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Every Witch Way But Loose

My boyfriend of five years was a father figure to his two step-daughters from his last relationship, and gets teary-eyed when he doesn’t hear from them. The problem is, he’s sneaking calls to them -- only calling them or their mother from work. If one of the girls calls him at home, he goes into the other room and gets off the phone quickly. It’s not that I can’t trust him, but part of me feels that their mother’s still on his mind, too. Bringing this up causes a heated argument. He says I’m insecure, it’s driving him crazy, and makes him feel hesitant to visit them. Is his behavior suspicious, or am I paranoid?


Crime of the century! Right up there with genocide, roadside bombings, and slapping around old ladies. Go ahead, accuse him, based on all the damning evidence at hand: “Why, you…you…really good dad!”

You don’t mention finding lipstick on his collar, or a bill for three hours at a motel. Maybe what’s really getting to you is a crayon you pulled out of his jacket pocket, along with a charge slip from Toys “R” Us. You can get away with accusing him of having an affair with the mom, but it’s a little too Wicked Witch to scream at him for maintaining a relationship with the kids: “Admit it! Admit it! I know you bought her a Happy Meal! And her sister, too!”

Sure, he’s sneaking calls to them. Consider this: Guys sneak beers, and maybe cigarettes, but never broccoli. They don’t usually double back from work to mow the lawn, or tiptoe out in the dead of the night to return library books. But, when decency gets criminalized, the decent get sneaky. Chances are, you made it clear that you weren’t willing to share this guy’s attention, not even with a couple kids. That’s probably what made him pull back to self-preservation mode, the diplomacy of “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt me.”

Here he is, not even their official dad, and he gets weepy when he doesn’t talk to them. This is the stuff Hallmark TV specials are made of, yet you’re turning your relationship into an episode of “Prison Break.” You admit, “It’s not that I can’t trust him.” No, it’s that you’re irrational and insecure, and making his life hell is probably your way of controlling how much of it he diverts to people who aren’t you. Come on, after five years, you don’t know what he’s made of, or whether he still has the hots for the last lady in his life? If he is running away with her, he’s an awfully slow runner. Like, at this rate, he might be able to beat Stephen Hawking across my living room rug.

Granted, he could leave you for the mother -- or for some chick he bumps into at the mailbox when he’s sneaking a call to the kids, but keeping him on a choke chain won’t prevent it. Try a different strategy for a month, and see where it gets you: Admit to him that you’re insecure, and that his sense of duty isn’t cause for concern but cause to be with him in the first place. Encourage his relationship with the kids, and give him the leeway to conduct phone conversations in private, without the Soviet State of Girlfriend listening in. You might just come to see him for what he appears to be: a guy on the phone because he cares about his kid’s math grade, not because he’s recruiting housewives to remake your relationship into the suburban version of Hef and the triplets.

Posted by aalkon at April 10, 2007 11:31 PM


I agree- is this a relationship or a sentence? If I was this guy I would've already dumped her for being too clingy and so bitter that he cares about these kids- you divorce wives not children

Posted by: Julie at April 11, 2007 3:24 AM

Right on advice, Amy.

The clingy, insecure wife/girlfriend seems to be a staple of the relationship world. It seems like that cohort should start to get clued in, with the information age and all.

Posted by: doombuggy at April 11, 2007 7:51 AM

Guys perspective here: About 6 years back, I dated a woman and became attached in a fatherlike way to her son. When she and I broke up, it felt like a hatchet through the chest when I didn't see him anymore. He was young and innocent, and caught in a situation he had no control over. As kids grow up, they really take on a part of you, and there is a spiritual bonding that you don't get in any other type of relationship.

This woman is psycho jealous, and he needs to run. If he marries her he will foreit himself like a diabetic losing his toes, then ankles, then legs....

Posted by: eric at April 11, 2007 8:07 AM

Sad, Eric. And I know what you mean. My little neighbors who live behind me are very dear to me -- and I'm not generally someone who's referred to as "a kid person"!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 11, 2007 8:37 AM

'The clingy, insecure wife/girlfriend seems to be a staple of the relationship world.'

I think that an insecure guy would find this kind of woman very attractive, because he can rescue her and be her hero. It's also very safe for him because he knows she is fixated on him, and won't be unfaithful. Since fidelity is crucial for guys (harwiring, etc.) misery seems to be a fair price to pay.

Since there are so many guys in these kinds of relationships, there are obviously a lot of insecure men out there.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 11, 2007 9:23 AM

Sorry, that should be 'hardwiring'.

As usual, I will use a movie reference to illustrate my point. ' The House of Sand & Fog', starring Sir Ben Kingsley.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 11, 2007 9:24 AM

Chrissy -

Re: Sand and Fog, I laughed out loud when Maltin called it "the Feel Bad Movie of the Year." Yikes, that was tough to watch.

Nothing else to add. Everybody's nailed this one perfectly.

Posted by: snakeman99 at April 11, 2007 9:55 AM

I think our letter writer may have gotten a bad rap here; you say, Amy, that you don't sneak around to buy broccoli. That's why she wants to know why he's sneaking around. It sounds to me like he's doing the patented "you're crazy" when she points out that if it was just to talk to the kids, there's no reason for him to be sneaking it.

Posted by: rebecca at April 11, 2007 11:35 AM

When my parents were about to get a divorce, and seperated for 2 years, my stepfather still remained my father figure despite the fact that he's not related to me biologically. I was like 19 at the time. He did this out of his own accord, and he would seek me out and spend time with me and shit like a daughter. What Im saying is, he's like my father so that harpee that wrote to Amy should understand that. He has 5 biological kids (my stepfather) yet he still considered me his daughter even though there was no prospect of a relationship with me mum. It aint all about blood.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 11, 2007 11:55 AM

If it wasn't the kids, she would choose another topic to harp on; basically any interest that takes his focus off her. She would bug him about drinking with his friends, working too late, going to the store to buy cigarettes, closing the door to piss, etc. etc.

My mom was a narcissist too, and everyone had to pay attention to her and her alone at all times or pay the price in endless nagging.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 11, 2007 12:43 PM

Rebecca, he's clearly "sneaking" around because every time he previously attempted to behave in a normal, and reasonable fashion (i.e., openly talk on the phone to his step-daughters), it resulted in tears, fears and recriminations from the letter writer. He's decided that furtive phone calls in the other room are preferable to yet another blow-up.

The letter writer isn't paranoid - her "fears" don't make her interesting enough for that self-diagnosis. She's just average, bargain-bin needy, insecure and self-centered. Boyfriend is also enabling her neuroses even more by going into the other room to speak to his step-daughters. He needs to cowboy up, tell her that he's going to have a fatherly friendship with the little girls, and she needs to deal with it or move along (preferably to a competent therapist).

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at April 11, 2007 12:49 PM

And Chrissy is absolutely correct. Once this woman has relegated her boyfriend's relationship with the step-daughters to the trash heap, she'll look for something else to freak over. Unless she can grow up and build some real self-worth, she'll continue to be a sucking, emotional black hole.

Posted by: Ms. Gandhi at April 11, 2007 1:01 PM

Oh good, I've been waiting for you to post this one after reading it on creators.com. This is really reminding me of that group in the UK of "childless stepmothers" (their description, not mine) who proudly and forthrightly admit far and wide that...they don't particularly like their stepchildren, because they feel jealous of them. Now, to be fair, it seems that some of these dads are expecting too much, too soon from their new wives as far as feelings for the kids are concerned...but still, I'm astounded that these women would admit to anyone except perhaps their therapists or their closest friends that they dislike their *husband's minor children* because they are *jealous* of the closeness between their husbands and the kids. This woman seems to fit right into that category, IMHO.

The thing I loved most about the UK story? The women in question claimed they deserved sympathy...because they hadn't asked to fall in love with men who have kids. They seem not to realize that no one made them MARRY the men with the kids...or that, given how much parenthood can change a person, they might well not have liked these guys at all pre-kids, when said guys likely preferred hanging around with their male friends in pubs drinking beer and watching sports at all hours rather than participating in more family-friendly activities. (Yes, I'm stereotyping horribly here. Yes, I apologize. But I do think I have a point.)

I have some sympathy for women married to or seeing men whose adult children are trying to undermine their relationship/destroy their financial security. That's not acceptable. But in cases such as the one this woman is writing about, I have a very simple answer - the kids were there first and, unlike you, they are not able to live independently. If you can't deal with what that entails, find someone else.

Posted by: marion at April 11, 2007 4:09 PM

Im with marion. The solution to the majority of reationship problems is Dont like it? Find someone else or shut up and put up.

Posted by: PurplePen at April 11, 2007 5:22 PM

I imagine it's difficult (not impossible) for a person who has never had children to understand what a Parent/child relationship is about, especially fathers & daughters. So her mind (the writer) translates the relationship into something she DOES understand, an affair.

The relationship between a father and his daughters is far deeper than that, and her boyfriend deserves an endless amount of credit for putting up with her shit.

I sure wouldn't, I doubt many fathers would...

Posted by: Morbideus at April 11, 2007 6:05 PM

"if it was just to talk to the kids, there's no reason for him to be sneaking it."

People have a right to have private phone conversations. The fact that they want to doesn't mean they're doing anything wrong. A third party in the room while you're on the phone is distracting and means you might not speak exactly the same way, depending on what their psychology is...and again, not because there's necessarily anything wrong...but simply because the dynamic changes.

This guy's reaction is typical. Women send men underground when they suspect them for no reason. Women who are rational and have self-respect are not the ones who behave like shrews. Rational women look for evidence something's wrong -- they don't prosecute a guy because he doesn't invest every drop of his lifeblood in them. In fact, if they're rational and self-respecting, they probably value a little separation in the relationship -- ie, separate interesting lives, coming together to be more interesting. Not two incomplete people coming together in a desperate attempt to form one whole.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 11, 2007 6:30 PM

"I imagine it's difficult (not impossible) for a person who has never had children to understand what a Parent/child relationship is about, especially fathers & daughters."

Perhaps, but...presumably, this woman is someone's daughter, and has had experience with the parent-child bond from that perspective, no? Yes, perhaps she has no relationship with her father, but I would think the average person would be able to muster up a slight amount of empathy for children who were in possible danger of losing contact with a parent, given that losing a parent seems to be one of those deep-seeded human fears. On the other hand, there are some people out there who outwardly or de facto demand that their partners give up contact with their kids from previous relationships, so I guess this empathy is not universal...but, unless this woman was raised by wolves, I would think she has SOME understanding of the parent/child relationship.

"Rational women look for evidence something's wrong -- they don't prosecute a guy because he doesn't invest every drop of his lifeblood in them."
No kidding. Who wants a guy who has nothing else of importance in his life but you? Tedious.

Posted by: marion at April 11, 2007 7:52 PM

Marion, if only there were more like you.

Hmmm...then again, if there were many more like you, I'd be working in a gas station!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 11, 2007 8:09 PM

Ah, Amy, thank you, but I have my very own set of dysfunctionalities. :) I just grew up in a household that believed in therapy early and often, that's all.

For whatever reason, this column is reminding me of a letter to an advice columnist that I read several years ago. The letter-writer had three children from his previous marriage, and had a good relationship with these children. He had begun to date another woman who he deeply loved, and wanted to marry...except that the woman would only agree to marry him if he'd give up contact with his children. Now, a reasonably sane person would hear that, decide that the woman was insane with sociopathic tendencies (or something similar), and run away as fast as possible. He, however, was writing in to the advice columnist because he felt this to be a genuine dilemma - keep the kids, or keep the girl? The advice columnist, of course, encouraged him to keep the kids...but if he was really missing that "these are MY OFFSPRING and I will protect them with my LIFE" instinct, what sort of life did those children have to look forward to?

Posted by: marion at April 11, 2007 9:57 PM

I'm godfather to one of my ex's daughters. That doesn't stop with the breakup. And it means I am still around (and *usually* adored by) her older and younger sisters. And when it was an issue in a new relationship, it came up early, ending it while we were just annoyed, not hurt.

Posted by: tool at April 11, 2007 10:31 PM

Wow, Marion...that is shocking. And the answer isn't just to tell him to keep the kids, but to bitchslap his ass for being the kind of parent who would even need to ask.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 12, 2007 12:58 AM

Excuse me, "parent."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 12, 2007 12:58 AM

Well, at least he didn't drive into a lake with his kids in the car and drown them all.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 12, 2007 8:26 AM

snakeman, glad you liked the movie reference. Jennifer Connelly does a pretty good impression of clingy/selfish.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 12, 2007 8:47 AM

I sometimes think there is a natural inclination for stepparents to undermine the relationship between their new sweety and his/her kids. Time, money and attention is being diveted to someone who doesn't carry the stepparents genes.

Children might die due to lack of care (not as common now as times gone by) or be pushed out of the family prematurely due to stepparent pressure on the child, natural parent or both (still VERY common)

It's no coincidence that the villian in so many children's stories is the "wicked stepmother". It's a villian that many children are well aquainted with.

My own stepmother spent my entire childhood trying to separate me from my father, until he caught her screwing his best friend then she was the one that got her walking papers. I sometimes wish I had been born a girl so I could have beat the living shit out of her (I don't hit women no matter how much they deserve it).

I have many friends who have experience with stepmothers. At least among the guys the stories are all very similar. Not sure if the experience is the same for girls. Even listening to my adult female friends who have stepchildren I am amazed by how heartless they are towards their husbands' children.

*disclaimer* I'm sure there are loving decent stepmothers somewhere but I've never met one.

Posted by: winston at April 12, 2007 10:29 AM

winston, I have noticed that, in life, there is a tendency of like gravitating toward like. I've noticed that people who had bad experiences with something that really affected their lives - stepparents, abuse, whatever - tend to end up hanging around other people with similar experiences. I have known some bad stepparents...but I have also known some truly kick-ass stepparents, some of whom walked a very delicate tightrope of increasingly stepping up as the kid's corresponding natural parent crapped out. I know at least a few people who think of their stepparent as their "real" parent over their corresponding bio-parent. (If you want a famous example, Kate Hudson named her son Ryder Russell after her "stepfather" Kurt Russell, and she's indicated that she sees him as her real father, although her bio-father, Bill Hudson, is alive and well and complains that he's not as highly valued, or something like that.)

Amy, that letter does sound terrible...but at least he asked. And his new girlfriend also sounded horrible...but at least she was straightforward about her wants. The more typical pattern is that the girlfriend coos over the kids...and then slowly but surely makes sure the father is "too busy" to spend time with them, or just starts acting jealous and possessive and is indulged by the guy. And then, slowly the dad fades out of the kids' lives. I really, truly wish that people would realize that, if they have children, for the next 18 years (and sometimes beyond!) their own wants/needs/dreams are subordinate to the kids' needs. Not the kids' wants - the kids' needs. Far too many don't get that...at least before the kids pop out.

So yes, I can't believe I'm coming up with any mitigating factors for a guy who wrote into an advice columnist asking about whether he should abandon his kids at his girlfriend's behest...but he's not the worst sort out there, even excluding outright child abusers.

Posted by: marion at April 12, 2007 8:11 PM

**** "I imagine it's difficult (not impossible) for a person who has never had children to understand what a Parent/child relationship is about, especially fathers & daughters."

Perhaps, but...presumably, this woman is someone's daughter, and has had experience with the parent-child bond from that perspective, no? ****

Experience? Certainly, but it doesn't mean she actually learned anything. Clearly she is not thinking from the perspective of a parent or a child.

Posted by: Morbideus at April 19, 2007 8:28 PM

She wants to monitor his phone calls for any "inappropriate" remarks he might make to his step-daughters?
Maybe it's because I was fired from two jobs, and almost arrested, because two women interpreted what I considered to be innocent remarks to be "inappropriate", but if I were her boyfriend I'd watch out.

Posted by: Don at May 1, 2007 11:04 AM

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