The Help Desk: A reluctant prospective father
Q. I live with my girlfriend, who I met after my divorce three years ago, and I love her deeply. But we have a serious problem. She's 32 (I'm 43) and she wants us to have a child.
I already have a son aged 14 from my marriage and although I truly love him, being honest, I was ambivalent about fatherhood the first time round. His early years were not a happy time and, frankly, my heart sinks at the idea of doing all that again.
Apart from anything else, it puts such a strain on relationships. I really want my girlfriend to be happy, but she seems to be obsessed. I now dread our conversations about this because it's getting so painful, but she keeps coming back to it. What can we do?
A. A few years back, some friends of mine were in a similar position. They now have two daughters and everyone seems very happy. At the time, when I asked the male partner how they had resolved their problem, he said that he had come to understand that having children mattered to his partner infinitely more than not having them mattered to him.
Knowing how hard it had been for him to let go of what he wanted, I was full of admiration for his maturity and generosity in working out their problem. In such an intense situation, when it seems there can be no winner, it can be very difficult to get a sense of perspective.
There are some women for whom the desire to reproduce does seem to become an obsession. Even the most rational can sometimes become quite unhinged. I know of one who flew into a war zone – at a cost of hundreds of pounds – because she was ovulating and her beloved was working there. Another told me she was in the act of furtively stealing semen from the condom her partner had just used – before she realised what she was doing and stopped herself.
I'm not suggesting that any of this means you should be the one to give way; just that you need to know that, depending on your girlfriend's state of mind, you may be up against something that's bigger than both of you. Hence, it would be all too easy for you to get trampled into submission.
But it's hugely important that you make your decision consciously, and together – which perhaps you did not do last time round. I don't know if the idea of going to counselling together brings you out in hives, but this is exactly the kind of thing it's good for.
Yes, children put a strain on relationships, but so do thwarted desires and unresolved anger. If you want to stay together, one of you will need to redraw their plans, and do so in a spirit of generosity and with full ownership of their plan B. If this is you, do bear in mind that the circumstances are different this time and if you were to go ahead, it need not be a repeat of your early experience of fatherhood.
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