New readers, welcome to Dear Wendy, a relationship advice blog. Read some of the most popular Dear Wendy posts here. If you don’t find the info you need in this column, please visit the Dear Wendy archives or the forums (you can even start your own thread), do a search in the search bar, or submit a question for advice at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.
I’m 41 with no kids. I got a divorce 10 years ago after a 10-year marriage I thought was happy and stable. My husband left me quite suddenly after I found out about his cheating, saying I would never get over it. He also emptied all our bank accounts and did many other shady financial things just before he left. I signed all the divorce papers as I was so bereft and, in hindsight, stupid. Later, I sued him to re-open the divorce for a fair settlement and won everything, but I had to pay all the money in the settlement to the attorneys. It was worth it! We were the gossip of the town as the details of his cheating were particularly salacious, and I was so humiliated that I left that night to start a new life in a new city.
“My Boyfriend Treats His Daughter Like SHE is His Girlfriend”
It took me about eight years to save enough money to buy a condo, and after two job layoffs, I’m now at a stable company with a good salary and an emergency fund. But it was a tough few years getting back on my feet. I’m proud of starting over the way I did.
After the divorce, I had a five year on/off again relationship with a man whom I was deeply in love with, and he with me, but he tortured me by being hot/cold. Soon after we split he had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with late-onset schizophrenia (at 45) with acute paranoid delusions, and he was forcibly hospitalized. That’s a lot to unpack, but his behavior now makes sense in retrospect. I feel guilty about leaving him, but also greatly relieved. I can’t believe I didn’t have more clarity during the relationship, but I know now how confusing and heartbreaking mental illness is.
After an 18-month dating break, I started dating Peter. We’ve been together three and half years. He’s divorced, too, with two teen girls, now 14 and 16, whom he has 50% of the time. We moved in together after 11 months and he says he is my life partner. I’ve worked very hard to landscape the garden and remodel the house. Things have been great, but he says I am insecure about his feelings (asking “do you love me?” and saying “this is your house, I don’t own it”) and not tolerant enough with his kids. He’s a very easy-going dad, very loving and invested, but also not a great disciplinarian, and he carries huge divorce guilt. His younger daughter (14) and I are at a good place and co-exist well. I think she actually likes me and she is respectful. I like her, too.
His older daughter (16) went from being a little difficult sometimes to full on rebellious this last year. Wow, it’s been a hard year!!!! She hates me, she hates her dad, she is really having a hard time and has very few girl friends. Two weeks after starting public high school she was expelled for drinking vodka in her 10 am English class with her new boyfriend. She started smoking pot, stealing alcohol, kicking holes in walls, sneaking out, having sex with her boyfriend, and being hugely difficult and disrespectful. She lies, she refuses to do chores or pick up after herself, and she is failing school. She tells her dad that she doesn’t think we fit together, she doesn’t understand why he wants to be with me, and that I am so uptight she can’t relax in her own home. She says her mom or his ex-girlfriend were wonderful and why didn’t he stay with them. After much thought, he told her that he and her mom divorced because she was cheating on him snd that the ex-girlfriend turned out to have drug and alcohol problems and would become enraged while drunk and that this is why their relationships had to end. He told her that I am wonderful to him, that I make him happy, that I am kind and stable and loving, and that he is entitled to be happy with a partner he chooses.
Both of us dread the day before his oldest comes home. We know there will be drama and it’s exhausting and leads to our fighting. I’ve started finding excuses to stay away from home when she’s there. The two of us are going to therapy to find help with this, and in general, I am incredibly stressed and anxious constantly now. I know it’s making me grumpy and less patient. I’m trying so, so hard, but this girl is so spoiled, rude, and disrespectful. I realized I don’t like her!! How terrible is that to not like your partner’s child? I feel bad, but it’s true. I’m stressed out by the loud music, the swearing, the slutty clothes and dishes piling up, and he thinks I’m being too uptight about the house and music. We were supposed to go camping together this summer, and I’ve used work as an excuse to not go. I’m so happy not to be there, but sad at the same time that I feel that way. I’ll miss him, but I’m happy to have some peace.
I don’t have children, as I’ve always been on-the-fence about having them. Now that I see what they can be like, I’m think I’m pretty turned off. His daughter acts like I’m her servant and I’m angry about it. There’s no love or appreciation for all I do. I want her to clean up after herself and I can’t stand it when she leaves her mess everywhere. I had hoped that because I didn’t have children, his would become my family too, and I came with open arms. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as natural kids, but I thought we’d grow to love each other like a real family. I didn’t anticipate such extreme difficulty, hostility, and rejection. It saddens me greatly.
Additionally, in the last year I was diagnosed with early-stage glaucoma and had two eye surgeries, which were unsuccessful, and so I am going to start medications to manage the damage to my eyes. I also had a breast lumpectomy that turned out to be “in situ cancer” and so is not malignant (LCIS). However, it requires me to be in a high-risk breast-cancer surveilance program under the care of an oncologist. Although these health issues could be a lot worse, the stress of the diagnoses and ongoing care and the potential and physical pain from the surgery were extremely stressful.
I have gained about 20 lbs in the last year, and I am now about 20 lbs overweight and 40 lbs above my ideal weight. Peter has told me that this bothers him deeply and he isn’t as attracted to me. He said he wants to be honest about this and knows it’s hard to hear. He is very fit. He wants me to lose weight and he told me that this was the reason he briefly broke up with me three months into dating (when I was 18 pounds thinner than I am now). I’ve been trying to lose weight, I want to for myself, but I’m also angry at him for not loving me as I am.
Should I stay? Should I leave? I’m overwhelmed and confused. I don’t think I’ll find a guy as great as he is and I believe relationships are sometimes hard work. I don’t want to give up, but I need help. — Trouble With His Daughter
Yes, you’re right: there’s a lot to unpack here. But you kind of buried the lede! You wrote nine whole paragraphs before you mentioned what an jerk your boyfriend is. He is not, as you claim in your first paragraph, “a fantastic partner, loving, and attentive” — not if he briefly broke up with you for being two pounds overweight, got back together with you and then continued to tell you, as your weight increased, that he’s “deeply bothered” by your weight and that he’s not attracted to you, as you battle two health crises. That’s not how a loving partner acts, and if this is, as you said, “the kindest man you’ve ever met,” then I hate to think how awful the other guys have been. And maybe that’s a big part of the problem. Maybe, after being cheated on and left by your husband and then being in a hot/cold 5-year relationship in which you described being emotionally “tortured,” your bar for decency is so, so low that you simply cannot recognize what’s in front of you: your boyfriend is a dick.
A loving, decent boyfriend, noticing a relatively rapid weight gain in his girlfriend would frame his concern not around his lack of attraction to her, but about her well-being. Instead of saying he was “deeply bothered,” he’d ask how she was feeling, he might acknowledge noticing a change in behavior. If his girlfriend, like you, had been going through very stressful health crises, he would lend his support, suggest some ways of healthfully coping, remind her how much he loves her and how proud he is of how strong she’s being, and tell her she doesn’t have to carry the burden alone – he is there to help. Has he done any of this or is he just berating you for not being attractive enough to him anymore?
You said you’re angry at him for not loving you the way you are. How can you claim he’s a loving, wonderful partner if he makes you feel unloved for gaining weight during a series of stressful times in your life? He is not loving if you don’t feel loved — if he’s telling you how unattracted he is to you. This is not what a loving partner looks like.
The issue with the 16-year-old daughter is almost beside the point, but I’ll address it anyway. You think his daughter is a pain? She’s “hugely difficult and disrespectful? She lies, she refuses to do chores or pick up after herself,” and you don’t like her? Guess what! Lots and lots of parents feel this exact way about their teenage kids. Being a parent is a hard, exhausting, mostly thankless job that can wear you the fuck down. Being a step-parent can be even more challenging, especially when you enter the picture when the kids are teenagers – arguably the hardest age to parent — and especially if the kids feel resentment that their parents are no longer together. That you didn’t anticipate so much difficulty, hostility, and rejection is, in large part, your boyfriend’s fault for failing to adequately prepare you and failing to prepare his daughters for your moving in. Much of the behavior problems you’ve described sounds like cries for help and attention. Some of it – a disrespectful attitude, not cleaning up her mess, acting like you’re her servant — is kind of typical teenage, boundary-testing, acting-out behavior that, if you were even the tiniest bit prepped for, shouldn’t be such a shock.
It sounds like you moved in with Peter with a kind of expectation that you were stepping into a ready-made family, for whom you’d open your arms and their arms would open for you and everything would be wonderful and dreamy. Parenthood, even when you’re a bio parent and there from day one, isn’t like that. It’s not a passive role that you just open your arms to. It is 100% constant effort and work. I’m a mom to a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old and I pour myself into the role; it’s the most important role in my life at the moment, for which I sacrifice a lot (sleep, money, time to myself, travel, time for my work, time with my husband, time with friends, my sanity sometimes), but the rewards are worth it for me (I don’t think they’d be worth it for everyone). If I were a single parent and dating someone without kids, I’d make damn sure he understood as much as possible what he would be in for moving in with us. It’s not a damn walk in the park. I’d probably oversell how challenging it is for good measure. The last thing you want as a parent is for someone to step into your family wholly unprepared for the challenges. It doesn’t sound like Peter prepared you well, and now all of you are paying that price.
I think you should leave him, but not just because he didn’t adequately prepare you for living with his teenage daughters. If everything else were wonderful, you could probably work through that. (Therapy for the daughter, and maybe family therapy for everyone would be a good starting point). But everything else isn’t wonderful. Peter isn’t a loving partner to you. He doesn’t work at your relationship. He sounds like a really passive person (which is why he can’t discipline, and I bet he doesn’t set boundaries, and he spoils his kids because he doesn’t know other, better ways to show love). You call him an “easy-going” dad, but I bet that’s just a euphemism for lazy. And he sounds like a lazy partner. For all these reasons, not to mention your health and well-being, you should move on. You can do better than Peter. You just have to believe that and aim higher next time.
Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.
Vathena July 25, 2019, 10:29 am
You know, I was reading your letter, nodding and thinking, yeah wow this sounds so tough…typical teenage behavior…maybe therapy for the daughter might help too…wonder how often she is at dad’s/at mom’s and what mom has to say about all this?…this LW sounds really sincere and thoughtful but maybe not equipped to raise teenage stepchildren…so tough…
Then! I got to where your boyfriend told you that he thinks you’re too fat to be attractive. And it was like *tire screech* *record scratch* OHHH NO HE DIDN’T, FUCK THAT GUY. Seriously, that alone is grounds to dump his ass.
Close your eyes and imagine coming home each day to your own space. It’s quiet. No one else’s dirty dishes. No one slamming doors or treating you like the maid. No one LETTING someone else treat you like the maid. No one giving side-eye to your dessert or suggesting you need to go to the gym after you finish cleaning up after him and his kids. No one criticizing you, making you feel undesirable. Lots of extra time to go for a walk or a yoga class if you want to! Doesn’t that sound nice?
Miss MJ July 25, 2019, 10:31 am
Everything Wendy said!
Also, you say you’re 20 pounds “overweight” and 40 pounds over your “ideal” weight. I’m confused as to why you think your “ideal” weight is 20 pounds less than your “healthy or not overweight” weight? It sounds like you were at about your healthy, non-overweight, weight when you met Peter. In breaking up with you right after you met because he thought you were fat because you were 2 pounds above your healthy , non-overweight, weight, did he also convince you that you need to lose 20 pounds from that weight to be “ideal”? Because that’s some bullshit, too.
This guy is not the catch you think he is.
Vathena July 25, 2019, 10:42 am
This is an EXCELLENT point. Why is the ideal less than the healthy, not-overweight number? Why did he even start dating you if he wasn’t attracted to you? Also, 2lbs “overweight” is like nothing. I am pretty sure I gain and lose that amount or more with my monthly cycle, or if I have a burrito or something.
MissD July 25, 2019, 11:02 am
Well, when you’re talking about a healthy weight, there’s a range. For my height and age, a “healthy weight” is between 120-145 lbs (according the chart in my doctor’s office). And then there’s a number within that range that just feels good. Where you feel good in your clothes, where you feel confident, where normal fluctuations don’t make you feel unfomfortable. She’s perfectly entitled to want to be at the lower end of a healthy weight range.
That being said, the guy is still a major douche if he’s “deeply unhappy” that she’s 2 pounds above her healthy weight range and her ideal weight should not be based on what this asshole thinks.
Kate July 25, 2019, 11:32 am
Yeah, if she’s 5’4” (average height) this means she probably weighs 160, but would ideally like to weigh 120 where she’d feel really good. The “healthy” range for her height is 110-140, so she’s not trying to be excessively tiny.
Dear Wendy July 25, 2019, 11:44 am
She did give her exact numbers, which I edited out, and the range you’ve given here is pretty close. It didn’t strike me as that weird. I’m within a healthy weight range for my height but ideally, I’d like to be ten to fifteen pounds less. That’s pretty normal, I think.
dinoceros July 25, 2019, 10:52 am
There’s a lot going on here, so I’m going to comment on the part I have most expertise with. Being the teenage stepdaughter of someone who did not have children of her own. Some stepparents understand kids and can get into the parenting thing even without experience. Some people can’t. You are probably in the second category. Obviously, some of her behavior is extreme, but teenagers are not enjoyable. The fact that the other one is so great is a fluke. Except actual parents love the kid enough that they can accept a few years of annoyance and their priority is that the kid has support/is healthy, not reducing their annoyance.
I think that maybe you need to be with someone who doesn’t have kids. Aside from the fact that you should be with someone who doesn’t insult you. At first, I wondered why you gave all this backstory about other relationships, but I think it’s helpful because it seems like you sort of just put up with people and situations that aren’t good just to be in a relationship.
Bittergaymark July 25, 2019, 11:57 am
Eh, to me… the weight issue is a red herring. If you honestly DO NOT LIKE your partner’s child — you should NOT be with that partner. Especially when your reasons for not liking said child are hilariously weak and feeble. Slutty clothes? (Gasp!) Loud music? (The Horror!) Dishes piling up? (Clutch those pearls!) The swearing? (Find a second strand of pearls, quick!) You call her spoiled and entitled and seem almost gleeful that to defend you he waved his ex wife’s infidelity in their child’s face.
Gross. Just gross.
I could go on and on and maybe unpack your “off” reaction to the fate of your mentally ill ex… but really? That speaks for itself.
Break up with this guy. You hate his daughter. You REALLY hate his daughter. And that is a battle you WILL NOT win. More, one you SHOULD NOT win…
woodchuck September 9, 2019, 2:57 pm
Wth is this guy doing telling his daughter about mom’s infidelity? What a passive aggressive prick.
He’s too weak to discipline the daughter (if my kid was drinking vodka in English class, that kid would find herself deep in the woods at boot camp rehab).
The LW’s issues should be with the father’s lack of discipline, and structure. his inappropriate shit-talking about the girls’ mother, and his terribly hurtful confessions that he thinks the LW is fat. Maybe that one first.
Kali July 25, 2019, 12:08 pm
LW: I wish I could hug you. And then shake you. Twenty pounds overweight?! Seriously?? I am a stage 4 ovarian cancer patient, diagnosed almost 6 years ago. I also had a financially devastating, trust-destroying divorce where I lost everything. Now, I’m 80 lbs overweight but my lovely, dear partner never mentions it. It would never occur to him. He says he feels lucky just to have me here with him for however long we have.
Please leave this mess of a relationship you’re in and find someone who loves you unconditionally. And if that person happens to be you, that’s great too.
Kali July 25, 2019, 12:10 pm
Also, a good dad does NOT tell his daughter about her mother cheating or his girlfriend’s drinking – that’s inappropriate. It’s OK for her to be angry about her world changing. This man is not the Prince Charming you portrayed. MOA
Mimi July 25, 2019, 1:12 pm
LW, here’s hoping you kept your condo! You’ll be okay without a man, you know that already, but before you plunge back into the dating pool, I hope you will please take some time with a therapist to review this series of long term relationships with men who didn’t (or couldn’t) love you properly. You don’t have to settle for jerks and you don’t have to let yourself be taken advantage of. It is so easy to convince ourselves that we’re happy while glossing over some pretty devastating crap, like your being unsure of Peter’s love (as measured by the bathroom scale) and feeling like an outsider in a home you have worked to remodel and landscape and lived in for years. Turn all that love in your heart back towards yourself and use it to move on and move up, friend!
Donna July 25, 2019, 2:00 pm
Your wonderful, supportive boyfriend with a horrendous daughter (who is 16 and you would maybe only have to deal with for another 2-3 years) is a much different scenario than your boyfriend (with a horrendous daughter) who is an a-hole because he is not a supportive partner, says you’re fat, unattractive and that’s why he broke up with you. Ummm…..do you really not have enough respect for yourself to drop this entire load of crap out of your life?
Hazel July 25, 2019, 3:18 pm
What Wendy said, what Vathena said. particularly the bit about how nice it might be, now you are in control, independent, free of debt that wasn’t your fault;-to wake up every day and not deal with this shit. If someone can’t love you a few pounds overweight how are they going to handle it when you dare to get old? Daughter is just being an awful teen , that’s what kids that age do and they almost can’t help it (don’t sound like she’s enjoying those raging hormones either poor lass) but you can find a partner who respects and loves you however your looks change.
anonymousse July 25, 2019, 8:32 pm
The sixteen year old sounds like an absolutely textbook normal child of divorce. And at the end of the day, she’s not really your problem.
I was also reading along thinking wow, sounds a little tough and then-the record scratch of your diagnoses AND your asshole boyfriends comments struck really, really struck me. You’re unhappy because you moved in with a prick! It’s crystal clear. You were two pounds overweight and he BROKE UP WITH YOU!!!??? Are you okay? Because I can’t really imagine why you’d speak to a guy like that after he dumped you. He’s a dick. This isn’t about his daughter. You’re focusing on the wrong thing. He’s the problem. I really hope you didn’t sell your condo. GTFO of his messed up life and take care of yourself. You deserve better than this.
PurpleStar July 25, 2019, 10:37 pm
Oh, please leave this man. He is not kind. He is not a great guy. He is not loving or attentive. He is not putting you first….he never will. He is first, then his kids, and you are back there in the rear somewhere behind *every*other*interest* in his life.
You have a condo, a job at a stable company, a good salary and savings. You really don’t need this farce of a boyfriend. Move back into your condo, check in with a therapist and get to the bottom of why you let men treat you so poorly, then begin to surround yourself with real people who are judgmental assholes.
Sapphire July 25, 2019, 11:09 pm
Forget about the daughter. She’s just a normal teenager that acting out because of the divorce and the shitty dad. Your significant other is the problem. He broke up with you because of a few pounds. He’s not a wonderful person as you say he is.
brise July 26, 2019, 4:19 am
LW, you portray yourself as a victim but the situation you describe doesn’t get my sympathy. I don’t like not-even stepparents – that is just a live-in girlfriend – have a “disciplinarian” approach to their partner’s kids. His daughter is at her home when she is at her father’s place. Remember that. She has more right than you to be there. You over-invest this house which is not your yours to start with, and not your family. Just let her be. Don’t nag her and let her express her teenage crisis. The poor girl is afflicted with a terrible father who, to “defend” his girlfriend, informs her of her mother’s infidelity – that is unfair. That single act explains a lot why she hates you, this was a big mistake of his. And it is a mistake of you to show your preference for the younger daughter. Never do that. As a “step-parent”, or as any parent, you must love unconditionally all children whatever they do. Stop having favorites, that doesn’t work with children, not at all, and it is not good for the younger daughter either.Don’t turn her into the good one vs the bad one. I hope you leave this family and focus on your therapy.
If, by any chance, you choose the status quo, direct your agressivity towards your boyfriend, not his daughter. He is 48 and he is so obsessed with looks? Come on, he is a fool. Just tell him to get lost if he speaks once more of your weight. Just focus on your health and let the girls live their life.
Sylvia September 16, 2019, 2:17 pm
CW teenagers are tough having survived 2 who are adults now. It can be done with strong parenting. Which should come from the father. She has been traumatized by her father’s lack of relationship stability. BUT ! She should clean up behind herself. She should be respectful to any adult her father bring into the home. She should have chores. The house belongs to her father not her.
LisforLeslie July 26, 2019, 6:54 am
He treats you well, but he doesn’t treat you as well as you deserve. You deserve a lot better than this douche.
Go outside, to a park or a mall. Just watch the people. There are some fantastically ugly people out there who are partnered up and in love. Your measly 20 lbs or 40lbs is nothing to the right partner. You are not with the right partner.
allathian August 2, 2019, 1:58 am
This relationship sounds like too much work for too few rewards. Peter isn’t a great guy, he’s a douchebag. He handled your move in poorly with his daughters, he seems pretty lost as a dad.
Teenagers can be hard to deal with. But getting suspended for drinking alcohol in class is not normal teenage behavior.
But however poorly his daughter treats you, it still doesn’t excuse his behavior towards you. Just his attitude towards your weight-gain is reason enough to MOA, IMO.
Fed up too August 4, 2020, 5:38 pm
He is an ass. Get out while you can. I’ve been with the man who will not marry me 10 years and his asshole kids.
Kirsten December 30, 2020, 3:52 pm
FIRST OF ALL!! I’m sure sick of people making excuses for disrespectful teenagers. NO! Under normal circumstances she should NOT accept this or tolerate what that particular teenage daughter is doing when it comes to disrespecting HER! Now, the other drama this child has going on is clearly coming from an idiot father and like many people are saying he sounds lazy and doesn’t like confrontation with his troubled teens. This is a problem that they clearly all need therapy for and is not your concern. You aren’t even married to this man at this stage. I dated someone who refused to discipline his children and we broke up because HE refused to do the work. That wasn’t my job. I realized that it was me or his kids and they would ALWAYS choose their kids and rightly so. So I hit the road. It’s not your job as a ” girlfriend” to discipline ANYBODY’S children because you are considered an outsider. Now what you decide to allow them to do to you it’s up to you. And I chose to let he and his kids do their thing. He had loss of their mother who died guilt and that’s something you can’t compete with. When he decided that his kids needed to understand that they would need to respect whoever he chose to date is when we got back together. Things are MUCH better however I do NOT live with them which I believe is the mistake you made. You are infringing upon their territory and in their eyes you are just a girlfriend. That’s what I had to get into my brain. You really have no leg you stand on. I WILL NOT move in with anyone who has children unless those children are grown and gone AND we’re are married! At that point you have some leverage. Because at this point I AM THE WOMAN of the house! Girlfriend status means nothing. ALL That being said he also sounds like a jerk! Aside from the teenage daughters drama you need to drop him and learn how to be on your own and take care of your health and the rest will fall into place. Having all of that hot mess you are surrounded with cannot be good for your health. And if for some reason you do wish to continue your relationship with him at least you can go home to your own space and leave him and his HOT MESS kids by themselves.