to say or think, “ I know I would not tolerate that kind of rudeness when my kids were that age.” Different kids, different situation. And yeah, don’t make jokes about relationship escalation (even if you’d make the same joke to a platonic friend). This kid has no control over his life, and he is losing some of his dad’s time and probably has legit fears about losing more—but at an awkward time when he is also trying to pull away and be independent.

His dad could tell him he needs engage in more social niceties, but I think you want to avoid telling him how to parent or making comparisons to your kids.

You might also read some books about step parenting teens.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

Also why do you want to hang out with this kid? To have more time with dad? This kid doesn’t want to hang out with you right now so I’d try to let go of any ideas about combined activities for now.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seems to me like you owe the kid an apology. It wasn't an "I love this house" comment, it was a boundary testing joke about moving in. If we're talking "respect", then this was pretty disrespectful. Did you apologize? Has the kid's father had a direct, open conversation with him about living arrangements or the possibility of you moving in, or what the kid's say in that kind of situation would be? All of your attempts to communicate with him probably feels boundary pushing, and I want to emphasize - he has little real power or control over his life right now. He can't even get in his car and leave. Because he's 15. Anyways, should you see the kid again:

"Hey kid, I joked about moving in. I'm not moving in. I'm sorry about that". Then drop it.

I don't understand why this joke or other attempts to push him into engaging with you when he isn't ready or hasn't initiated... is a mere faux-pax, whereas his behavior - the only real way he can exercise control or establish boundaries - is some kind of horrid intolerable disrespectful rudeness.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2020 [61 favorites]

I would also add, for the teenager there is a difference between inside his home and outside. For most of us, being at home with close friends and family is as comfortable as it gets: we don’t have to dress up, we don’t have to mind our p’s and q’s, or worry about making small talk, or showing our feelings, or how we express ourselves. Add anyone we’re not close with to that mix and things get a little less comfortable. That sense of home is one of the things that gets fractured in divorce: you think, there’s never going to be another day when I come home from school and my mom and dad are there and we sit down to dinner. But at least he still has his home as a retreat from all the places like school where he has to act in a certain way. Now add onto that all these little pushes he’s getting about you: it’s not just that you’re over in the house, it’s also that you make jokes about moving in, and now you’re showing up at times when he really just wants to hang out with his dad and not worry about company (the Super Bowl). I would stop trying to make small talk with him at times like the Super Bowl—that hurts things, it doesn’t help. He doesn’t want to put on a sociable face for a guest when he’s in his own house and he’s upset at his dad.

It seems like dad is being neglectful of the situation by just throwing you all together without a plan and without discussing stuff with his son, like “he’ll get over it.” This is impacting both his son and you. I think you and your boyfriend need more of a structured plan here.
posted by sallybrown at 9:07 AM on February 25, 2020 [35 favorites]

I would not tell my BF that he needs to enforce politeness. This will backfire, first of all - he may do it but he will resent you more. Second, this isn't the same as being polite to a busboy or school principal, to the use the examples others have used. You are in the kid's home. I remember at that age feeling unsafe, unhappy and trapped when my mom brought people she was dating home. I had no sanctuary. I would certainly act out more in that situation than I would in public setting because i would feel more threatened.

I agree with posters who are saying it sounds like Dad isn't taking the lead and should be. I like the idea of suggesting that BF talk to his son to say:

a) Please know you can talk to me privately any time if you are feeling unhappy. AnnieB is a friend but you are my priority over anyone else, including AnnieB.

b) This is your home and you get to feel safe and relaxed here. You can talk to me if you ever feel any other way.

c) I get it that you don't necessarily want to be friends with AnnieB too and that's okay. You are always welcome to join in on activities we are doing if she is here, but I won't ever make you. It would be great if you could say hello and goodbye like other guests who come over though.
posted by girlpublisher at 9:16 AM on February 25, 2020 [26 favorites]

It really sounds like the kid has escalated a bit (though IMO still totally within the range of 'normal teen behavior') specifically since a) the joke about moving in and b) his dad including you ('dad's new GF' probably, from the kid's perspective) in an activity that the kid had specifically requested to have as dad/kid bonding time. This seems like a really, really, understandable situation in which the kid may feel that your relationship with his dad is threatening his ability to be close to his dad.

The thing is, the kid is probably going to resent you if his dad chooses to spend time with you and not the kid. I know you are not urging your BF to include you in family time, but the kid doesn't know that. I would actually encourage your BF to make more of an effort to spend time with his son separately from you, and to really try to show his son that he (the son) is at least as high a priority for him as his relationship with you (the new GF). Especially now, as the son is adjusting to your presence in his life, he needs a lot of reassurance that he is still his dad's highest priority. Your BF needs to do the work here, and your role is (IMO) to make sure your boyfriend knows that you're on board with prioritizing his son (over you, if push comes to shove). You can continue to be a nonthreatening, not-pushy-but-friendly adult. You know your relationship with your BF won't take away this kid's dad, but the kid doesn't know that. His dad (and you, to a lesser degree) need to demonstrate that over time. He will eventually warm up, probably, if you let him do things at his own pace.
posted by Kpele at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

I dunno, there were boyfriends of my mom that I liked and boyfriends that I didn’t. The ones I disliked were not necessarily bad people, they just weren’t my cup of tea. Being forced to spend time with folks I didn’t care for while watching my mom carefully triangulate was hard to navigate with my short lifetime of experience, and I was certainly not my best self around them. I mostly hid, which it sounds like he is doing. So it *might* be you, but it’s unlikely to be about anything you can control.

I’ll add that this was especially difficult when they were in my house, and exponentially harder if they had been talking about moving in (he’s 15 and from your description has some sort of learning disability, he may have had a real hard time parsing that as a joke, and even with life experience it doesn’t sound like one.)

Anyways, if you’re in his house, you are the guest and the grownup, be polite to him and he may ease up. Activities on neutral ground instead of hanging at his house may help.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:20 AM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

I think your best bet is to just be polite and friendly and not overly familiar.

I would ask your boyfriend to address the rudeness, mildy: "You don't have to like annieb, but she is a guest in our home so it's not ok to be explicitly rude. This means you have to say the basics: hello, how are you, excuse me, thank you, goodbye, make a bit of eye contact, and answer direct questions." Ask boyfriend to enforce this stuff only gently, not emotionally, and NEVER when you are around or just before you arrive. Also ask boyfriend to thank and praise the teen when he does treat you with basic courtesy.

Avoid making any jokes at all about the teen, your relationship w/ his dad, or especially the size of your presence in their lives, moving in, marriage, new step mom, etc. Don't criticize him or his mom in any way. Don't be lovey-dovey with his dad in front of him. Be considerate that you're a guest in the teen's home- don't interrupt him if he's doing something, don't talk if he's watching TV or whatever, try to treat him like another adult. Never discipline him. Be polite and respectfully friendly, and emotionally make sure to stay very calm and even.

It's reasonable for a teen to not like their parent's new partner at first- it's a new person in their space, a drain on their parent's attention, and a final proof that his parents' relationship is really over, none of which happened with his consent. It's not you. It's just a weird situation that upends his home and he's basically being forced into it. Be patient and low key, and if you consistently show respect, he'll come around eventually.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:25 AM on February 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

Okay, the Superbowl thing was really bad. It's the kind of thing that really sticks in his brain as a Time When I was Wronged by AnnieB and gets reinforced in his memory every time your presence annoys him.
It's not your fault, it's dad's fault and I hope he apologised to his son.

I think the not feeling at home thing deserves to be mentioned again.
When you're in his home, it doesn't feel like home to him anymore. Home is no longer home and his dad no longer behaves like the dad he knows and remembers. Dad behaves differently.
It's a horrible feeling and it's a loss he is grieving.

There's nothing you can do about this and it's not your fault.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2020 [18 favorites]

+1 to "It's not you." It could be anyone and his reaction would be the same. Try not to be judgmental about it, and leave the parenting to the dad, as necessary.

Also +1 to trying to ensure that you don't encroach on planned family bonding time (like the Super Bowl). He's clearly not into it yet (if he ever will be), so try to make sure you don't unintentionally take alone time with his dad away from him. Now, it's really his dad's job to be aware of this, but there's nothing wrong with trying to be sensitive to this issue yourself.

For most of us, being at home with close friends and family is as comfortable as it gets: we don’t have to dress up, we don’t have to mind our p’s and q’s, or worry about making small talk, or showing our feelings, or how we express ourselves.

This, though, is not actually true. Manners don't stop at the front door. Son should be expected to show OP the modest courtesy he shows any guest. Teaching a young man that he can be rude and dismissive and show all his nasty feelings or express himself unkindly to people in his house because it's his house is a great way to give the world yet another future AskMe DTMFA, of which there is already a surfeit.
posted by praemunire at 9:32 AM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that I have learned has extremely variable and often unspoken expectations is how single/divorced parents and their new partners prioritize the time and emotional/physical/financial resources they devote to maintaining those relationships.

In my personal opinion, dating/living with/partnering with/marrying a person who has children already absolutely requires being okay with the fact that your partner will, and should, prioritize their children over their adult GF/BF/partner/spouse. If you're in a situation in which someone is going to be disappointed or excluded, it should be you, not your BF's kid-- and you and your BF both really need to be on the same page about this. It sounds to me like one of the confounding issues here is that your BF is making too many assumptions about what his son wants, and probably leaning towards including his great new GF because (again, totally understandably) he wants to spend time with you and his son both. You and your BF probably need to talk about how to move forward with your romantic relationship in a way that makes enough space for him to continue to maintain his relationship with his son. You can encourage and support that, but you can't do that work. I assume that your wonderful BF is willing and able to strengthen his relationship with his kid at the same time he maintains a romantic relationship with you. (If he's not, that's another issue)
posted by Kpele at 9:32 AM on February 25, 2020 [9 favorites]

This, though, is not actually true. Manners don't stop at the front door. Son should be expected to show OP the modest courtesy he shows any guest.

Thus the distinction between being at home with just family and close friends and being at home with guests. For Dad, being at home with Son and AnnieB is great - that’s his loved ones and he’s not on guest behavior! Which might be part of why he hasn’t thought through why it might piss Son off to have people over for the Super Bowl. For Son, being at home with just Dad is very different from being at home with Dad and AnnieB.
posted by sallybrown at 9:36 AM on February 25, 2020 [25 favorites]

Don't demand respect from this kid, and don't tell his dad to demand respect. Respect isn't forced. It's earned. Do you want this kid to grit his teeth every time you're around; to feel like he's being graded on every interaction with you. Ugh, what a way to live.

Basically, then, don't sweat it. Don't be provoked by the kid, and don't provoke him. You're dating his dad. Not him. Basically: engage occasionally and if it's reciprocated go further, and if he wants nothing to do with you just leave it.

You need to be chill. If you can be chill, maybe he'll start to be chill. And then maybe from there it will thaw. You can't force someone to like you, you can only force compliance, and that's gross.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: My ex- remarried when our son was 14. I talked to Son and told him that his stepmom could be an asset in his life, a friend. I pointed out friends of ours who are stepmoms. I told him that nothing could stop me from being his Mom, and that I would be happy for him to have a good relationship with his stepmom. My ex- was oblivious. It started out fine, but stepmom, who has no kids, figured she'd swoop in, be Supermom, fix things. It had a negative effect on my relationship with my son, and when it went sour,it did so in a big, bad way.

Ask Dad to request that son be civil and show basic manners; that's just basic parenting. Dad should be honest about the relationship- is moving in an option? marriage? Or not. Dad should remind Son that Mom and Dad will not get back together (a *lot* of kids have a fantasy), that Son is not in any way responsible for the divorce. And should gently explain that it's good and fair for Dad to have a social life.

You should be courteous, positive, warm, and otherwise leave Son alone. I'd recommend keeping the relationship further from Son - spend time away from their house. Adolescence is hard, who knows what's going on with the Mom, and the Dad's 1st responsibility is to his Son. Dad should make an effort to spend 1:1 time with son - movies, playing a sport, whatever. Kids need reassurance that they will not be abandoned.

It's hard on you and not very fair, sorry about that. It's not you. You may end up having a relationship with Son, esp. if you have your own life, don't push things and keep on being low key and pleasant. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:49 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

She and my guy have been divorced for three years.

So the son was 12 when they split? That's a terribly difficult age for a kid to experience divorce - they're already in puberty-related hormonal upheaval + middle school drama as everyone tries to reinvent themselves and are constantly making/breaking friendships, and now their home refuge is spoiled. I left the resident teenager's dad when she was nearly 12 and while she is the most level-headed mature kid I know and the legal part was a quick clean break, it hit her like a ton of bricks and five years later bitterness occasionally comes out. If you're the first person his dad has dated seriously enough to introduce them, he's probably confronting the indisputable fact that both his parents have moved on and there is truly no hope of them getting back together. Be kind, but accept that he may be distant at best and hostile at worst while processing this.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:54 AM on February 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I want to clarify that when my stepdaughter started ignoring me I'd been married to her dad for several years so it was a different situation. I also never had much difficulty being accepted by my stepkids (now age 10, 13, 16 and 18). Most of my difficulties with them are due to behaviors they also have with their mother.

How did I manage to avoid the typical blended family challenges with the children? Some of it was luck. Some of it was not making their mother into an enemy. Some of it was not trying to parent them before all the relationships matured. I also would regularly make space for them, even though I sometimes felt jealous or alienated. I would not interfere during times when conversation shifted to the life they all shared before me, because that was an important ritual for them to all share. They were excited to have me around and often wanted to join in activities so the situation isn't the same, but those are the basics for how to build a relationship with someone else's children in a way that increases the chance of success.

Don't try to be overly friendly. Be courteous and polite. Don't try to replace mom although honestly, if mom is barely in kid's life by her own choice, kid might be angry with bio mom and taking it out on you because duh, it's hard to be mad at your own mom at that age.

I don't personally believe kids should learn it is okay to ignore adults speaking to them, even if they are adolescents and are acting out for understandable reasons, but every family has their own rules about that.

Keep the son out of every relationship progressing conversation. That should be between dad and son, if changes are being planned.

And by the way my oldest stepdaughter's ignoring behavior was something she did to all the adults. Some of that is probably just teenager stuff.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:11 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

You're doing okay, but I think your guy is red-flagging here and you are not picking up on it. It does not sound like he is tending appropriately to his son's emotional needs, and he's putting his desires above his son's feelings. There's a time and place for that, boundary-wise, but your examples don't sound like that time and place.

Please know that you are allowed to have your own boundaries as well, and you can choose to put the kid first even when his father doesn't. Turning around and leaving the minute you found out the kid wanted Superbowl day with his dad would have been one way of expressing that boundary and sending a strong message to both of them about your priorities. Your dude LET you walk into that, made you an accomplice to hurting his son's feelings with no discussion with you in advance. You get to be pissed about that and hold him accountable to do better by both of you, and if you don't...you're likely to end up with exactly the kind of relationship being created right now.

You need to reframe, because you're making this too much about "whyyyy in the world would this child not like me, I'm such a nice person and that's definitely the one thing children care about" and not enough about "this child has perfectly understandable complex emotional needs, is my involvement in this situation a plus or minus?"
posted by Lyn Never at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2020 [43 favorites]

Wow, your BF is doing his son a serious disservice. The boy clearly has feelings about the divorce, you, the relationship, etc., and his dad doesn't seem to understand them. Re: the Super Bowl thing, I can think of 3 ways it could have gone:

1) Dad didn't consult Son about the decision to invite you over
2) Dad consulted Son, Son said no, Dad invited you anyway
2) Dad consulted Son, Son didn't share his true feelings, so Dad invited you

In all three of these scenarios, something is broken. 1 and 2 are seriously bad; 3 is a sign that the relationship between the two of them needs nurturing. How much are they talking? Does Son feel heard? Have they done any family therapy? Dad needs to step up in a big way.

For you: don't make jokes about moving in in front of Son less than 6 months into your relationship. YIKES.
posted by yawper at 10:34 AM on February 25, 2020 [21 favorites]

Question for OP: Did Dad know Son wanted Super Bowl to be just them or did Son just assume it?
posted by Fukiyama at 10:35 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

First of all, this isn't all about you. This is about his situation in life and his complete lack of agency and disintegration of his family structure. Not you. You're the symptom, or one of the side effects. So since it's not your doing, there's nothing you can do to fix him or this situation. Give it time, be the best person you can be, etc. And part of that "best person" requires grace and acceptance. Accept him for who he is, not who you want him to be.

Second, you can use the Superbowl thing to your mutual advantage. Next time you see him, ask him if you can talk with him just for a minute (and for fuck's sake ASK, don't TELL, and respect his wishes if he refuses). Then when you're alone, say, "I want to apologize for the Superbowl. I didn't know you wanted to have one-on-one time with your dad. If I had known, I would have declined. And in the future, if your dad invites me to something you wanted to do one-on-one with him, I want you to tell me, and I'll back out. Your dad is an important person in my life, and you're one of the most important things in his life, and that makes your needs personally important to me." Then listen if he has anything to say. Once he's done, thank him for his time.

You have no real control over his behavior, and neither does his father. Best thing you can do is model the behavior you want him to exhibit in life, and part of doing that is recognizing his personhood. He's not a faulty robot, he's a person with his own internal struggle, and you can't just reprogram him. Be kind to him even when he doesn't reciprocate.
posted by disconnect at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2020 [11 favorites]

Let it go. Your best strategy here is to play it cool until the young guy is ready to move out because until that day you have to come second in his Dad's life. If you push about this you could make the Dad cross with the son, or insecure about his relationship with you. It would be easy to make things worse for everyone by asking for anything more than bleak tolerance from the boy.

Your role here is to support his father and that's it, and his father's role is to support his son before his relationship with you. Of course that means his dad may get into conflict with the boy when he feels that correcting him is appropriate, but it's his dad who gets to pick what and why. When you are outside of the home and when the kid isn't around you can push for a better relationship, like asking to go out more often, and things like that, but any kind of pushing for anything that makes it harder for the kid is taking advantage of his dependent position.

You get to be rude to strangers who come into your house when you don't want them to or kick them out, but the son doesn't only because it's not his house and he can't boot people his dad brings in. So if you get any rights and privileges that require submission or sacrifice from the boy you are going to make his life worse and that's not right.

Lots of teenagers slam doors because of poor coordination at the same time as a mood, or stomp around a bit, or won't talk and that is absolutely okay. If the kid were doing malicious things that would be different but he just didn't make chit chat and banged a door. He's not supposed to be on best behaviour, he's supposed to be relaxed. You don't know the kid well enough to know if the day he wouldn't talk to you he was bursting to monologue about his Resident Evil game and being on his best behaviour by stopping himself from talking. You don't know if he is having girlfriend troubles and hates all females, or if he just listened to a monologue from his mother about what a slut his Dad's new girlfriend is and is struggling to reconcile the difference between what his mother and his dad are saying. You got crickets because you aren't yet capable of hearing the difference when the birds have gone silent to know if it's because it's dusk or if it's because there is a predator in the room.

Basically you got two decent strategies; bring good stuff into the kid's life, or keep your distance. Those are the only two reasonable or ethical strategies. Establishing territory and dominance is invading and proves that to the kid. The kid doesn't have to like you. He doesn't even have to be polite in his own kitchen, the same way he doesn't have to dress up. He just doesn't get to be mean or hostile unless his dad approves that - and then of course, you'd be best off never going there again. But freezing you out isn't being mean or hostile, it's just trying to work around this awkward person who is preventing him from taking his pants off. You don't even get to criticize the dad's parenting. Asking, "How could you let him be rude to me like that?" is complaining about the dad's parenting. And unless you are worried that the kid will take harm and the dad will have to account to CPS, it's not time to intervene or make unsolicited suggestions. Since your interest here is in the dad ask yourself what you can do to make your presence in that family easier on the Dad. It sounds like you guys are already doing that, except it hurts and it's disappointing when there could be so much more. But you're on the right track and better to have it hurt a bit now than to do harm. You can always try to be at the house less. That's a better option if it is upsetting any one of the three of you.

Long game, I would go with non-intrusive curiosity about the son and generic distant supportive behaviour. That means checking if your dates with his dad will mesh well with the sons needs and making sure that things are scheduled so that the young guy doesn't get inconvenienced. It means if you all go out to dinner making sure it's a place the son likes and that he gets things to eat that he likes and letting him either not say anything, or steer the conversation at least a third of the time. It means if you find out he plays a lot of Resident Evil asking him about that when you're in a position where you need to talk to him. It means avoiding generic questions like "How is school?" unless you already know he'll want to tell you about it. It means asking him if wants to be dropped off anywhere, since he doesn't have a car of his own. It means staying distant and friendly no matter what, even if his behaviour escalates into acting out and he and his dad are fighting. It definitely means no lecturing, no advice and no efforts to control or direct the kid, or getting his dad to control or direct him.

If you want more of a relationship with the Dad and with the son, then you need to find things that they would both like - an example might be if you offer to pick up the son for the dad so that the dad doesn't have to leave work early and the son doesn't have to wait, or ordering them a delivery pizza with the toppings the son likes that Saturday when they have to work on a project together and you're not welcome there because it's father son time as well as being the day they drag everything out of the basement. But it has to be low key and slow and casual on your part. Yep, you're right. Patience. Kindness. Respect. Low key and pleasant. You're off to a good start. And not confronting the boy is probably the best way to help him modulate his own emotions.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:47 AM on February 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thinking about my own stepmum.
I never really liked her, I found her a bit too much - too extroverted, too prone to teasing and challenging, too dramatic. Not my person of choice. My entire life, I've kept her at an uneasy emotional arms length, even once we were familiar enough to trade jokes, advice, and stuff. But these were things she did that made me at least settle into this new stage of dad life:
- She was always her. As much as I didn't like some of how she was, she was predictable and authentic. And some of her cheekiness I almost admired, and sometimes emulated. So I felt, in my cautious way, that there was something for me in it as well. Teens respect people who aren't afraid of being themselves.
- she always played it direct and honest with me: Told uncomfortable truths but also apologised when she felt she'd been wrong. And again, this was very in character for her.
- She mostly kept out of my relationship to my dad, parenting and whatnot. Never bothered to define our relationship, was just there as my dad's wife. What relationship we had was in large part up to me.
- She made life better by making sure there were regular meals and a well organised life, not just dad's chaos, and I was oh so aware of that. She was the main reason he didn't forget my birthdays.
- She was pretty good at giving unconventional advice!

So I guess what I'm saying is be yourself and figure out what positive things you bring into the guy's life, but don't try to buy his goodwill with them. Do your stuff - your hobbies, your interests. Show that you are a person apart from your role as dad's gf,something which probably hasn't occured to him yet. Be a person who's happy with herself.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:16 AM on February 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

That 'joke' about moving in doesn't sound funny at all, and in the kid's place, I would never trust you after that, especially if you didn't take responsibility for it and tried to be like 'just jokin' lol!' That's a really heavy thing to remotely allude to, and I bet it seemed obviously fake when you pretended it was a joke. I'd say that fakeness is the biggest red flag for a teenager or kid, and they are usually very discerning about it. I think you have an uphill battle after that, and I suspect that all you can do is try to be a safe person from now on, give the kid space, do not try to push them to greet you or be fake with you in turn, and see if they let you back in at some point.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:19 AM on February 25, 2020 [18 favorites]

Bias direction: I was a child of divorce, mom remarried, I'd gotten along with my stepdad pretty well for years and then it still all went to hell in my teenage years. They're hard years to survive and if he's still speaking to you at all, you're doing okay.

That said, you've only been dating since September! If you hadn't already been a close family friend my first instinct would be "you're moving way too fast to get friendly with the kid here." The fact that you are complicates things, but it might serve you well to think about this as if your relationship with Son started in September. From his perspective, it more or less did; you were a safe and known adult before and now you have a whole new role in his life that he didn't ask for, doesn't want, and is stuck trying to figure out.

You're mostly doing fine here, but I think it would be a really good idea to work hard to avoid any more jokes about moving in, and to let his dad know that you need to know when you're getting in the middle of something that was supposed to be a father-and-kid thing. He set you up for failure there if he knew and didn't tell you, and that really sucks.

I think your best move here is to continue to keep it light and friendly, offer conversational gambits or invitations to events he'd enjoy but try not to get too down if he doesn't pick them up, and give him space to decide when/if he trusts you. It would be nice for him to be polite enough to manage a hello and goodbye; ask your boyfriend to talk about that with him when things cool down a bit. You should not be trying to get involved in addressing his manners yourself at this point.

You note that he was difficult with his mom's boyfriend at first. If the relationships are good now, she could be an ally here and tell you a bit about whether anything in particular helped that process. Maybe it was just time, and if so, that's probably still good information for you to have.
posted by Stacey at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

He doesn't have to like you, but if his father isn't enforcing basic politeness to guests in the home, you might want to think twice about whether it's a family you want to be involved in. What kind of a man your BF is raising is a direct reflection of what kind of a man your BF actually is. Do your values align regarding behavior towards other people? Better to discover that now that somewhere down the line...
posted by mccxxiii at 11:54 AM on February 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

He's a kid and not your kid so none of this is your fault, but I'd also be concerned about getting involved in a family where good communication, affection and basic manners don't exist. It would make me sad and I wouldn't be able to relax around people like that.

And yes teens are usually difficult but pretending its not happening is not how you help them develop through thay stage.
posted by fshgrl at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

How do you usually cope when people don't like you? Is it something you struggle with?

If you become a family down the road, you can worry about family dynamics then. Until that happens, he's an acquaintance who doesn't like you. If he's 15 and standoffish now, you may not become a cohesive family unit in the way you are with your own kids.

I think you've hit the nail on the head in terms of being pleasant and low-key being your best bet. Give him lots of space and be aware that things that may not seem like competition for limited resources to you (Superbowl time) might definitely seem that way in his mind.

Can his dad spend more one-on-one time with him to help him feel more secure in their relationship? It sounds like his life has been turned upside down and he's pretty protective of his relationships with his parents because they're on shaky ground.
posted by unstrungharp at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, the joke about you moving in wasn't a joke to him. He already has to deal with his mother's live in boyfriend after his parents only being divorced for two years. Suddenly having to share yet another space (his home base!) with someone new (and yes, you are still new) would be really tough. Does his dad need to talk to him about his manners? Yeah. Do you AND his father need to apologise for the really poorly timed "joke" you made? Yeah. This boy only has so much control over his life right now. Work with his dad to make sure he still feels he has that control. If you're over and he doesn't want to be there because it makes him unhappy/uncomfortable? He should IMO have the right and freedom to say hello to you and then peace out to his room without a fight. Boundaries matter, for people of all ages. This is a learning opportunity for all of you.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 2:27 PM on February 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

A quick follow up: you are a good person for asking this.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:12 PM on February 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

You're moving too fast.
posted by Coaticass at 1:28 AM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I really, really appreciate all the responses, and cannot thank you enough. Everyone has brought up a LOT of great points (though I don't think I expressed some things well: BF has custody of Son and is with him every day; BF spends every Saturday with his son alone (or with Son's friends); has taken him alone to things the Son wants to attend and has spoken privately to him that he's not going anywhere and absolutely loves his son. Turns out that he asked Son ahead of time if I could be at part of Superbowl and son said yes, and with the exception of not eating what his dad made for dinner was really not bad at all. I didn't know that he didn't really want me there and thought I'd say no (but I love football). So BF is trying to do his best.)

There are tons of great suggestions, and for now I'll continue just brief appearances and we'll continue to spend time together out of the house (meaning my BF and me). I cannot thank all of you enough. I knew posing this question here would give me much more wisdom and experience than I could find elsewhere.

Thank you again.
posted by annieb at 6:47 AM on February 26, 2020 [8 favorites]

> I had given BF a recipe for baby back ribs in the crock pot, which he made. Son refused to eat them at all. He made himself Spaghettios and cereal. I asked him a couple of football related questions that I honestly didn't know, and he responded to me in an okay fashion.

Ohhhh, I'm sorry, but I'm trying not to laugh. I mean, just take a moment to remember what it's like to be fifteen? This is what the kid has in his arsenal for boundary-setting around his feelings. Spaghettios and silence.

Of course you don't want him to feel uncomfortable around you, but as everyone pointed out upthread, don't take it personally, just keep being low-key and pleasant. It's obviously normal for you to privately feel feelings about his reaction to you--we all want affirmation when we're trying to be good humans!--but it's really not this child's job to make you feel comfortable about their discomfort. I think it's notable and encouraging that he's not actively doing things to try to upset you, he's just not really engaging with you.

(This is honestly a pretty typical level of interaction from many teenagers with any adult that they didn't choose to know. Remember also that they're required to go to school and interact with peers and teachers and administrators in a certain way all day long.)
posted by desuetude at 12:23 PM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

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