I’m Dating a Busy Divorced Man and He Hasn’t Introduced Me to His Family. What Gives?

Hi Evan – and thanks for your wonderful book! I’m usually pretty nurturing, and what I struggle with is making sure I don’t get walked all over. I’m dating a guy at the moment who’s a divorced single father with limited access to his young son. He also runs his own business. We’ve been together for four months and he told me very quickly (in month one) that he considered me his girlfriend. The nature of his business is that it ebbs and flows and he’s been very busy since we met, so I’ve accepted that we have limited time together, and that if he has any serious free time, he’s going to spend it with his son if he can.

I particularly like that last part, by the way, as I wouldn’t want to know him if his son wasn’t a priority in his life. But it is hard being third on his list: son, job, and then me. Also, we haven’t been out on a proper ‘date’ since the first one: we usually spend time at each other’s houses, whenever he gets a free moment, but we have lots of communication in between and I really felt that things were starting to build towards something good between us. I know a man in his position needs an understanding girlfriend who’s not going to make big drama if he has to cancel plans at the last minute, and, because my life is relatively stress-free, I can be pretty flexible (I’m pretty easygoing anyway.)

But lately his family have been visiting (they live in another country,) and he’s magically found time to spend first with his parents, and then with his sister. I’d hoped to meet his family while they were over, but now I’ve found out that he hasn’t actually told them about me, apart from the fact that he’s ‘with someone.’ I get that things are complicated, and that he has a very shaky relationship with his ex-wife so he’s going to be cautious about letting her know that he has a new girlfriend, and I also get that I don’t get to meet his son until we’re much more established. But his parents? His sister? I’m starting to feel like his dirty little secret! And I’m wondering if he can possibly be that interested in me. I thought we were working towards something serious, but my confidence has been really shaken. I’ve asked him for time to talk things through and he’s agreed, but I’m really having to push him to make time for our conversation. It’s one thing not having time to go out in public as a couple, but the fact that nobody in his life seems to know we’re a couple kind of puts it in a different light. Is it time to just cut my losses? I do really like him, we have a really great time together and he always seems so attentive whenever we can’t physically be together, but maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see? I’m really confused! Hope you can help, Evan. Thanks.

There are two separate things going on here, so let’s deal with them separately.

You have every right to consider whether you’re getting your emotional needs met right now.

1)    Your boyfriend doesn’t have much time or energy to give to your relationship.

2)    Your boyfriend hasn’t fully integrated you into his world.

The first issue is a valid one and you have every right to consider whether you’re getting your emotional needs met right now.

The second one is just an ego/insecurity thing and should not derail an otherwise strong relationship.

I’m not fully convinced, however, that your relationship is strong.

First of all, kudos to you for a few reasons: you’re self-aware – you’re trying to be cool, patient, and nurturing – and you’ve internalized the lessons of “Why He Disappeared.

But one of the key points in “Why He Disappeared” is that you can do everything PERFECTLY, but if the guy is not in the right place to give, there’s nothing you can do.

This may be one of those cases.

Listen, I’m no single father, but I’ve had many clients who are single parents and are torn in a million directions. They desperately want love and stability but feel the pull of parenting responsibility and end up neglecting their love lives. It’s not my place to tell them to reprioritize. It doesn’t sound like you want to, either.

Just don’t get distracted by the secondary issue of being introduced to his family.

So what it really comes down to is this: are you satisfied with what your boyfriend can give to you? Is it okay that you never go out to dinner on proper dates? Are you content coming in third after his kids and career? You’re not wrong if you yearn for more; nor are you wrong for feeling that he’s “worth the wait.” The question is whether there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – or whether you’re just the emotional booty call who serves her purpose in his life but never really has a full-on relationship on her own terms.

The way to figure this out is to tell him – simply and coolly – that while you care about him, you’re not getting your needs met. You don’t blame him. You’re not angry with him. You just want a real-life boyfriend, who calls you every night, who has his weekends open for you, who is making a long-term investment. And right now, he doesn’t seem like that guy.

Then see what he does.

If he lets you go, you saved yourself a lot of time and angst. If he steps up to the plate, you might have yourself a boyfriend.

Just don’t get distracted by the secondary issue of being introduced to his family. As I wrote in this blog post, his failure to incorporate you into his life has far more to do with everyone else (parents, kids, etc.) than it has to do with YOU. Don’t sweat it. Don’t complain. Don’t negotiate. This part doesn’t matter now.

What matters is that you have a happy, healthy, nurturing relationship that’s slowly growing into something more. And if you suspect that it’s not growing, it’s time to walk away and find out how much he has to give to you.

Please come back and let us know how it goes.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    starthrower68

    I will agree with you Evan on the “fully integrated” advice to a point.  4 months may still be kind of soon.  I’m not even sure 6 months is too long to wait.  But if its coming up on a year and there is still the compartmentalizing, I’d have to rethink it.  I think issue number two is a moot point, however.  It’s one thing to be the cool, nurturing, patient girlfriend IF your needs ARE getting met.  It’s entirely another to do that if they are NOT.  It’s not being self-centered to walk away because you need more; it’s centered.  Being selfish would be to demand he meet your needs and manipulate and create drama until he complies. 

  2. 2
    Joe

    You gotta come across to him with what you want first (calmly and rationally, without sounding needy), though. Men aren’t mind readers, and if this guy is really so busy, your needs may not have even occurred to him.

  3. 3
    JuJu

    Possibly the most powerful dating advice I ever heard was, “Don’t date potential, date what is.”
     
    I had a very similar experience with a man with a child from a previous marriage (right down to the family coming to visit from overseas bit), which kinda turned me off men with children entirely, but the letter writer has to ask herself why, if her needs are not being currently met, she believes they will be at some point in the future. What exactly is she expecting to change?
     
    And yes, as Star already indicated, it’s a fine like between being “cool” and allowing yourself to be used.
     
     

  4. 4
    Selena

    Evan was right on the mark with this one and I also like what JuJu added: “Don’t date potential, date what IS.”

    What makes you think the relationship you have now with your bf will ever change into anything different? He will still have a child. He will still have a business that requires more time than he can give to you. If what you have now is not quite enough, then I don’t see how you can expect that to become sufficient with more emotional investment on your part.

    I’ll also grant you that not introducing to his parents and sister who are visiting from another country is an indication of how serious he is about you.  When would he have another opportunity really?

    If you enjoy the kind of loose relationship you have with this man stick with it. If you want more in the way of time and committment, he just isn’t the one for you.

  5. 5
    Dean

    It doesn’t matter what a man says it matter what he does.
     
    I would advise you to move on. He sounds as though he is not ready for what you want, best wishes to you.

  6. 6
    The Seductress

    He doesn’t sound like a bad guy, there just isn’t enough of him to go around. Don’t settle for fragments of time in exchange for a real relationship.

    You can tell him how you feel but be prepared. You may hear all the wonderful things you want to hear so that he can keep you (because he honestly cares for you) but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to work it all out all of a sudden.

    He may step it up for a while and before you know it things are just like they are now with him telling you all the reasons why he hasn’t the time and he hates it to. You may have another ‘talk’ and the cycle continues. Before you know it, it’s a year later and you’re no farther along.

    So watch what he does, not what he says and follow your gut not your logic or heart on this one. If this relationship doesn’t make you feel good, get out. Maybe when his life irons out such that he has room for a real relationship, you can reconnect.

  7. 7
    Christie Hartman

    In “Dating the Divorced Man,” I discuss the difference between difficult issues that “come with the territory” and those that are unacceptable. Divorced dads come with certain challenges, and many women struggle with how much to expect from one. Often, you see the type of situation we have here, where a guy under-delivers and the woman attempts to tolerate it because she doesn’t want to seem demanding or add more stress to his life. They don’t want to dare expect anything because they’re afraid someone is going to tell them, “Stop being selfish. He has a kid and a life, and they come first. If you don’t like it, too bad.” Yet, I’ve dated single dads and worked with plenty of women dating them, and they’ve all managed to deliver more than this dude has. Fatherhood and careerdom don’t excuse a man from from doing the minimum required to maintain a relationship. He says she’s his “girlfriend.” Bullshit.
     
    It’s okay to be a lower priority early on when dating a guy with kids, an ex, a business, and all that. But, over time, your priority score should begin to rise. Hers hasn’t. He’s totally marginalized her. Evan’s advice is good: tell him what you need, and see if he delivers. If he doesn’t, dump him. I guarantee you there are plenty of better divorced dads out there who won’t make you feel like a dirty secret.
     
     

  8. 8
    JB

    Ahh yes the wonderful world of dating someone with kids when you don’t have any.You’ll always be 3rd thru 6th on the list of priorites.If I had a buck for every time I’ve told my friends “I’m dating a busy divorced woman with children and I’m not getting my needs met” I’d be a very rich man.For men it’s vastly different as most women have custody and barely get one night a week to date if that.Yet there’s millions of them all over the internet swearing they have “time for a relationship”…lol
    I’m wondering how old this woman is and if she’s ready to deal with the fact that after a certain age the percentage of single men that aren’t
    divorced with kids keeps dwindling especially over 40 so like me, she’ll just have to learn to deal with it or wait until Mr.Childless comes along.

  9. 9
    Goldie

    This kind of bugs me: he told me very quickly (in month one) that he considered me his girlfriend.” Does this mean what I think it means? Has he told her that she is now committed to him? Shouldn’t he have asked her instead if she’d agree that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend? And then, after marking her as his territory, he continues to give her the bare minimum of his time?
     
    And another thing. I am myself a divorced mom, and most men I’ve been involved with are divorced dads and/or single dads. I agree that there isn’t much free time to go around. But what everyone tries to do, in my experience, is to meet each other halfway. Each side accomodates the other person’s time constraints, and both try to find the time/activities that will work for both of them. I did not see this kind of give and take in this woman’s letter. It looks more like the guy keeps his schedule intact just the way it was before he had a girlfriend, yet expects her to be at his beck and call and to show up at a minute’s notice. Not a foundation for a healthy relationship, IMO. She has a life, too. He needs to show some respect.

  10. 10
    Goldie

    @ JB #8, as one 70-year-old mother of four told me a long time ago, “there is life on the other end of children”. Mine (and many of my friends’) are just a few years away from being out of the house :D

  11. 11
    Selena

    @Christie #7

    I really like that phrase “under-delivers”. :) Definitely something to evaluate.

  12. 12
    Diana

    I wonder, based on this part ~ “Also, we haven’t been out on a proper ‘date’ since the first one: we usually spend time at each others’ houses, whenever he gets a free moment” ~ if this isn’t just a convenient way for the guy to get the quick treat he wants, without having to invest in a real relationship.
     
    While it’s totally understandable the life-demanding situation he’s in, and her understanding, patience and tolerance is good ~ she also has to set boundaries. This getting together only on a whim whenever he has a free moment is setting a tone, and it’s not respectful of what she may also have going on in her life. And even if her life is pretty flexible and carefree, setting boundaries helps to reset the tone toward not being taken advantage of or for granted.

  13. 13
    Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce

    I am a single parent that dates.  Frankly I don’t have a problem balancing someone in my life.  If I like the person, they become a priority along with everything else I do.  Yes, I am a woman, but I agree with the other comments and Evan’s remarks that that is not an excuse to marginalize you from his life.
    But only you know how you feel.  If you like the guy enough to give him the space to figure out how to incorporate you more into his life, then great.  Everyone makes commitments in their own time.

  14. 14
    Aplus

    I don’t know, maybe he just isn’t ready for a full blown relationship. He likes you but does not want to hurt your feelings, tell him how you feel and go from there.

  15. 15
    Steve

    It isn’t just single parents.   You find a lot of people who are too busy to build a relationship with online dating.  People married to their jobs, traveling, etc.   If they are too busy to date, they are too busy for a relationship.

  16. 16
    JB

    9/17/10

    @Goldie #10 “There is life on the other end of children”.

    I do know this because now that I’m in my late 40′s a lot(but not all) of the women I deal with on and offline are entering this phase and I look for that and it IS a major factor when I meet or deal with women online. I hate to trot it out in the first couple of emails because women sometimes get weird about it.But I want to know HOW MANY? and HOW OLD? they are so I can assess the situation properly and know what I may be dealing with.Some women put it right in their profile and some don’t.
    I met a woman for a drink Saturday night that almost didn’t want to because she didn’t want to leave her 16 yr. old son home alone. Huh ???
    She called me back and we met anyway but it made me wonder….is this what I’m going to be dealing with if I continue to date her?? A 16 yr.old that needs a baby sitter??? She’s kidding right??

  17. 17
    Goldie

    @ JB #16 re mom of a 16-year-old.
     
    I can only think of three options:
     
    1) special-needs kid;
     
    2) one of those very very popular kids that will throw a party, invite a hundred people, and serve them alcohol, the instant his mom steps out of the house;
     
    3) maybe she’s just close with her son and didn’t want to leave him alone on a Saturday night, especially since she probably only spends every other Saturday with him?
     
    Hard for me to tell, as this doesn’t apply to me at all – I have two geeky boys. If I’m home, sometimes they’ll come out of their rooms for a chat. If not, they’ll either be on their computers or talk to each other. I think she should’ve elaborated to you a bit as to the reasons why. “I don’t want to leave my 16yo home alone” isn’t exactly self-explanatory. Pretty confusing, in fact.

  18. 18
    starthrower68

    Well, as Evan always says, if you’re going to eliminate and entire group of people based on something, i.e. single parents, then you elimininate a large section of the dating pool.  And that’s fine, it’s ok to make that choice.  But Evan also teaches to learn to work with reality instead of rail against it.  We live in a world where the number of single parents is starting to overtake the number of married ones.

  19. 19
    Diana

    To JB, she may have been concerned that he might skip out for the night, or have troublesome friends over, etc.; basically, get into hot water. Maybe she didn’t offer an explanation because she didn’t want to give you the impression that her son can be a handful, although voicing her concern about  leaving him would sure make you wonder. I can think of many 16 year-old’s who need a babysitter. :)

  20. 20
    Christie Hartman

    I definitely wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of dating single parents. They’ll vary tremendously depending on how many kids, their ages, how much parenting time they have, their relationship with their ex, their parenting style, and how ready they are to date. And it depends on gender too: as many of the men here have said, single moms tend to have the kids more and have less free time. They also tend to have a more difficult time giving themselves “permission” to date. With single dads, the ex, and her control over him and the kids, can be an issue.

  21. 21
    happygirl

    Reading this particular issue..It is my opinon that your boyfriend is not ready nor does he seem to have or make the time for you. If you say that he made time for his family….then there is free time.

    I would take Evan’s advice and approach the subject without blaming. See what he does. If in the early stages of building a relationship your needs are not met what makes you think it will get better over time??

    I would say move on….

  22. 22
    Selena

    If you can’t leave your 16 yr. old home alone long enough to go out for a drink, for any reason…how can you you hope to have a relationship? 

  23. 23
    BeenThereDoneThat

    My kids are teenagers.  I don’t mind leaving them to date but I would have issues if I left them every night of the week to be dating.  And, even though they are teenagers, if one of them was sick and I had a date scheduled, I’d cancel the date and stay home.  And even then, its not that they can’t be home alone; I certainly leave them home alone sick while I’m at work.  It just wouldn’t set well with my conscience to be on a date while my child (even a teenager) was sick. 

  24. 24
    Sam

    This is a great topic with some great advice; it would be nice to see some more topics about dating people who are divorced – don’t see that much.

  25. 25
    Karl R

    The letter writer said:
    “he told me very quickly (in month one) that he considered me his girlfriend.”
    Goldie said: (#9)
    “Does this mean what I think it means? Has he told her that she is now committed to him? Shouldn’t he have asked her instead if she’d agree that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend?”

    I interpret that statement very differently. I started referring to my current girlfriend as “my girlfriend” about two months before she started referring to me as her ”boyfriend.” This occurred well before any explicit agreement that my girlfriend and I were dating exclusively.

    A couple years before that, I was dating two women non-exclusively (and they were both aware of that). I referred to both of them as girlfriends (mostly in conversations with third parties).

    I use the word “girlfriend” as a convenience. It’s a fast, easy way to describe my relationship to that person, especially in conversations with people that don’t know her.

    My current girlfriend, on the other hand, tended to treat the exact nature of our relationship as private for the first few months that we were together. She would introduce me as her “dance partner.” I was amused by this understatement, since I was spending five nights a week at her house … which is not something I do with the dozens of other women I consider to be dance partners of mine.

    In this case, not only is the boyfriend’s meaning unclear, but his expectations are unclear as well. While we can infer that he hoped that she considered him to be her girlfriend, I don’t believe we can assume that he expected her to consider him that way.

  26. 26
    JB

    I think in my particular situation the woman I’m dating is a little paranoid because she did mention to me that she has a friend who she said had been “dating too much” and neglecting the”parenting”and now her kids’ grades have suffered and he’s getting into all kinds of trouble. So it is a fine line single parents walk and like Christie says there are many many variables in all of these situations.

  27. 27
    Selena

    Some people call whoever they are going out with their boyfriend/girlfriend – regardless of how casual, or brief the relationship. For others the “title” comes with a deeper level of committment.

    Maybe when this guy told her he considered her his girlfriend, he meant he wasn’t dating anyone else, or wanted to? But wasn’t necessarily committed to her?

    I wouldn’t consider myself someone’s girlfriend if I had yet to meet their child. And after 4 mos. as the girlfriend, I would expect to be introduced to their visiting family as well. The LW’s guy might have a much looser interpretation of what a girlfriend is than I do.

  28. 28
    Chris

    Does this guy say “I love you”?  Does he talk about plans for the future?  Does he seem concerned when you’ve had a bad day?

    If he is kind and tender when you’re together, I can understand not introducing you to his child and his family. 

    When I was single I became slower and slower to ask girls to meet my parents.  It had nothing to do with the quality of the girls themselves, but until I was 100% sure we were a couple and we were going to last, I gradually waited longer and longer to start bringing a girl to family events.

    It was about protecting myself from the embarrassment of having to admit to my parents that I had had another break up.  I wanted to spare my parents the the bad feelings they might suffer if they welcomed another girl into our family, treated her to dinner, and then had her disappear. 

    My near-financee is the best girl I ever dated and is perfect from a parental point of view (and a boyfriend’s), but I didn’t introduce her to my parents until we were together for almost six months.  I loved her dearly, but I needed to be sure about Us before I intregrated her into my family. 

  29. 29
    Fawn

    I found myself putting up with this once upon a time… turns out the guy was still stuck on his ex and was spending all his “free” time with her.  Time to break out the hard questions and find out what’s really going on.

  30. 30
    Diane

    I like Christie’s posts and feedback.

    Personally, I live by “It’s not what they say, it’s what they DO”–this has to do witih men, friends, business associates, etc.

    This guy just seem to be where he needs to be in regard to starting a real relationship.  Why not just date this guy casually if she likes him that much?  Date other men, have a full life…he’s only one guy.

    It’s awkward incorporating a new woman into a man’s life including his children’s life.  He may not be ready for that.  Could also be that he’s not really moved beyond the divorce.

    Although everyone is different, I believe a good timeline for men to be ready to be in another relationship after a divorce is 3 years.  (The ‘problem’ with lots of men though is when they are ready, they are ready.  They end up with the first decent woman that crosses their path, and often put up with a lot of crap to see that it works.)

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