Carolyn Hax: Single mom’s boyfriend is (too) okay with how busy she is


Dear Carolyn, My ex and I divorced when we had a toddler and an infant (not recommended). I started dating “Ben” about five years later and we’ve been together now for almost three years.

After all the horror stories I heard about what it would be like trying to find love as a single mom, I thought I’d gotten REALLY lucky with Ben. He has never been competitive for my time. He understands how busy I am as a mum and has always been fine with our quality time together having to happen once a week when the children are with their father. He is nice to the children, but has never tried to step on our toes as parents. I thought this was all the dream.

So this year I brought up the idea of ​​moving in together and/or getting engaged. I also mentioned that I would like him to spend more focused time with me and the children as a family.

That’s when I learned that, in Ben’s words, the beauty of our relationship is that I have so much going on and he is able to have time to himself. He does not see himself as a step parent and has no intention of being one. He said he would love to move in together when I have an empty nest… but that is 11 years away (soon).

I do not know what to do. I love this man. But I’ve basically just been told that what he loves about me is that I don’t have time to demand too much from him and that he has no place in my children’s lives. Is it possible for a single mother to have a solid, serious relationship that doesn’t compete with motherhood, but also has room to grow?

Bubble, burst: That was not the question I expected.

The answer to the question you asked is, of course, that it is “possible”. There are 8 billion people on Earth, and so far you’ve dated (and dangerously knocked out) only one of them.

The question I expected was more of a what-do-I-do-about-Ben? thing. Because it’s fascinating, and not obvious from any angle I can see.

Unless you couldn’t accept his terms and already broke up without regret. That would be a bit obvious.

Otherwise, from my position of safe detachment, I’m not as alarmed by what Ben said, and even see some beauty in it. Looking out from the wreckage.

The obvious problem is that the two of you were able to be together romantically while being so far apart conceptually for so long. Who didn’t talk to whom? Who didn’t listen? Who wanted it the most? Was someone misled on purpose?

These are not small concerns. If you’re still with Ben when I’ve received, read, pondered, responded to, filed and published this, then I hope you’ve already spent some quality time sorting out and resolving the miscommunication.

As long as you are able to figure it out, and no one lied to anyone, it can be a deceptively good relationship for both you and Ben.

The reason for that is the relationship itself, as it is, or what it was all along until Ben’s bomb drop. You were both very happy with it. Such loving compatibility is a bit of greatness that I fear you do not give due credit. Think about it: You’re upset, you and Ben don’t share the same vision for your time together could have been. Which by definition means that your disagreement is about something that was not yet and may never have become real. At least find out if changing the imagined future changes what you have in the present.

Plans affect how we feel now. But the starting point is the expansion of what we have — for example, basing pension savings on current expenses. So maybe you both, in each other, can look forward to a partner who continues to meet your emotional needs – and still gives you enough space for yourself.

Who can say: 1. It does not hold when your children are adults, in developing form? 2. That he’s the only one benefiting from your breezy arrangement?

And who’s to say, on the negative projection side, that you’ll still like Ben as much if you don’t give each other this space?

Believe it or not, I tucked into this answer with thoughts of alt-romance. You and Ben came across to me as a couple who stumbled upon a non-traditional arrangement that uplifts you both. Then I enrolled in a thesis on embracing cynicism as your matchmaker.

Plus, I don’t have room for the what-ifs of the possibility of adult boomerang children in your one day shared home with Ben.

But even if Ben isn’t the guy, I still think there’s a really good question here: Is moving in and raising kids the only measure of “solid, serious” growth potential there is?

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