#754: Just say no to love triangles.

From the “this can’t really be solved” files and the “I had a few free hours let’s knock some blog posts OUT” files. Hi!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am having an issue with my boyfriend because he is having trouble deciding who he wants to work on a relationship with, me or his daughters mother.

My boyfriend has a 7 year old daughter her mother is coming back into the picture. She claims she wants to clean up her life from drugs and be back in their life. He told me she was degrading, flakey, cheating, and manipulative towards him. She would make plans to see her daughter and rarely sticks to them because she had been high. She had left my boyfriend and got pregnant, that man went to jail. She went back to my boyfriend and she did this up and back a couple times. Now she doesn’t talk to her sons father and wants to work things out with my boyfriend. He feels loyalty to her because it’s his daughters mother. With us in the begining he moved fast, i met his daughter the first few days of after I met him. He talked futures together and making plans for us, wanting to take our relationship as far as it could go. We have only been together 3 months but we spent much time together, got along great, I grew very fond of his daughter and she likes me. Recent weeks he has become distant from me, less talking, etc. Especially now his daughters mother is becoming more involved recently. He tells me he thinks what he and I have is a good thing. And he really likes me but now he is confused about whether working things out with her and being a “family” for their daughter is the right thing to do. Or if he wants to stay with me and move forward. It’s like he did a complete 180.

I honestly have no clue how to react or respond, I need help on what I should do or think.

Thank you from Baby Momma Drama

Dear Drama,

Your letter (and your sign-off and email subject line) set your boyfriend’s ex up as The Problem. If only she would go back where she’s been all this time, everything would be perfect, right?

I’m not making out with your boyfriend or smelling his sexy neck or listening to his nice plans for the future or hanging out with his adorable daughter, so from my safe distance outside the high of new romance, I see a dude who moved very quickly to sell you on a long-term, serious relationship when he barely knew you. I’m sure you are a very lovely person, but a single dad introducing his young daughter to a new partner right away and talking so much about serious long-term plans for the future out of the gate sends up a red flag to me. Not a “here be a bad person” flag, necessarily, but a flag of someone who doesn’t think all the way through his decisions before acting on feelings. The smart single parents I know take a little time before they bring dating partners around their kids, both to make sure the new partner is a safe person and so as to not mess too much with the child’s expectations until the know for sure that the relationship is going somewhere. I know you view his ex as the source of the “drama” in your partner’s life, but someone who vacillates between “I love you and see a future with you/come be in my life always meet my daughter you’ll love each other” and “Hrmmm I don’t know I might try to make things work out with this other lady (while also telling you all about how terrible she is)” is bringing the drama plenty on his own. If you dropped the somewhat offensive term “baby momma drama” and renamed the situation as “dating a hot but confusing dude who oversells me on his feelings and then does a complete 180 when his ex comes back into the picture three months in” maybe this would start to look different to you.

I think the shortest route to your well-being and happiness is not necessarily the shortest route to a long-term relationship with this particular man. That route starts with, “Boyfriend, I will miss you and Daughter so very much, but obviously you need some space to think about what is best for you and your family, and I can’t date you right now if you are seriously thinking about a romantic relationship with someone else. I don’t do love triangles. If in a few months you decide you want to try again, free and clear, give me a call and we’ll see where we’re both at. For now, let’s make a clean break while we still like each other.

It ends with you walking out the door and NOT making yourself available for shoulder-crying, sounding-boarding, flirty texts, jealousy games, free babysitting, getting your hopes up, and furtive passionate breakup/makeup/I MISS YOU sex while he figures out what he wants. He can try again with his ex. He can date you. He cannot do both, because you do not do love triangles, because y’all are not sexy vampires or dystopian teenagers.

One of two things is going to happen. He is going to realize “I am being a dumbass and losing a good person from my life because I cannot let go of a dysfunctional relationship from seven years ago. I am enough family for my daughter and I don’t have to play house with a partner who is not dependable or nice to me to give my daughter the illusion of a normal family” and run after you. Or he is going to play out a big pile of unfinished business with his ex until they either work it out or he gets her all the way out of his system. That second scenario can take years to resolve. You sticking around in the hopes of “winning” this or “proving” to him that you are a better partner is just going to wear you down in the meantime. You are probably objectively the better fit for his current life, but “fairness” and “being right about stuff” doesn’t undo the history or ties or ideas about what a family is that he has with ex. Him being unsure about what he wants doesn’t make him a bad person, and you Nope-ing out of there doesn’t make you a bad person, just, all you can do is choose yourself. Believe his confusing behavior and assign him full credit in the play he is acting out. Disengage from someone who is disengaging from you. If all else fails, pretend your good friend was coming to you for advice about this, and give yourself the “Hey, that sucks and I realize you really care about him and his daughter, but you deserve the full attention and loyalty of your boyfriend and not this U-turn bullshit” that you would tell your best friend. Grieve for the lost good feelings and possibility and be really nice to yourself.

110 thoughts on “#754: Just say no to love triangles.

  1. “I am having an issue with my boyfriend because he is having trouble deciding who he wants to work on a relationship with, me or his daughters mother.”

    Here’s the thing–the Captain is right. This is not a problem with his ex. In your first sentence, you identified the problem correctly–your boyfriend.

    Do you want to be in limbo for a year? Five years? Ten? Really think about this.

    If your boyfriend is having trouble on deciding who he wants to work on a relationship with, it’s your signal to exit. Even in the best of circumstances among people who have their shit together, it does not bode well. You shouldn’t live in limbo waiting for him to make up his mind. Let him work things out–this is not your fight. This is not a competition and you don’t want to win such a competition. You deserve better than to be kept in a waiting room.

    1. Yes, and the Captain is absolutely right. I’ve been in a situation where a guy put me In Limbo while he tried to decide what he wanted. I loved him so much but I now know I should have said NO, insisted on a clean break and tried to forget him for the time being. Which, okay, I would have failed horribly at, but it would have been WAY better than hanging around watching my own life fall apart as he eventually decided against being with me. Trust me, you don’t wanna be around when that happens. Get yourself to a safe emotional place. I was a wreck while in limbo and I don’t want that happening to you, LW. I was full of what-ifs and even found myself trying to convince the guy to stay with me, which is probably what killed it in the end.

      I haven’t read the comments yet so sorry if this has been said a million times, but one thing that jumps out at me is the issue of how to handle things with the daughter. She’s young and you get on well so the nicest thing to do for her is NOT some big dramatic goodbye but just to disappear quietly from her life. Then if things do work out, you get to come back into her life without it being horribly confusing and upsetting.

      1. I strongly disagree that disappearing out of a child’s life is better for that child than taking the time to explain that while you love her, you have to leave. As a child I had multiple parent-figures abruptly fall out of my life, and it was hugely confusing and painful – it taught me to expect that I would be abandoned by the people closest to me and believe that maybe that’s what I deserved. It sounds like this child’s mother is already sending a similar message, so I would think really fucking hard before reinforcing it by slipping quietly into the night.

        1. Yes, this. Children are not goldfish (and even goldfish have a longer memory than we like to think). She will absolutely notice an adult slipping out of her life, no matter how ‘quietly’ it’s done, and leaving her to wonder why isn’t doing her any favors that I can see.

      2. I can’t comment on relationships with children of significant others, but to amberxebi’s first paragraph I say +10000
        I’ve been there, and it happened pretty much like that too.
        LW it sucks because you have been getting on so well and things have been intense between you for the past three months, but honour yourself and your needs. Breaking it off and cutting contact will be really tough but you deserve better than that 180.

  2. LW, I read the first sentence and had a visceral reaction of RUN.
    I read the whole story and I have a calm, collected reaction of RUN.
    If there’s a way you can work out to check up on the awesome daughter you’ve become close to or sign her up for Girl Guides or something, try for it, because she seems like she could use some awesome women as a stable fixture in her life right now.
    But seriously, listen to the Captain, set boundaries and RUN.

    1. Me too! The boundary issues are enough of a red flag. The boundary issues with a small child being introduced immediately just compounds things. This stinks of “crazy ex” phenomenon where men court the chaos, but wash their hands of anything they may have had a part in. On rare occasion they are completely innocent of any wrongdoing/flakiness, but it certainly isn’t the norm.

      1. THIS. He can coparent and not get tied up with someone who was so awful to him. And these guys tend to trash the women in their lives to each other, the better they stir up the dramz and they can be the hapless, rational dudes.

        1. Hence my deep, deep desire (and no, LW, this is in NO WAY a responsibility of yours if you dip, I’m just saying in my dream world where everything is puppies and rainbows I want this) that the daughter can get into some sort of stable activity with some women role models whose presence in her life isn’t dependent on her dad’s romantic track record so that she doesn’t grow up thinking that men trashing woman is a normal and rational part of life. Girl Guides. Going to the library and hanging out with the cool lady librarians. Volunteering at an animal shelter. Learning to paint or sing properly or some schist.

          Gah I just want LW not to feel guilty about leaving but I also get why it would be SO hard to disappoint a kid you’ve become so attached to and I think this guy has a thin train of bees circling his head whispering “boundary issuesssssssssssssssss”.

      2. RIGHT. And even if he’s *not* the problem (which is definitely possible), he’s not *helping* anything, either, by behaving like this.

      3. Yep. Anyone who has more than one “crazy ex” (and we’re talking about serious exes, someone you dated for two months and then figured out they were nuts doesn’t count) … is almost certainly guilty of some serious crazymaking behavior.

        Someone who had a (legitimate-sounding) ex of the sort … oh, dude, when we broke up, that person did all kinds of avoidance and reappearing at inconvenient times and insisting I talk about my feelings … then not answering calls … then reappearing at inconvenient times … I am sure that I behaved in a way most people would describe as “crazy” if they didn’t know how they’d triggered it.

        I hate to generalize about gender, but this seems to be more true of men than women. Largely because of the whole narrative that women who have feelings are crazy… if anyone has a better link, please post.

  3. LW I’ll be a bit blunt here but this is how I see it…
    He’s going to choose his ex here. Period. All this talk about a future with you and his feelings for you is just to keep you waiting on the side as his back up plan on the (highly likely) off-chance that Ex proves herself to still be a flake sooner, rather than later.

    Just dump him. You’ve only invested three months in this guy. There are plenty of partners that will come your way that have their act together and/or don’t come with piles of drama that they dump on someone they’ve only been with a few months.

    And please do NOT guilt yourself into staying with the guy just for the sake of his child. Better men await you, LW!! Go get ’em.

    1. The cynical part of me thinks that the guilt is why he introduced LW to his daughter so early and why he gave so many details about the precise ways his Ex is a bad mother.

        1. I have seen people, mostly men (because of the whole “maternal” stereotype), pull the meet new person–> introduce to child(ren) early–>new relationship warm fuzzies fade–>ex “reappears” (ex was often never fully gone)–>try to work out with ex while new partner hangs around because they like the kid(s) and feel guilty leaving them with “bad parent”—>meet someone new–>end old ” new” relationship–>rinse repeat

        2. Yep. I started dating a guy with a kid and I explicitly TOLD him I didn’t want to meet his daughter until we (meaning we, as a team) decided we were serious. So I show up to his house for a date one day and here a small voice saying, “who’s that daddy??” Asshole foisted her on me without even giving me a heads up. There are, indeed, guys that try and tug at your uterus to get’cha to stay.

          1. “tug at your uterus” is so right. I am apparently immune to the uterus-tug and it really pisses them off. I’ve had more than one ex who tried this.

      1. having lived through this, as the child involved, as the parent goes “but they like you, how can you abandon this cute kid and me whle I resolve issues with childs other parent which may or may not include getting back together”

        … it’s not outside the realm of possibility in this case, for sure. Kruschev was right: trust, but VERIFY.

      2. Yep. As the now-adult daughter who met allllllllllll my biodad’s girlfriends basically as soon as he started dating them? I WAS A WARNING FLAG. THE FLAG READ “RUN AWAY FROM THIS MAN, HE IS A MANIPULATIVE DOUCHEBAG” (albeit in hieroglyphics of big blue eyes and an advanced vocabulary).

        I swear to the FSM there was a post about single parents introducing their new partner(s) to their child(ren) in a healthy manner on this site, but I am DAMNED if I can find it now. I think consensus pretty much came down: for the love of kittens, do it only after you’re sure you want to commit to this person for at least a while; do it in a low-key, low-pressure way for the child(ren); make sure the child(ren) know they remain your priority.

          1. The best part is that, now, twenty-odd years later, I am friends with one of his many exes (also, you know, my mother, who is not the shrieking harpy he always made her out to be) and I refuse to have any contact with him whatsoever. So. That strategy worked out REAL WELL for him.

    2. This. And the Drama will go on and on and on until the child is 18 or older. Even if the Bio Mom is a drug using Loser from Hell, children are very protective of a Bio Parent and will cling to them, even if abused, used and uncared for. You could have a very good relationship with the girl, be a great step-parent, and treat her well but the minute Mommy Dearest wiggles her little finger, all thoughts of you go out the window. You will never be remembered on Mothers Day, even doing all the hard work and day to day caring, you will never be remembered on your birthday or Christmas. You are the household help and barely tolerated. Sad, but the true life of the invisible Step Parent.

      1. Um, wow, that’s a pretty sweeping generalization.

        The real issue is that this guy is measuring her up for stepmom status in no time flat.

        1. That was my immediate impression, too. It sounds to me like this guy doesn’t want to be a single dad and is trying to move toward having a co-parent as quickly as possible, whatever way is most likely to get him results. It does indeed suck to be a single parent, but even if you assume the absolute best of this guy, co-parenting being front and center in his mind means that his compatibility with the OP (and the OP’s best interests) isn’t. OP, that’s a problem.

      2. It sounds as if you are speaking from experience here so I wanted to say I’m so sorry you’ve been put in this position and it has to suck giant donkey balls. I do want to point out though for the LW that this isn’t the experience of every stepparent. Although my husband and I struggled and we all (him, me and the mom) made some STUPID decisions way back in the beginning, my stepkids have always been wonderful to me and they have grown up into talented, kind, successful young women whose company I enjoy. It doesn’t HAVE to be crappy, but for some people it does turn out that way.

      3. I haven’t been a stepparent or had one, but that does sound like an untrue generalization. I have a friend who stayed in touch with her stepfather, despite having a good relationship with her dad, after her stepfather divorced her mom.

  4. I agree with the Captain and I have some actual life experience that is somewhat relevant. Many (well… five) years ago I was dating a really great hot awesome dude and it was awesome. Then his ex re-entered his life with his two year old son. She had moved back to her hometown when she got pregnant so he hadn’t really gotten to know his son at all and this was his first opportunity to take on some of the Dad duties beyond child support and gifts for special occasions. It quickly became clear that he was not going to be able to build two potentially important relationships at once so I peaced out. Not in a dick way. I said “You are great and awesome and hot and I would love to get to know you better and see where this goes. But I really honestly believe that you cannot do both these things at once and I think building a relationship with your son is not something to half-ass. Let’s hang out as friends but take some of the emotional pressure off your life.” It was a bit sad, but early enough to not be heart breaking.

    I know this is different, and almost the reverse, of the situation LW is describing, but sometimes you need to look at the situation not so much from a “pick me” direction as a “You, Hot Great Dude, only have so much emotional energy to give and I a) think you need to spend that energy on this other situation because it has really big long term consequences, and b) actually I would like to be in a relationship where most of the emotional energy is spent on me (in a good way, not a weird Darth Vader way) and I think I deserve that.”

    1. In my single/dating days, which was in my early- to mid-20s, I refused to date anyone who had kids. It was an automatic dealbreaker for me. Did that make me a selfish person? Maybe. Did I miss out on entering relationships with some really great people? Maybe. Do I think there’s something inherently wrong with single parents, or think they shouldn’t be allowed to date? No, of course not.

      But when I was that young and figuring out how to adult, including establishing what I thought a healthy relationship should look like and what I wanted from them, my reasoning was I wanted to be a high priority for a potential partner.Like you said, people only have so much time and energy to give, and young kids should come first. Rather than put anybody in the position of having to rank people, or me feeling resentment toward a little innocent person who didn’t deserve it, I just decided not to put myself in those situations to begin with. (And truthfully, it really didn’t come up that often for me.)

      1. There’s nothing at all selfish about realizing that dating a single parent wouldn’t work for you. Good on you for knowing yourself.

        (Selfish is dating the single parent and resenting the hell out of their kids for existing.)

        1. THIS.

          I don’t have/want/like kids, and I’ve chosen not to date anyone who children. Full stop. Yes, as I’ve gotten older, this has somewhat limited my dating pool, but AFAIC It’s 100% worth it.

  5. General life advice: don’t make someone your first choice who isn’t doing the same for you. That goes for pretty much all types of relationships.

    Specific advice: Your significant other should know immediately that they want to be with you. If it’s even a question, you need to back off appropriately. If you’re looking for someone you can place in that #1 spot, that means you get out of this relationship and go find that person. If you’re comfortable with placing your partner in a lower priority slot in your own life, then go ahead and try that. But don’t go on behaving like they’re The One when you and someone else are their The Two.

    1. Yes to the general advice, all the way.

      To the specific advice: maybe not “immediately.” Honestly, if they know immediately that they want to be with you in a serious way, that’s a red flag. It just takes time to get to know someone. And not everyone makes it a priority to get there. But … once you’re really an item, they should like you enough that finding out if they want to be with you in a serious way is a priority. (All assuming that’s what you’re looking for.)

    2. By “immediately”, you mean, “immediately upon being presented with another choice,” right? Not, “immediately upon meeting you”?

      1. That’s how I read it, myself. I’m not sure I agree with it, entirely; we are all humans, and get to have doubts and wonder if this is the relationship we want to be in – but there’s light years between this and what the LW’s boyfriend is doing.

      2. Yes, that’s how I meant it. I meant that if you’re already in a significant relationship with someone, and it’s going well, and they genuinely want to spend the rest of their life with you (as LW says his/her SO does), then they shouldn’t honestly be entertaining other options. That should tell you that something’s wrong.

    3. Your significant other should know immediately that they want to be with you. If it’s even a question, you need to back off appropriately.

      I disagree with this, in that I think that it’s quite reasonable for couples to decide to try and work through serious issues in their relationship, even if they’re not sure they can. It doesn’t work for everyone or for every issue, but it works for enough people and for enough issues that it needs to be acknowledged.

      To me, the issue is that the relationship doesn’t have the history or the strength that comes with that history for that kind of effort to make sense.

  6. LW, this dude is bad news. I’m sure his daughter is great, and his ex might be a nightmare, BUT she also might not, there’s no way to tell, because, I’m sorry, your boyfriend is the definition of an unreliable narrator.

    There are definitely better guys out there. Here is my specific recommendation: tell this dude that while you really like him, it’s clear that this is just a case of bad timing, and you wish him the best in the future, but it is clear that the mature thing here is to bow out, and so that is what you are doing. I’d suggest not returning his texts, picking up his calls, or reading his emails. Go buy a Mountain Lodge-scented Yankee Candle and a gallon of ice cream, settle down in front of Netflix with a blanket and a pillow and a stuffed animal and a bowl of popcorn, marathon some rom-coms, burn your Chris Evans-scented candle, eat your ice cream, cry a little, and then move on with your awesome life.

      1. In case this inquiry is serious, the Chris Evans scented candle is a reference to a Tumblr post ( http://clarabeau.tumblr.com/post/118886683102/theyankeecandle-madame-vashtranerada ) and is the aforementioned Mountain Lodge candle from Yankee Candle. I cannot personally vouch for it, as shipping to my location is pricey and my local YC-carrying store does not appear to carry it regularly, but I have heard marvelous and magnificent things about its powers.

          1. Me too! I was all “A Chris Evans scented candle? Like… stale cheese and onion crisps, spilled lager and tab ash? Ewww”. Not to mention the whole ” He’s a heartthrob now, huh?”.

            Obviously after these initial milliseconds I twigged that there must be some American Chris Evans, but those moments were head-spinningly bizarre!

        1. I went on eBay and bought a “tart” of it, which is a little wax hockey puck shaped thing that I think you’re supposed to put in a special burner, for two or three bucks. I’m glad I didn’t spend more because I don’t personally find it that impressive.

  7. Yeah, sorry, LW, but I’m joining the “run” chorus. Your boyfriend has ample evidence by now of just how likely it is that his ex’s changes are likely to stick. He should also realize that stability is more important for his daughter than giving her a mom, whether that’s you or the one biology dealt her, and that you can care about someone and appreciate the good parts of what you had together without being with them or letting all that drama back into your life. You might need to put that last one into practice yourself from a distance.

    1. It has also only been 3 months. Will it be harder to stick around for what? A year? And end up leaving her life. This is why single parents have to be on guard as to who they introduce in their kids’ lives. For all you know, this could be something habitual he does. Because IT’S ONLY BEEN 3 MONTHS.

  8. It is possible that I have a nasty suspicious mind but I am getting a very strong whiff of Surely You Do Not Expect Me To Raise This Child Without A Chick Around To Do The Hard Parts, here.

    So, leaping RIGHT over multiple red flags and going straight to the end of the road …

    The “best” case scenario here comes out to you co-parenting with these people. Both of these people, because this kid has a right to her mother and if there is any safe way for her to have a relationship with her mother it’s up to the adults around her to help make that happen.

    If she cannot safely have a relationship with her mother, there will be court dates, and lawyer’s fees, and grieving, and pain. This is NOT the soft option, for anyone.

    Either way, you will not be her mother. She has a mother. Whether or not she has the best mother possible, she has a mother. You will not get to hit the Big Red Do-Over button. It does not exist. You will have to deal with her mother’s existence, and respect what she means to this child, forever.

    I do not think this is the future you want, LW. I do not think this is the future you want.

    1. You said it. My biggest respects and kudos to all those step parents out there, I have a lot of step parents in seemy family and they are all stand up people. But entering that kind of relationship with a child is a very hard and delicate thing, it takes time and a lot of energy and I don’t blame anyone who chooses to have a deal breaker around single (or semi single) parents. For example, I personally know I’m not in a place in my life where I can be involved with kids for anything more than cool trips to the ice cream place, or talking about Phineas and Ferb and My Little Pony. I don’t have anything against kids or even having them some day in the future; and probably, whether I have kids of my own or not, at some point of my life if I’m still single, I’d go out with single parents, but once again, that moment is not now and that’s okay!

      It’s seems like Drama Papa has to learn that his family life and his romantic life, tho things that can be connected in certain aspects, are still completely separate from each other.

      1. I am a stepmom, and would do it again. But it requires a certain cold, clear-eyed realism from the get-go, and what LW is saying sounds like so very many people – particularly though not exclusively female people – sound when they start dating someone with a kid: the kid adores her, Bio-Mom is a terrible horrible no-good person who treated Boyfriend terribly, if we can just get her out of our lives we can be a perfect family… and, no.

        Custody arrangements can always change, family court doesn’t much care about the convenience of parents, nevermind step-parents, spouses can be held legally responsible for each others’ support payments, kids who adore you suddenly adore you a lot less when you move in and start making them pick up their socks, single fathers who neeeeeed you are infinitely less charming when you realise that they neeeeeed you to do the scutwork and emotional labour because they sure aren’t going to do it, people are unreliable narrators when it comes to their exes, and people who tell you horrible horrible things about their exes and try to get you to help fuck them over in court will say horrible horrible things about ypu while they fuck you over in court.

        And there are no take-backs. You cannot replace somebody’s mother, and you cannot decide that you’re not somebody’s step-mother anymore. You can run out on them, but that’s what you’re doing.

        It is possible that alt-support step-parenting made me cynical. And saved my sanity.

        1. Mama Nightingale! You are a Soul Sister. We have a shared experience in this across the time/space continuum.

          “And there are no take-backs. You cannot replace somebody’s mother, and you cannot decide that you’re not somebody’s step-mother anymore.”

          I am still at it 16 years later. The first years were Hellish, it gets better all the time. I think it is easier when they grow up with you in the house than if you join the household later. They are young adults and still here. =)

          But they still don’t pick up their socks.

    2. “It is possible that I have a nasty suspicious mind but I am getting a very strong whiff of Surely You Do Not Expect Me To Raise This Child Without A Chick Around To Do The Hard Parts, here.”

      THIS. I have had a few friends date guys who, as it turned out, was looking for a fill-in nanny/mommy. They were utterly shocked when said friends didn’t want to pick the kids up from school/games or take time off to do stuff for the kids that dad was “too busy” to do.

    3. “It is possible that I have a nasty suspicious mind but I am getting a very strong whiff of Surely You Do Not Expect Me To Raise This Child Without A Chick Around To Do The Hard Parts, here.” I’m getting that feeling too!

    4. “It is possible that I have a nasty suspicious mind but I am getting a very strong whiff of Surely You Do Not Expect Me To Raise This Child Without A Chick Around To Do The Hard Parts, here.”

      Yes. This.

      I may be also nasty and suspicious, but the red flags are semaphoring all over right now.

  9. Oh honey. You’ve been together three months, and you can say “in recent weeks he’s become more distant”? So that’s, like, ten weeks tops when things were going well. That’s not even making it to the end of a honeymoon period.

    I am sorry. I am glad you enjoyed the first few weeks, but it doesn’t sound like this is one for the long-term. Exit gracefully, tell his daughter she can always call you (if that’s true) and keep the good memories.

  10. LW, I realize that your man has said that he loves you and has indicated through many actions (perhaps even too quickly) that he sees a long-term future with you. It’s just that in my experience, when they do/say things that indicate long-term and then also say things that indicate they are considering the opposite, the result is the opposite.

    I’ve seen too many men (all men from my past relationships and in the stories I’ve heard from my friends, but realize could happen with anyone) start to say things about there being no future, because they’ve either already decided or are coming to terms with their decision that there is no future with me or my friends.

    Your man may be genuinely trying to sort out his feelings, but it doesn’t sound like one of the scenarios he has in his mind is “how do I make some semblance of a stable family life with my daughter, her mother and the new woman I love too?” He is expressing at best two options: you and no daughter’s mother, or daughter’s mother and no you, and it almost sounds like he’s picked option 2 here. It doesn’t sound like he’s thinking anymore of option 3: all of you.

    That’s kind of a signal that it may be time for you to move on. Maybe something will come of your time together after the dust has settled, so to speak, but I don’t think you’d be wise to wait around for that.

    1. Preach. People tell you who they are. I was dating a guy once and I was crazy about him. When he said his parents were coming into town, I was really excited about meeting them.

      He became very uncomfortable when I expressed my excitement and said he didn’t think it would be a good idea, as they were still unhappy about his divorce and he had not told them about me.

      We had been dating for months and his parents didn’t even know I existed?

      In his defense, this was about the 234th red flag he had thrown at me, but I didn’t want to see it. However – all along, he had shown me who he was. And he did not change. It did not end well.

      (Moral of the story: If you get into a study abroad program your second year of business school, do not fly to Holland and move into your boarding house, then decide two days later that you miss your Red Flag boyfriend so much that you are going to return to the US. When you do, you will discover that he has already asked out your friend Debbie.)

  11. Don’t know why this didn’t post before.

    “Believe his confusing behavior and assign him full credit in the play he is acting out.”

    Preach. People tell you who they are. I was dating a guy once and I was crazy about him. When he said his parents were coming into town, I was really excited about meeting them.

    He became very uncomfortable when I expressed my excitement and said he didn’t think it would be a good idea, as they were still unhappy about his divorce and he had not told them about me.

    We had been dating for months and his parents didn’t even know I existed?

    In his defense, this was about the 234th red flag he had thrown at me, but I didn’t want to see it. However – all along, he had shown me who he was. And he did not change. It did not end well.

    (Moral of the story: If you get into a study abroad program your second year of business school, do not fly to Holland and move into your boarding house, then decide two days later that you miss your Red Flag boyfriend so much that you are going to return to the US. When you do, you will discover that he has already asked out your friend Debbie.)

  12. People who are drawn to drama will always be drawn to drama, until they decide to do a lot of difficult work on themselves to change. You being the better partner actually works against you. I’ve been the better partner so many times, and in my (limited) wisdom, I now realize that I was drawn to people who were drawn to chaos. Often times, they felt like they “should” love me, that they “should” want something calm and loving, while craving something far less healthy. I spent many years with people who would create chaos out of thin air because that was their comfort zone.

    I hope you realize that this man is not in a healthy place to be a good partner to you, and you leave of your own volition. You may not be able to do that yet, and that’s ok. It took me many many many years to have the strength to walk away from people early on who were showing me signs of being unstable or unreliable. It takes courage, practice, and self-love.

    I highly recommend the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love.

    The title of the book is a little misleading. Though it does guide you through ways that you can pick the best mate for your attachment style, or improve your current relationship, it is also incredible empowering to help you walk away from people that will always hurt you. It also tells you how to identify those people right away, as early as the first date or conversation, so you don’t get sucked into another crazy relationship that leaves you tattered.

    I read it last year after I dated someone for 3 months who fell in love with me, tried to get me pregnant and then dumped me immediately after. I realized that while he was certainly unstable, there had to be something going on with me to choose someone like him. He showed me very early on, even on our first date, that his life was chaos. I now understand that I was drawn to people like that, thinking love had to be a little fucked up to be real.

    Since reading this book, I’ve avoided at least three bad relationships. My self-worth has soared and I look at dating in a whole new light. I’m 34, it’s taken me my whole life to get into this mindset, so I understand if you are not there yet. But know that people show you who they are, and what they are capable of giving, and it’s your choice whether that meets your needs. It will drain you of all your beautiful light to try to twist yourself into a shape that is ever-changing.

    Good luck. Whatever you choose, do lots of self-care and make sure to spend time with other people that you love who treat you well. Keep your own life in perspective. Please give us an update, I’m sure we’d all like to know that you are ok, and to see what you decided to do and how it turned out.

    1. Often times, they felt like they “should” love me, that they “should” want something calm and loving, while craving something far less healthy. I spent many years with people who would create chaos out of thin air because that was their comfort zone.

      I have been that person. You can grow out of craving drama so much you create it out of thin air, but it my case, it took a decade of therapy and some astonishingly awful flameouts to get there. I do not all blame the people who knew me in my mid-twenties for Exiting Left, as if Persued by a Bear. It was for the best for everyone.

  13. Chiming in to add: Boyfriend choosing the LW, even a few months later following calm reflection, won’t settle these issues. Based on Boyfriend’s history with his ex, his decisions regarding that relationship are not final and are subject to regular reevaluation. The only option for a final disposition is LW choosing to end this. She can’t control BF’s behavior and he doesn’t appear to want to close the door on Ex.

    If BF reconnects and chooses you later, LW, maybe ask some tough questions about what happened in the latest round. Ex may be the party in that relationship who does the choosing (and decides to leave).

  14. I fell head-over-heels for a sexy dude with an adorable 5 year old, many years ago. I swear the child was half human, half golden retriever. Our second date was ice cream and playground with the kid, who upon meeting me said “Is this my (current city) mommy?”

    Cue the stories of the unfit bio-mom, who lived in a different city. And poor Sexy Dude was just a damaged military vet, trying to clean up his life and get full custody of his adorable golden retriever child. I got SO invested. I looked up lawyers and school districts. I was going to help him buy a car. I was going to leave my studio apartment for a 2 bedroom with him.

    And then … he poofed out of my life, with a THIRD woman from a different city … after he had introduced me to her (“she’s just a friend”) and I had paid for dinner for all of us.

    Anyway, LW, my bad experience is not a prophecy or anything, but I head bees. BEES.

  15. Three months is where this gets me. LW, three months in the partners should be making new-SO moony eyes at each other and doing disgustingly cute things that make your friends gag. Not declaring love and planning how to raise a child. Your BF needs to sloooow his roll there. Also, he’s clearly still hung up on his ex, and She’s My Child’s Mom is not at all helping your side in this mental debate he’s having. If you had been with him for three *years* and this issue happened, my answer would be different.

    Go. Be free! Find someone to make kissyfaces at who isn’t trying to weigh who should be raising his kid when he basically just started dating you.

    1. Agreed. At three months in, you should be thinking that the fact that he loves Corona beer is adorable and shows good taste.* Planning how to raise his kid, with his ex in the picture, when he’s showing that he still wants to be around her? Pull the cord and bail.

      *I don’t drink beer and couldn’t tell Corona from Bud Light.

  16. I feel like you may fear being on your own if you leave this dude, so here are some benefits of being single:
    – Eating biscuits in bed
    – You can move to Australia whenever you want
    – Farting without having to worry about someone else’s nostrils
    – More time to investigate all the settings on your new super powerful vibrator

    Everyone else I’ve ever met who is in a similar situation complains that there are no good men out there so you have to hang around this okay one and wait to see if he chooses you. But you can have a life that’s totally snazzy without a dumb bloke getting in the way. Don’t get me wrong, having a partner is nice, but you are trading something away when you partner up, so you’d better be getting a boyfriend who is worth it.

    Plus, maybe if people stop dating flaky dudes they will get the message and adult up.

    Another note: our society is really really unkind to mothers who are not the primary caretakers of their children, overvalues single fathers and fetishises the nuclear family. If I could smash these concepts with a hammer, I would, and then dudes like your boyfriend would have only sweet boning memories to cite.

    1. Exactly – either she has really cleaned up her act or perhaps she wasn’t as bad as she was made out to be. As another poster pointed out, people are often unreliable narrators when it comes to their exes.

    2. It’s amazing how many guys have “crazy” exes. That suddenly aren’t that crazy when he decides to get back with her.

  17. Oh, LW. I have dated several Guys With Kids, and I am co-signing everything that Marna Nightingale has said upthread, and joining the chorus of people telling you that cutting your losses right now would be for the best.

    I dated this one guy for about a month. When he told me that he’d recently broken up with his daughter’s mother because she cheated on him, I hesitated. I asked, was he absolutely sure that he was over his ex and he wasn’t interested in getting back together with her? He swore to me that he was over her, that he’d dated other girls before me (so I wasn’t just a rebound) so I kept dating him. I was worse than a rebound, though – I was a pawn in their drama-filled game of “we-have-made-mistakes-but-we-are-fated-for-each-other”. The ex began to get jealous that he was dating someone. She started calling more and showing up unannounced. He assured me this meant nothing. Then a few weeks later, he ghosted me. I ran into his mother a month or so later and she told me that he’d gotten back together with his ex pretty much one day after the last time I saw/spoke to him. Then a month after THAT, he showed up at my work when he knew I’d be just leaving and wanted to talk to me about “what a bitch” his daughter’s mother was and how he never should have broken up with me and tried to get me to sleep with him! I was like, ummm, nooooooo.

  18. A few letters back, the Captain pointed out that refusing to make a decision was making a decision. This man is deciding to let you dangle. Do not play along. He absolutely should work out the boundaries and nature of his co-parenting relationship with this woman, and he definitely needs to decide whether it will be a romantic relationship. But until he does settle that business, he should not be romantically dating anyone else.

    If what you two have really is “a good thing” with long-term prospects, putting it on hold for three or six months while he works out his interactions with his ex won’t harm anything. Making sure he and his ex are able to interact in such a way as to be good parents to their daughter should be more important than his dating prospects, shouldn’t it?

    Whether he means to or not, your boyfriend is engaging in some deeply manipulative behaviors. That’s the reason you feel confused and anxious and worried; he has, intentionally or not, used some classic manipulative patterns to make you feel extra-invested in the relationship as well as uncertain and confused.

    If you tell your boyfriend that you want to put things on hold for a while, so he can work things out with his ex and be the best dad he can be, he may react in one of two ways:
    a.) Sad, but relieved. “I really thought we had something, and I was excited to see how it would go. I’m glad I get to work this other stuff out, knowing we can try to pick things up later.”
    b.) Panicked and upset. “Why would you do that? Don’t you trust me? Look, I can handle my ex. You don’t need to overreact.”

    “a” is the response of someone serious about both working things out with his ex and wanting to preserve a good relationship. “b” is the response of a control freak who wants to have his cake and eat it too.

  19. The timing is, I think, the thing that is flying red alerts. Too much too fast in the beginning and the basic fact that three months is for some reason the limit to how long men can pretend to be something they are not. That combination comes right out of “Why Does He DO That”.

    1. the very fast start + the triangulation are combining to produce a buzzing sound.

      Going so fast so soon — introducing to the daughter after a few days, very quickly pushing the future family ideas — that seems like the LW is being pasted into a role, rather than a relationship growing. And then there’s the ex, returning as part of her own triangle (back-and-forth between two fathers of her children) as well as her triangle with the LW’s bf and LW. Nasty suspicious me wonders if this particular return is because her ex has a new girlfriend, and the bf is playing the two women off against each other while trying to make sure he has the LW hooked well enough to be his backup plan. Even if he rejects the ex and chooses the LW, that would likely include pressure to speed up their relationship even more (how do you go slow with someone who chose you over the mother of his child?) as well as being a choice likely revisited repeatedly.

      Who knows what’s going on, really, but you don’t always need to. This is a mess, it’s normally far too soon to be committed (especially with a short timeframe being something that can be pretended through), and if the LW was pushed to commit emotionally so quickly then that’s a manipulation to reject. Gracefully bow out and disconnect. It may be tempting to continue a friendship with the girl, but that will also keep the LW within pull-back-in reach of this mess, and that’s better to avoid.

  20. A lot of you are mentioning that the 3 months is too short and that you maybe shouldn’t date guys with kids but do you think this changes as you get older? Like in your 40s? There aren’t many guys without kids who are in their 40s and I don’t really want to wait 5 years to make sure everything is just right.

    1. Yeah, I’m old enough now that I have very clear ideas on things I don’t want in a partner, so it’s possible that a new relationship could be signaling all the right things at 3 months. But, probably typically, on average, 3 months is fast. There will of course be people who fall outside of the 2 standard deviations from the mean.

        1. Not just that, but from everything I’ve heard and read? Young kids need stability. Lots and lots of stability. Which means a minimum of introducing new people into their lives, unless you’re *really really sure* that the new person is going to stick around for a good long while. And especially a minimum of introducing new people as “mommy / daddy’s boyfriend/girlfriend/special friend/wombat”.

          If you’re getting introduced to the kids right off the bat like LW was, it should definitely be a red flag and you should be wondering why they’re trying to rush things along like that. (Conversely, if the person is pushing to meet your kids, you should also be concerned.)

          You don’t necessarily have to wait five years, but at least six months before meeting the kids, I’d say. And even then, that’d be moving a bit quick for me. (But what do I know, I’m barely in my thirties yet.)

          1. Yeah, I’ve felt shitty because *friendships* have ended and I’ve therefore not seen kids any more. Relationships? You’ve gotta be certain (channelling super-early Kylie Minogue) before you start letting kids into that kettle of fish.

    2. As you get older, you might be able to figure out what it is that you do or don’t want sooner, but it usually takes more than three months to decide if a relationship is serious.

      When it comes to people with young children, if they are good parents, they should not be introducing their kids to you in the first few months because usually no one knows if a relationship is going to pan out that soon, and they should not be introducing chaos into the lives of young children.

    3. No. If anything it gets longer, because I am SO sure I know what I do and don’t want, and I like to be absolutely sure that someone fits in well with those things before I would even think about pulling the trigger on a bigger commitment.

    4. I mean, I think it’s different for everyone. I personally can’t imagine making any serious commitments so early on, but I know people it’s worked for, so it must be possible for some of us! As far as age goes… I’ve seen age be helpful in some situations because the people involved have had the time to work out what they want, but detrimental in others because the people involved are feeling pressure to find someone and settle for someone they don’t really fit with.

      So it absolutely can work for some people.

      However, I think that it’s a lot harder to make it work (and I’ve personally never seen it) if both people aren’t in a reasonably stable situation going into it, both on an emotional level and on a situational level, because if there’s something else that’s taking up an enormous amount of your attention and energy, it’s difficult to figure out where the crisis ends and where your feelings for the other person begin. And, when young children are involved, it should take also take longer because entering a family’s life as opposed to an individual’s life is much more difficult to navigate, even if everyone involved is in a stable, nonvolatile situation.

    5. Hey, so, when non-adult children are involved, the equation stops simply being “is this relationship moving fast enough for me”.

  21. Spot on spot on spot on.
    To add to the wealth of anecdotes here, I too once dated a guy with both kids and a “dramatic” “crazy” ex. But I come at it from the other side- my ex handled things pretty admirably. Not perfectly I’m sure, but having seen how this situation can go in a very healthy grown-up manner makes me cringe even harder to see people pushing their new partners on their kids too soon. The man I dated didn’t introduce me to his kids for nearly six months because he wanted everything to be above board and done properly. I met his ex (quite civilly) before I met them. Once I did meet them, there were no sleep-overs (ahem hem) when he had the kids- even though his oldest asked me to stay the night a few times, which was cute. I love kids, at that time I was working with kids as a professional caretaker, but he never asked me to babysit for longer than it took him to run out and grab dinner for us all or something (I did volunteer once or twice). He never badmouthed his ex to them. Doing things right by his kids was very important to him, and that’s one of the reasons I loved him.
    Of course there was still drama, and over time I realized that it wasn’t all on the part of his ex- he rather enabled her to be dramatic. But the kids stayed out of it. Obviously it still didn’t work out for us (we still get along and trade photos of our children on social media), but it impressed me as an example of parenting with integrity.
    LW, this guy shouldn’t be putting you in this situation because it’s unfair to you. He shouldn’t be putting his daughter in it because it’s unfair to her. Heck, we knew both sides it might even be unfair to the mom. At this point cutting out seems like the kindest thing you can do both for yourself and for the kiddo. I know it’s hard- you have my thoughts and all my sympathy.

  22. “a single dad introducing his young daughter to a new partner right away”

    The reddest red flag. This should be a maneuver that takes many months and starts with extremely short exposures and assurances that the child does not have to like the new partner and the mom is not being replaced and the child still has Dad’s full attention. He is being thoughtless on behalf of his child and will likely show your feelings the same optimistic disregard.

    1. “Optimistic disregard” boom. “Hopefully what I am doing will not destroy other people including my child welp here goes”. It’s exactly the way of the cheery soulless charmer who leaves you mauled if you don’t RUN AWAY early. Children of the cheery charmer can’t and heaven help them.

  23. Reading everything above, this dude sees a lot of criticism of the BF, and that’s certainly legitimate. But let’s assume (just so we can work the equation from the other side) that your BF is a wonderful, stand-up guy; a brilliant and spiritual man who’s both humble and amazing, wise and filled with glorious soul-beauty, kind, sexy like a Mountain Lodge candle, and unwilling to start drama…

    BF’s druggy, fucked-up ex can still make everyone’s life miserable, on an ongoing basis, AT LEAST until the kid turns eighteen. I have watched this happen to a friend for years; druggy fucked-up ex is still making friend miserable eighteen years after their child was born. So consider the following: It doesn’t matter whether BF is the good guy or the bad guy. This situation is Just Plain Rotten no matter which way you work the equation and you surely deserve better.

    If you really like the kid you might make sure she knows how to contact you on Facebook or something, but there is not a nice ending to this scenario and you should get out.

  24. It’s been said many times but it bears repeating. People who come on really strong really fast are often bad news – it’s a predictor of badness ranging from disappointment to outright life-threatening danger. This goes for lovers and friends both. Here’s why – that person when they first meet you doesn’t really know you. Their attention feels great, but think about it from their end – they’ve just met you, they don’t actually know how and why you’re awesome just yet. In fact it’s highly likely they don’t really see you as a person at all – just a warm body to slot into whatever specific role in their life they’re trying to fill.

    That role might be perfect girlfriend, or mother to their child, or friend who always listens to their crap but never asks for anything, or audience to their awesome (not really but they think it is) intelligence. Then when it turns out that you’re a unique human person who doesn’t fit whatever role they’ve laid out for you it all goes south. It goes south in terms of them not being there for you, them going cold on you or in worst case scenarios them becoming angry, controlling or even violent as they try to mash you back into shape.

    People like this are also often really negative about their exes. Because guess who is definitely a flakey, drug addled, terrible manipulative bitch? That other woman who failed to fill the perfect wife and mother casting call she didn’t even know she was trying out for. Again, perhaps she’s genuinely terrible, it’s just… If she’s so terrible why is he trying her out for that wife and mother role again? Either she’s not that bad or he doesn’t actually care because he’s looking for someone to play a part and perhaps isn’t even capable of seeing them as a separate human.

    I’m sure it’s possible to meet someone and feel really strongly for them right off the bat and then continue to love them forever like some fairy tale, but it’s fairly rare. Especially if we’re not talking sudden crush that grows into more with time but rather an assumption of forever right up front.

    LW I’m not trying to imply this dude is dangerous or anything (you’ve presented no evidence of that) but someone who’s talking lifelong family, meet my young daughter after knowing you for a few days, and then gets tepid a few months in is fulfilling a script that leads nowhere good. At best it leads to him dumping you. Leave now and let this all play out in your absence.

    1. Anisoptera is wise. There is a relative in my family who falls into this pattern So. Very. Thoroughly. He has had a rotating cast of women in the supporting role of Mom to My Children + Melodramatic Love Interest for the past seven years now, with unfortunate results on the children and women alike, who are people, and not just actresses. There’s been Facebook and phone call drama; dramatic move-outs; electronic snooping; constant triangulation; playing the kids between his family, mom’s family and the new GF’s family(ies), etc. ad. inf. It’s exhausting, and it’s not even my life.

      LW, my heart breaks for that little girl, but I don’t think that you would be doing her favors hanging on in the periphery of her father’s life while he holds his auditions and demonstrating to her that doing a constant “pick me!” dance is what love looks like. Go live your life, rather than acting out a part in someone else’s.

    2. People like this also often use an ex as a way of making the new love feel that the relationship is threatened, and then the new love in reaction will pull closer and move more quickly in the relationship themselves. Finding out that your could-be-awesome new thing may be about to disappear or be taken by someone else tends to make people value it more and overlook flaws. It also neatly turns things around on the LW from the guy pushing the relationship quickly to the LW wanting to be chosen.

      It’s worth the LW getting significant time away from the drama in order to be able to clearly understand how she feels and what she wants with respect to this very new relationship.

      1. Indeed ^

        They also use exes as a model to indirectly tell you what’s terrible terrible behaviour to manipulate you into bending over backwards to ignore it. For example how many exes are clingy and demanding and emotional? Better not ask for stuff, or ever get upset, or want to spend more time together, lest you be like her – the terrible ex who was a terrible no good person. You’re a cool, chill person right? Not like the ex. :-/

        It works because up front you hear these stories and buy into the image of this other person as terrible and no good. Then when you’re compared to that person it really makes you look at your own behaviour and second guess yourself.

        Obviously some exes really are terrible! Totally lovely people have terrible exes. Just watch out for how they’re spoken of what message is being sent, because no-good bad people *always* have “terrible exes*.

        1. Yes. For example, a lot of lovely people around here have had terrible exes. But an otherwise totally lovely person who is unable to say no to a boomerang terrible ex isn’t good partner material either, because they’re not really available.

      2. Oh my God. I have never seen the situation with my ex stated more clearly before. Wow.

        LW – Paulina is saying something super wise here, it’s worth reading and re-reading.

  25. Dear LW,

    Please leave now. The kid doesn’t really know you, she won’t really miss you.

    In a year or so when your BF finally does end things with you, both you and kid will be much less happy at the separation.

  26. IMHO, someone trying to shove you into a Serious Relationship ™ after three months is a HUGE warning sign to me, child or no child. I don’t have or want kids and I do not date people who have children, but anyone trying to shoehorn you into a serious relationship at warp speed is basically wearing a suit made of red flags.

    Let me also make a plug for Not Ever Dating That Person Who Can’t Decide Between You and {insert whatever thing it is here}. Sometimes you do meet someone where the timing just is legitimately not right for something to work out, and that’s ok, but it is NOT OKAY FOR SOMEONE TO WASTE YOUR PRECIOUS time while they try to decide between you and whatever else it is.

    Trust me, I dated a guy for nearly nine years who could just never quite decide between being with me or roaring off into the sunset on his motorcycle (which as of this writing he has not yet gotten around to doing, so). Of course, instead of TELLING me this and breaking it off, he wanted me to dangle around the periphery of his life without moving on with his own while he made up his mind, which I’m sure he would have gotten around to at some point, like possibly right after he moves into assisted living.

    What finally caused us to make a clean break was when I met someone else two years after we broke up (yes, this went on for over a decade!) and he just couldn’t handle it, because didn’t I know I was supposed to remain permanently available on the off chance he made up his mind??

    NO. If someone is really in a situation where they’re not sure if a relationship with you is the thing they want to pursue, the responsible thing would be to TELL YOU THAT and allow you to move on with your life while they figure out their own shit. Not keep you back-burnered indefinitely.

  27. Obviously we cannot know what is going on with the BF, but in Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That?” she cites coming on strong early in a relationship AND bad-mouthing previous exes as warning signs for abuse. This may be totally off-base, but maybe it will help the LW look at BF’s behavior a little more critically.

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