These people are crazy
My girlfriend, Amanda, and I met in Cleveland, a little over 6 years ago. We dated, saw other people, dated some more, broke up, reunited, moved to different cities, then different countries – but eventually landed together, in Texas, almost two years ago.
It was in the interim that I met, dated, separated, and had a baby with another woman.
This was a surprise to all of us.
So, as Amanda and I decided to get serious, life was uncertain. I was in Texas, but she was in New York. Meanwhile, my daughter, Edan – the reason I'd moved to Texas in the first place – was in England with her mom until she finished college. None of us really knew each other, and I had no idea what to expect from one month to the next.
Therefore, when Amanda finally left New York to be with me, I assume everyone thought she was insane.
While I could prattle on about something romantic – taking risks, being young, irrepressible love (all of which are great) – now that we're two years into our peculiar little arrangement, the best part, and the biggest relief, is that my partner and my daughter love each other – even though they don't have to.
* * *
I can remember thinking – in one of the fleeting, non-essential, but suddenly disturbing realizations I had while on the verge of parenthood – that I wouldn't date again 'till I was 30. (At least.) Edan's mother and I had already separated, and – not that I was trying to meet anyone – but my only accessible pick-up line was "I'm good at making babies, and will soon have proof." Cute, maybe, but not exactly sexy to the other 20-year-old college students.
I wasn't even sure I wanted all that responsibility and it was my child – I couldn't picture another person choosing that life, on purpose, for someone else's kid.
Because, as stepparents know, this is how it works. Making a commitment to another adult is hard enough, but with single parents, you get a package deal – permanently. And, while you could try and stay out of it, the truth of it is that there's no denying such an overwhelmingly significant part of your partner's life. You are obligated to that child, whether you like it or not.
But just how does this actually function? There's already two parents, who, in spite of their current relationship status, have seen each other naked, and still converse on a regular basis. If that isn't awkward enough, they share something unspeakably important that you can't have. Ever. Further still, there's another human being that you're emotionally attached to – even if it's vicariously – that has no responsibility to love you, or care about you at all. In fact, in many cases, they seem pre-disposed to think you suck.
There's no manual, no examples, no cultural icons to which you can refer – nothing but countless cartoon evil stepmothers who force good-natured heroines to mop floors 'till their fingers bleed. Thus, if you're not a sadist, you'll be forging new territory. Given the stakes, that seems a little frightening.
Who takes this job?
* * *
Recently, a friend was looking through some photos of Edan and Amanda, and told me she loved the energy between them.
It was nice to hear, because I think this is something biological parents take for granted. That energy is there for us, from the very first moments we know our children. We're connected without any effort, in a way that's beyond explanation. For us, it was easy – for us, it was never a choice.
I've watched Amanda work for that, and, judging by how well Edan gets along with her stepdad, I can only imagine that he's worked for it as well. And the more I see it, the more I think stepparents are doing something remarkable. They've chosen to give their nights, weekends, spare bedrooms, early mornings, and every last little bit of energy to a child who, at first, they didn't even know. They've set out to find the balance between being just another adult and being mom or dad – positions they'd never be allowed to hold, even if they wanted to.
And in spite of all the potential pitfalls, uncertainties and emotional disasters, they dive in, because that's the only way to do it.
That's the only way we'll all be able to be a family, after all.