Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dismaying Story #92: Where Are All the Good Men?

Dear Andrew,

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

Dear Afraid,

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,


  1. Poster6:42 PM

    Thanks for your insight. I completely agree with what you said about his children being 1st priority: I definately wouldn't want to date someone who wasnt devoted to their children (again!) A lot of what you said confirmed my thoughts, I have begun some counselling because I realised that even if I dont pursue this relationship, one day eventually I will want a happy relationship and my past is definately holding me back from that! Being emotionally abused in the past has left me with a great fear of relationships with men and combine that with my fear of failure...well its an ugly mix! My only negative thought about your advice is, if I imagine a future with no significant other and pursue that, I think I would ultimately end up alone...! I am prone to the stubborn mindset at times of "I dont need anyone. I can do anything." I could be in danger then of setting ridiculously high expectations of what I wanted in a partner...but then I suppose thats just part of my current problem: finding reasons for relationships to fail, and being fearful if they don' okay, okay, maybe i just need a lot of time to ponder...hehe you're good :)

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the children should be his first priority..
    I married a man with two teenagers. I was 30 and he was 40 at the time..
    I had no children.. It does take alot of patience, but you have to realize that the kids should come first. This is sometimes hard for women, that don't have any children of their own..
    In my instance, I came from a broken family and wished that I had had a loving father, like my husband is to his children. I gladly took a back seat to them.. Because I loved him, because of that fact. We now have two children of our own, and he is a wonderful father...But I have to say,it was no picnic..
    I wish her well...

  3. Andrew,

    I feel compelled to respond to this letter as it pertains to three issues often addressed in self talk coaching. First, the writer explains she is frightened she will never have a relationship and has chosen poorly in the past, yet she is only 21 years old. By most statistics relationships that become emotionally serious and lead to marriage have a greater chance of failure when the involved are under thirty. This gal needs to realize that her life is just starting and there is some serious self talk limitations when she’s concerned with being a spinster at this age. Secondly, heading into a relationship with fear it is destined to fail generally means it will. New loves are not supposed to be conditional with past experiences if the involved’s minds and hearts are in order. Healthy self talk starts with not defining ourselves by our pasts, but giving ourselves the opportunity to be excited about today and intrigued by the future. In my practice I have worked with many young women who have already defined themselves as potentially lonely, forever struggling women destined to end up old maids. Through simple visualization exercise and some strategic coaching, they realize they are still just getting started in life, that true happiness is only some emotional growth away. As for the age difference, ten years is not so bad when both have no baggage, but this man’s focus is on his children and she will play second fiddle to his old life. It has o be or he would be a terrible father. His self image is defined by a voice that demands he be responsible and available for his kids, driven by obligation and some guilt.

    Bottom line, I suggest this gal find someone closer to her own age have some fun and stop looking for mister right. He will show up when she is emotionally mature enough to recognize him.

    Thomas K. Matthews

  4. Poster8:08 PM

    Just added information in response to the last post : I may only be 21, but i have spent 5 1/2 years so far in serious commited relationships...thats a quarter of my life...yes i obviously started young and you could argue that they weren't "real" relationships, but they were to me at the time and they were very emotionally draining. My boyfriend when I was very young (14) was depressed, a self harmer, suicidal, controlling and jealous...I continued on into relationships of abuse. You obviously have no idea of the deep impact mental/emotional abuse has on people. Please don't judge me and tell me to "have some fun." Its difficult to have fun when you carry emotional scars and have repeated flash backs to abusive situations...just when I begin to have fun and be happy, I have a vivid flashback to the past when I was sexually or mentally abused....this makes me feel ill and afraid, and leaves my mind frozen, my body trembling and nauseous. Of course I know fear breeds failure...duh, but I dont want to live like this anymore. My original question to Andrew wasn't going to be along the lines it ended up, but as I began typing I realised my issuees run deeper. Your comments were most unhelpful and judgemental.