Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Just Found Out My Boyfriend Has a Secret ‘Daughter'”

Dad and daughter

Recently, I found out that my boyfriend, “Nick,” whom I’ve been living with for four months now, still keeps in touch with his ex-girlfriend, “Karen,” to find out how her two-year-old daughter, “Amy,” is doing. Nick and Karen had been dating for a while when Karen got pregnant. Nick believed the baby was his and was with Karen though her pregnancy and for a few months after Amy was born, until Nick’s sister became suspicious of Karen’s relationship with her ex and convinced Nick to have a paternity test done. It turned out that Amy wasn’t Nick’s biological daughter and that Karen had cheated on him with her ex. Nick tried to let it go, but they ended up calling it quits.

Nick originally didn’t tell me about Amy. In fact, I found out about her on my own three months ago after finding a letter on his bedside table mentioning her. Only when I asked Nick about the letter, did he tell me the story and that Amy wasn’t his biological child. That was that, I didn’t question it and was comfortable with what he told me.

Nick almost never sees Amy. He saw Amy once the whole of last year and again at the beginning of the year to sign papers for her to start nursery school (she’s still under Nick’s surname), but, other than that, he never sees her. He never talked about Amy or Karen, up until about a week ago when he mentioned that he’s been chatting to Karen to see how Amy is. I was shocked because he’s never told me that he still chats with Karen and he’s now been talking to me about Amy and showing me the pictures of her that Karen has sent him. He says he still wants to be a father figure in Amy’s life.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with the situation. Karen has caused issues between me and Nick before by spreading rumors about her relationship with Nick through friends of friends and hacking email and Facebook accounts, so I’m weary of her intentions. I also don’t have a child of my own so I can’t relate to that bond you form with a baby when they’re born. But I don’t know how Nick expects Amy to know him when he never sees her. It’s not like Karen is going to tell Amy about Nick and how he asks about her. She’s two and doesn’t have the capability to understand it and, by the time she’s old enough, she won’t know who he is.

Please help. I’m not sure how to handle the situation and I don’t want to come across as the insecure, jealous girlfriend. — Uncomfortable with the Pseudo Daughter

Too late. You already are coming across as the insecure, jealous girlfriend. I’d say you crossed to that line as soon as you went snooping through your boyfriend’s bedside table and read a letter that wasn’t addressed to you. But if you truly don’t want to act like a jealous, insecure girlfriend going forward, you will have to give Nick the space and freedom he needs to figure out his role in this little girl’s life. To believe, through Karen’s entire pregnancy, her labor, and the first few months of Amy’s life, that he was the father only to find out he is not and that Karen cheated on him and lied to him for over a year must be an incredibly difficult thing for Nick to process, on multiple levels.

That he isn’t sure, after a year, exactly how to navigate a relationship with this little girl he believed was his daughter doesn’t seem that odd. How else would you expect him to act? To cut all ties with her completely and never speak to or see her again or ask her mother how she is would seem a little extreme. But to carry on as if nothing had changed would seem equally unlikely (and maybe not totally healthy). I would imagine Nick has been grieving the same way anyone who suffers a loss would. Amy didn’t die, of course, but to suddenly lose a father-daughter relationship and not know how or whether that relationship can or should continue in some capacity must feel a little bit like a death. And so, Nick has probably been going through the stages of grief, at exactly the same time he’s been forming this new relationship with you, while trying to figure out how and whether to navigate a relationship with Amy, while Karen is apparently spreading rumors and hacking emails and Facebook accounts. It’s a wonder Nick has any energy and interest in pursuing a romantic relationship at all right now, especially with someone who is clearly threatened by the thought of his having a meaningful bond with someone else (including a two-year-old girl he believed was his daughter for a year).

If you don’t want to lose Nick, you need to ease up and practice some compassion. You don’t need to have experienced or understand the bond a parent can share with a newborn baby to appreciate that this is a delicate situation in which a lot of complex feelings are at the forefront. And Nick needn’t have spent much time with Amy in the past year to still feel bonded to her and invested in her and interested in pursuing some sort of relationship with her (though he will have to spend time with her in the future if he hopes for some kind of relationship). For all you know, he’s been thinking about her nonstop, and is relieved that he can finally share photos with you and start talking about this important, but confusing, aspect of his life. If you aren’t able to support him through this — if the situation is too “uncomfortable” as you say — then own that and embrace it and let Nick know that this is more than you signed on for, that you can’t handle the idea of Karen or Amy remaining in his life, and that his situation is too complicated for you to be part of. There’s no shame in owning the truth. And you could set a new precedent in this circle of adults and actually embrace and share the truth before hurting anyone by withholding it.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

27 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Brise February 19, 2016, 9:23 am

    Perfect answer. I hate the expression “Pseudo Daughter”, how sad to see a little girl that way. It would be good for this toddler to have a father figure in her life, and the best is to let this man embrace this role as he obviously feels like it.

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    Museum_Nerd February 19, 2016, 9:34 am

    I’m going to say something probably unpopular…but I’m kind of on the side of the letter writer. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the boyfriend should get to therapy and continue processing the loss and deceit that came from this situation, completely understandable to grieve what he thought his future would be with a daughter. And the letter writer should be understanding and supportive of that.

    But to continue a relationship with a girl who isn’t his biological daughter, when you are not in a relationship with the mother (who sounds manipulative and dysfunctional)…what kind of future is that? What room does that leave for the actual biological father? How confusing for the child would that be?

    It would be one thing if the mother was able to have a healthy friendship with the boyfriend, then he could stay in the little girl’s life as an ‘uncle’ like any other close family friend. But that doesn’t seem possible with the hacking/rumors etc. Just a longtime lurkers thoughts.

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    • avatar

      Anonymousse February 19, 2016, 11:09 am

      I can see your point, but I think he must legally be her father on the birth certificate if she has his last name. I’m not sure, but if he thought he was the dad at birth that is probably what happened. Maybe he thinks she should have a mentally sound person in her life. I agree that this is a strange situation, exacerbated by him keeping this all a secret until she saw that letter. I’d be uncomfortable with this, especially him keeping it a secret all heir relationship, him never seeing this kid, and the stalker ex…who wants to deal with a lying boyfriend and an unhinged ex? Weird and strange for sure.

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    • avatar

      Bostonpupgal February 19, 2016, 12:19 pm

      I kind of agree here, I think we’re being a little harsh to the letter writer. They’re serious enough that they’re living together and she’s just finding out about this entire situation. I’d be concerned if a boyfriend kept something like that from me, especially in a situation where the mother is a woman whose manipulative, toxic, and possibly trying to cause problems in my relationship. There is nothing wrong with Nick grieving and taking time to figure this out, but he should have brought his current partner on board with that much sooner. There are also legal questions here, if he is on the birth certificate he may be on the hook for chold support regardless of whether she’s his or not. This is a tough situation and don’t blame the LW for feeling a little insecure and not knowing how to handle it. They need to sit down and have a serious conversation about where they stand, their plans for the future, and how they want to handle this current situation as a team. They also need to set serious boundaries with the mother as a team. If the boyfriend isn’t in a space to bring her in, she deserves to know that and move on.

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    • Monkeysmommy

      Monkeysmommy February 21, 2016, 10:40 pm

      I actually agree with you. I didn’t read the LW letter as nasty or jealous or controlling. I think she is struggling to figure out who to deal with this situation. I mean, the kid isn’t his. And it isn’t like he raised her for 10 years and found out; it was a year. This kind of thing happens a lot, sadly. It kinda IS weird he wants to remain a “father figure” to his ex’s child, if it isn’t really his… So, with that said, let me share a story. In 2000, my aunt K met a guy who she fell head over heals for. They moved in together, the works. Then she finds out he was a daughter named M. The guy claims M is not his, the moms a liar, etc… Then K finds out his parents go visit the little girl all the time, and that the guy pays support… One thing leads to another and the real story is that M was his kid. He was the liar. Is this a possibility for you?!

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph February 19, 2016, 9:39 am

    I can’t deal anymore with these grown women jealous of small children. I think Wendy nails it. Nick is experiencing something that is, in some ways, similar to the loss of a child– he had a daughter and now he doesn’t, but there is still a little girl who he feels a connection to.
    I just think what kind of a horrible person he would have to be to bond with a baby he thought was his daughter and then, the split second the test came back, just be like “oh nevermind, I’m out.”
    LW, only you know your boyfriend. If you think he’s skeevy and you can’t trust him and you honestly believe he would use a freaking baby to try to get back with his ex, then you should probably break up with him regardless of what he is actually doing. But if you think he’s a nice guy trying to do right by this little girl, then maybe, you know, actually behave in a way consistent with that?

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    • avatar

      Vathena February 19, 2016, 10:38 am

      This seems a bit extreme. Nowhere in the letter does she say she is feeling jealous or threatened. Just “uncomfortable”. I think that’s an understandable feeling. He never even mentioned this little girl to the LW – and they’ve progressed far enough in their relationship that they’d already moved in together. And I don’t know if I’d call her finding out “snooping” – she said the letter was left out. She probably shouldn’t have read it, but it’s not like she hacked into his email. I’m sure the boyfriend is still processing the situation and coming to terms with things, and figuring out how and whether he can be a part of Amy’s life. The LW is just wondering how that is going to work. As Museum_Nerd said above, it would be a lot different if the mom were a stable person who could have a cordial relationship with him, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. (And how sad for this child, that her mother may be behaving in a way that precludes her having strong adult figures in her life. It sounds like she will need them.) Also, nowhere does the LW say she doesn’t trust her boyfriend, or that she is worried he is going to get back together with his ex. She’s just concerned about the ex’s intentions, and it sounds like she has grounds for that concern.

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      • avatar

        Hobbesnblue February 19, 2016, 1:42 pm

        Advice columnists tend to treat “snooping” of any degree like it’s the most morally reprehensible thing someone could do, and take it in my opinion out of proportion. Granted, she probably should not have full-on read the letter without permission, but if it was truly literally sitting out, I don’t think it’s any humongous sin. Should people who live together really act like vampires, and treat each other’s communications like sunlight that will turn them to dust if they should be within sight of it?

        My boyfriend and I haven’t done anything we would qualify as snooping to each other, and we certainly wouldn’t open each other’s phone and go read their email or texts or anything. But if a text comes in on their lock screen and they’re in the shower, we might notice it and say, “Hey, Alan wants to meet for brunch in 1/2 hour, so let’s hurry up.” Or we might read the other’s birthday card on the mantle. Or open each other’s mail, even, to sort out the bills and the junk. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with a relationship where any kind of notice of the other’s publicly visible communications is treated as “insecure, jealous” snooping. In fact, the one time where I was made to feel like that was, no great surprise, because my ex was cheating and was afraid I’d see something I shouldn’t.

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      • avatar

        T February 22, 2016, 1:36 pm

        “In fact, the one time where I was made to feel like that was, no great surprise, because my ex was cheating and was afraid I’d see something I shouldn’t.” –> So. True.

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    • avatar

      Sabrina February 19, 2016, 6:22 pm

      I have lots of sympathy for him because of the grief. But moving in with someone and not telling them this first isn’t nice.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros February 19, 2016, 10:28 am

    I think you went too far back when you saw a letter on his bedside table and thought you had the right to pick it up and read it. What you’re describing isn’t a red flag in itself. I think you can make the decision whether it’s drama you want to be involved in or not. I personally would not. I’ve dealt with actual baby drama, so I want to stay as far from it as possible.
    .
    However, if you decide to stick with him, then you will have to deal with the fact that he will talk with his ex. He might visit them or get letters or whatever. I think your judgments of whether he can be a father figure while not seeing the child are valid, but not your place to determine and not relevant (I mean, really, you’re not that concerned about the kid…you’re just trying to prove that he shouldn’t be in contact with his ex).

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  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine February 19, 2016, 10:46 am

    I don’t have much to add but there were a couple things that jumped out at me from the letter. 1) They’ve been living together for 4 months and he didn’t tell her. That’s different than a girlfriend of 4 months snooping-still not cool but I see a very big red flag that he didn’t share any of this until she found out. 2) This little girl shares his surname and he signed papers for school-it sounds to me like he signed the birth certificate and this child might legally be his responsibility.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph February 19, 2016, 10:56 am

      I was wondering this as well. Not sure what the process is for having that changed once you find out the child isn’t biologically yours, but it definitely doesn’t sound like Nick and Karen have done whatever that would be… if he’s signing paperwork then probably he is still legally Amy’s father.

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      • juliecatharine

        Juliecatharine February 19, 2016, 11:06 am

        Exactly. Honestly this sounds like a lot of drama. The LW might want to MOA…a guy who keeps a child who is legally his a secret isn’t a keeper in my book.

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      • avatar

        for_cutie February 19, 2016, 12:49 pm

        Yes. this.

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    • avatar

      Vathena February 19, 2016, 11:09 am

      Yeah, to me that’s just a really huge thing not to disclose, especially if he was already thinking that he wanted to remain a part of Amy’s life. Perhaps Wendy’s list should be amended – before moving in together, couples should talk about whether they have any secret children from previous relationships? (I kid…sort of.) Anyway, I think the real path forward here would be communication. LW, you are due for a heart-to-heart with your boyfriend. Why didn’t he tell you sooner? Was he ashamed, did he think you’d break up with him, was he still unsure whether he wanted to be a father figure to Amy? Now that he’s said he does want to be that for her, how is he planning to go about it? If he is her legal father, he may be able to negotiate a legal custody arrangement. Is he paying child support, or will he in the future? Are you prepared to potentially be a part of Amy’s life as well? As Wendy said, if after talking it all out and thinking it over, it’s okay if you’re not ready to take this on. Just be honest with yourself and each other.

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      • avatar

        Anonymousse February 19, 2016, 11:12 am

        The thing is, to me, after finding out such a big lie or secret he’s kept their entire relationship …he should be the one explaining. She shouldn’t have to ask the whys and hows. I think he is real shady, and I would be out the door.

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      • avatar

        Vathena February 19, 2016, 11:21 am

        Yeah, the lack of openness here is pretty troubling. I think Wendy’s description of what may be his thought process is pretty spot-on (as a parent), but the fact that he’d shared none of it with his serious gf, including after she found out about Amy, doesn’t bode well. If he’d been thinking of her constantly, wanting to know how she was doing, signing her nursery school enrollment papers, and never saying one word to the LW about having a daughter…I’d be uncomfortable too. It’s quite likely that she still wouldn’t know, if she hadn’t found the letter. (And who writes letters anymore? I find that detail so quaint.)

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      • avatar

        Sabrina February 19, 2016, 6:29 pm

        Either shady or didn’t have the relationship skills to know how to /that he had to disclose this , which is also pretty bad. Does he see the relationship as casual and a convenient roommate? Not cool to not share this

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  • avatar

    AmyPond February 19, 2016, 5:58 pm

    The timeline is something that definitely jumped out at me. LW said Amy is two, that he was with Karen the first few months of Amy’s life, and the LW and Nick have been living together for four months. When did they start dating? Especially after a betrayal like the one Nick experienced with Karen, this all seems to have moved a little fast. He ended a serious relationship involving a child and a big lie, got together with the LW, and they moved in together all within, what, a year and a half? It’s entirely possible Nick’s not over the whole thing because it doesn’t sound like he gave himself any time alone to heal.

    Also, one of my serious pet peeves – you are wary of Karen’s intentions, not weary. First one means suspicious, second means tired. And while I could understand being tired of someone who gossips and hacks email, that’s not the word you were trying to use here.

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  • avatar

    saneinca February 19, 2016, 7:15 pm

    For a change, most people are advising correctly on the issue instead of carping on the LW.

    LW, your BF is acting shady and secretively about a child that bears his name legally. He seems to have no interest in knowing about his legal rights and responsibilities. And if it is too early for him to emotionally distance himself, then he has no business dating and moving in with you. Also what about the birth father ? If he is that bad that he cannot be in the picture, why did your BF’s ex cheat with him ?

    Please rethink your relationship. Do you really need all this drama ( even if hidden from you) in your life ?

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  • avatar

    Adrienne February 20, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Wendy, I really enjoy your website and read it when I have free time. But I really think this is one you got wrong.

    We don’t need to victim blame the LW here. You start off your response criticising her for snooping. First, I disagree. When you move in, you’re agreeing to share your lives. If you leave a letter out in the open, in a shared space, that’s exactly what it is: shared.

    And further more, it sound like this woman followed her gut instinct. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and losslooks like duck… Don’t make this woman feel like she is being insecure or jealous. She’s not being. That response is exactly what douches like Mystery (yes, I have a love for horrible reality TV) would use to deflect the conversation off of the real issues.

    Finances are a big part of long term relationships. If the bf is on the birth certificate, then his ex can sue him for child support. There are cases where men have still been on the hook for support even when they establish afterward that they are not the biological father (court find it’s in the best interest of the child to have the support).

    Also, if he’s lied about this, then what else? Don’t be Amber from OG. Get out. Not because you were “insecure” and “jealous”, but because you are a smart ahs independent woman who deserves and honest man who does not hide from the issues life throws at you.

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  • avatar

    kali February 21, 2016, 6:37 pm

    Hi LW, completely off-topic, I’m pretty sure that when you said “so I’m weary of her intentions.” you really meant to ware that you are WARY of her intentions. I invite you to check the definitions of both words to see which fits better.

    Then, on-topic, if Nick is only seeing this child once a year or so, it’s probably not a huge problem unless you make it one — which you’re doing. He probably wants to get the child’s paperwork straightened out and have his name removed in case there are legal ramifications. Other than that, chill out and let him figure this out.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom February 22, 2016, 9:00 am

      It doesn’t sound like he is trying to remove himself from legal ramifications. He signed for the child to go to preschool which he could only do as the legal father. He stepped in to sign as her father which is the opposite of removing himself from legal involvement. If he remains the legal father the LW can expect that sooner or later he could be required to pay child support.

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  • avatar

    T February 22, 2016, 1:34 pm

    Between (1) reading a letter left open in your house (*OMG snooping! insecurity! jealousy! other buzzwords!*) and (2) not freaking telling your live-in girlfriend that you have a child in your life, that you thought was your child and to whom you may be legally responsible, I’m PRETTY sure the second item is the one we should be focusing on. Actually, to me the LW is trying too hard to act like the secure and un-jealous “cool girl” — after discovering this bombshell she has barely even said anything to her boyfriend and has let it all just continue to happen.
    .
    I get that the boyfriend is going through a lot. But if it’s so confusing and traumatic for him that he can’t even TELL his girlfriend about it before moving in with her, he should not have jumped into this relationship. That’s on him. LW, seriously consider whether you want to be with someone who can’t let you in on major life events.
    .
    As for the LW, I think she was overwhelmed and confused too. As a coping mechanism, she justified staying in the situation by telling herself the child and ex were a thing of the past and they could be out-of-sight, out-of-mind. The shock set in now that she is realizing they are a thing in the present. She now has to deal with the situation and figure out how she feels about the whole thing and maybe leave her relationship. That is why she has written in now, citing the ex’s intentions and the child’s perceptions and all of the current details, rather than writing in when she found the letter (which really is the main issue).
    .
    LW, only you can decide whether you can and want to continue to be a supportive girlfriend through this situation, or whether it’s time to move on. If you decide to stay, you need to truly be able to support your boyfriend through this difficult situation and not get wrapped up in petty things like whether he is talking to his ex a little too much. The advice I would probably give if you were one of my friends would be to leave. Your boyfriend seems like he is incapable of even handling this himself, let alone also juggling a girlfriend in the mix (evidenced by the fact that he didn’t even tell you!). Is all this drama a price you want to pay for being in a relationship with him?
    .
    If you’re not sure yet, maybe you could give him space for a bit, even stay with a friend for a while or move out, and tell him to come to you when he has done some thinking and knows how he wants his life to look, how the child will fit into it, and how you will fit into it. It is then up to you, after you have also had a chance to think, to (gently, kindly) tell him whether you can continue to be in his life with the picture looking like that or not. I think you want him to finally do some active thinking on his own and let him tell you what he sees, rather than you making more assumptions without all the information and then trying to force the situation to fit with those assumptions, leaving you unhappy.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom February 22, 2016, 3:31 pm

    I would have a huge problem trusting someone who hadn’t told me that they had a legal child. Even if he has had a paternity test and isn’t the biological father of the child I would think he would tell you about the situation just because when you are in a serious relationship you talk about the serious things that happened in past relationships.

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  • avatar

    Tamika February 25, 2016, 5:08 pm

    Woah. Agreed with others. Wendy is way, WAY off on this one. If you share a home and leave a letter out, that isn’t snooping, first off. Second, it isn’t “insecure” or “jealous” to think that it isn’t cool for someone to lie about and conceal major things like this.

    This is shaming to the extreme and I feel bad that LW got such poor advice. A girl has to protect herself from shady men, unfortunately, and Wendy dropped the ball on this advice. I’m cringing all over the place for the way this poor child is going to be raised without a daddy, but that doesn’t mean LW is in the wrong.

    And, honestly, I’d be doubting that he isn’t really the father. Why would you get a paternity test done, know the results, and not take the (minor in comparison) step to get yourself absolved of the financial responsibility?

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