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Ms. Opinionated: My Boyfriend Is Really Upset About His Ex's Pregnancy

image of Megan Carpentier

Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

I have been dating a recently divorced man (who is 42) for the past year, and have had to deal with a lot of emotional upheaval due to the finalization of the divorce itself -- the somewhat difficult issues around how he feels and feels he is being treated by his ex-wife, and the emotional as well as financial stress involved in selling their marital home. (Thankfully there were no children to argue over, so the divorce was relatively fast and clean.) I myself have never been married. I am 33 years old, totally independent, and happy to live my life free of marriage, though I value a monogamous relationship. But, as child of divorce, I have a lot of experience in having to deal with it, to hear both sides and deal with emotional turmoil. I try to be supportive. I listen, allow space to grieve the loss, and try to give positive affirmation of my partner's emotional state.

That being said, everything is not hunky-dory with us. When he and his ex were married, they had considered having children at some point but, near the end of their marriage, he decided to rule that out (I thought perhaps because the relationship was already breaking down). But since the end of their marriage and the start of our relationship, he has continued to maintain that he does not desire to have children and that he will never father my child.

I myself have pretty strict standards by which I would consider procreating! I don't want to have a child unless I am 100 percent certain that I am able to emotionally and financially provide for the child by the best possible means. Being that I am already in my mid-thirties and in a new relationship with a man who doesn't want children, and not financially sound enough to even consider children on my own, I have accepted that I will probably not have children. So be it. It sort of makes me sad that it isn't in the cards for us, but also happy that we are able to make these important decisions and both agree that having children is something you don't just do "because."

But: we recently found out that his ex has moved on and is having a child with her new partner, and he is depressed over it. It's not unusual that, when he has to deal with his ex-wife, he comes home exhausted, stressed out, depressed, and just wants to crawl into his safe place and be alone -- and eventually talks to me about it. But this is beyond just that and bothers me more. It bothers me not because he is upset, but because he is upset specifically by her pregnancy. They both have moved on, finalized everything, have new partners and are moving in different directions. Why be depressed by her pregnancy when he doesn't even want children, and has commented that he is thankful that he did not indeed decide to have a child with her? He doesn't want children, not with her, not with me, not with anyone! I don't get it.

The first thing I want to do here is call your attention to something that I assume everyone else reading your question already noticed: There is a lot in here about what you do for him in this relationship, and almost nothing about what he does for you. You are "supportive," you "give him space," you "listen," you give him "positive affirmation." In all of that, the best recounting of what he does is talk to you about his divorce and his depression, and make the decision with you to honor his desire not to have children, ever.

Obviously, this is one version of your relationship, I get that, and I'm sure that, had I pressed you in person like a close friend might, you would list a dozen great things about him. But, when writing me unprompted -- and providing a lot of other context -- you didn't think to include anything about what an awesome guy he is and how great your relationship is otherwise (except for the bit about how great it is to come to a joint decision to honor his stated wishes to avoid being a parent). That's when for me, the warning bells start to chime a bit.

I mean, yes, absolutely, no one should have a child that they don't want and aren't ready for, but -- as I'm sure you know and I have written before -- there is no 100 percent situation (financially or emotionally) that you can guarantee will last 18+ years, and no guarantees for the best possible means. Life is messy, complicated, unpredictable and (on average) pretty long, and sometimes the decisions you make today are ones you can't unmake tomorrow. So the question for you is not whether your situation is the 100 percent perfect situation or will be soon. The question whether you want to be a parent and/or, in this specific case, whether you're willing to give up being a parent even if you wind up in the best emotional and financial situation by your own reckoning with this particular man who says won't father your child under any circumstances. (And in case it doesn't go without saying, if he is very serious about not having children, he shouldn't do it either, but you're the one asking the question here.) Being a parent with him might well "not be in the cards" for you two, but that's because he's taking them out of the deck. You can still choose whether you want to play this version of the game.

But, to the larger question of why he is all depressed about his ex-wife moving on and having a baby with someone else, I think you know the answer in your heart of hearts. To put it plainly: he's not really over her or the end of their marriage. Signing the papers, selling the house, finding another significant other, moving in different directions -- sure, that's moving on externally. But moving on externally doesn't necessarily mean he's past everything internally, and if a year into your relationship he's still coming home from spending time with his ex (which: if the divorce is final and the house is sold, why exactly is he doing that?) and going somewhere to be alone (like bed) exhausted and depressed, that is not totally-over-it behavior. And being upset about her being pregnant with her new partner could, I guess, just be attributable to minor jealousy that she's happy in a way she wasn't with their marriage -- which is at least a minor level of still-attached -- but when added to the other symptoms you describe, it doesn't seem that way to me any more than it does to you.

You say that he chose, near the end of his relationship with his ex, to "rule out" a child with his ex -- not that they decided together to postpone parenting until their relationship became stronger, or that they decided together that their relationship never would be so. He "ruled it out" then, as he has already done early on with you (a rather patriarchal way of terming it), in a time of emotional turmoil. Maybe he really doesn't want to parent -- or maybe he doesn't want the ongoing emotional ties to the perspective mother or a child, or maybe, just maybe, ruling it out for himself and, by extension, his partners gives him a sense of control over himself and his relationships. But whatever the reason, as you note, if he really, really, really didn't want kids at all ever, yucky poo-poo, there would be no reason at all for him to have any feelings about his ex-wife having one with someone else. If having a baby didn't matter to him, then it wouldn't matter.

So, look: if your partner hasn't gone to therapy, it's way past time for him to do so. Talking to you, being able to lean on you, getting emotional support from you has, I'm sure, been great and been helpful for him (though it's not clear that it has been for you). But clinical depression can't be cured by the support of a significant other, and sometimes the sadness that is the result of major life changes (like divorce or a death in the family) can't be resolved by talking it through with a significant other. If this depression-indicating behavior has been going on for ages, as you say, this is clearly one of those times that going it alone isn't enough, and it might well time for him to get the professional help he may need and which everyone deserves. Helping him get to a therapist is just another way you might be able to support him.

And while he's doing that, take some time to evaluate your relationship on your terms, possibly with your own therapist. You have clearly done a lot of emotional care-taking of him here and, from your letter, at least some of it has been frustrating. You've already identified one major life decision of yours that has essentially reflects his opinion on the matter though it makes you sad, and you've only been together for the last year. And you talk about doing all this care-taking as part of being the child of a divorce where you had to play the (very adult) role of having to "hear both sides and deal with emotional turmoil," which seems to say something about how you see your role in relationships. Sure, it's important to hear the other person's side of things in any good relationship, but that doesn't mean you need to privilege their perspective over your own or treat it as though it were simply another side of an objective story.

So, look: listen to that part of yourself which is upset with his behavior. Listen to the part of your brain which is identifying disconnects between what he says to be true (he has moved on, he doesn't want children ever) and how he is acting (upset about his ex having a kid, depressed every time he sees her). In life and especially in relationships, we all have a tendency to take facts or statements that fit the pattern of how we want things to be, and discard the outlying facts that don't work as well in that pattern. Think about what it is that you really want to have in your life in a vacuum, and then about how he fits (or doesn't) into that vision, depression and jealousy-you-find-inexplicable and all. Think about how long it makes sense for you (and the kind of relationship you want in your life) to be doing all of this difficult emotional care-taking for someone, and how long you think it will go on, and what you are getting from him in terms of emotional support and thoughtfulness and real partnership. And then make some decisions about what's best for you, and just you.


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Comments

11 comments have been made. Post a comment.

My Boyfriend Is Really Upset About His Ex's Pregnancy

He is on the rebound, having a mid-life crisis, and too old. Dump him. Now.

I totally agree with above

I totally agree with above response, although I know how hard it is to let go of someone you love. You are in a really tough situation here. I would suggest couples therapy for you and your boyfriend before you break it off. Not having kids because of your partner not wanting them is so sad though. You really should have discussed this before getting involved with the guy!!!

Too old? Or too emotionally immature?

What is this man too old for? Waffling on major decisions? Too old to have a child? Too old to be so emotionally immature and attached to his ex? Too old to not be up front about his true feelings on having a child? Using the phrase "too old" is a cop-out observation. I'm sure there are quite a few divorced 42-year old men out there who are capable of being emotionally mature, are able to be proactive about getting therapy for a difficult past relationship, and willing to have an equitable discussion about having a child. This guy may never really *get it*, but it's not from being old - it will be from his failure to learn as he aged and eventually running out of time to do so...

On another note, Ms. Opinionated gave really great advice. I think the woman who wrote in is settling for this man. Considering how she describes her personality and goals in life, he's doesn't sound like a good match for her. I think it would be great for her to find a man who has done some significant emotional work and doesn't expect her to do it all for him. She seems to be very patient and have a good heart, and someone who is more mature and self-aware will honor that. And from my own personal experience (similar to the author's advice) - it's never the "right" or "perfect" time to have a child. This woman also has to be prepared for the possibility of raising a child on her own. If something ever happens to her partner (whether illness, relationship ending, etc.), she has to decide if that's a risk she'll ever be willing to take...

Don't go into the spooky barn!

I dated a version of this guy a couple years ago and it really f-ed me up emotionally for a while. He's too old and he's manipulating you with all his 42-year-old baggage. Get out of there!

People often gravitate to

People often gravitate to what feels like home- even if it isn't positive or serving them well- because it is what they know and feel comfortable with psychologically. Maybe dealing with his divorce feels like home to you in some way, but it seems that it is not in a good way. This guy, while he may be unaware of it because he seems self-centered, looks like he is taking advantage of you. I'm sure he cares for you, but he doesn't seem to be in the right mindset to be with anyone. You're still young, find someone who is in an emotional place to be able to support you as well, and live a life without regrets.

Is he being honest with you?

Hi, this is a very interesting situation.
Forgive me if I read it too fast, but the first thing that comes to my mind is that he can't have babies, he could be infertile and he might not be telling you given that neither of you have actually made the decision to start trying to get pregnant.

Maybe that was what really happened between him and his ex wife, the reason that led to a divorce. Maybe that's why it hurts him. Maybe that's why he is telling you that he does not want any children. And this is the kind of thing that is really hard to figure out because you just don't know how much he is choosing to tell you, and most of all, the way he comforts himself shows that he is not exactly letting you in. For me, personally, that is one of the hardest challenges a second spouse or partner faces when your partner's previous relationship ended for whatever reasons, but like you'd never really know if the person is simply moving on because he is forced to do so; even though maybe the previous person was or still is either 'the love of his life' or someone irreplaceable. And of course, that is something that you as a new partner would never know, unless he is really really honest with you. Either way, it's a horrible situation I imagine when, no matter what you do, who you are, how much you guys love each other, you will never be as special as the first partner. It's painful for both, and also for the person trying to move on because he cant really help it. Some wounds take a long time, if not a life time.

I'm not saying that is the case here. But I just wanted to use that situation to illustrate my point that you never fully know another person and their motives. And to tell you that I think you should put yourself and your needs first, and think if not having children is what you really want or you are just indecisive and the fact that he doesn't want any children is making you take his side.

I'm saying this because no matter how much two people love each other, you are still different individuals with different needs, desires and most importantly...motives! Think of relationships in "economic" terms. What is the opportunity cost of staying with this guy (that is exactly everything you are giving up to stay with him, everything else that you could be doing for yourself if you weren't with him). And trust, but always leave some room for questioning just so you wont regret anything that you didn't do "out of love" years from now. As individuals, we are all selfish to some degree. No matter how much you really love someone, you are still choosing a partner based on some kind of pleasure and convenience. To keep someone by your side, you don't necessarily show all of your vulnerable side. I think you never completely really know a person. So don't give up things that deep down you might really want for ANYONE. That said, follow your gut. Even if you don't know all of the reasons right now, if something feels wrong, walk away. One day you might find out, but at least you didn't give up your life.

Whatever the reason, what is clear here is that he is not moving on internally, like the author of the response pointed out.

Always put yourself first.
Post something to let us know how it goes.

Good luck!
xoxoxoxo

Careful with the ageism!

There is some fantastic advice here all around and I really appreciate the support for the writer. However, I just want to point out (as a previous poster did) that the repeated comments of 42 being 'tool old' are ageist, especially the one about '42 year old baggage.' Sometimes I wonder if younger people actually believe that they will not age. Perhaps I am sensitive because I am 41 and had to overhaul my life at age 34 when things did not go as expected, but does anything in life ever go as expected? I have loved Bitch since it's inception and consider a supportive space that speaks to my interests and gives me a feminist sense of belonging in a crazy world. I sure would hate for it to become yet another youth-focused media outlet that buys into the idea that once you're over 40, it's totally done for you. This guy's problem isn't his age, other than his sense of responsibility not being aligned with it. Readers, you too will be over 40 one day and you will start to understand the ageism that exists in our youth-oriented culture, and trust me, you will be surprised because you will not feel old. Insert 'too latino', 'too queer', or 'too disabled' into those previous comments and see how it makes you feel.

In response to "Careful with Ageism"

I am grateful for your post about ageism. I am a 23 year old, white, female and have witnessed ageism in myself as a teenager in high school, and as well in my peers today. As I am able to reflect on my younger thoughts and prejudices, I see how ageism works in our world, American culture/pop culture, and media. I have tried to dilute myself of this kind of prejudice, as it is somehow engrained in us through music videos, mainstream music, and the like. In two months I will be 24 and honestly, I remember being 17 and never thinking I would reach this age. I know this will be how I feel at any age going forth because time goes by so quickly and it is difficult to truly take in, and reflect on, the years going by.

Thank you for pointing this out. This is a relevant, continuous, and major issue in our culture, community, and livelihood today. I was drawn to respond because I thought you should know that there are young people out there who consider these things. I think Ms. Opinionated did an applause-worthy job of giving this woman advice. It was not Ms. Opinionated who delved into "too old", but some of the commentators - their mistake. Bitch, I believe is not, and never will be, "youth-focused", or a magazine that purports "once you're 40, it's totally done for you". Bitch is a magazine that critiques today's pop culture and gives media a second, third, and fourth look.

The commentators who described this man as being "too old" should perhaps look for another publication. This isn't Teen Vogue's advice column. This is Bitch. And I believe, Bitch, and feminism, are not bound by age.

Narcissist

Sounds like in his relationships it is all about him. Maybe this is why it didn't work out with his ex. He is using you for emotional energy and giving nothing back. Run, don't walk. This was the m.o. of my ex husband- he would start every relationship (including the one with another girl while we were still married!) while on the rebound. All of us, including me the ex wife, would feel bad for him about x y and z. Turns out the Ex was not the issue- he was!

Opinionated, you did an

Opinionated, you did an awesome job. :)