As a psychotherapist, I get to hear a lot about people’s lives, and I like to think I’ve learned something from the experience. Writing this advice column is my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned with my community.
Since this is my first column, I’ve had to make up a question. Real questions are better, so please send them in. You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a nickname. Your questions will be kept confidential within the limits of the law and common sense. Not every question is suitable for this column, and I reserve the right to edit questions in the interest of space and readability.
Dear Straight Talk:
How can you tell when you’re ready to get married? I am a middle-aged, divorced man and I’ve been going out with my girlfriend for the past five years. We both have professional careers that are very demanding, so we live apart. We really only see each other on weekends. Recently, she began to feel her biological clock ticking. She is 40 years old and feels this may be her last chance to have a child. She even talked to a fertility doctor. She wants to have a baby with me whether or not we get married. I have to admit, I’m gun shy. At 50 years old and childless, I’m not even sure I have what it takes to be a good father. So what do you think?
-- Once Burned
You have every right to feel the heat in this situation. You aren’t just talking about marriage; you’re talking about fatherhood at the same time. I think you and your girlfriend should consider these two questions separately. You need a cool-headed perspective.
In today’s world, marriage means making someone part of your family. We can love casually, but taking someone into your family is still a big deal. So how do you know? You don’t. You just know that it would be tragic not to have this person in your life.
On a practical level, you need to know that you can live together. I recommend a six-month experiment to help make that decision. You move in together with the understanding that after six months you will either get engaged and set a date for your wedding, or you will recognize that things aren’t working out.
Though many children have been raised successfully in single-parent households, it isn’t easy. If your girlfriend’s career is already very demanding, how would she be able to meet the needs of a child alone?
Though it may sound old-fashioned, children have their best chance at success in a household with two stable, cooperating parents. Regardless of your girlfriend’s ticking clock, give yourself a year of married life before deciding whether your marriage is stable and whether you and your wife are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be great parents.
Be strong, be wise, be prepared, and hopefully you’ll be lucky.
Etan Ben-Ami, LCSW is a psychotherapist with a practice in downtown Lynbrook. He specializes in short-term treatment for anxiety and depression. He can be reached at 516-880-4173 or via email at email@example.com.