Am I Selfish For Not Wanting to Date a Man with a Special-Needs Child?

young woman thinking if she is selfish for not wanting to date a man with special needs

Hi Evan, I am a single mother of young children. I am currently in a relationship with a great man who has kids of his own. My dilemma is that one of his children is special needs (autistic) and will likely never live independently, only possibly in a group home as a young adult in his 20s. Raising him will very likely be quite difficult and stressful. It will be life changing if I choose him as a partner, for me and my kids. I enjoy the freedom I have to travel and enjoy my kids, and this would all change very drastically. The man is great…consistent in how he treats me, loving, kind, and generous. If it weren’t for his son I would continue the relationship and see where it leads. But I am having a lot of anxiety about the possibility of committing to him and his child long term. I know my kids are young, but they will be independent adults one day. Am I being selfish or shallow in my fear of this undertaking? Is this a valid reason to keep looking for a different partner? I really hope to hear from you. Thanks so much for your time.


Thanks for asking such an honest and challenging question, Carol.

One of the things I’ve learned over thirteen years of giving advice is this: if I ever dare suggest that someone is entitled to not want to date you, I am perceived as an insensitive asshole.

If I tell a woman that it’s okay for her not to marry the penniless, 46-year-old, always-between-jobs Peter Pan guy, then those guys will feel I’m denying their basic humanity, when, in fact, all I’m doing is letting the woman know that there are plenty of other fish in the sea that she will not have to financially support.

I caught a lot of flak for this post, in which I empathized with a woman who suffers from debilitating depression, but let her know that men were perfectly entitled to choose a healthy, normally functioning partner instead.

If you were to not consider the effects of being a stepmother and caretaker to a special-needs child, you could be considered hopelessly naïve.

In other words, I’m a realist, not a moralist.

Is it fair that women discriminate against short men? Men discriminate against heavy women? Women discriminate against Asian men? Men discriminate against black women? Everyone discriminates against older people?

No, but then again, life isn’t fair. A man is allowed to not want to date a 400lb woman if he doesn’t find her attractive. A woman is allowed to not want to date a guy who looks like her father if she doesn’t find him attractive. I’m not even sure how we can argue otherwise.

Which is just my long lead-in to suggest that your concern about the effects of an autistic child on your life is entirely reasonable. In fact, if you were to not consider the effects of being a stepmother and caretaker to a special-needs child, you could be considered hopelessly naïve.

A quick Google search reveals that the annual cost of autism therapy can exceed $40,000 to $60,000 per year and that the lifetime cost to support an individual with autism is greater than $3.2 million. Do you think subtracting that from your bank account might have an effect on you? Do you think that the all-encompassing time-intensive nature of caring for an autistic child might impact your relationship, quality time, siblings, vacations, sitters, and sex drive? You bet.

Listen, my wife has a cousin who is wheelchair-bound with MS and has a supportive partner. I got an email from a reader the other day who found a great guy although she’s blind. I helped another client fall in love and have a baby even though she’s paralyzed from the waist down. I have a friend in Los Angeles who was born with no legs and is happily married. There is a lid for every pot. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be the lid, Carol.

When you’re merging lives, you have to take everything into consideration and make an informed decision before tying the knot.

It was fair of me not to date a former drug addict I met online. I was right to have concerns about my wife when she was $40,000 in debt. When you’re merging lives, you have to take everything into consideration and make an informed decision before tying the knot. We can parse and say that it’s not someone’s “fault” for being depressed or having an autistic child. But it doesn’t really change the gravity of the situation for the person who is taking on a loving person’s challenging situation.

God bless the people who take on those challenges, but not everyone is cut out for the tough stuff. Don’t beat yourself up if you decide that, no matter how much you love this man, this isn’t the life you want.

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  1. 21

    If Carol were asking about dating a person who uses a service dog or a prosthetic limb or whose skin color were different than her own, I would say yes,  shallow, selfish, and ridiculous (Evan, your pot-lid comparisons  need revision).

    That is not what she is asking. She is asking whether or not she should continue investing  in a man whose financial, emotional, time, and many other of his resources will be focussed on a child who will never be able to care for himself for (at least) another 12 years; she is  also considering that if she stayed with him, she would be taking up that burden.

    Saying “no” to this is neither shallow nor selfish nor ridiculous. I am sorry that you have to make this choice, Carol, and I hope that you can find a man who can offer you the same attention that you’re able to offer him <3 .

    1. 21.1

      great note

  2. 22

    I think that the poster should follow her gut feelings.

    If she does not feel right about it, then she has to give up on the man and on the son.   It’s a tough one, but if she took it on, the kid would feel the resentment, and so would the man by the way.

  3. 23

    We need to be honest about what we are able to conquer in our lives and loves. Sometimes, though we may think a person is swell, we know our lifestyles aren’t compatible.   The OP has young children herself and will discover that a lot of men will not want to tackle HER kids. It’s best to be honest and lay out the issues rather than try to ignore them. They will come back to haunt you in the future.

  4. 24

    Well, I’m living this. My stepson is autistic and I adore him. He is a pleasure while his neurotypical sister is a trial. We do not spend tens of thousands on autism “care” for him yearly. Far from it.

    He is a delightful kid that makes us laugh all the time. We do not know what level of independence he will achieve as an adult but we are hoping for the best and intend to have him employed   by the age of 15.

    My husband waited till we had been dating for several weeks before he ventured to tell me about this child’s special needs. I couldn’t imagine why he had such trepidation about it? Now reading this thread I guess I can understand.

    Well, I guess it’s true the letter writer should break up with her boyfriend so he can find the woman like me who won’t think twice and will love and enjoy his child.

    I would just add that the letter writer is confident her children will one day be independent. Let us all hope that is true. But any kid is one accident or virus away from some debilitating condition that takes that rosy future away. Then the letter writer will be in the same position as her current boyfriend is.


    1. 24.1

      Great response, from a single autism mom ❤️❤️

  5. 25

    My brother has a severe form of cerebral palsy; at age 22, he is in a wheelchair and doesn’t talk or walk. Unless he is put in a group home, he will live with my parents. It is a huge burden on our family, both financially and emotionally. I don’t think any parent really expects to change diapers and share their house with caregivers when your child looks like an adult. I really think you have to live in this situation before you can judge people who do.

    OP, If I hadn’t lived this reality growing up, I might think you were being a little heartless or selfish. But having lived this reality, I would say your concerns are very much   valid. Though it sounds harsh, having dealt with all the trials that having a child like this entails, I would not for a second want to live like this if I could prevent it. If you really think the relationship is worth it, then go for it. Having a child with a severe disability is a definite challenge and many relationships do not survive it, but having said that, every family deals with different trials and tribulations, so perhaps you could make it work. It’s both difficult but rewarding 🙂


  6. 26
    Mr. Mom

    I am a single parent of a 23 year old girl with CP, I have found that women do not want to date a man in this situation.   My last gf of 7 years decided to not take it any further, she also has a disabled child,   but ended up giving him up to her Mother so she could have a “normal” life. Is that selfish of her ? I think so. She is now remarried and just had another baby. I have aceppted the fact that I will more likely than not live out the rest of my days alone with my beautiful daughter and I’m okay with that.   Is this what I want ?   Of course not, but I see first hand how women run from my situation. This is a me generation and people just don’t have the same values as in generations past. Having a disabled child is certainly a challenge,   but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker as someone else mentioned.

  7. 27

    My girlfriend of the last 5 years has a disabled son and the lack of freedom, in particular has been an issue for us.    We’ve had ups and downs, mostly because we do not have a close, traditional relationship.   Getting good care for him is expensive and a challenge and we often stay home and/or do things separately.   Understandably, she is anxious and detached quite often because she lives in fear regarding his well being.   I have 3 typical kids and we’ve discussed moving forward and blending families. I truly love this woman like no other, but do have concerns about living an isolated, sedentary lifestyle. I know that the there are no guarantees but she does hope for him to be semi independent as an adult.   Really it’s been the hardest decision that I’ve ever faced.

    BTW, she is wonderfiled to my children.   Completely accepting and loving towards them.







  8. 28

    As someone who recently became romantically involved with a single parent of an autistic child, my early response is “no.” We hardly have any time alone – maybe two or three days during our first month together. Most of our time together includes her son, one or more of his friends, and/or other adults. I consider myself to be an independent person, but the situation for me is already getting old. I like this woman a lot, but it’s pretty damn difficult to establish and build emotional intimacy (and physical intimacy) with such time restrictions in place from day one. Needless to say I’m frustrated already. I don’t want to be, but I am.

    1. 28.1

      I meant two or three “times,” not “days.”

  9. 29

    I don’t understand why she is still stringing this guy along, sounds like a big time user if you ask me. If you don’t like his child then you shouldn’t be with him. Is she selfish, YES, obviously he must be treating her like a queen and she feels threatened by his special needs child. Do him a favor leave him, so a real woman can treat him and his children better than your selfish ass. I hope you realize you’re teaching your own children to be judge mental and narrow minded as yourself, pray your children become a better adult than you, spoiled brat.

    1. 29.1

      How is being honest the same as being selfish?   I guess everyone should be politically correct to the point of stupidity.   I think Carol is just saying what a lot of people think, but are afraid to voice.   The only narrow minded judgemental person here is you.

  10. 30

    I am in a relationship for 3 1/2 yrs with a wonderful man with an autistic nonverbal 20 yr old son. The son’s mother is pretty much out of the picture and lives in another state so basically, he has raised his son by himself. I also raised my two wonderful daughters on my own and we both have something in common and that is being a great mom and dad to our kids.   My heart is open and big enough to accept his situation and figured I have enough love in me to love another man’s child with special needs. Lately, I’m having second thoughts whether I could do this, not because of the child, but rather, I feel shut out by my boyfriend when it comes to certain situations concerning his son. I am more of a parent that tries to “prepare the child for the road” and he is more the parent that “prepares the road for the child.” He coddles an enables his son instead of allowing him to be more independent. All his actions contradicts his belief and assurance that his son will be able to live in a group home after adult transition so we can have a future together. When I try to voice my feelings about him not allowing his son to grow, he’s shuts me down or deflects what I say. He says he is a special Ed teacher and he knows best about autistic kids. What do I know about autism, my kids are typical bright kids.   I feel silenced, like I’m just good enough to care for him but on the sideline, and nothing more. I truly love this man but I am starting to feel frustrated and the thought of marriage scares me.

  11. 31

    Evan, I just came across a title of your blog calling someone immoral. But you just said ‘I’m a realist, not a moralist’ as if you can’t be real and have morals. Sounds sociopathic to me.

    And it does seem like the OP felt uncomfortable around a child simply because s/he is disabled, which is itself ableist. She is overwhelmed by her preconcieved notions about autistic people and thus has become fixated with the possibly-worst-case-scenario of being autistic, although autism can affect those with the slightest complications and its own perks. The OP is re-enforcing a stigma against disabled people and thus should look within herself before she ever makes a decision: should I have an open mind about disabled children or stay an insecure perfectionist with no love life?

    Autism can be an expensive condition, but so are others such as pseudoachondroplastic dwarfism. To have someone not be a part of a dating scene because I who happen to not be is ‘pseudo’ sends the message that I am a burden, rather than a real person who just happens to have a rare condition. They’d be treating me as if I am a disease.

  12. 32
    Amanda Butler

    Hi! I can speak from personal experience. I did marry a wonderful man who had a severely autistic child. I really had determination to help him raise his sweet son! However after 10 years of marriage that sweet boy turned into a violent 17 year old who not only killed our dog, but brutally attacked myself and my daughter putting us both in the hospital. I had to call 911 and my husband and his family were angry with me and said I should have just handled him. A month later, I filed for divorce and have been for going on 2 years now. My daughter is still going through therapy for Pstd because of the attack that happened 2 years earlier. If I had to go back and choose, I would have never married him.   Autism is bearable when they are little but it’s when they become bigger and aggressive after puberty. This past year I found out my ex had to send his son to a mental hospital. I feel horrible for parents who deal with severely autistic children. I would never marry a man with a autistic child again.

  13. 33

    Well, my relationship with a single mother of an autistic child is over after six months. Having only one weekend each month of guaranteed one-on-one time (and even that wasn’t really a lock because the child’s father could and did simply say “I don’t want him” some months). We managed to find a few hours together every now and then. Otherwise all of our time was spent in the company of her son and/or his friends. My needs weren’t being met, so I ended it. I felt horribly guilty about it for a while, but now I see that there’s no way I could’ve been happy being the third wheel. I probably will never date a single mother with a special needs child again.

  14. 34

    So many interesting posts.   So many valid, undeniable personal viewpoints.   And I think all of   it comes back to Evan’s post.   You do not have to be the lid for the pot.   If you decide you aren’t – no shame.   You aren’t immature, shallow, selfish or self-absorbed.   You’re making the decision you need to.   And if you decide you’re the lid – you’re not magnificent, Mother Teresa or a saint – you’re making the decision you need to.

    Honestly, people, isn’t that what it comes down to?   No one is disputing the right of an autistic child to unconditional love.   No one is disputing the   right of a man or woman to a life time of love and happiness?   We need to shame and call down?   Fact is, I hope we all do the best we can to spread our love and acceptance – no matter the circumstance.

    I’m 50 years old.   I figure I likely have 35 years (fingers crossed!) of influential life.   12,775 days to make a difference.   MAYBE 12, 775 posts!   So I’m using this as the   first.   Let’s stop judging each other for what we dont’ agree with – let’s start encouraging and building each other up.   Maybe then, we dont’ need to post for validation and acceptance about what our good heart thinks and feels.





    1. 34.1
      Angel Tyler

      I love this so much.   I had a long distance relationship with my fiance.   His son is an aspie.   You cannot truly understand the condition until you witness it first hand.   I am in the same boat as the OP. His son us something else.   The problem is he will not medicate him if needed.   I already let him know that would be a deal breaker.   His son is 8 and still not potty trained. He won’t change himself and lies all of the time.   He probably has oppositional defiance disorder and is possibly bipolar.   The meltdowns and screaming and him hitting his dad over and over are hard.   He says hateful things and cusses.   He is a sweet boy at times.   I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop,   though.   I have two Neuro typical children that he instigates and argues with constantly.   It’s hard but hopefully we can overcome.

  15. 35

    I think it’s easy to label someone selfish. Those who are putting the labels are not in this situation themselves. For a woman to marry a man and commit to live her life with a parent of an autistic child it’s a major decision.

    Life is not easy with “normal” kids, what would you expect from “abnormal” one? If you have any doubts, don’t do it, as you will regret it with the time.

  16. 36

    Take my word for it do not ever date a person who has a child who is autistic and I mean ever, I love my GF but she does have a autistic son who most of the time is a pain in the ass and head.

    I had spoken to her today honestly about the future for us both, I cannot tolerate not being able to have anything and outstanding grocery bills caused by hiss continual eating even our place looks like a dump because of him, he destroys everything from doors,walls,all the heaters and turning up the heat causing outstanding bills which causes anger issues   me and my GF are never in public together ever because one of us is always attending to “his needs” at home yet our needs are never met and causing a serious problem with her and I and our friendships with others. We never go on dates or have fun but rather we are annoyed to death with a special needs child whom I will not bow down to any longer and to let anyone out there know not to ever do this, just believe me never date a person with this burden accursed autism.

  17. 37


    i am so glad to read this….. I am in the exact same situation . You are not alone! I recently met the man of my dreams, we have two 6 year olds. Mine a little girl , and his a little boy that is high functioning autistic. My other half is the greatest dad ever, god bless him for everything he does for his child, he is hand picked my god because not everyone could handle the situation. It has greatly effected my and my 6 year olds life…. to the point of me questioning what is the right thing to do. My gut tells me to run like hell. After the longs days of endless crying and terror in this child’s eyes for no reason. He has his moments of glory, but they are far and few between. I realize that it takes a lot of time away from my daughter having to deal with his son. I also feel like he up rooted this little boy and didn’t really educate me on anything with this matter. I find he has become numb to the chaos after 6 years. Max can talk, and is a genius but has almost a ashbergers trait. The emotion is that of a 2 year old. Some days I find my daughter and I retreating to the bedroom for some peace. It sucks. With that being said….. the universe is teaching me something right now, one, to stand my ground, my daughters well being comes first for me, and the nights I wake up in a panic is telling me that something needs to change ASAP. I have decided that they need there own space so max can have a safe haven to be at peace and we need to build a foundation no matter how long it takes. But I have to put our relationship on the burner and think about the emotional wellbeing of the kids. I don’t care about me right now.   If I had a autistic child I would never drop them into someone’s life without serious foundation and education first . I asked him if he thought of that, he has. But I had to say HALT! Do not feel bad for your gut instinct is screaming at you, listen to it. If they love you to no end then time doesn’t matter. Do what is right for you …… you get one life…. period. Thank you for this I needed it!

  18. 38
    Rachel Jenkins

    Awesome comments. I am 35 dating a 49 year old father that has a son that is 18 who is autistic. The mother lives less than 10 minutes away and does not have anything to do with the child. She does not help financially, visit or call. The father has no support as far as getting a break and works to try and support the child while he is in school. The father speaks on marriage and I help with staying home sometimes with his son while he works at night sometimes. My thing is I know I can’t commit to him when it comes to a marriage because we barely go anywhere now because he doesn’t have anyone to sit with his son and I just can’t adapt to that life style. I commend the father but in the end I know I will regret marriage because sometimes he tries to make it seem like im suppose to be at the house with his son if he is not home and is really rushing moving in together in which I will not do. It’s as if je is trying to make the responsibilty mines and I just feel like it’s a trap because he wants and needs support. The father has also said before that he and his son is a package deal and if I can’t be around to help out alot then it’s not going to work. It’s really hard dealing with a special needs child without support and not being finacially stable but the experience did open ip my eyes. The post about the puberty and maybe being aggressive as the child ages was also something to think about.


  19. 39

    This makes perfect sense to me as a single/solo/forsaken/completely isolated and alone mother of a child with Rett Syndrome. I am 27, 100 lbs, attractive, but I’m way in debt from student loans, and I will carry the burden of this responsibility alone forever with no other family. I’m basically an orphan and was a ward of the state. Reading things like this on the internet remind me to never date, and fml,   I will be alone forever because I know any decent catch would have the same thoughts as the OP. I’M NOT WILLING TO PUT MY HEART THROUGH THAT. Or until my daughter passes at am early age because that may be inevitable with her condition. After that, I go from model mother, as people naively see me as being because I look decent and care a lot, to likely a childless hooker junky on the street begging for more drug money or something. It’s all predetermined. I am my own lid to my own pot destined to live a lonely life. Yes, I choose this because people like the OP are all the world is made of, and I don’t want to be a part of that ableist world.

  20. 40

    Hi fwiw I’m 48 with a 13 year old. My partner is 50 with an autistic 11 year old and neurotypical 8 year old. I knew of the diagnosis going in, 4 years ago. Thanks to reading Internet forums, I chose a wait and see attitude to marriage based on this child.

    I am very grateful that I did, because as he has aged he has choked animals and his sibling, more than once. No love is worth putting my child at risk. I spoke to my partner 2 years in and let him know that I would never live with this child and he was not welcome in my home. I also vowed to help him from afar with research etc. It seemed like the ethical thing to do, and I gave him the choice to move on, knowing where I stood.

    We continue to live apart when he has custody, and will do so until this child is in a group home or living independently (which I doubt). It’s not the greatest situation, but my child and I are safe and I love him very much 50% of the time.

    Anyone in this situation, I beg you to do similarly. Read forums, understand the violence. He was sweet and cuddly when I met him and has morphed with time and testosterone. Be very, very careful. Your kids come first. This is a compromise which can work.

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