By Hara Estroff Marano, published on January 1, 2009 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015
I've been dating an awesome man for five months, but there is one big issue. After his divorce, he fell into a relationship with a volatile woman who had two young girls he ended up raising. He got out two years ago but refuses to let go of the girls and contributes to their support. He takes them to Vail, weekends away, and shopping trips to buy books. The ex pries into our life, ran a background check on me, and relayed to him, long before I was ready to reveal it myself, that I had a felony 15 years ago for drugs. How can I be a part of his life when I can't be a part of his whole life? I have an 8-year-old son whose father is not in the picture, either. I feel my boyfriend will never be able to give us what we want while he's holding onto the girls. He says he wants his own family and kids—which I want too—but I can't be competing with this side family.
It sounds to me as if you are part of his whole life. It's just that his whole life has a larger cast of characters than you wish. You can either accept it, and see it as the inevitable result of serial monogamy, and enjoy your role in this complex family, or fight it. Fighting it allows you to keep on viewing everyone who came before you as a competitor for spoils and affection, which mires you in bitterness about not having Awesomeman all for yourself and your son. The trouble with divorced people is that they accumulate relationships, and a latecomer such as you has to make room in your life for his past—or else you wind up battling against reality, which only makes you crazy. Not only is your dream of exclusivity totally unrealistic and childish, it seems to blind you to many good things about Awesomeman: his generosity, a refusal to emotionally and financially abandon the two girls, and his ability to distinguish his elective ties to them from any obligation to their mother. You are not the first woman to somehow imagine that the sins of the woman who came before you should disqualify the daughters from your partner's affection, but that's just not how the human heart works. Perhaps the source of your discontent is not Awesomeman's continuing relationship to the girls, which could be seen as admirable, but a concern that it means less for you and your son. It doesn't sound as if a shortage of material resources is a problem. Don't make Awesomeman have to choose; he might well reject your ill will. The choice is yours to make: Accept the consequences of the past in the present, or not.