Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Deal breaker: “Jon” was very much the love of my life. We were together for three years, until we came to an impasse: Jon did not want kids and I did. Jon said it was better to make a clean break than waste our time on a relationship that wasn’t going to go anywhere.
That was 15 years ago. I have never married or had children. Jon and I have reconnected, and it is like no time has passed—but he is a single father of 10-year-old twin boys. After we broke up, Jon’s next girlfriend “accidentally” got pregnant. They went through a pretty ugly custody battle, and her parental rights were terminated when the boys were 3.
Jon and the boys have welcomed me into their lives. It has been so effortless that I feel like I’m in a Hallmark movie—but I can’t get rid of my resentment. I am not going to have a child of my own. I am 45 and Jon is almost 50. I look at the boys and I think, You should have been mine. I resent Jon for breaking up with me all those years ago. Telling Jon would do nothing but spoil things. It sounds ridiculous even to me: “I want you to apologize for not being psychic, for not realizing you would be a great dad, for having kids with the wrong person.” What can I do?
I don’t think it sounds ridiculous at all! Irrational, certainly, but some of our most important and deeply felt experiences are irrational. Irrational doesn’t mean unimportant, or outrageous, or wrong. You are well aware that neither of you could have predicted this outcome when you split up 15 years ago, but you still carry the pain and frustration from not having had children of your own despite wanting to very much.
It may help to reframe your first breakup with Jon. You didn’t split up so that you could go have children and he could continue a child-free existence. You split up because you wanted children and he didn’t. Had you stayed together, it seems unlikely that you would have followed his ex-girlfriend’s playbook and “accidentally-on-purpose” gotten pregnant against Jon’s wishes. The fact that he has become a good and loving father is a wonderful turn of events, but the fact remains that he did not choose to become a parent. Had you gotten pregnant while you were with him the first time—accidentally or otherwise—it might have destroyed your relationship permanently.
That said, there’s no amount of reframing that can resolve your sense of frustration and resentment that you did not get to have the biological children you wanted. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep those feelings bottled up either. I’d encourage you to see a therapist, speak to a trusted friend or two about it, keep a journal, and even share (in a limited sense) some of these thoughts with Jon. There’s an obvious discrepancy between the reason you originally broke up and the life you have together now. You can say, “Sometimes it’s painful for me to think that we broke up because you didn’t want children, and then, through a series of unforeseeable events, you ended up having them and I didn’t” without demanding he apologize or suggesting that either of you should have somehow anticipated these twists of fortune.