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. 41
    Neil Houlihan

    I have a son with severe Autism and I am currently going through a divorce. My one piece of advice is if you are having doubts, follow your gut. It is not a road for the faint of heart. I love my Son more than anything but he is life changing. I have no sense of a typical experience in life, but that being sad our life is extraordinary and not the life many get a chance to experiance. My son will never leave me and for that I feel truly blessed he is my bestfriend.

  2. 42

    I am a man raising my son on my own who has Autism and ADHD. Tbh I expect your partner deep down expects you to leave although he will likely never say it. He probably could not beleive you dated him in the first place tbh because of the challenges he likely faces at home. Autism is mostly based around problems with communication when that improves over time so likely will the child’s behaviour. I suggest making a real effort with the child helping them with communication. if you do that you may well find a special bond between yourself and the child will start to build because you will start to understand most of his behaviours are simply because he is frautrated. Imagine wanting a specific thing in your mind but not be able to communicate it that’s is simply what a lot of Autism is. Unfortunalty most people don’t understand Autism and because of that single parents and Autistic children often end up alone and isolated. So my advise is ask yourself have I really tried?

  3. 43

    carol , thank you so much for being candid about this subject . Dating with children is intense as both participants bring their own bagage to the table . I am in he exact same boat With 3 boys of my own as well and considering to get serious with my guy who’s son has autism 2. I am madly in love with him and his child . I am no stranger to family issues but from family members with mental health and drug addiction and I see autism as manageable with resources (depends on severity), communication and a great plan we can blend our family and have a happy life . Let’s be real here , the fanatsy isn’t real . The love is and will keep you going  , and it doenst discriminate. So ask yourself , what does your heart say?

  4. 44
    Wilhelmina Murray

    where is the Data. Reading a quote isn’t the same as supporting data. I would love to know where the study was conducted, how were data samples formed, etc. If there’s a scientific study out there, please let me know where.

  5. 45
    Towana Allen

    This is a great post. I have a son who is 24 yrs old and is severely autistic and totally blind. He has feelings and is still a blessing. I used to think that it was selfish if someone did not want to have a relationship with me because of him. I had someone who I attempted to get to know say that to me. I do have people to care for my son while I go out and even go on cruises. Many times I think men think that having a child with special needs will somehow take time away from them. You just have to know how to balance your time and when you have help you can give that special man the time he needs and get your own ‘me’ time in. I wish my situation was different…but it isn’t…my other two children are ‘normal’ As far as expenses….I do not have any. I have tapped into all of the resources that are available to my autistic child.

    It is not as expensive as many think. But this comes from those who really do not know first hand everything available to them. My husband, his dad, passed away 5 1/2 yrs. ago. It was even difficult for him. My sadness is that many will not give us wonderful people a chance because of our situation and they pass judgment before evaluating it all. Most people run from things that seem like they are going to be hard to deal with. It may….and I say give it a shot to see if it is worth it. Give us all at least a fair chance. Many of us do not even get that. We get judgment.

    Quick story I had a friend who kind of looked down on special needs people. Now she is one of them. But to the person dig deep in your heart and make that decision. If it is not for you…it is okay. It takes an extra special person to deal with taking care of a special needs person and it is not easy all of the time. I do hope one day I will meet someone who will be willing to take that chance with me one day. I do not think it is fair I have to grow old alone because I have a special needs child either. But we have to play the hand we are dealt by God and the universe and be the best we can be. I know I am a damn good woman and mom waiting for the special person who can see forest beyond the trees.

  6. 46

    LOL Mr Katz obviously hasn’t looked around him at America,land of the very obese women who CONTINUE to get married every year in their strapless wedding gowns and the men who claim to love them and have children with them, while the former-model me remains single never married and attracting ‘asperger’ type men. WHY???

    There is a HUGE difference between ‘for better or for worse’ taking care of a spouse who is healthy when you marry them and marrying or dating someone who has significant weird needs.. and you are not a psychologist or nurse of counselor! If you want to be, that is not a ‘romantic’ relationship.

  7. 47

    ..Don’t compare sadness or despair that comes and goes to someone with a ‘disability’ that was in special ed for behavioral or cognitive issues from childhood on!!!

  8. 48

    As a single parent to a special needs child I am heartbroken to read these comments. Basically me and my son are a burden to society and anyone who wants a happy life or future shouldn’t touch us with a barge pole and only a man as perfect as Jesus would be able to put up with us…doesn’t leave me with much hope then…and disabilities being compared to alcoholism and drug addiction?!! Don’t know what to say to that at all

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