Do You Need a Man’s Whole Heart To Be Happy?

Name: Emily
Age: 32
State: MA
Question: How much baggage is too much?
I’ve been dating W. for the past 10 months. We are both divorced, but unlike me (with no children), he has 3 children from his previous marriage and is 8 years older than me. As our relationship progressed and we became officially a couple (family functions, parties, weekends and short vacations spent together), my friends started giving their opinions about him. Most vocal was my brother. He keeps telling me how I should not date a man with “baggage”, especially 3 kids and an ex wife, that I am too young to compromise on this and that I should find a man to start “fresh”, with no prior attachments or responsibilities. He thinks I “deserve” this kind of a relationship because I’m “young, beautiful and successful”, and I will never be first priority in W’s life.

My boyfriend is equally successful in his business, loves his kids and has an absolutely wonderful relationship with them, is caring and attentive with me, respects me and my life-style. Going through a marriage (with my high-school boyfriend) and the complicated and painful divorce that followed, I learned a lot of things about myself. I lost the romantic view on love and marriage, I learned who I am and why I made bad and good decisions in my life. Dating several men (both online and offline) after my divorce, most less than 2 months, I learned what I want in a relationship with a partner… and having “no baggage” was never on my “list”.

W and I are both well grounded, with a realistic view of life and each other. No fancy dreams or beliefs.  We could each live happily without the other one, but together we are better people. I feel it’s possible this relationship might result in a marriage over the years, but this is not the time for either of us to think of that… but my brother and friends think of this and they are panicking a little. This might be just an overprotective brother, but I’ve heard some of my girlfriends saying similar things about the men they are dating.

And hence my question. Don’t we all have “baggage”, even if not in the form of kids/ex-partners? And how or what is too much baggage? Why does it matter for some women/men to have a “fresh” start?

I answered my brother – first by reassuring him that jumping in another marriage is not something I want right now, and either way I am not scared or feel challenged by 3 kids, that I don’t need to be someone elses “everything” again in my life, I don’t need a man’s whole heart to be happy. I am not defined by the amount of love a man has for me, but by how much I love myself. Rather than dating a 35 yo man (for example) that was never able to have a long-term relationship, I would rather date someone that proved he can be a husband and father…


I don’t need a man’s whole heart to be happy.

This is probably the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read in any of the almost 5,000 letters I’ve received over the years. The truth is that none of us should depend upon or expect the complete devotion and attention from someone else to feel secure. I think of my step-mother and how many times she must have been relegated to the second spot in my Dad’s life. That’s how life is sometimes, be it due to having an ex-spouse or kids or siblings or a job. If there is one piece of that cliched and trite advise I do agree with, it’s to learn how to be happy on your own before getting into a relationship. It doesn’t have to look a certain way in order to be right or to work.

What’s funny about your brother’s advice s that it almost seem to ignore the fact that you, too, are divorced. He’s talking about how you deserve a fresh start and should date someone with no baggage, etc. Question: Where was this wise Oracle the first time you got married? Was he so concerned then? Or did he say nothing? He wasn’t concerned that his baby sister was getting married to her HS boyfriend? That didn’t raise any red flags? He didn’t fear you were too young or not ready?

What your brother and friends are experiencing is confusion (and possibly jealousy) over the fact that you don’t need to be a someone’s everything all the time to be happy, and they do. See, this is why people get divorced in the first place. They have immature views and ideas of what marriage and commitment are all about. To them, and to many others, marriage is about spending every day with your best friend. Tra la la la la. You will always be priority number 1 and there will be total honesty between the two of you. Reality? There are going to be days when you hate their face off.

Another fallacy is that, after divorce, you get to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Um. No. I’m sorry to break it to y’all, but a divorce is a mark on your record. It just is. It’s not an unforgiveable one, but it’s a blight and gives people pause. Somewhere out there, there is a sister telling her little brother that he shouldn’t have to date a 32 year old divorcee because he deserves someone with a spotless record. It’s not terribly productive to try and sweep a past marriage under the rug and be all, “Fresh start!!! Weeeeeee!” I don’t like that mentality. Nor do I care for the idea that anybody “deserves” a certain type of relationship. It sounds like you’re one of the people who came out of your marriage and did some reflecting and actually learned something about yourself. That’s why pretending a marriage or relationship didn’t happen isn’t a good thing. You have to be able to re-trace your footsteps to see where you went wrong. And when a marriage ends, rarely is it ever just one person’s fault.

Does everyone have baggage? I suppose. In some way, yes. If you or anybody else chose to wait for that one baggage-less person, you would be alone for a very long time.

You’re happy? It works for you? That’s all that matters. Not how much or how little baggage someone has. Tell your girlfriends to keep their poisonous and passive aggressive slights to themselves. Yes, they’re being passive aggressive. They’re trying to make you think that your relationship has some fatal flaw. More than likely, it’s their relationships that suck, and their men who don’t treat them the way yours treats you. Don’t. Listen. To. Your. Girlfriends. They can’t be objective, and neither can your brother.

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17 Responses to “Do You Need a Man’s Whole Heart To Be Happy?”

  1. jaclyn Says:

    You will never come first when you are dating a man with children (and if he is willing to put you first, then he is a bad father and a bad choice for you). That means that you will need to sacrifice some things – you will not get to have a special romantic time in the beginning of your relationship where you can travel easily and enjoy spending quiet time together. But you will know how your partner handles adversity (since it is really hard work raising children).

    If you can accept always being this man’s second priority, the only other thing you need to discuss ahead of time is having children together. He already has three children to support – and potentially three college tuitions to pay – so if you want to have children, you need to discuss this issue before the relationship becomes serious.

  2. Selena Says:

    Since you’ve been dating this man for almost a year, I would assume you know him fairly well by now, correct? And since you stated you were not scared or felt challenged by his 3 kids I’m also assuming you have spent time interacting with them and can see yourself as part of this family’s life. At least I hope that’s the case, because sometimes single parents compartmentalize their children from their lovers and then just hope/expect everyone will get along when thrown together after a relationship becomes serious. If you continue with this man to co-habitation, possible marriage, then you will take on the role of step-parent in his children’s lives. In order to reduce conflict, it’s important that you and their father are on the same page regarding parenting and what your role in their lives will be. As an example – are you permitted to discipline them, or is that strickly up to him? What happens if they disrespect you? How will he handle that? How will you handle that?

    People who love their children do not consider them to be “baggage”. People who have pre-conceived notions about step-parenting, perhaps have heard “step-parent horror stories” consider other people’s children baggage. I suspect that’s where your brother and some of your friends are coming from. THEY wouldn’t want to be step-parents and they are trying to warn you away from taking that course. The only way for you to decide for yourself is to spend time with the children. A good deal of time.

    The only other thing I would think you would consider and talk to your boyfriend about, is whether or not you want biological children of your own. At 32, you may feel you have plenty of time ahead to address that. But your bf is 40 and already has 3 kids…would he be willing to start over with infants at a later date? Sometimes middle aged people with grown, or nearly grown children aren’t so keen on the idea of spending another 20 years engaged in child rearing. Be clear on what you both want.

  3. salty Says:

    Just leave yourself an out, and don’t get tied to this relationship. Live together a while. Then, in a year
    or two, when you run screaming for the door, you can listen to your brother & friends say “I told you so”…
    Don’t get married or have kids….

  4. LostSailor Says:

    There’s that word again. One of the most dangerous words when it comes to dating and relationships. “Deserve.”

    It sounds like Emily has a good thing going, one that she’s happy with. She’s done the hard work to figure out her own shit and has a clear-eyed view of the relationship she’s in. Yet, brother and friends tell her she “deserves” better. My first question when this word comes up is “why?”

    Why does someone “deserve” better? Have they cured cancer? Found the Higgs boson? Or is it that this person is just a super-duper person who all humans would agree “deserves” a perfect relationship.

    As the man says, deserves got nothing to do with it.

    When some says this, they aren’t really saying you “deserve” better. They’re just trying to put a pleasant spin on the fact that they’re passing critical judgment on your choices, and they don’t like those choices you’re making. It’s not that they think you “deserve” anything, it’s that they want their judgments of you validated.

    Moxie’s right. Don’t listen. Trust your instincts.

  5. K Says:

    I don’t disagree with the advice given to the OP, but somehow I’m not totally sold that she’s happy in this relationship. After a divorce, especially if you’re fairly young and have no kids, I think it’s natural to feel like “been there, done that” about marriage and to be kind of disillusioned about it. That makes sense, you figured out that marriage isn’t the be all and end all and isn’t this magical fairy tale that will make you happy forever. And I do strongly believe that you have to figure out how to care for yourself and be happy on your own before you can have a really good healthy relationship.

    That said, I think after divorce you can find yourself in a relationship that’s not necessarily right for you, and tell yourself it’s good. It may not be heading for marriage anytime soon, but that’s ok, you feel like you don’t need that, just let it develop, it’s fine if you’re not the guy’s #1 priority… And then you find yourself years down the road having spent all this time in a relationship that wasn’t really meeting your needs.

    I’m not a clingy or needy person at all, never have been, but I will say, it feels really really good and right when you are with a guy who makes you a priority. I don’t mean he spends all his time with you and sacrifices other parts of his life. But you know he’s thinking about you all the time and doing things with your happiness in mind. There is such a huge difference between being in a healthy relationship where you’re getting your needs met, and being with a guy you like and enjoy spending time with, but with whom you’re never going to come first.

    If the OP can truly, without hesitation, say she’s happy and is getting her needs met and, if she does want to get married again and have kids, that this relationship is heading in that direction, then great, stick with it. But it does seen like she’s questioning and perhaps trying to justify her choices. Seems a little odd that her family and friends would be so adamant that she could do better, if they really saw her as happy and fulfilled. I don’t think it’s healthy to need someone’s time and attention 24/7, but I also don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect to find a relationship where you really make each other a priority and meet each other’s needs.

    • Selena Says:

      I do find it curious she is asking these questions after 10 months with someone. If one is genuinely happy with their choice…why seek validation of said choice on the internet?

      • Andthatswhyyouresingle Says:

        I don’t think she’s seeking validation about her relationship. I think she’s posing a bigger question about people’s aversion to/definition of baggage. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt in her mind that her relationship works for her.

        • Selena Says:


          She asks: “And how or what is too much baggage?”

          It’s only baggage to the person who perceives it as such. If she doesn’t see her boyfriend’s family as “baggage” there isn’t any issue.

          • John Says:

            I think the OP is perfectly justified in asking her questions. If she is close to her family and her friends, then she should hear their opinions on her man. My advice to the OP would be to see what they are criticizing about her man. Is it him as a person (his personality, ability to interact with others, way he talks to her in public) or is it just his label (divorced dad)? Because if their own problem with him is his label, then she needs to move full speed ahead with him. She heard their complaints and still decided it works for her. If their criticism was against him as a person, then that would weigh more heavily. Since that doesnt appear to be the case, then she has herself a good thing and should let it grow. Follow Moxie’s advice on this one for sure.

  6. Brad Says:

    Spot on advice! How may times have we read letters where the girl says ‘my gut says he is a douche, but my hopes say he is Prince Charming. What should I do?”

    Now we have a girl who is finally following her inner voice, and someone is trying to derail her. Listen to your gut, you have a good thing here.

  7. Honeybee Says:

    Why does there need to be a classification to the order of importance and commitment? You can love something equally in different ways. You don’t love one parent or sibling more, just in different ways. He can be a totally dedicated husband and father. It’s not about choosing.

    What do you think would happen to a marriage where the husband and wife put themselves at a lower priority over the kids? After several years of neglecting each other they can become distant and disinterested. Marriage is work. You have to make time for each other…it’s not a given.

    I think Emily has rubbed some of the glitter out of her eyes. She seems to know that he loves her and makes her feel loved and appreciated. She also seems to know that his children are part of the man she loves. She can’t have one without the other.

    As long as she is fulfilled in her needs, why not be with this man?

  8. myself Says:

    My other half says he has 4 important females in his life. His 2 girls, his mom and me., and there is no order of importance, the love is different for all of us. I have never wanted to date someone with kids before, because I was afraid if coming in last, but I don’t feel last at all. They were all 3 around before me, and I get enough of him to be totally content. Good on the OP.

  9. Amy Says:

    Interesting responses here.
    My take: If she stays with him, she will never have the ‘2 young people starting out in life, us against the world’ experience. But it seems like she had that before & is somewhat disillusioned.

    Being remarried (both my husband and I have children from prev marriages), I would offer this:
    What you see is what you get. If the ex wife is a pain, she always will be an issue to deal with, although less so once the kids are out of college and married (but not before). If there are very high expectations on how he will provide for them (college, trips, sports, weddings), then prepare that your standard of living will be impacted (adversely) because a portion of his income is pre-spent. If there is tension about you from the kids, be aware it will not magically change, and in some cases can worsen as the relationship becomes more serious. Many children carry reunification fantasies about their parents FOR YEARS (even if there is no sign of it) a parent’s remarriage can trigger a lot of emotion on them, as it makes the divorce (in their eyes) truly ‘final.’

    Suggestions are: Have your own rich and full life (she seems to be on top of this one already). DO NOT attend every single thing with him. Let him have lots of his own time with the kids without you – they will all appreciate that. And those times for you are for being with friends, doing your own activities, etc. Be there for the kids in ways their parents cannot – trust me, they listen to a non-parent about things their parents can’t tell them (very interesting phenomenon). Let the relationships develop over time.

    And to answer the question – yes, I think you can have a wonderful relationship with a person who has children. It isn’t that you come second, it is that they love you in a different way and that the childrens’ needs are different. My husband and I both make time for our children and neither is threatened by it. Is it easier b/c we both are in the same situation? Perhaps.

    As to having a child together, that’s a question I can’t address, having never done it.

    But the OP sounds grounded and happy to me. The older we get, the more of a ‘past’ we have. Call it baggage or life experience. She definitely can learn a lot about him by seeing how he parents, deals with his ex, and other challenges he faces through this. If she observes carefully, there should be no surprises later.

    Don’t let the brothers and others project THEIR romantic fantasies onto you.

  10. DrivingMeNutes Says:

    “I would rather date someone that proved he can be a husband and father…”

    I think the OP reached the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons. Being married before doesn’t show that you are “capable of commitment” – it shows that you are capable of expressing commitment. Since he is no longer committed to that person, if there is any “lesson,” it is that he expresses commitment but then changed his mind, for whatever reason.

    Same with having children. Unless you mean this literally – ie he is physically capable of causing a pregnancy, there is nothing magical about having a child. Pretty much any guy can do it.

    But, your brother’s comment highlights what I think is the real benefit to being with the “divorced dad.” Single men without children have more options. Literally. They have commitments, TO BE SURE but don’t wake up every day having to worry about their kids, or their ex-wives. So, there is more that those guys have to give up in order to “get serious” with someone. That’s why they may view kids as baggage. A divorced dad, however, has already paid the price. In economics, its a “sunk cost.” So, it’s “easier” for those guys to get serious since they’re not giving up as much freedom.

    This has nothing to do with a “willingness” or even a “preference” for commitment. It’s about options.

    • DrivingMeNutes Says:

      PS. Applying the same “sunk cost” rationale, it is my view that a “divorced dad” is more likely to be willing to have a child with the OP than a childless bachelor. This is the opposite of what some others have suggested. I’m a big proponent of dating the divorced dad.

  11. Zammo Says:

    Agree about the word “deserve”. If that word is invoked in regards to dating and relationships, the advice surrounding it should be instantly rejected.

    No one deserves anything.

  12. offensivedan Says:

    I didn’t even need to read the end of this post and Moxie’s advice to figure this crap out.. My advice? Break up with this guy. All he wants is a young piece of ass and someone to take care of his kids. You’re brother is right. This guy is gonna saddle you with kids–that’s how these guys operate. They look for a mom to take care of their kids while they go out and have fun and concentrate on their career. Thhe real reason why you are overlooking this? I bet he is rich and that is blinding you to all this. I saw it happen to a girl I knew. Before she knew it, she had given up her career to raise three kids. And the guy? Yep, he was rich.

    OP, get out the golddigger stage and break up with him. Unless, you plan on marrying him and getting a sizeable monthly check each month.

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