#198: Hung up real bad.

Semaphore for "Error."Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m a middle-aged lady who should be able to solve her own problems. And I do, pretty well, except for this one:

Quite a few years ago (just over 20 to be exact) I had a child with a man who immediately dumped me as soon as he found out and offered to pay for an abortion (which I couldn’t conscience anyway). His mom, who was a Roman Catholic, daily-mass type, said to us “I will disown both of you if you have an abortion.” Case on that closed, I guess. My son was the best unexpected gift I ever had, and there are absolutely no regrets there! He’s wonderful and I’m so proud of him. So was his grandma.

His dad’s family was annoying but we stayed in touch anyway – I liked her, we had a lot in common, even if she looked down her nose at me and made me drive well out of my way for monthly visits. And her daughters think I’m scum but they haven’t walked even two steps in my shoes so I don’t much think about them. They’re no friends of mine, for sure.

I can’t say I’m holding a torch for my son’s dad but I can’t forget him either – there’s a lot of good and even wonderful about him, even if he acts like jerk more often than not. So after grandma passes away a few years ago, I see the dad at the funeral, we connect again. Things are nice for a while until he says he is ‘playing tennis’ with another lady. Turns out it’s more than tennis – although he insists I’m his ‘number one.’ But THEN, this Christmas he introduces her to his sisters. What’s up with that?

I’m feeling “Finally, after all these years, my son gets to get to know his dad, and now this!”  It feels really awkward. I don’t know what to do. I should just say “You want to be with both of us? Let me know how that works out for you!” but he still has my heart twisted around his finger. I have tried to break it off but it feels impossible. I need boundary help please!

Puzzled In Chicago

Dear Puzzled:

I want to say in the clearest and most unambiguous terms:

If this were going to happen, it would have happened by now.

If this guy loved you the way you love him, he’s had 20 years to show it. Instead, he’s left you to the mercies of his mean family and brought a different woman home to meet them as his #1 Special Lady.

Your son is an adult and can choose whatever relationship he wants with his dad and his dad’s family. You don’t need to facilitate that (or drive long distances, or eat the shit sandwiches they make you) anymore. You don’t owe it to your son to try to make things work and offer him that fantasy that his parents will end up together. You don’t owe it to the you of 20 years ago, either. “See, it all worked out for the best!” is powerful, powerful mojo and I can absolutely see why it felt good to get involved with this guy again.

I’m really sorry. I can’t imagine how much it sucks to invest so much in someone for so long and have it not work out. I can’t really help you have boundaries about him. I have no funny pop culture analogies. You have to decide inside yourself that you deserve better than this and that you get to close the door on this chapter forever. Only you can face Vader.

I strongly encourage you to look into therapy. (As always, some helpful links for hunting down care are here). This guy is really worn into your grooves and you should have as many qualified people as possible on Team You while you work him out of there. Simple? Does not mean easy, so be very kind to yourself. We all get hung up on people who are not right for us sometimes. It’s going to take some time to process and grieve what might have been, and there are no shortcuts.

13 thoughts on “#198: Hung up real bad.

  1. This situation really reminds me of the plot of “A Woman of No Importance” by Oscar Wilde. Not Wilde’s best work, (it’s Victorian and sentimental in tone, mostly), but it did get one thing right. The message is that the abandoned unwed mother has no moral obligation to make it work with her son’s father 20 years later. Even though her son wants her to. Your ex and his family may have treated you as being of no importance, LW, but you are important. You deserve way better.

  2. Enthusiastically seconded. LW, you want and deserve someone who puts in a full, non-ambiguous 50% of the effort into making a relationship with you.

    YMMV, but I have found keeping a journal (to write out all those annoying repetitive thoughts about the object of my inability to let go), long walks, and other things with other humans (movies, dances, learning a new thing!) to be really helpful in letting go of attachments that aren’t going to work out.

    1. I second the idea of a journal. I find that writing down the jerky things done to me/ that I participate in, lets me keep track of how often they occur and plan better strategies to try the next time they happen. Conversely, a gratitude journal is also very helpful. Keeping track of the good, bad and neutral events when they happen can make getting a clear view of one’s life much easier.

    2. Let me put a plug in for Contra Dancing as a “get out of the house and among people” activity. It’s sort of like square dancing, but simpler — just complicated enough to take your mind off your troubles, and (unlike the more traditional square dance clubs) people customarily change partners every dance. And the people who go tend to be more open and open-minded than most. A little google searching should find any groups in your area.

      1. Seconded! Nearly my entire social circle consists of people I met contra dancing.

      2. I adore contra dancing! I wish there were more of it where I live! It’s so smiley and everyone’s so friendly and helpful to newbies.

  3. So the family forbade you from not having a baby, and they think you’re scum for having a baby. Nice people!

    And somehow they don’t blame the father for any of it, right?

    You got a wonderful son out of it. Cut your losses and meet someone else to be your number one, because you are awesome and yes, you deserve better.

  4. LW, I will strongly echo the Captain’s advice to get therapy here, because I’m seeing a pattern that frightens me and that is all too familiar–you appear to buy into people’s beliefs in your unworthiness. Your son’s grandmother “looked down her nose” at you and expected you to drive out to see her on a monthly basis. Her daughters “thought [you] were scum” (but apparently, their brother is a saint?? WTF??). Her son ditches you when you get pregnant and then when you reconnect and get romantic 20 years later, treats you as badly as he did in the past.

    You are not unworthy. You deserve to have people in your life who treat you well, who think the world of you, and who act with integrity and respect towards you. Is your family supportive of and kind to you? Are your friends supportive of and kind to you? Be with those people who treat you with respect. Make them your family (whether or not they are blood relatives). You did a great thing in ensuring your son had a relationship with his grandmother, but you have no obligations to continue contact with his father. His father had 20 years to reestablish contact, and he didn’t. Your son and his father are grown and they can figure this out themselves if they want to.

    It’s great if your son and his sperm-donor dad want to have a relationship, but I would block your exe’s number and emails from your cell phone and email accounts if you can. Block him of FB if you have an account and you two are “friends.” Make him cease to exist in your world, and nod and smile absently and say things like “that’s nice, I’m glad” when your son says he and his dad met up and had a great time doing x. Just because your son and his dad have some sort of a relationship now doesn’t mean you and his dad have to. If your son says anything about your distance between his absent-for-20-years dad and you, you can tell him, “I was happy to catch up with him but he’s got a girlfriend; but I’m glad that you and he are connecting and that you’re happy getting to know him,” and leave it at that.

    But yes–get therapy. Do the hard and often painful work to figure out what’s going on and understand why you seem to on some level accept this sort of treatment/opinion of you. As you start to understand (not just intellectually, but emotionally) and start to reject that sort of treatment, you’ll see how much the world will open up to you. Believe me on this. I have never been in your specific situation, but I’ve been in your emotional shoes, and the therapy–while really hard–was well worth it.

  5. You know those romance novels in which the long suffering heroine has to overcome all these obstacles – family disapproval, class distinctions, other partners, learning to live on the Australian outback and raise wombats, or whatever? And at the end of a story in which the hero is rude and thoughtless and unappreciative and often outright abusive to the lovely heroine, our lovely heroine is eventually folded into the arms of the rugged/refined/rich hero because of her indefatigable beauty/kindness/skills with difficult wombat birthing?

    This is not that story. And you deserve better than the occasional emotional scraps from the wombat table. So to speak. He’s not hiding his deeper love through confusing signals. He is mean to you, and he means it.

  6. Dear Puzzled,

    I don’t know much about breakups, been through fewer than nearly everyone here, and had kind of an isolated childhood. Boy, do I know slut-shamey, manipulative, dysfunctional assholes, though. And your son’s father seems to belong in the middle of a clan. The fact that you became the villain for getting pregnant (though supported for not having an abortion, wtf?), his double-timing you, the bullshit and lies and accusations and forcing you to go out of your way again and again…they are calculated to draw you in and trap you like a hopeful fly in pretty-painted amber.

    Puzzled, please understand this unmitigated douchenozzlery will not stop. I know it feels like a lovely circular life path, all the loose ends tied up, but the problem with circles is that you can trundle along them for decades and never go anywhere at all. As Sheelzebub and others have said, get therapy. Develop “uh-huh, very nice, sweetie” responses. Take some time off to indulge yourself (you raised what sounds like a cool son all alone; that’s cause for self-pets!) and drown the douche’s memory in other people’s spit (ah, Dan Savage, gross and accurate all at once). Many hugs and wish you well.

  7. I see one tiny silver lining — this re-connection and re-betrayal happened when your son was an adult. So he can now choose how to relate to his sperm donor’s (you don’t mention that this dude helped raise your child, so he is not a father in my world) family, and you do not have to be the facilitator or even involved. In fact, you shouldn’t be.

    You were a single parent. You raised your son, who is now an adult and by your description, wonderful. That’s AWESOME. You’ve facilitated him having a relationship with extended family, despite it’s toll on you, which is admirable. Given that your son’s DNA is half his sperm donor’s, it is good that you see good in that person, but that doesn’t mean he has been a good person to you. You share a child who is out in the world, nothing else. He is playing on your sentiment and your love of your son to use you for a relationship of convenience.

    You deserve better. Get help moving on, yes, but move on. As the Captain said: “If this were going to happen, it would have happened by now.” Find a person who puts you at number 1.

  8. All the other commenters are killin’ it with more specific advice, but I just wanted to say, you deserve better than this guy and his judgemental family.

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