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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.
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.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.