It continues to amaze me how few women realize the power they hold over romantic relationships. I’m convinced that if they did, and they used that clout honestly, sincerely, and to its full potential, overnight we would see a drop in the number of broken hearts and broken dreams. And truthfully, we’d see a few better men in the world.
I was reminded of this by an email from a reader. She begins,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost a year now. He and his ex are separated (they were never married but cohabited for about 3-4 years) but they co-parent their 2 little boys, 3 and 4 years old. He takes a very active role in his children’s lives. Although he lives in his own apartment now, he shares an amicable relationship with his ex and he will often go over in the morning and evenings after work to see his children. I have met his kids, and we get along quite well, but I imagine that in their innocence, they see me as another adult who plays with them.
Of all the notes I receive seeking advice, this one best sums up the majority. A childless woman confused about dating a single father. As more people, and especially more women, remain single – today in America there are more women single than married – this situation is nearly inevitable and will play itself out repeatedly. And as any woman who has done so will admit, dating a father is a very different situation – so long as he’s doing it properly.
For any single dad, balancing the needs of a relationship and the demands of parenthood is never easy, which often leads many women without children to find his attempts frustrating. But a relationship with a single father can be very fulfilling. If he is doing what he is supposed to, these men prove to be responsible, loving, and attentive.
My gripe with the situation is that I have asked him many times whether his ex is aware he is seeing me. His response is that she knows he is dating but he does not “bring it up” specifically as he is respectful of her. I also rarely get to see him on weekends as he spends much of it with his children. Although I have suggested that he bring the kids out sometimes and he has on some occasions, I have observed that he seems to be rather hesitant to do so when she is home. I know the four of them spend time together during weekends and that eats at me because I rarely get to see him on weekends. I have also not met any of his friends. I am quite conflicted about where this is going. While I see an increasing effort on his part to include me in his children’s life, which I understand to be a big step for any parent, I feel at the same time excluded from a huge part of his life – almost like a mistress.
As I’ve written before, dating a single father comes with built-in litmus tests all pointing to the type of person he really is. Things a woman would never know about a man without children. For example, how is his relationship with his kids? What kind of father is he? How does he describe and talk about his ex-wife/partner? Does he pay child support? Or, does he always talk negatively about his ex, hardly ever sees his children, and never pays child support? Such questions and answers get at the very heart to the quality of that individual. They are spotlights on his character as a person, his sincerity about the woman and their relationship, and his level responsibility and maturity as a man.
I have expressed my concerns and he has reassured me that “he is not taking us lightly” but the weekends eat at me. This coming September, the ex is going away for 2 weeks and he has asked me if I wanted to spend time with the kids. Although I was initially excited, I am now wondering if that is a good idea.
In the early seventies, Dick Van Dyke starred in a PSA about fire safety. Specifically, what to do if your clothes suddenly caught fire. Should someone find his suit ablaze, these three steps were suggested to prevent further injury and severe burns. 40 years later, the Stop, Drop, and Roll has become ingrained our collective subconscious. Yet this is not only for fire prevention, it can be just as appropriate for preventing burns from a relationship.
In next month’s episode of Fatherhood Wide Open, I’m having a conversation with author and speaker Mike Domitrz of the Date Safe Project about his new book, ‘Can I Kiss You?’ In it, he describes rules for intimacy and addresses ways to prevent sexual assault. One of his key points is the importance of personal values. What he means is that one of the best ways to avoid sexual assault is having a set of core beliefs about ourselves and what is right and wrong. For example, ‘Will I go back to someone’s place after a first date?’, ‘Will I kiss someone or go to bed with them right after we meet?’ ‘Will I have premarital sex at all?’ Without a strong set of core beliefs about how we see ourselves and the world around us, we’re left to making these important decisions at the moment, influenced by powerful and unpredictable emotions.
I believe it’s little different for love and relationships. Each of us have some basic beliefs when it comes to romantic relationships, it’s just a matter of conviction and clarity. Their best when viewed as ‘deal killers’. These values should serve as the foundation of how we approach a romantic relationship, all formed on what we believe is most important. Some examples may be, ‘What does honesty look like, for me, in a relationship?’ ‘Is transparency important and do I know when I see it?’, ‘Do I expect to be honored and why?’ If we’ve established these for ourselves and committed to living by them, we can more clearly see what is happening in front of us and better able to cut through the emotional haze ‘love’ often leads us.
From experience and observation, men routinely need anvils falling on their heads to get their attention. Innuendos and hints rarely work. They often need the wind knocked out of the sails before they can see their mistakes and change course. Which makes the idea of Stop, Drop, and Roll so impactful!
In my response to her, I first suggested viewing her situation from the outside. To see things as they are, not as she wants them to be. If this was happening to a friend instead, what would she notice and say? Is this father acting sincere, transparent, and honestly? Is he showing her respect, honoring the relationship, and living truthfully? I replied, ‘For any relationship to start off on a healthy course there must be transparency. The honest truth between a couple. It just doesn’t seem to me that you have that with your boyfriend at the moment.’
If she arrives at a similar conclusion, then her first step should be to STOP the relationship immediately. Meaning that she tell him, because of what she’s experiencing, she can go no further until things change. She tells him that she respects herself and the relationship too much to continue, and she is going to STOP seeing him, calling, or texting. Not going so far as breaking up, but hitting the pause button. She wants to be with him, but she can’t go on as things currently are.
Simultaneously, she must DROP any pretenses or vain hopes, and instead lay down – or DROP – what she wants to see changed in the relationship and from him before she will consider continuing the relationship. I write,
‘I would encourage you NOT to meet with his children over that two weeks, and instead, I would suggest you lay down some conditions for him to follow if he wants the relationship to continue.
- That you meet the mother of his children and that he explains to her, with you being there, the nature of your’s and his relationship.
- That he begins making time for you on the weekends with and without his children.’
(Side note, the DROP will require values be outlined and thoroughly understood. Without this, any expectations will be lukewarm, negotiable, and ultimately unmet.)
This is perhaps the toughest part and why I believe so many women choose not to exert the power they possess. There is an good chance that if she STOP’s and DROP’s, her boyfriend will be unable or perhaps unwilling to meet the demands for change, she will then be left with a tough decision – step back on what she wants or ROLL on and out of the relationship. In other words, if he doesn’t meet these requirements is she prepared to walk away entirely? If she isn’t ready to ROLL onto something better, or even nothing at all, then she should not follow through with STOP or DROP. Why? Anything less than full conviction on her part causes it all to crumble when put to the test, and her credibility is ruined, not to mention altering the entire dynamic of the relationship, tipping the table because he will realize her threats are hollow and expectations arbitrary. Furthermore, it will inevitably make it all worse in the future.
I’ve seen this play out enough to know that in relationships, when women have clear outlined values, live by them with conviction, and expect those values to be respected by a partner without negotiation – that usually is what happens.
And should it not, and she STOPS the relationship, DROPS on him the expectations she demands, and is prepared to ROLL when they are not met, she will nearly always find her husband or boyfriend miraculously rises to the occasion, preventing the fire from engulfing her. And if he doesn’t or can’t, she’ll just as quickly discover she’s better off without him.