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Dating Advice #112 - Second Fiddle?

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

If you marry someone with kids, where does that put you on the totem pole?

Dear Rosie & Sherry:

I am a successful, attractive, 40-year-old woman. My problem is that I always seem to find men who are divorced with children. They usually have joint custody with the ex-wife, and have their kids every other weekend, and a day during the week.

My biggest concern is, how will I ever be number #1 in a man's life, and is that even an option. I am currently dating a man who is 44 and has two boys. He drives his boys to sports practice every weekend, and this tends to dominate his free time. This goes on all year long, and he isn't able to push everything else aside for me.

I feel that I don't have a lot of baggage except a dog. All the men I find seem to be "Mr. Mom." Help!


Dear Victoria,

Everyone has baggage, and the older we get, the more we accumulate. The trick is to learn how to consolidate the baggage so it doesn't weigh you down when traveling through the dating maze.

We can spot one item that may be weighing you down in your dating: It's the fact that you focus primarily on yourself. This isn't meant to be a criticism. It's just that most adults who have never been married before haven't acquired the skill of balancing their own interests with the needs of their life-partner and family. Instead of being in a relationship in which the partners view their marriage as the center of their lives, give each other emotional and tangible support, and occasionally minimize their own needs in order to help their spouse or to strengthen their marriage, single people are totally responsible for their own welfare, health and happiness. It's only natural for them to feel, as you do, that they need to be #1 all the time.

However, in any successful relationship (even one in which there aren't ready-made children), nobody can be #1 all the time. One of the reasons why older singles have so much difficulty taking the steps that lead to marriage is because they insist on priority, and it is hard to visualize how someone they are interested in can ever balance his own needs and obligations with theirs, and vice versa. We promise you that it can be done. However, as an older single it will be a little harder for you to make the changes in your established priorities and expectations that are needed to accomplish this goal. People who marry at a younger age have less of an adjustment to make, since they begin to develop a married person's perspective early in adult life.

What is a married person's perspective? When we run programs for married couples, we stress the importance of putting the marriage first, before everything else, including career and children. That doesn't mean pushing the kids off to the background and ignoring their needs, or never staying late at the office. It means making time for each other every day with a phone call to say hi and perhaps some quiet time together. It means setting aside a few hours each week to go out on a "date" and not discuss issues like bills, child-discipline, in-laws, etc.

It means sometimes setting aside your own wishes because your spouse's needs are more important, and knowing that your spouse will do the same for you on occasion. It means complimenting each other, appreciating each other, and listening to what your spouse says makes them happy -- and doing it even though you can't imagine why something like letting the guys hold a Super Bowl party at your tidy apartment brings them so much satisfaction.

It means choosing the job offer that pays a little less or sounds a little less prestigious, if it means that you won't have as many of those awful business trips, can spend less time commuting, or are expected to be at work 40 hours a week instead of 55.

It also means that if you marry someone who already has children, whether they are young or grown, you understand the importance those children play in your spouse's life, and work together to balance his need to spend time with the children and give them emotional as well as financial support.

We hope that you can figure out a way to balance everyone's needs for attention, time, energy and love, and that you can develop the perspective to make your budding courtship with this man successful.

Rosie & Sherry

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