My biological father took his own life within a few months of the divorce. His company was going bankrupt, he had lost most of his assets and hard-earned money in two draining divorces, and, most importantly, he had lost his family and kids from his previous marriage. It was a tight-knit community and I grew up hearing all this nasty stuff about how my slutty mom destroyed a good man and a good family. It used to get to me and it kinda shaped how I still feel about myself and my mom. My mother, on the other hand, never gave a shit about what people thought of her. She was an attractive woman who never had a hard time attracting attention from men. Even with a kid and a not-so-good reputation, she found one rich lover after another. They were mostly married men when they met her. My mother remarried three more times. Her longest marriage lasted about five years.
Anyway, in her forties, my mom fell in love with a woman. Her new lover (Nicole), who moved in with us after only a few months, was also in her forties and gave up her cat for me (I’m allergic to cats). Nicole also had joint custody of her daughter (Kate) who is five years younger than I am. So, Kate also lived with us every other week. I was almost 16 back then, and I was disgusted by my mom’s new relationship. I think I made them live through hell with my rude behaviors and tantrums. But Nicole turned out to be the best thing that happened to us. She brought some discipline and positive change into our house. And she loved my mother deeply and turned her into a decent person. Together they started a successful catering business, and we became financially stable. It took me two years to realize that Nicole was in it for the long haul. Believe me, I seized every opportunity to test her patience and will, but she always showed me love and respect, even when I didn’t deserve any. She was my north star in high school. She empowered me to take the SATs and studied with me, read my college applications, and pushed me to applyto college. She also helped me get my driving license. My mother died in 2016 at age 50, and I believe the last nine years of her life were the happiest because of Nicole.
Now let’s get to the real problem. A couple of months ago, I tried to contact my half-sister from my biological father’s family. To my surprise, she was delighted to meet me. She knew my mother had died and it was my understanding that the family didn’t want anything to do with my mother and hence with me. But once she was out of the picture, they were willing to welcome me into the family because, like my sister put it, “after all, I’m still their blood.” I was invited to a couple of gatherings, and I felt really good about becoming a part of the family. I learned recently that they don’t approve of the presence of Nicole in my life. I still maintain a very close relationship with both Nicole and her daughter Kate who is in college now. I consider them to be my family, even though Nicole and my mom never married, and I know I will always have a place in Nicole’s home. I tried to explain all that to my biological sister, but for them Nicole is a lesbian that can’t be family.
Last week, my biological sister stopped by at my new apartment and was surprised to find Nicole helping me finish settling in. She told me later that no one from her family will be setting foot in my house, nor will I ever be invited to any family functions until I decide what I want. She told me they have nothing specifically against Nicole and they don’t even know her, but they don’t approve of homosexuality and they want me to start my life over with no traces from my or my mother’s past.
I really, really want to feel like a normal person for once — someone who is not shunned and rejected by one’s family. I keep thinking what if I become a parent one day. I don’t want my kids to grow up like I did, not knowing their extended family. I’d like them to have blood-related uncles, aunts, and cousins and to be accepted by everyone. But Nicole, even though not related to me by blood, was the one who accepted me when no one else did. She became a family for me and my mom when we had no one on our side. Choosing her will mean cutting all ties for once and all with this cruel tight-knit community that always rejected me. And I’m afraid that one day I will come to regret my decision. What do you think? — Wanting a Family
You would absolutely regret cutting out the only family you have for a bunch of bigots who don’t care about you. And make no mistake about it: Your biological family on your dad’s side does not care about you. If they did, they wouldn’t require you to give up all ties to your mother, to cut out the one person who’s loved you unconditionally since she entered your life, and to “start your life over with no traces of your past.” What a bunch of bull shit!
You may no longer be the disrespectful teenager you were when Nicole entered your life, but you still sound ungrateful for everything she’s contributed to your life if you’d even consider cutting ties with her in a painfully short-sighted effort to join a family who has such strict conditions for your inclusion. Family isn’t defined by blood and DNA. If it were, you would have known your half-siblings from the time you were born. Rather, family is defined by consistently showing up for each other. Family helps get you settled into a new home, brings you chicken soup when you’re sick and a bottle of champagne when you get a promotion. Family opens their homes to you and the person or people you love, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, or political affiliation. Family cheers you on when you race to a finish line and mourns with you when you grieve a loss. A family provides for each other: love; care; warmth; guidance; patience; and understanding. By these definitions, Nicole has been more family to you than anyone else alive, while your “blood relatives” have been and done nothing familial toward you at all. You would be a fool to toss what you have with Nicole and Kate.
Furthermore, you seem to think your biological father was some innocent guy who was minding his own business when your slutty mom came and tricked him into leaving his family for her. He is completely, 100% responsible for his participating in the affair he had with your mother. Was your mother perfect? Of course not. She was wrong to pursue married men, but they were the ones who were committed to other women. THEY were the ones who chose to fuck over their families. And for all you know, your father’s marriage was already on the rocks when your mother came along. Men who are very happily married and satisfied don’t usually leave their spouses just because someone pretty gives them some attention. The narrative you believe because it’s the one you’ve always heard in your “tight-knit and somewhat conservative community” is wrong. The narrative that all these rich, married men were hoodwinked by your slutty, home-wrecking mother is so misogynistic and patronizing. Like those men didn’t have a choice! Like they didn’t know how much they were risking, how much they were hurting their wives and family, how much they were throwing away. They knew and they didn’t care and they did it anyway because they were far from perfect — maybe much further from perfect than your mother who was damned not only by a whole community, but by the son she did so much for.
And then came Nicole who saw past the reputation, who didn’t buy into some stupid narrative because she defied stupid narratives, too. Nicole also saw past all your teenage angst and bravado and loved you unconditionally as she, your mom, you, and Kate built a family together. You HAVE a family, you idiot. Don’t you see? And if you get married one day, Nicole will be prouder and happier than she could be if you were her biological child. If you have children one day, she will love them like grandchildren. And you and your spouse will blend your families and give your children a network of extended relatives, and it won’t matter who is blood-related and who isn’t. What will matter then is what matters now and what will matter forever: who the fuck shows up and who accepts you for exactly who you are, without conditions and without demands. You are so lucky to have that even despite losing both parents too young. Don’t throw away genuine family for a fake one. It would be one of the biggest mistakes you could ever make.
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.
JD November 15, 2018, 9:56 am
Seriously? Calling your mother a slut? What does this even have to do with your question. I think LW need therapy after reading that bitter letter. Wendy addressed the actual question well but I cannot get past the horrible attitude of this woman toward her mother.
Dear Wendy November 15, 2018, 10:14 am
I think the LW is actually a man, fyi. Not that it matters except for pronouns…
JD November 15, 2018, 10:18 am
To me that makes it worse than a man thinks he can call women sluts.
Essie November 15, 2018, 10:01 am
Nicole is good people. Your bio family are not.
I know who I’d be choosing.
Hannanas November 15, 2018, 10:02 am
This is one of the most enticing and interesting letters + replies that I’ve ever read on this site. WWS, LW.
And for the record, I’ve always loved the saying: if they don’t want me, I don’t want them.
Steph November 15, 2018, 10:27 am
My best friend has 2 daughters. One is seven, the other is about 18 months. The seven year old tells me all the time that I have her favorite Aunt. I have no blood relation, she has 2 blood Aunts. To her it doesn’t matter, she knows me as Aunt Stephanie and knows that I love her as my own blood. To this little girl, it doesn’t matter (grant it, she doesn’t know better), but what she does know is that I call her after her soccer games to see how she did, I make a point to spend time with just her and make her feel special still since her little sister has come along. Those “real aunts” don’t do that. And she can tell the difference in who puts in more effort. See Nicole & Kate through a seven year old’s eyes.
Juliecatharine November 15, 2018, 10:48 am
WWS. LW it’s pretty fucking sad that you shit all over your mother for banging a 57 year old married man when she was 25. He was a grown ass man–damn near a senior citizen–and more than twice her age. Your bio family sounds pathetic and gross. Get your priorities straight and treat Nicole with the respect and love she deserves. Go to therapy you need it.
Beth Hannah November 15, 2018, 10:55 am
I really think some therapy regarding your mom and her actions might be helpful. It sounds like you have a lot of resentment about the past and really could use help finding ways to cope with it.
Also, do not bail on Nicole. She loves you more than anyone else in that extended family ever will. Love is hard to find sometimes so it needs to be cherished
anonymousse November 15, 2018, 11:24 am
Wow, I cannot believe the way you wrote about your mother.
Is it really such a hard choice? Bigots who abandoned you, or the one person alive who loves and cares for you?
LisforLeslie November 15, 2018, 11:55 am
Wow – I don’t know how old you are but I hope time gives you some perspectives on life and you can reflect back on your mom with a bit more kindness. At no point did you say anything about how she treated you so I have to imagine she tried the best she could with the resources that she had. It doesn’t sound like she abused you, maybe your life was a bit more tumultuous but it sounds like you are highly judgmental and narrow minded. If all you hear are the words of your so-called “righteous” neighbors then you need to start listening to other people.
Again, with time I think you’ll learn that the people who sit atop their righteous high horses are the same people that abuse their children, cheat on their taxes, cheat on their spouses and otherwise do the same shit everyone else is doing under cover.
Your righteous relatives can go to hell. Had your mother been alive they wouldn’t have bothered to spit on you if you were on fire.
Skyblossom November 15, 2018, 12:12 pm
I’d choose Nicole. She’s stood by you from the beginning and loved you unconditionally and through your worst behavior. That’s someone you can count on to have your back. Your blood relatives haven’t been in your life and you don’t know them. The one thing you know about them is that they don’t love unconditionally. They want you to dump your stepmother, the one stable person you have had in your life. I would guess that even if you were to dump Nicole for them they would always see you as the child of the slut who destroyed their parent’s marriage. They don’t have shared experiences with you. No shared traditions. No shared values. You will always be the outsider trying to fit in. I’d choose Nicole. She has been the one dependably good person in your life.
I understand your mixed emotions about your mom. She loved you and did her best by you but she also brought constant change and chaos into your life. Until Nicole came along there was no stability. Many people probably treated you as damaged and bad because she was your mom. That’s not an easy or pleasant childhood. Because your dad died when you were so young you didn’t see him as the flawed man he was. The flawed man who lost his financial security because of his own poor decisions.
Try to realize that your mom was a consenting adult and so were all the men. Your mom was trading sex and the men were trading money. Your mom is certainly no worse than the men who were married and didn’t care whether they were destroying their families. Every one of those men made a choice to cheat on their spouse and was self-absorbed enough to not care whether they destroyed their marriage or harmed their children. It was much easier in that conservative community where the men made the money so had the power to blame the woman involved in the affairs. Every one of those men was willing to cheat on their spouse. Every one of them made a conscious decision to get involved with your mom. None of those men were victims.
ArtsyGirl November 15, 2018, 12:30 pm
The LW would be mid-20s – his mother was 25 during the affair and and died two years ago at 50. I had the same thought, hoping he might still be very young to excuse A) his attitude towards his mother B) his willingness to throw away loving family in favor of some strangers because “blood”
ArtsyGirl November 15, 2018, 12:31 pm
This was meant in response to LisforLeslie
dinoceros November 15, 2018, 12:39 pm
I think you have a lot that you should be working out this stuff with a therapist. You’ve taken everything that’s happened to you and that others have told you and sort of balled them up into this very reactive view of life. Obviously, you went through a lot as a kid. But I think that as an adult, everyone has to try to gain some perspective and try to see their parents as humans and not just through the lens of a child.
For example, an outside person can’t just wreck marriages on their own. Sure, a lot of people would think it was wrong to have an affair with a married person, but your mother didn’t put guns to the mens heads and force them to cheat. They chose to cheat. Many of them probably had cheated before. I’m also very sorry about what happened to your father, but suicide is not just the average reaction to divorce or financial troubles. It’s not your mother’s fault that his mental health issues became that severe.
If you look even further than simply not blaming your mother for everything bad that’s ever happened, you may even consider that a person who has lots of affairs with unavailable men probably has a lot of their own issues going on (maybe it’s self-esteem, maybe unresolved sexuality issues, whatever). I think it would be in your and everyone’s best interest if you spent time in therapy to shift your frame so that your opinions are not always based out of anger.
But in the end, I agree with Wendy. I don’t know your politics, but a large portion of people think that bigotry is wrong in and of itself. Aside from that, you’re choosing between someone who was there for you even when it sounds like you made it very difficult and people who willingly chose not to spend any time with you until you found them. It’s easy to want the cookie cutter “normal” family, but fitting the “normal” box doesn’t really improve your actual life if the normal people you’re with are bigots and try to control who you can or can’t have in your life.
Poppy November 15, 2018, 2:01 pm
LW , Nicole sounds like a loving and caring person who has been there to help you when no one else was. I dont think id let people I barely know tell me how to live my life. I think your half siblings are out of line. People can disagree respectfully and without being bigots. Your mom and dad sound like shit parents that could have done a better job in life overall but they are no longer here to make better changes/choice. I am so sorry that you have lost both parents at such a young age. Please know that your mom and dad’s choices are not a reflection of you. What matters is you are here on this earth living life and you have people who do love you. Go find the good in life amd get away from this negative environment.
Ange November 15, 2018, 4:26 pm
I mean, if they wanna get all self righteous about it they don’t have much of a leg to stand on. Your slutty mum ruined your dad’s company? How? She wasn’t running it. You really need to examine the criticisms of your mum you’ve absorbed all your life a bit more thoroughly. Your dad was many things but he certainly wasn’t any better than your mum and none of these people are any better than you. If acceptance is conditional it’s not really acceptance is it?
TaraMonster November 15, 2018, 5:23 pm
Kid, if you cut Nicole and Kate out for these awful bigots who wouldn’t even consider knowing you until your mother was LITERALLY in her grave, then you are just as bad as them. You keep blaming your mother for the shame and pain you felt growing up, but have you paused for just one moment to think that the people who so vehemently demonized your mother did it only so they wouldn’t have to face the fact that their beloved father was a shitty person too? They don’t want to blame him, so they blame her, and they’ve convinced you to do the same thing. And strike any version of the word slut from your vocabulary immediately. I don’t care if she seduced God himself, your mother is more than the sum of the people she slept with. You need to tackle these deeply misogynist ideas because they are wrong and extremely toxic. Also: therapy.
alafair November 15, 2018, 6:55 pm
This letter resonates with me SO MUCH. Wendy’s answer is perfect.
You see LW, I lost my bio family. Not because of circumstances, but because of who they are and how damn unhealthy they are for me and my children. I spent years – YEARS – trying to make them into something they are not, an idealized version of who they probably could be. Along the way I met my own Nicoles, family not by blood, but by choice. Those are the people who helped me, the ones who were there for me, the ones who bound the wounds the bio family made. And make no mistake – if you make this trade, it will be the absolute first in a long line of things the biofamily asks you to trade for the illusion of belonging. You wont ever get even the illusion of love. You’ll be asked to give up pieces of yourself, bit by bit, until you fit the mold they have decided is yours. And still, you won’t ever be one of them.
Let go of the illusion of the perfect family, and embrace the one that’s chosen you, Nicole and Kate. It’s perfect as it is.
alafair November 15, 2018, 6:57 pm
Also – get yourself into therapy. It helped me let go of everything that happened, and of all of the anger I was carrying around that was so familiar I didnt even notice it any more. The right therapist can help you too.
FYI November 15, 2018, 8:30 pm
“I’d like [my future kids] to have blood-related uncles, aunts, and cousins and to be accepted by everyone.”
Hm. Well, I guess you’d better not have any gay kids.
Bittergaymark November 19, 2018, 3:52 pm
MP November 19, 2018, 2:37 pm
I’m from Michigan too and I know exactly the type of “tight-knit and somewhat conservative community in Michigan” you speak of. WWS and WES… I don’t have anything to add but LW if you think DNA is the only thing that makes a family, I feel bad for you. Your so-called ‘blood family’ are showing you who they are right now and it’s not something kind or loving…