There was this great piece recently in The Atlantic on the importance of being deliberate in relationships. The article focused on the different ways that partners experience relationship milestones – like moving in together – when they have made a conscious decision about the milestone, rather than letting something like relationship length dictate how a relationship progresses. It is really well-written and highlights something that I think we are (I am) far too often unaware of – life can happen without our conscious involvement in how it unfolds, and one day we wake up living a life, not really knowing how we got there.
Meeting the Littles was something that both S and I wanted to be deliberate about. As their Dad, I knew that it was his responsibility to look out for them and that he couldn’t have a parade of people coming into (and out of) their lives. I had watched several of my friends navigate this territory, so I got what a big deal it is to let your kids meet someone new. I also knew that this had to happen at his pace – not just because he is their Dad but also because I knew that one of the things that had happened in his relationship with the Ex was that they had made many of their relationship “decisions” based on what it seemed like they should be doing at that point in their relationship. I had done that in previous relationships too. I didn’t want that for him. I didn’t want that for me. I didn’t want that for us. But being deliberate in this wasn’t always easy. It meant that when he had the kids, we couldn’t see each other. So in the early days of getting to know each other, there were often gaps of weeks at a time where our entire relationship was being built on text messaging and late-night phone calls. And there were other people in S’s life who knew the Littles and were getting time with S (and the Littles) that I wasn’t – like S’s former college girlfriend who he was spending a fair amount of time with in those days and N’s swim coach who S had told me he was kind of interested in. Insert the mantra: “I trust S. I trust myself. I trust the ‘us’ that we are building.” Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
At the same time, the thought of meeting the Littles was, well, terrifying. I am not a kid person. This is not to say that I don’t like kids. But I was never the person to get all gaga about baby things or cute things kids say or do. I may be one of the most awkward people ever to put in a room full of verbal small humans under the age of – I don’t know, 10? And I’m pretty sure that – much like dogs can smell fear – kids can smell awkward. So how was I to compete with the blended family that was inadvertently being built between S and his former college girlfriend who has twin daughters between the ages of S’s Littles? Or a swim coach that the Littles have known for most of their lives and who presumably knows what she’s doing around kids? I trust S. I trust myself. I trust the ‘us’ that we are building. I trust myself. I trust myself. I trust my… Oh who am I kidding?!
About 4 months after S and I met, the Ex mentioned to S that she wanted to introduce the guy she had been seeing to the Littles. The announcement that she was dating someone and her desire to introduce him to the Littles all happened while I was on a business trip 3,000 miles and 3 time zones away. It was messy trying to be supportive via text message. But I think we managed OK. There’s a lot to deal with when an Ex tells you she’s dating someone new. Even if you hated the person by the time the relationship ended (which S did not – a good thing IMHO), it’s still a kick in the gut. Add to the mix that she wants to introduce this complete stranger to your kids… It’s a lot. Over the next few days, S and I talked a lot about how he was feeling about all of this, how he would like to handle it, what (if anything) would make it less uncomfortable, scary, generally icky. At some point in these discussions he asked me if it was time for me to meet the kids. I remember feeling really mixed when he asked. On the one hand, I felt like we were getting to a place in our relationship where we were more committed to “us,” and I was less like a parade passing through his life. On the other hand, I didn’t want the Ex introducing her guy to the Littles to be what determined this – any more than I would’ve wanted her decision not to introduce the Littles to anyone for the next insert-arbitrary-time-frame-here to determine that I couldn’t meet them for that same time period.
The first time I met the Littles was at a party with a bunch of people S works with. As an introvert, parties require a lot of effort for me, and so I was extra nervous about this being the space where I met the Littles. And I worried that it wouldn’t really count as meeting them. There were other kids at the party so I literally met each Little as they ran through the kitchen at the party en route to something way more fun than meeting another grown-up. S took me home that night, so the 4 of us had a little more time to interact. It ended up being a good intro-dose for all of us. Even if it didn’t feel like it going into it. A few days later we met up to catch The Lego Movie (not bad as kid movies go; lots of stuff for grown-ups to relate to). As I was getting out of the car to catch my train home, N asked S if he was going to marry me. S and I laughed nervously, and I bolted for the train station. When I raced a half marathon a couple of weeks later, S and the Littles were there to cheer me on. My parents were in town for the weekend, and the 6 of us had lunch together after the race.
The next leap was having me over to S’s place when the kids were there. It was a Thursday night, and I had the next day off from work. We weren’t sure how they would feel about my staying over, so I assured S that it was OK for us to play it by ear. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable or weird – at least not more than the situation naturally called for. The evening went really well. As we were going to sleep that night, S told me for the first time that he loved me. I had heard those words from others before. I had said those words before. And it always means a lot. But it felt different this time. Perhaps because we had both been feeling that for awhile, and we deliberately chose to say it right then…