Care and Feeding

Weighing Love After Loss

My partner insisted I have an abortion, and I regret it. Can our relationship survive?

A woman stares into the distance looking sad while lying in bed. In the background, her partner can be seen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@gmail.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 12-year-old son is in Boy Scouts and his troop has a thing with nicknames. After you’ve been there a while, one will emerge and stick. Like glue. At camp earlier in the summer, a leader decided my child looks like a character from a popular horror TV show and has started calling him by that name. No one in my house watches this show. I’m a HUGE wimp. Zombies are a no go for me. 12-year-old watched 15 mins of the first episode on a weekend afternoon to figure out what they were talking about and (rightly) decided the show was too much for him.

Is it OK for an adult to put a nickname on a kid that they know NOTHING about? Other than zombie fighting, he has zero context for what kind of character he is being compared to—brave? Kind? Cruel? He doesn’t know if he is being made fun of or is this a cool comparison. And neither do my husband and I, given my status as a grade-A weenie. My son is very go with the flow, make no waves, please everyone kind of kid. He will not ask them to stop and says he has no issue. But I still don’t know what to do? Let it go? Intervene? Help!

—Walking Dread

Dear WD,

Much like the zombie story trope where the infected party is hidden among the survivors, your answer lies hidden, undetected, in your question. You say he will not ask them to stop. And then you go on to say that he has no issue. So there you have it. He has no issue, so there’s no need to ask them to stop.

I have a sense of what you may be thinking. But what if it’s disrespectful? What if it’s a low-key insult? What if he doesn’t have an issue with it but he should? Look, one of the reasons 12 can be a painful age for parents is because our little ones are old enough to be out on their own among teenagers and adults who may tease them and make fun of them, but they’re still small enough and child-like enough for us to feel—and be driven to distraction by—an overwhelming sense of protection.

So, the struggle here is not his but yours. Can you accept that if he doesn’t want to address it, then he doesn’t have to? Can you accept that it may bother him but if he doesn’t want to do anything about it, he will just have to be bothered until he does? Because that is what it will take not just for this situation, but for all you have coming up. In the coming years you will cringe to see how he deals with lopsided relationships, bad teachers, exploitative supervisors, lecherous friends, and an entire world of terrible situations that you will simply not be able to deal with for him. This is just one. You cannot deal with this for him. So show him how to deal with it on his own.

Let him know that he doesn’t have to watch the show to know who the character is. A quick trip to the Wikia page for any character will lay out the main personality defects. And there’s also a thing I remember hearing the old folks talk about called communication. Apparently how it works is that he can simply ask members of his troop what the nickname means. Sounds insane, but it’s supposedly a thing. And if he doesn’t like it he can ask them not to use it. These are his options. Let him know what they are. Then let him decide what to actually do. And get used to that order of operations.

More Care and Feeding:

Oh Shoot, Our Freaking 3-Year-Old Has Started Swearing

Comforting Your Kids About Troubled Times Is Not Enough. Be a Helper.

Oh My God, There Are No Monsters Under the Bed. Please Just Go to Sleep.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and his family are chronically late. It seems when the time comes to leave they find one more thing to do that will just take two seconds but usually ends up taking a lot longer. I am always on time or early because as a child my mom was chronically late and I remember being the last one picked up from school or other events, waiting with the janitor who was ready to lock up the building.

This week we had to pick my daughter up from a summer camp that was a three-hour drive away. When planning for road trips like this, I always want to leave early to accommodate for traffic or accidents on the road. When it was time to leave, my husband said he had one more thing to do that would just take two seconds before we could leave. Of course, it ended up taking 30–40 minutes. And, as luck would have it, we encountered heavy traffic and the three-hour trip took almost four hours.

We got there five minutes after the pick-up window ended but still in the grace period. I was devastated because my daughter was waiting, the last child to be picked up. My daughter was just so happy that we came, but I was so freaked out about her being the last one to be picked up! My husband thinks it is no big deal and won’t apologize for making us late. Next time I don’t want to wait and think I will just leave without him! Please help!

—Mom of the Last Girl Picked Up From Camp

Dear MotLGPUFC,

I humbly submit to you that the reason you are on time has nothing to do with the fact that you were the last kid picked up. It is because you are an on-time person. Simple.
How do I know this? Because I was always the last kid picked up from school and camp and now, some 35 years later, I’m still essentially three to five minutes late for everything.

I do believe that things like lateness and punctuality are, in large part, personality traits. They can certainly change, but they are not likely to without tremendous intention and effort. It is no more likely that your husband start being a master of preparation than it is that you will suddenly become completely oblivious to the clock. And this doesn’t have to be more than a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things. If most of the lateness is within a 5–10 minute window, then I don’t think it’s a life or death mission to get it to change. You just learn to plan for it. If the lateness tends to be on the order of hours, then that would need to be addressed.

However, I do also believe that if you are a late person, then you owe an apology to the people you have kept waiting, regardless of how mad they do or don’t seem to you. It is not your husband’s place to determine how much your daughter is or is not bothered by lateness (nor, for that matter, is it yours) and for him to decide that he doesn’t need to apologize, because in his mind it’s not a big deal, is the same self-centered thinking that makes people late in the first place. Chronic lateness often happens when people regularly operate with the belief that what they want to do is more important than what other people are expecting from them. So when it is time to leave at quarter till four, and you are doing something that won’t end until 3:55, you forget about anything other than what you are doing. Sometimes it is hyperfocus of the ADD variety and other times it is simply an expression of self-centeredness and entitlement. That’s why it bothers people. It feels insulting.

One way I have learned to combat this in my own life is by making sure to acknowledge when I’m late and apologize. I used to be more like 20 minutes late on a consistent basis. In my mind it always seemed unruly and mysterious. I’d have all the time in the world and then suddenly I’d be 20 minutes behind, and I had no idea how one situation so quickly became the other. But once I began to be very honest about my lateness—calling people to let them know I was running behind, apologizing for showing up late—something seemed to shift. Those regular actions made me aware of my impact on other people in a way that I was not before, and I started noticing that being on time moved further up the priority list. These days I generally operate in a way that at least faithfully approximates a responsible adult. Perhaps the same can be true of your husband, but he first has to acknowledge that it does matter.

But until he does, and his behavior changes, my advice to you is to leave his ass at home whenever you can.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I have been together for 2.5 years. We have built a very strong, loving, and committed relationship. My almost 5-year-old daughter has called him daddy, of her own accord, for the past two years. They love each other dearly. We do not live together, but spend most evenings/weekends together as a family. We were not officially engaged, but frequently discussed our two-year plan for work, school, living arrangements, marriage, and eventually a child together.

Four weeks ago, my partner lost his job and filed for unemployment for the first time. This was very difficult for him. I did my best to console him and also assure him that he would find a position soon and could use his time on unemployment to focus on himself, his career goals, and educational goals. Less than one week later I found out I was pregnant, despite birth control. Regardless of our rocky financial situation, I was very happy. I assumed we would both buckle down, save as much as possible, and move in together sooner than we planned. I was already a single mother through my first pregnancy and lived on my own. I know that where there is a will, there is a way. My daughter is thriving, and we live a blessed life despite my being a “broke student.” I understood that our financial situation was precarious, but not something we couldn’t overcome. I have had an excellent career in finance prior to going back to school and am more than confident in my ability to return to work and put my Ph.D. dreams on hold. That would obviously be a huge sacrifice, but one I would certainly make for my unborn child.

At first, we discussed plans in preparation for our new arrival. However, my partner “came clean” a few days later that he did not want to keep our baby. He repeatedly told me it was in everyone’s best interest to abort the child. I was heartbroken. How could killing our baby be in its best interest? We aren’t drug addicts, criminals, or homeless people. We are two able-bodied and educated adults with high ambitions. I told him that if he forced me to abort the child I would not be able to forgive him, and it would be the end of our relationship. He insisted. So, I had an abortion, and two weeks out I feel as if my life is over. I know I need to seek therapy to deal with my grief.

I want to know if I made the right decision in leaving the relationship. We argue constantly, more so me yelling at him. He is trying to be here for me, love me, support me, and I tear him down. I cannot stop being angry with him. I cannot stop feeling that he couldn’t love me or care about our future while simultaneously forcing me to abort the baby I wanted, knowing how I felt. I am the emotional one and he is the logical one by nature, this is fact. Still, I am not sure if my emotions are solely driving my decisions or if they are justified and logical. Was he selfish and wrong to force me to do this? Or did I make a mistake, and should I give him a second chance? When I try to imagine our future (post-abortion), a marriage to him, and eventually a child, it hurts so badly.

I feel betrayed, hurt, angry, depressed, and lost. I am still so in love with him, and I truly do want a life with him. I just can’t see how. How can I trust he will be the man I need when times get tough? I know he wants to be with me and has not stopped trying to communicate with me despite my constant attempts to silence him in these two weeks. (It is also worth noting that I was one of the lucky few who experienced severe medical complications because of the abortion, which makes me even more resentful toward him.) I am ashamed of this decision and cannot bear to tell my family or friends. I have no one to look to for advice. When he says “I’m sorry” and “I love you,” they feel like slaps to my face. Even still, I’m terrified to lose him. I love him and our little family. Am I crazy?

—Grieving and Lost

Dear GaL,

First of all, I’m so terribly and deeply sorry for the pain of all of this. What you have described is something that has turned you upside down emotionally, and recovery from this is not a matter of weeks or months but a matter of years.

I would also like to tell you that you are not wrong to feel anger toward your partner. Even if your anger weren’t rational in the strictest sense—and who’s to say it’s not—it’s still valid and reasonable. It strikes me that you mentioned how you were the emotional one and your partner the rational one. Putting aside for a moment the idea that such distinctions are rarely as cut and dried as we think, it bears mentioning here that rationality is not, in any way, more valuable than emotion. Being “the emotional one” does not in any way make you less intelligent, or less right about things. To feel otherwise is a common misconception, and I quite frequently see it infect and poison relationships, often along gender lines, and cause great damage.

The fact is you did not want to abort your child and your partner did. Just because he was the rational one doesn’t make his wishes more important than yours. And yet, for reasons that you will probably be coming to understand for the rest of your life, you chose what he wanted over what you wanted. And now you are dealing with the very deep and very real pain of that, and it hurts. In fact, I would venture to guess that one of the reasons your anger at him is likely justified is to do with the fact that his insisting on an abortion when you were so clearly unwilling is an example of the shortcomings of rational thinking. His actions may have made sense logically, but they were emotionally abhorrent.

You may be able to forgive him for this somehow, someway, but you cannot do so yet. It is far, far too soon. Forgiving him should not be on your to-do list currently. Nor should getting back together. The damage is too great. I cannot say if you made absolutely the right decision in ending things, but I can say with great certainty that you cannot have a healthy relationship with someone for whom you feel this much seething rage. For that reason alone, it is better for the two of you to be apart.

However: It doesn’t sound from your letter like your partner “forced” you to have an abortion. It sounds as though you made a decision to have an abortion in order to preserve a relationship in which you were otherwise feeling very happy and hopeful. And quite unfortunately you are finding that the pain of the lost child is making it impossible for you to be happy in that relationship. It is a tragedy in the very purest sense.

I mentioned that your recovery from this will take time, but I also want to talk about how it might take shape. It is a very specific kind of personality challenge to agree to do things in order to please other people, and then to resent those people for making you do those things. This is something you will need to slowly and methodically untangle if you are ever to have a healthy and working relationship, be it with this man whom you love, or with anyone else, including your daughter. There are 12-step programs like CoDA and Al-Anon that address this, and there are books like Codependent No More that do as well. This is also something you should explore deeply and openly with your therapist.

You deserve to follow a path in your life that is in line with your values. And there is no person, and no partner, who should have the power to keep you from that. This experience, though excruciating, can be life-changing. It can, if you let it, force you to examine the underlying issues that helped bring you to this point. You talked about being afraid of losing your partner. But I think what you should be most afraid of losing is any more years of your life spent pleasing people at your expense. You deserve better. My heart is with you.

—Carvell