I feel like at this point I really need the perspective of someone not at all attached to my situation, who has a ‘no bullshit’ attitude that I’m desperately in need of right now. I’m having a really hard time making an incredibly serious decision. I will try to make this as short as possible.
I broke off a long term (6+ year) relationship about 18 months ago. Shortly thereafter I began dating a guy I knew through mutual friends and a intramural sporting group. We started out just as friends; texting, happy hour, group hangouts, etc. But the texts eventually took a flirty turn and I asked him out on a date. We started spending a fair amount of time together after that, seeing each other for dinner, a movie, and sex at least once a week, but it didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. I was okay with going slow because of my previous relationship, and we were super compatible physically, but after 6 months of “dating” I still hadn’t met anyone close to him other than his roommates. When I asked why, he got defensive and eventually it turned into “I’m not ready for this. I don’t want a girlfriend. I don’t want what you want. It’s not you it’s me.” I took it very badly. I guess in hindsight I fell in love with him even though there were so, so many red flags. When he started to show interest in a new girl, I damn near had a nervous breakdown. I found a good therapist and began talking things out. I left the country for 6 weeks to spend time with extended family to try to get over him. It worked. I cut all ties and came back rejuvenated.
Thinking I was “better,” I rejoined my team sport when I returned (the one of which he is also a part) with the assumption that he no longer had a hold on me and we could be friends. He was now dating the new girl, but within two weeks of my being back he began to send me slightly inappropriate texts. I was flattered and felt like I finally had the upper hand. I told him I didn’t want to talk to him if he had a girlfriend and of course he said he didn’t. The new girl was not a long-term thing for him. A month later he broke it off with her (much like me, she fell fast and hard so he cut and ran).
At the point of his breakup with her, it had been about one year since we first started hanging out. We start talking and texting again. I flirted with him, try to keep it cool and relaxed, but really I was dying to just have sex with him. I pushed hard for a friends with benefits situation and he was on board. Why wouldn’t he be? Things were pretty good. I’m much less attached (or so I thought) and having great sex with someone I like and am attracted to. But after a couple months I could tell he’s not much interested anymore. Begrudgingly, because I do still really like him, I made up my mind to tell him that we shouldn’t be intimate anymore and should just go back to being teammates. I knew it wasn’t going to turn into what I want no matter how much I wanted it. The day I intended to tell him this, I found out I’m pregnant.
He took it very hard. Says he absolutely does not want children and if he ever had them he doesn’t want them like this. Over the course of the next week, our many discussions have turned into him dropping hints about why I shouldn’t keep it, without actually asking me to get rid of it. It sucks, but I’m finally getting some honesty from him. So what do I find out really? That he is deeply in love with someone else. His recent lack of interest in me was due to him reconnecting with his ex from many years back. “The one that got away” (his words). The things he said to me about how he feels about her were like a knife to the throat. It turns out he does want everything that I want, just not with me. He wants it with her. To the point that if she came to him with the same news I did, he fully admits he would have reacted quite differently.
So now I’m nothing but a nuisance, a complication, a potential reason that she might not get back together with him. I didn’t expect that we would naturally turn into a happy family, but I thought maybe he would be supportive of whatever I choose. That’s not the case. He wants it gone, and if I decide to keep it we agreed he’ll sign away his parental rights. It wasn’t even an option in his head to try to make any other scenario work. I’m not good enough to raise a child with because I’m not her. Before I told him I was 99% sure I was going to keep it no matter what, expecting to be a single mom. Now I’m a fucking mess and have no idea what to do.
His laundry list of reasons not to have it makes sense (neither of us have any money and are heavily in debt, I’m getting laid off from a well paying job and taking one that pays about half of what I’m making now, we’re not in a relationship, many more), but I’m so fucking mad that I have to deal with all the fallout either way and he just gets to wash his hands of me and go run back to the girl he loves. I don’t want to bring a life into this world out of spite, but I don’t want to terminate a life just because the situation isn’t ideal. I’m 35 and still single with no prospects (because obviously I have shit taste in men)—what if this is my only chance to have a child and I give it up? I know I can artificially inseminate one day if I want, and I have much respect for women who do, but I wouldn’t, I just know I wouldn’t, so please don’t tell me I’ll have the chance for kids later by that avenue.
I’ve never felt like such shit. Like as a grown woman I still continue to make the worst possible decisions. I fear I will hate myself either way. I already do for allowing myself to get caught up in him again. I feel like I’ve made no progress in therapy. Like I’ll never be good enough to have anyone’s children. I cry every day, big heaving sobs with big tears that don’t seem to want to stop. I’ll have the support of my family either way, but I don’t know how to know if I’m ready for a child, for this child. I have an appointment with my obgyn next week and an appointment at the clinic the week after. One of them will get cancelled, I just don’t know which one.
Knocked Up and Knocked Down
You’re in a really bad spot right now, so don’t blame yourself for feeling terrible and confused. On top of some seriously tough circumstances, being pregnant can make you feel incredibly emotional and vulnerable, particularly during the first trimester. That’s why every single sexually active woman out there should try to figure out what you’d do if you got pregnant BEFORE you actually get pregnant. If you’re sexually active and you feel sure that it would be a mistake to have a kid, write it down (for yourself; you might want to see it when you’re addled) and make it known to your partner from the start. If you know you WOULDN’T want terminate a pregnancy—which, like it or not, sometimes becomes more the case as you enter your late 30s—it’s smart to recognize that and let your partner know that’s where you stand.
Because even if you think you’re absolutely clear on what you want when you’re not pregnant, trust me, once you’re pregnant, it’s very difficult to think straight and make a logical decision.
Now, I’m not implying that every single decision in life SHOULD be logical. Some illogical nutzo choices will also end up being the best things that ever happened to you. You just need to know that when you’re pregnant, you might suddenly become baby obsessed. I didn’t glance at a baby until I was pregnant. Babies looked germy and slithery and not very cute to me before then. You might really want to go dredge up that piece of paper in your journal that says, “Dear Me, Don’t have a baby right now, even though you think you might want one. It’s not time yet.”
Likewise, knowing that you WOULD want to keep a baby really changes the picture in terms of casual sex. Pushing for friends with benefits status starts to look much more emotionally risky under those circumstances.
And let’s be honest. When you push an exboyfriend to have no-strings-attached sex, you’re already playing with fire, particularly if you were the one who got dumped. It’s hard to find a woman who hasn’t done this at one point or another, but it’s a soul-sucking nightmare maneuver that’ll bring all of the depression and sadness of the break-up back in full force. It’s easy to think your feelings won’t come flooding back, that you’ll be in control of everything this time. But no. If you’re even toying with the idea of this, chances are you’ve got a bad habit of compartmentalizing your feelings, believing that you can control how you feel, believing that just because you feel sort of carefree and indifferent TODAY, you’ll feel the same way when you see your no-strings sex friend out on a date (remember those?) with another woman.
So, lots of cautionary tales here for all the single ladies. But KUAKD? That advice isn’t me beating up on you. No way. The only reason I’m saying HEY LADIES WATCH OUT is because we’ve all been there, or we’re there right now, or we’re about to do the same fucking thing without thinking carefully about it first. In fact, let’s all just roll back the tape and think about that dude we slept with, at the absolute wrong time in our lives, and imagine getting pregnant with that dude’s kid. The nightmare scenarios are endless (uh, for some of us anyway).
You shouldn’t feel any SPECIAL kind of guilt simply because you wound up getting pregnant, KUAKD. The fact that you’re reading into this situation as if it makes it clear that you’ll “never be good enough to have anyone’s children” really drives home the fact that you’re massively confused about your responsibilities, his responsibilities, and what transpired between you. This guy’s attitude toward you is not an indicator of your worth or a predictor of your future success with men. You pushed for a no-strings-attached situation, and that status was never going to change, not even (or especially not) with an unexpected pregnancy. You knew he was sleeping with you because you made it easy for him to do so, not because he was in love with you. Again, I’m not shaming you. We’ve all done this. I’m clarifying, though, that getting wound up about his lack of feeling for you at this point feels a little bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic well after it sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic. I know it hurts and you feel like total shit. Many, many people who are reading this are feeling sad for you right now, and we’re all sending you our love and support. You can get through this.
BUT: You can’t make a clear decision about this baby when you’re swimming around in freezing cold waters, lamenting what might have been but wasn’t, lamenting what you don’t have and maybe will never deserve. YOU DESERVE A LOT. This situation, while it looks pathetic to you right now, is just something that happened, something unfortunate that could’ve happened to anyone who is sexually active and isn’t in a committed relationship.
Normally, you’d have time to get over the harshness of what he told you, that he absolutely positively doesn’t want YOU. But in this scenario, you don’t have time to think about HIM at all, honestly. And let me be frank: It worries me that most of your letter is about him, when it is now clear that he is completely irrelevant to the gigantic decision you need to make. This situation is just too heavy for us to slice and dice his culpability, his intentions, his love or lack of love for you, the mistakes he made along the way. He told you, “Count me out.” So emotionally, you have to think about yourself, how YOU are going to get through this, what YOU want your life to look like moving forward.
And I have to tell you something else: You’re very lucky that he’s telling you he wants no part of this. The situation is crystal clear. You want this baby or you don’t. It’s your choice. It has nothing to do with him. Is it lamentable that he won’t help you decide? Well, I get the sadness there. But it’s not lamentable. Lamentable would be him PRETENDING that he sort of kind of can almost deal with a baby, and then freaking out and disappearing after the baby is born. Common, actually, and fucked. But he’s telling you the truth.
And honestly, you don’t seem entirely interested in the truth right now. It seems like you want to find some way to change the facts on the ground. So the first thing I want you to do is admit that HE IS OUT. As a grown fucking adult, you need to get tough for a second and say it. THIS GUY IS NOT A PART OF THIS DECISION. Stop talking about him, OK? Stop imagining a better scenario, with him in it. HE IS IRRELEVANT NOW. KISS HIM GOODBYE, AND GOD BLESS. This will be difficult. But this is where you are, like it or not. You must face the music and accept that there’s no time to consider him, for your own good.
If you can’t get past that part, where you forget about him and quit wishing things were different? I don’t think you’re mature enough to have a kid, frankly.
So: Let’s just assume you get it, and you’re going to fucking man up and get him out of your fucking head once and for all so you can think clearly. Now, with a clear head, you need to make the call about this baby.
I would like to TRY to walk you through what a baby will mean to your life right now, to help you decide what you should do. But look, I can’t do that. It’s complicated, it’s emotional, and there’s no way in hell that I can give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down on a human being. Kids are amazing and they make life great. And being a single mom is INSANELY difficult. Maybe you’ll end this pregnancy and get your life in gear and start kicking ass. Maybe you’ll have this baby and get your life in gear and start kicking ass. That’s what I want for you, one of those two things. But I think whatever it is that you do, you have to change the way you tell your own story. You say you’ll feel regretful either way. I think you need to paint two really beautiful pictures, one with the baby, and one without the baby, and THEN decide. Fuck regret.
I would resolve right now that you’re not going to ALLOW yourself to regret whatever you decide. You’re in this situation that’s very common, actually, and you need to trust yourself to make the right call. You need to give YOURSELF the gift of refusing to haunt yourself with what might’ve been if you made the opposite choice. It’s too much, signing yourself up for that kind of life, looking backwards.
You can choose a path here without making your life tragic. You aren’t a victim of your circumstances. Your story is not doomed. This is your big call to action, your moment to get yourself together and treat yourself with love and respect from this point forward. You will not settle for lukewarm men anymore. You will not settle for sex without love. You will not pause for anything less than total interest and engagement. You will protect yourself from bad situations. You will chip away at your debt, and allow yourself to be ambitious, maybe for the first time. You will straighten things out and take responsibility for yourself and you’ll start to feel real pride in yourself. You will still find love. Someone is going to love you like no one has loved you before. You will know before it even happens that you deserve it. You deserve to be loved completely, for exactly who you are.
So: If you know you will find love one day, do you still want the baby? Do you NOT want the baby anymore? Imagine that you will have everything you ever wanted from life, guaranteed. Does that make you want to have this baby, or does it make you want to wait and see what comes next?
Either way, you have to accept who you are right now, and allow it to be. Don’t punish yourself by having or not having a kid. You’re a great person who happens to be pregnant. You’re a grown woman, and whatever you do, this is your moment to stop feeling lost and confused. This is your wake up call. I can’t choose what you should do, I can only tell you that you MUST not be clouded by guilt and anger and fear as you decide. Recognize that you’re hormonally inclined to want the baby. Recognize that you have no proof that this is your last chance to have a kid. But don’t ignore your heart or your soul or your ideas about yourself. Imagine two amazing paths stretched out before you, and choose the one you want.
BUT: If you’re thinking of this baby as HIS, as a connection to him, as a way of reaching him and having him, then you’re in trouble. He really does have to leave the picture for you to think clearly about this. You have to think of yourself and this baby. Is this the right time? You now have proof that you CAN get pregnant. Does that mean you should have THIS baby? I don’t know. I really, really love having kids. But raising a baby alone would’ve been really hard for me. I’m tough and independent (and uh, also weak and needy and a little lazy sometimes?). I’m not sure that I’m temperamentally suited for that kind of a challenge. I also know women who seem to be loving single motherhood. You know yourself and you know what’s best for you.
Unless you DON’T know yourself, at all. Then, I’m going to say that you should give yourself time to grow. Forgive yourself, and give yourself more time.
You are not alone. Open your heart and see that, ok? Look around you. Write down all the people that you’re grateful for. Whatever you do, allow this event to redirect you, away from people who don’t care that much, toward people who really, deeply care. Only let the people who DEEPLY care into your life from now on. You are loved already. You are good inside. This world will bring you everything you need. Open your heart and let it bring you its gifts. Get up in the morning and welcome the unknown into your life. You will be embraced and supported and loved, no matter what you do next. You will be loved.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by David Goehring.