I have been living with my partner Jeremy for several years, since we were college seniors. Once, about two years ago, I mentioned our maybe getting married one day and he said that he did not believe in state-sanctioned unions. This did not thrill me, but it also didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time. When I thought about it at all, I must have believed that he would change his opinion when we were older and had been together longer.
But now I’m pregnant. (It never really crossed my mind that when they talk about how a birth control method is 99% effective there has to be somebody in that 1%.)
After my initial shock wore off I found that I was very, very happy at the thought of being a mother. But Jeremy’s attitude is freaking me out. The absolutely first thing he said when I told him was: “I don’t want you to think that this means I’ll marry you.” This response devastated me for a lot of reasons. It seems ominous that this was the very first thing he thought of, not the joys or even the burdens of parenthood, much less my or our child’s welfare. I was also insulted by the tone of what he said, as if I were the supplicant for some wondrous gift he was withholding from me, not half of an equal partnership between equally committed people. You know? Not being able to think of anywhere to take the conversation from there, I left the room, put a few things in a suitcase, and went to stay with a friend. I just said that it might be a good idea to have some time alone to think. He made no effort to stop me, unless you count saying “Oh, come on, Babe, be reasonable” without even getting up out of his damn chair.
This was about a week ago. We met on neutral territory a day or two later and he said that he had thought about it and he did want to have a kid. He also said that he felt totally committed to our relationship, but immediately added that he would never marry me, or anybody, because he never wanted to go through a divorce. (I liked it better when the rationale was not having the State intrude on our lives, which seemed easier not to take personally. I mean, the person he’d be going through a divorce with is me!) I am still at my friend’s, and now my cat and my computer are, too.
I have no idea what to do. I love Jeremy, but I am beginning to think that he doesn’t really see himself as in this for life, and doesn’t feel lucky to have me or our baby. And, yes, I would like to be married to the father of my child, and I think that Jeremy has always known this.
I am 26, and was hoping to wait a few years before starting a family. But here I am. I plan to have this baby and keep it. Other than that, I do not know what to do. Do you have any advice for me?
Gravid in Great Neck
You have already made the most important, stark, and time-sensitive choices: to have and keep your baby. How you raise the baby, and how Jeremy fits in, are of course also very important questions. But they are more nuanced, not necessarily a matter of one big yes or no—and, fortunately, you and Jeremy can work them out more deliberately, as your pregnancy and parenting life unfold.
These days there are many couples who live together, and successfully raise children together, without marriage or any other kind of formal commitment. If this is the arrangement both parents want, that is their very personal choice. In your case, however, this is not the arrangement both parents want. More important, Jeremy’s opposition to marrying you, or at least the downright boorish ways he has expressed it, do seem to reveal a narcissistic and conceited side of his personality as well as suggesting that he does not share your level of love, respect, and commitment. You are left to decide whether you would rather live with Jeremy on his terms, or whether the events of the past week are an indication that you should live separately.
It made sense for you to get away from Jeremy and allow yourself some time to think. You have plenty of questions to ask yourself. First, you have to assess his character. If his response to your announcement is any indication of his general attitude and behavior toward you, you may want to get out now. You may feel that, even if he were to get down on one knee tomorrow, you would never be able to rely on him. In fact, if you were not pregnant, I would practically push you out the door.
But you are pregnant. Ironically, the very event that precipitated this crisis means that you and Jeremy probably should, and probably will, be part of each other’s lives for the next twenty or thirty years, whether or not you live together. It also gives you some new reasons to consider trying again to live as a couple.
If you feel that life with him as an unmarried couple will be better for you and the baby than going it alone, then by all means give it a try, although I would (secretly) think of it as a trial period. Perhaps spending some more time with Jeremy as he gets used to the idea of being a father will give you new insights into whether his initial, spectacularly awful response to the pregnancy was an aberration, as opposed to a window into his true character and his real feelings for you. You may find that he just needed to get used to the idea of settling down, and that he will prove to be a faithful and contented de facto spouse for the foreseeable future. You may decide one day that de facto is plenty, or he may decide that de jure is preferable.
And you may find that parenthood changes both of you. That is, you will find that it changes both of you, and you may find that it changes both of so in ways that enrich your relationship. Many people, including some self-absorbed men, have no idea how delighted they will be by their children, or how much the joys and even the miseries of parenthood can bring a couple together.
Even if you do not hold out much long-term hope for the relationship, you may still want to give it a try because—thanks in no small part to Jeremy—you are now in a what they used to call an interesting condition, and may need his practical, emotional, and financial support for the foreseeable future. As long as you are not absolutely certain that the relationship is going nowhere, I see nothing dishonest in your staying around for a while for unromantic, practical reasons. If time passes and you still feel insecure and undervalued, get out then.
Of course, as I said, I also see nothing wrong in leaving your shared home forever or, if you can manage it, kicking him out, if that is what you think will be best for your own self-respect. If you believe that the relationship is doomed, there is no point in subjecting yourself and your child to an unhappy household while the inevitable unfolds.
I wish I knew more about your situation. I hope that you are financially independent, have good family and friends nearby, and work at an accommodating job with good benefits. Supports like these can make your choices wider and your motives clearer. This may be a hell of a time to say so, but if you do not have such supports in place, start working on it. Save your money, build your skills, hold onto your job if you can, and strengthen your ties. Whether or not you live with him, you do not want to slip into dependence on Jeremy.
If you and Jeremy do stay together for now, I recommend that you get some couples counseling. A good counselor can bring you closer together, if this is possible—or, if not, save you from wasting more time trying to repair a hopeless situation.
Although you didn’t specifically ask about this, I feel constrained to point out that you should take care to safeguard your and your baby’s rights and interests as regards paternity, property ownership, life and health insurance, medical decisions, educational expenses, pension or retirement plan beneficiary status, and so on. (I won’t touch on the tax and Social Security ramifications of being married, which can actually cut both ways in 2017. At your time of life, it is difficult to predict whether getting married or staying single would be a better deal for minimizing taxes or maximizing benefits. The laws may change, and your incomes may fluctuate.) Whether or not you and Jeremy stay together as a couple, you should consult a good family lawyer before too long.
Oh, and congratulations!
How are you getting through the Inauguration weekend? Are you going to watch the ceremonies?
Shell-shocked in Shippensburg
No, I decided to take a break. I will have the TV on all day Friday, though, because I read somewhere that forces in the ether will be measuring how many people watch the inauguration as a percentage of TV watchers, and I want it known that I am emphatically not interested. Petty and probably pointless, I realize; but it costs me almost nothing, and the dogs seem to enjoy the sports channels.
Except for all those televised games and sports commentators in the background, the morning will pass like an ordinary morning. Starting at about three in the afternoon I will be making posters. Friday night I plan to combat depression with family, Netflix, mind-numbing on-line games, a call or two to my senators, and preparing for Saturday. Saturday morning at five I get on a bus for Washington, where I plan to wear one of those pink hats and join the throngs, waving around a piece of foam board that will, I think, say something about not turning back the clock. Or perhaps it will just say DÉJÀ VU, since that is what this feels like, in a very bad way. Seventeen hours later I should be back from my stint as a protester, just in time for a long sleep before the bi-monthly meeting of our local P.G. Wodehouse Society on Sunday. After that, all is darkness. You?
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.