Proceed With Caution

Proceed With Caution

A new mate must respect her partner’s relationships with their kids and family members

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 07/03/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’ve been a single dad the past five years and have sole custody of my teenage son, Alex, who just graduated with honors from high school. Rather than attend college right away, he wants to spend the next year or two working, saving his money and deciding what he wants to do. I’m supportive of this choice and have encouraged him to continue living with me. Not only is he a responsible and mature young man, but he always pitches in on chores and never hesitates to come to me for advice or just to shoot the breeze.

Since my job and the responsibilities of parenting have consumed most of my time, I held off on dating anyone until a few months ago. Janine is an account manager in the building where I work and is fun, smart, an exciting companion and just fantastic. She was respectful of my wanting to go slowly in our new romance because I didn’t want anything to upset or distract Alex from his studies in his final semester. 

They have only met a few times, but lately it seems that whenever I mention him, she goes into a super critical mode, especially in her belief that it’s wrong for an 18-year-old to be allowed to live at home. (Janine has been supporting herself ever since she was 16.) Alex is always pleasant and respectful to her so I don’t know where all her hostility toward him and accusations of laziness and “lack of ambition” are coming from. She hasn’t come out and said it, but she’s hinting that if Alex moved out, she could move in and we’d start a wonderful life together.

I’m crazy about this woman and don’t want to lose her, but I’m worried she might be trying to drive away my son, someone I’ve loved from the first moment he was born. Am I selfish to want to keep this new relationship and at the same time give Alex a chance to save for his education and get some work experience? 

— Nat

Dear Nat,
I’m glad to see that after the years of being a single parent — and being rewarded with the joys of raising such a wonderful son — you’re finally returning to the dating pool and enjoying the companionship of a woman who has ignited your passion. It’s an exciting new chapter of your life. However, as you’re already discovering, it’s not without challenges.  

One issue I think you might be wrestling with is called a “psychological pendulum swing” — a dynamic that occurs whenever someone is living out an aspect of his or her nature at the exclusion of other aspects and then makes an extreme shift in the opposite direction. A woman who successfully rises to the top of the corporate ladder, for instance, may see herself as a failure because she missed out on the chance to be a wife and mother. A man who dutifully followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps may become frustrated by the lost opportunities to pursue his own passions and march to his own drummer. A child who suppresses his aggression when he gets bullied might become a bully himself. The goal is for this emotional pendulum to swing back for these individuals to somewhere in the middle.

I’m wondering whether your focus on fatherhood caused you to ignore other aspects of your personality that are now emerging in your romance with Janine. Conversely, it’s critical that you don’t swing so far to the courtship side that you end up ignoring — or jeopardizing — the relationship with Alex you have so lovingly and patiently cultivated. 

The fact that Janice is exhibiting jealousy or resentment, passing harsh judgment and making demands after only a few months could be a warning sign. If you want to keep dating her, I recommend you proceed with caution and establish boundaries which emphasize that she needs to have a more open heart and mind regarding Alex and your father-and-son relationship. Pay attention as well to how she reacts to your friends and other family members and whether this manifests in demands to keep you exclusively to herself. I know Janine seems special — and perhaps she is. Just remember that you haven’t dated in a while. There may be someone you haven’t met yet who will admire and respect your commitment to fatherhood as much as your commitment to a potential new mate. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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