I am contemplating a relationship with a man older than myself who has two sons, aged 4 and 7. They live with their mother, but he spends as much time with them as possible and visits daily. I am 21 and he is 30. I was looking around online for advice about dating someone with children, and while there seems to be a wealth of information regarding dating as a single parent, there seems to be nothing about this topic. My concerns are not about future logistics as a "mother figure," as the relationship is not yet begun, but rather to do with our respective life experiences, and the bearing this will have on the success of a relationship. I feel that having children fundamentally changes people's life perspective and priorities. I fear that because I have no children, I could never really understand and appreciate his life perspective. I also feel I would always be lower priority than his children. Do I really want to be third in line?
I am also fearful of a relationship at all. I wonder if it's worth getting into another relationship that seems destined to fail, and after reading an older posting on your site (Dismaying Story #42: When an Age Gap Doesn't Work), I wonder if the same applies to me. Am I only attracted to this man because I think it will fail? We have talked about pursuing the relationship and have both agreed the timing is not right because of our various past difficult relationships, and the holiday season bringing stress to his family. We have discussed and agreed on all the difficulties a relationship of this nature would pose; issues like my still wanting to "party," his children, etc. Despite all this logical analysis and all the things stacked against it, I still feel like I want to pursue it. I guess I am confused because I am now second guessing myself and wondering if it's for the right reasons. Could I be just imagining our strong connection because it's what I desperately want to find?
I always seem to make the wrong choice with men and am terrified I will do it again. I constantly ask "Where are all the nice men?" but I never seem to be attracted to the nice ones. I know many women feel this way. Former short but serious relationships include a compulsive liar, a jealous control freak who emotionally abused me, and a conman/fraudster who was actually deported! With this list, I am not confident in my ability to pick suitable partners!
Signed, Afraid, Confused and Petrified
Oftentimes someone will describe a relationship to me and ask me for an opinion on whether I think it could work out. Occasionally the signs are so clear that I must express my doubt, for instance in the presence of violent or emotional abuse, addiction or adultery.
Other times there are obvious challenges but I have to admit that I can't predict whether the union might or might not work out. The relationship game is not that cut and dry. Most of us know couples who seemed destined for each other but ended up in divorce court, and others who overcame tremendous odds and ended up growing old together.
Your story involves a few obvious obstacles, such as the age gap, your childless /partying lifestyle versus his role as a parent, and your insecurity over whether he would feel a closer bond with you or with his children. Could this possibly work out between the two of you? Sure, it might. Would there likely be problems along the way? Oh yeah, I'd say you could count on that.
But don't all of us need to work past difficulties in order to make our relationships work? Absolutely. The issue here is that you know about a few of the challenges right from the beginning.
That is actually a good sign. Both you and this guy have demonstrated level-headedness by recognizing that all is not peaches and cream. You have your eyes wide open, have discussed the potential issues rationally, and have exhibited caution. This type of maturity can serve you well as you try to work past issues in a relationship.
On the other hand, you still have this fire in your belly that is driving you forward. Passion, lust, desire, fun, tossing logic out the window and grabbing him with both hands and impulsively running away for the weekend -- these are what make relationships such an invigorating and rewarding part of life. Yes, you should listen to these instincts too.
How, then, can you resolve your quandary? In my opinion you can't -- not in your current state, not with any reasonable likelihood of success. Here's why.
In your letter, you talk about your desperation and lack of confidence when it comes to relationships. You want badly to be happily hooked up with a nice guy, but fear that it will never happen, that you in particular could never make it happen. Unfortunately your fear serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It makes you enter relationships with an expectation of failure and, most likely, a monumental chip on your shoulder. Guys who are attracted to quiet confidence and self-assured women will find this a turn-off; they will stay away in droves. On the other hand, these are precisely the characteristics that will draw in the men with a controlling nature. They will circle in on you from miles away like sharks following the scent of blood in the water. I have a great deal of confidence that this is part of the reason for your dysfunctional dating history.
Once you are in a relationship, your fear also stands in the way of making it work, or at least of making it work well. The inevitable issues that crop up will be blown out of proportion in your mind, serving as immediate reinforcement of your prediction that things wouldn't work out, that he wouldn't want you, and so on.
So here's my answer to your question. Before you can make a judgment about this or any other potential partner, you should focus on healing your own wounded spirit. Several of the posts on this site deal with developing humble self-confidence and stopping negative self-talk. You can start there, and consider finding yourself a coach or therapist to help you with these issues.
Coincidentally, yesterday's post includes a wonderful strategy for dealing with exactly your situation. Have a look at it; basically the idea is to imagine your life in the long term without a significant other, tweak this vision until you are happy with it, and then set out to make it happen. Once you are not so desperate to find a man, you will have an entirely differently perspective for evaluating potential relationships. More than that, you will start attracting a different sort of man, the kind who does not gravitate to needy, desperate women.
For the record, he should have a stronger bond with his children than with you. In fact, I would recommend you stay away from the guy if that were not the case. His children are dealing with the trauma of the breakup of their parents' marriage. They need his unswerving attention and devotion. They need it now and they need it often. Any father who allowed a new dating relationship to take precedence over those needs is probably not the kind of guy you want to end up with. Yes, it would be a challenge to play second (or third) fiddle for a while, and that may not be a challenge you want or need. His children are, however, where his first loyalties must reside.
All the best,