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My boyfriend has two kids. Am I selfish for thinking I should come first every so often? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
My boyfriend has two kids. Am I selfish for thinking I should come first every so often? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My boyfriend has two kids. Am I selfish for thinking I should come first every so often? Add to ...

The question

I have been with my boyfriend for a year. When we started dating, he made it clear his two teenage daughters, of whom he has custody, were top priority and that his job as an air force pilot was his next priority. I believe his immovable position on his priorities are largely the result of an ex-wife who was controlling and demanding. But this past week was our one-year anniversary. We were supposed to celebrate Sunday, but on Friday he announced his 18-year-old was suddenly coming home for the weekend. He decided to spend Sunday with her. The situation has left me feeling hurt, confused and a little hopeless. When can I count on him when he consistently chooses the wants of his kids over the needs of his partner? Am I selfish or wrong for thinking that every so often I should come first? I know he loves me and he shows it in many other ways, but this has been a big issue in our relationship. I should add that the girls like and approve of me and are understanding of our relationship and what it entails. But he seems blind to this and irrationally fearful that our relationship might drive a wedge between him and his daughters, who adore him and want him happy.

The answer

Of course he should have observed your anniversary. Of course there are times when you should come first. Of course he should make an effort to make you feel special.

But before I go any further I want to focus on one word in your question: “Needs.”

Once I asked a friend of mine with three kids if he wanted to get a dog. I thought his answer was funny: “The last thing I need is another set of eyes looking up at me, full of unmet needs.”

(He’s since acquired a dog, by the way.)

In any family, naturally there are going to be all kinds of ways you need each other. But you have to be careful with that.

I say this as someone who has run afoul of it many times with my spouse, and elsewhere: you do not want to be someone with “needs.” You don’t want to be the one who “wants to talk.”

I learned this in university. I yearned and pined for my incredibly sexy girlfriend Francesca . Beautiful, voluptuous, Sophia Loren-like – whereas I, well (see accompanying column picture). At first it was equal, but somewhere along the way I got the lower hand and became the one who always “wanted to talk.”

And of course the more I “wanted to talk,” the less interested she became in me. She started to flirt with a BMOC (Big Man On Campus), this hot actor guy.

And the terrible gnawing feeling in my gut got even worse! To the point where I found myself in the bushes outside her dorm room, sick with unrequited desire for my own girlfriend, as her laughter, prompted by Mr. BMOC actor, floated out the window like the tinkling of tiny bells.

It so happened in one of my classes we were reading both D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Both are about the terrible consequences of getting the lower hand in love. In Anna Karenina, the titular character gets the lower hand with Count Vronsky and commits suicide by throwing herself in the path of a railway train; in Women in Love, Gerald gets the lower hand with his lover Gudrun and winds up lying down in the snow and freezing to death.

Reading these books, 20-year-old David Eddie realized: “This is serious! I have to get my mojo back, or at least pretend to.”

So I “faked it until I made it,” pretended to be all disinterested with Francesca – and it worked! She started coming to me more and more, and our relationship became more equal.

Sad but true, at the heart of many relationships is a power struggle, and that sounds like the case here. You have to get your (female) mojo back. Stop “wanting to talk.” Stop talking about your needs.

Once you definitively have your mojo back, then, and only then, should you have a heart-to-heart talk to him. Tell him you were hurt he blew off your anniversary (justified). Tell him you appreciate he’s a good father to his daughters, but every once in a while you would like to feel special and like a priority.

I can almost give you my Dave Eddie Guarantee™ he will pay you more attention. But realize also some people are just constituted that way: not so ceremonious. You say he shows you he loves you in other ways. So let him do that. It might just turn out to be enough.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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