Monday 9 December 2019

Orla Barry: This life

QUESTION: When my girlfriend became pregnant six months ago, I ran -- can I get her back now?

I HAVE always been upfront about never wanting children and told this to any woman I dated pretty much from the start. Six months ago, my then-girlfriend told me she was pregnant. To say I bolted for the door is an understatement. I spent the weekend in the pub and didn't answer her calls. Part of me was furious, because I had always been honest about this issue -- she had told me she had no interest in children either. I secretly hoped she would opt for an abortion but when I finally called her back, she told me she was keeping it and didn't care what I did. I walked out of the relationship that day.

We had little contact up until a month ago when we met by chance and I found myself thinking about how much I still care for her. Since the meeting we resumed a little contact and I have been thinking about her a lot. I was hoping to give things another go when she informed me she is now seeing someone else.

I feel gutted. I don't know whether it's losing her or the idea of someone else with my child, but I'm finding this impossible to come to terms with. I tried explaining to her that I really want to give this a chance but she's having none of it. I know she has feelings for me; we were together for almost two years before she became pregnant. I don't know how to convince her to change her mind.

I'M NOT surprised she's having none of it. Is there anything in your behaviour in the last six months that has given her cause for hope? What is it you want really? Do you want to be a father now or is it just to spite someone else out of the job? You want your girlfriend back but do you want her child too?

Think very carefully about what you wish for. After that you will have to work hard to convince her you're in this for the long haul.

It must have been very tough on your girlfriend six months ago to discover she's pregnant with the child of a man who was so upfront about not wanting to be a father.

I imagine she might have hoped for a little support when she told you the news. Having her boyfriend bolt for the pub was probably the very reaction she feared. To not return her calls for days is unforgivable.

This woman's life was turned upside down that day, and the person with whom that change happened turned his back. It wasn't as if you overcame your shock and returned to see what support you could lend. You walked out at possibly the most vulnerable point in her life.

This is going to be very hard for her to come to terms with, but perhaps she can.

Your honesty about not wanting children is interesting. Not many people, men or women, will be so categoric about that at the start of a relationship. However, it was fair of you to be so straight up.

Unfortunately life doesn't always follow the path we intend. You determined your life would be one without kids for so long that it seems you never considered what would happen in circumstances like this. Or maybe you did and just hoped she would take care of things. It's interesting to think for a moment why you had such resistance to children.

Countless parents will tell you that even if you never connect with other people's children your relationship with your own is utterly different. I suspect it's nothing to do with actual children themselves but the imposition they might have on your life, the biggest of which is responsibility.

Are you ready to have another human being completely dependant on you? Up to now it seems you avoided responsibility at all costs. It sounds like you have had a number of girlfriends, so how good are you at long-term commitment?

The last six months have been a steep learning curve for your ex-girlfriend. Coping with an unexpected pregnancy and being rejected simultaneously by her partner will have toughened her by necessity. That she has met someone who cares for her and is not troubled by the fact that she is pregnant with someone else's child must be a great comfort.

Do you really think it would be clever of her to turn her back on that? You admit yourself that you don't even know if it is your feelings for her or your jealousy at this new man spending time with the child you never wanted that is sending you into a tailspin.

Despite my misgivings, the situation is not hopeless for either of you. Perhaps you're right and your love for each other is still strong. However, love is no longer enough when there is a family to support. Can you really support them financially, emotionally and in every other way a parent should?

Your words mean little right now -- it's your actions in the coming months that will be infinitely more important. Rather than trying to win her back, think what might help her in the short-term. As a future father, what can you do to show you care about playing a part in your child's life?

Over the last six months she has dictated how she will live her life and she's not likely to give any of that up. You are going to have to figure out how to work around that.

Think seriously about your willingness to take on the part of parent. For your entire life you've told yourself this is something you don't want. Are you so sure you have changed your mind? It's not inconceivable, and certainly the sight of your own flesh and blood will probably melt that heart of yours.

However, just because you might care doesn't mean that you are the best person for the job. Can you genuinely see yourself sticking around for life? Because this isn't a job you can run from or ignore phone calls about.

Becoming a father is the most responsible job you will ever take on, and it's not fair on her or your future child to do the job half-heartedly.

It seems that your ex-girlfriend wants you in her life to some extent. I would suggest you start from there. Allow her see by your actions and your commitment that you're not going anywhere. Show her that you can change your mind despite how hardened your views were.

At the same time, pay attention to your own actions and don't force yourself into a role that you know in your heart you will never fulfil. Fatherhood is a hugely demanding, sometimes overwhelming but ultimately rewarding job. You won't be perfect at it; no one is.

Give her a chance to see what you can be and you might surprise the both of you.

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