Dear Carolyn: I was in a long-term relationship that ended about six months ago, so I haven’t dated in nearly a decade. I have a few guys who are sort of vying for my affection (jeez that feels self-important to type). How does one decide?
I am interested in having a family and, since I’m 30, I feel a little pressure to find someone I want to start a life with sooner rather than later. I just feel like I don’t know what I’m doing at all.
Finding a Partner
Dear Finding a Partner: Good. That might be what saves you from yourself.
Because as much as we like to be in control of what we do, we don’t always “decide” things in our own best interests.
If you, say, start evaluating your suitors using a side-by-side comparison, then you could easily miss that none of them is right for you. Same if you weigh them just as potential dads.
If you pick a favorite and then date him exclusively to see how things go: You could feel committed even when your heart isn’t there yet, then set aside various doubts because they’re too messy/premature to deal with, then find yourself months or years down the road in a life you built on what was essentially an adult version of rock-paper-scissors.
You don’t know what you’re doing. That’s OK. Own that.
And who really does know, anyway?
You just know you, better than you did a decade ago.
So don’t “do” anything besides live your life in service of its two appropriate masters: decency, and you. Do what’s right and what’s right for you.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
A goal or even desire to find a life partner before your fertility expires gives you incentive to live and judge and choose in service of that vs. of who you are.
Living in service of who you are doesn’t mean you forgo dating or suitors or wanting someday to have kids. As long as you want these things, they’re included in who you are — as a logical and meaningful part of a complicated whole, just as a good life partner would be.
A firm dedication to living your own life on your own terms isn’t just freeing; it’s the best filter any of us has to catch people and decisions that are fundamentally incompatible with who we are.
Dear Carolyn: I would like for my husband and me to give my daughter, his stepdaughter, a lump sum toward a house down payment. She and her boyfriend, both 30, are hard workers, but she’s had a career of mainly temp jobs, without much cushion for savings.
My husband feels uneasy about this because we’ve never financially assisted his daughter, and we already pay for my daughter’s health insurance and phone/internet.
I say his daughter has been lucky enough to find stable employment and she doesn’t need the money. She and her husband already bought a house on their own.
Isn’t it OK for parents to give money to the kids who need it, rather than arbitrarily splitting it down the middle?
Dear Can We?: You can get any answer you want here. It just depends on the way you spin it.
You could use luck as your axis, and argue your daughter has received less of it than his daughter has. Therefore, the lump sum would even things out.
You could also use choices as your axis, and argue a gift to your daughter essentially penalizes his daughter for managing her life better.
You could use autonomy as your axis, and decide it’s your money to use as you see fit.
You could use necessity as your axis, and assure the nonrecipient daughter that support will be available to her, too, should circumstances ever demand it — maybe not in the same form dollar for dollar, but in whatever form those circumstances demand.
You could use fairness as your axis, and provide a lump sum to your daughter that matches a lump sum you hold as an interest-bearing emergency fund for his daughter, should her “luck” ever run out in your lifetime.
Those quotation marks are loaded, yes. Because if it is all just about luck, then his daughter’s luck could someday turn against her too, no? She or her husband could get sick, injured, laid off, swindled, outsourced, natural-disastered, falsely accused — right? They could divorce, bear a child with expensive special needs, suffer a catastrophic loss their insurance — surprise! — doesn’t cover?
Always be wary of certainties you build out of temporary conditions. You can’t know whether your stepdaughter’s advantage is fixed or fleeting.
If these were my cash reserves and loyalties to assign and if they were my kids to encourage, then I’d go with some version of equity in support — be it through the two-lump-sum plan or a we’ll-be-there-for-you-too pledge, even if it means you square things up through your will. Both are blunt instruments relative to the vagaries of life, but good faith doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to show up.
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