Q: I planned a cross-country trip to introduce my girlfriend of five months to my family. She just sprang on me that she wants my family to meet “all of” her, which includes her 9-year-old daughter. My family knows she has a child, and I really enjoy her daughter, but I’m really not ready to introduce both of them. It would suggest that I’m taking on the role of a father, that she’s important to me, that I’m ready to care for her, and that they should accept her as part of my life. I’m okay with their meeting the daughter later if our relationship progresses, but it’s still so new that we haven’t even had our first big argument yet. Is it okay for me to first want to love the woman and decide whether she’s the one? Is it a warning sign that there are already issues regarding her child?
—Dating A Package
A: It would be clear you were in the wrong place if you’d spent the first date brimming with child-loathing: “Kids require a total commitment for 18 years — or maybe 13, if you can get them to run away as teenagers.”
But it’s perfectly reasonable to want to be called baby for a while before you commit to having one, and especially one at the soon-to-be-sullen age of 9 who already calls some other guy daddy. Ironically, it’s you, the single, childless guy who’s taking the more responsible, parental approach: waiting to see whether the relationship has legs before you start acting like you’re all a family, which could end badly. Kids need stability. Ideally, “Who’s your stepdaddy?” isn’t a question a little girl should have to answer while standing by the revolving door outside the men’s department.
Your girlfriend’s apparent attempt to leverage your affection for her into a Very Brady Vacation could be a straight-out power play or a fear-driven test to see whether you’re up to quasi-daddyhood. Think hard about the day-to-day details of being with a woman with a kid, like how her daughter will ultimately come first and how her presence will change the relationship dynamics. (You can’t just tie a kid to a parking meter and make it up to her by taking her to pee in somebody’s bushes after lunch.)
If, for the right woman, the tradeoffs wouldn’t be too much for you, reassure your girlfriend of that, and then lay out the path to a relationship that works for you (more of a get-to-know-you stroll than a get-to-know-you freeway chase). If that timetable doesn’t work for her, well, there’s got to be a door there somewhere. But the fact that you have self-knowledge and the integrity to be unwilling to rush things suggests that she’d be prudent to see whether there’s something between you — that is, besides an anonymous call to Child Services by someone making serious accusations: adults around her wearing Crocs with socks and not letting her wear makeup like all the other fourth-grade girls.
Q: My girlfriend cries quite easily — over being sick, work getting frustrating, or even our evening plans going awry. I feel the crying makes a small problem bigger, as everything becomes all about her emotions and not the problem. I try to comfort her, but when she starts crying, it’s very hard to talk or reach her at all.
A: If you can’t stop the rain, you might just make the best of a bad situation and position your girlfriend over your Slip’N Slide. As for why she’s so often inconsolable, it may be because her tears are, in part, a cry for more attention from you. Holding back on giving it, like those parents who let their babies scream their little lungs out all night long, is exactly what you shouldn’t do, according to “the dependency paradox.” Social psychologist Brooke C. Feeney, who coined the term, found that in a committed relationship, the more a person feels they can count on their partner to be responsive to their calls for comforting and support the more independent that person can be. So, for three weeks, try being much more affectionate and caring — and not just when she’s crying. Maybe even give yourself a quota of three out-of-the-blue shows of affection per day. When she does cry, don’t try to “reach” her, except to hold her in your arms and let her sob into your shirt. Postpone any discussion till the storm subsides, tempting as it is to get right in there all guy-like and solve things — taking her, weeping, to Home Depot and calling over a salesperson: “‘Scuse me, sir…got anything to fix this leak?”
Advice Goddess Radio (“Best Of” replay): Dr. Peter Gray on why play and principles of democracy are the key to kids’ learning.
It’s Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess Radio — “Nerd your way to a better life!” with the best brains in science solving your love, dating sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/ — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or listen or download at the link, at iTunes, or on Stitcher.