Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: I am a 47-year-old divorced woman with two teenaged daughters. I have been dating a divorced man for a year and a half, and we are planning to move in with him next summer. His children are 24 and 28. For the 20 years since his divorce, he has celebrated their birthdays with both of them and his ex. The last time, his children's significant others were present. I found it hurtful that I was not included as his partner, if I am to give up my home and move in with him. Advice?
It's not about you
I think you're expecting way too much. Of course the children would have their significant others at the party! It's their birthday for goodness sake - not their father's new girlfriend's. You should allow your new partner a bit of space and wait for nature to take its course. One way or the other, it always does.
- Lorra Ward, Vancouver
Discuss your feelings
You must know that there will be more of these sorts of gatherings and that not all of them will be pleasant. If you are hurt by not being invited, I must suggest the rather unique approach of stating that fact to your significant other and asking to discuss it. You cannot predict the challenges you will face together, but you can decide, in advance, how you will face them together. If you cannot sit down and rationally discuss your feelings, then moving in together is not the right step. (P.S. Keep your home as a rental.)
- David Hughes, Toronto
Create your own occasions
Rather than looking at this as a barrier, see it as an opportunity. Look for a suitable occasion to invite his children and their partners to your new (shared) home. Give them a chance to get to know you and to build a relationship with the two of you as a couple. Attending other "family" events should become more natural for everyone involved.
- John Lombard, Toronto
The final word
How old were your own two girls when you got divorced from their father? How did they enjoy that process? Were they traumatized? Angry? Would you have done anything to reassure them that the world of their family wasn't actually falling apart, that they would always have you and their father in their lives despite the wrenching separation process? That's what your current paramour has done and is doing - providing his children with a reassuring sense of continuity where their family is concerned. You know what this makes him? A pretty stand-up guy.
He's putting aside any negative feelings he may have toward their mother, not to mention any selfish feelings he may have about being his own man and doing his own thing. Instead, he's making sure that at least twice a year his kids' feelings take priority.
Now you are in the picture and there are your feelings to consider as well. Pop philosopher M.I.A. once gloated to a female rival: "You might've had him once, but I got him all the time." This is your position, too. You are starting a new, long-term partnership with this fine man.
His children are grown, his ex-wife is just that - they are the past and you are the present. Are you really going to begrudge his kids the twice-yearly opportunity to spend quality time with both parents at once? Take Lorra's advice and respect this family tradition - and start your own tradition by, as John suggests, inviting the kids over for, say, your birthday or their dad's.
David has a good point about making your feelings known, though. You'll forgive me, but your letter comes across a little pouty. The remark about "giving up my home" tells me you're not exactly happy with your pending living arrangements - you feel like you've made a sacrifice and don't even get a lousy slice of the stepkids' birthday cake in compensation. Talk about it. Sulking is not a great foundation on which to build a relationship - communication is.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.
Next week's question
A reader writes: I am a twice-divorced woman, early 60s, who lives alone and loves it, and didn't date for a decade. I have been dating a really nice man for 1½ years, who wants us to move in together. He, too, is twice-divorced. I love him, but he's a romantic who still believes in marriage, whereas I need solitude to re-energize. How does one balance having a love life with one's own needs? He's not interested in having place nearby, it's all or nothing. I don't want to lose him, but I don't want to lose me either. Help.
Let's hear from you
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and hometown if we use your response (it will be edited).