I’m 26 and my partner is 61, we have been together for nearly four years now with our own home and everything has always been great, he is a successful businessman, and we have no problems, apart from his kids.
They are 25 and 27 and have never given me the time of day. I have never met them properly, and they express no interest in me at all. I have tried to make contact with his daughter which was ignored, and she subsequently complained to her dad that I had tried to make friends. He has made hardly any effort in resolving this, which really angers me as I’m sick of being treated like I don’t exist by two grown adults. I feel like I’m coming to the end of my tether with this disrespect, every time I mention it he says he is sorting it but nothing ever changes. What do you recommend?
Eleanor says: I’m going to truthfully say I don’t find it impossible to imagine thinking like your partner’s children. You must know that there are certain tropes his children may have affixed to you, and that tropes can calcify.
That’s not to say that those tropes are true. We don’t choose who we fall in love with and yours is not the first relationship between people whose needs and desires tessellate when societal expectations don’t. But it’s not a tremendous act of mental exertion to imagine a middle-aged man’s children balking when he takes up a relationship with a 22-year-old.
It’s important to try to understand what’s behind that balking. Their frostiness may not be explained by something as straightforward and ungenerous as them simply believing those tropes. Deep in their private souls, it may be about thwarted hopes: just as you had expectations for your family life that they thwart by not acknowledging you, they might have had expectations that you thwart by being with their father.
Maybe there’s a previous partner or a co-parent who they hoped their father could still be with, or maybe they lost one parent figure and hoped for another, or maybe they just wanted some time with their father without a partner in the picture.
They might have had a wish for how their lives would look that you unintentionally took away from them. And when we expect one thing and get served another, it’s hard not to constantly mete out our disappointment on to whatever we in fact received. If that’s what is going on, then it’s possible to interact with them in a way which acknowledges their loss, does not try to fill it, and does not interpret their mourning as a personal attack.
You are on one side of an age-old battle between a person’s family and their partner. Each side often tries to assert ownership over the person in the middle: who knows them better, who can influence them more, who knows what they’re “really” like. You asked what I recommended: don’t get sucked into this pageantry of intimacy, which can culminate in a familiar courtroom drama, where either side claims that they knew what the deceased really meant to do in their will. Don’t play – don’t try to prove to yourself, him, or his children, that you alone understand him.
Believe him when he shows you what he wants to do. If revealed preferences are to be believed, it looks like he’s showing you he doesn’t want to push it; that the life he had with his children before you contains some dynamic or reasons to not force this particular issue.
There are all kinds of peacekeeping duties we have to bear as adults – in ourselves, in our relationships, in our families. Sometimes we have to be willing to wear other people’s false beliefs about us and take our comfort from the fact that we, at least, know what’s true. The question is whether you can live with that.
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