Dating at Midlife/Excluded from family
QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have been together for 2.5 years. I am 36 and divorced, he is 50 and never-married. Last year we bought a house together, so we intended to be together for the long-run. He gets along very well with my son and for the most part we seemed well-suited. However more and more I am feeling purposely excluded from his family. For the past year he and his two siblings and his niece get together for a monthly family games night. My son and I have never been invited. My boyfriend claims it is because my son is too young – he is 6 while his niece is 12. Still, it hurts that not once would they make the effort to include us for even part of the evening. I had a similar feeling last summer when they invited my boyfriend to spend a week with them at a cottage out of town, but did not ask my son and I to come.
Last month I organized a surprise 50th party for my boyfriend. I contacted his brother a sister a couple times to try to involve them if they wanted. I had hoped it would be a way to strengthen our relationship, but I received no response apart from his brother attending (his sister was out of town). Then the following week, at their monthly games night, they surprised by boyfriend with a birthday gift of a trip to New York City. We live in Nova Scotia, so this is a significant trip. Once again, there was no mention of me attending. New York is one of my favourite cities and I had dreamed of introducing my boyfriend to it, as he has never been. Now I feel not only has this dream been crushed, but I am very pointedly being excluded from the family. My boyfriend and I are at odds as he does not want to invite me to come (at our expense, not his siblings’). He says I am not enthusiastic about the same things and that he does not feel able to suggest to his siblings I come along. He is angry because I am making him feel guilty about spending time with them and that I should be happy he has the opportunity to go on this trip. He also stated that it was not his responsibility to build my relationship with his family, rather it should be up to me.
This is a deal-breaker for me. I will not be able to get over the envy, hurt and resentment if he goes to New York without me. I think there is a larger issue as well, that I do not feel welcome or included and he apparently does not feel he has a role in changing that. What to do?
ANSWER: Hi Anne.
You said " He also stated that it was not his responsibility to build my relationship with his family, rather it should be up to me. "
He's wrong. He has a relationship with them. They are his family. It is his job to bring you into his life and that means to do all he can to connect you to his family.
Sometimes when people so very wrong, as he is in this case, one is tempted to think that there is much much more to the story and much that is not being said. That's how I feel here. It is as if something else, something bigger, and unsaid, or even hidden, is going on.
Maybe it has something to do with why he remained unmarried for so long. I said long ago on my web page, that when you are 25 and single you are just single, but when you are over forty and single, you are single for a reason and you have to know that reason before you can create a successful relationship.
Helping people articulate those reasons is very much part of the work I do. It helps people.
I hope this answer helps you. Feel free to follow up.
Philip Alan Belove,Ed.D.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you for the speedy response. When we started dating I was also unsure about his long-term single status. He has had many relationships, the two longest of which lasted about 3 years. To my surprise I was the first woman with a child that he has been with. I wondered about his ability to handle the responsibilities that come with that, but he has made a strong bond with my son and does a good job as a de-facto step-parent, walking the thin line between playmate and authority figure. It was my boyfriend’s suggestion that we purchase a house and move in together, and we talked about the changes that would bring for him, moving from single life in a bachelor pad to a family household. I think for the most part he (and we) have handled the transition well. It is this feeling of exclusion and disconnection from parts of his life that has been growing over the past year and now has to be dealt with, because I know I cannot continue to ignore it.
We talked again last night, not about the NY trip because I expect that will be a doozy of an argument, but about the exclusion issue. He only now has started telling me about incidents over the past 2 years where he feels I made it clear I was not having fun at social gatherings and his family and friends noticed (the implication to me being that they were insulted and therefore do not like me, although I am not sure if this is true). These revelations hurt me deeply as I feel unwanted and humiliated. One of the situations he described is valid but I don’t feel the others are. He says that at gatherings he is anxious to ensure everyone is having a good time, and if I do not appear to be enjoying myself then he will feel guilty about it, which will impact on his enjoyment. So he agreed that, perhaps subconsciously, he has been excluding me because he doesn’t think I will have a good time and he doesn’t want to feel bad about it. He said that perhaps he should include me more, but even the phrasing of the statement seemed quite negative to me, saying “maybe I should just throw you in and let you sink or swim” – i.e., let me worry about enjoying myself rather than him. We have talked about looking for activities that my son and I could enjoy with his family from time to time, though, so that is progress.
The guilt factor is a very big issue for him. He absolutely does not want to feel guilty about spending social time with family and friends, and he has always been a very social person. I acknowledge that I do sometimes resent the freedom he has to get out and about, which as the mother of a 6-year old I do not always have. He takes on a big role in caring for my son and he does encourage me to go out with friends and develop interests outside the house and our relationship, so it is not as if there is a double-standard at play. However I also resent the priority he places on his socializing with others when (a) I am never included, and (b) he and I have little opportunity to spend quality time together on our own (an hour of watching TV together in the evenings is not quite the same thing). So now I feel hurt, angry, unwanted and resentful, and in letting him know that it makes him feel guilty and resentful in turn. He is absolutely clear that he is not going to tolerate feeling guilty about his social activities – he keeps coming back to this point in our conversations and it is very hard to move him off of it to other points. I am willing to work on this, but going to New York without me is a deal-breaker. I feel that he should want to include me in that trip, and not complain that I am making him feeling guilty for getting a great present and that I should be happy for him to have the opportunity.
When I read this post and my original message, the word “self-centered” is popping into my head. I don’t know if that is fair. My boyfriend is very giving and considerate. But the consistent emphasis on his enjoyment, and his abhorrence and avoidance of anything that interferes with it strikes me as a little unrealistic, perhaps, in day-to-day life. I would be interested in your thoughts. Many thanks.
Well you've opened up a very difficult conversation and it sounds like it went pretty well for both of you and so, take a moment and be grateful to him, yourself and your love that you were able to put such difficult and deep material on the table where you both could see it.
The shift you are both going to make is tectonic so be patient. You can insist that the matter is deeply important. He acknowledges as much.
Stay with the dialog and back off the ultimatums for a bit. Make sure he understands how important it is to resolve this but don't panic and don't be in a hurry.
Next, arrange for a phone call with me. I give anyone a free hour so take advantage of it.
As far as I can tell, you're doing very well and so is he. This sounds like one of those breakthroughs into deeper intimacy. They often come through these kinds of difficult conversations. Stick with what you're doing and make sure you both have time to breath and reflect. It sounds like have a good thing going.
Usually that means you'll be able to handle these inevitable issues.
Also, your issue with his constant emphasis of enjoyment (and his counter issue) sounds like one of those fundamental relationship challenges. Step up to it. Don't be impatient. Allow that he sees things differently and might have some worthy points to make. etc.
Let me know if you want to talk