I Was the Mistress. I Never Wanted to Be Stepmom.

I (age 45) have been dating my partner (age 60) for 10 years, seven of which were during his marriage to the mother of his children. She discovered the affair, and I moved with him into the house he bought while they were divorcing.

He has two daughters who are both adults. The older is 30 and the younger is 25. My partner’s younger daughter hasn’t spoken to him since shortly after the divorce, which I know hurts him deeply. I’ve never met her. The older daughter is very close to her father, and she has admittedly worked very hard to develop a relationship with me once it was clear that her father considered his relationship with me to be long-term. I was standoffish in the beginning, mostly because it felt a little bit like a trap (the divorce was very hard on her and I expected her to be passive-aggressive or rude) and also because we didn’t have any interests in common. But over the last three years, we’ve developed a pleasant rapport. This is in part due, I believe, to her insisting on family therapy (she told him she wouldn’t continue her relationship with him unless he agreed to this, and so he did). The therapy has been a great success.

Recently, she brought over her new partner, whom I had never met, and introduced me as her stepmom. I’m only 15 years older than she is, and I don’t consider myself to be a mother of any kind. I don’t like that she’s casting me into this role, and when I expressed that to my partner privately, he said that he thought it was a good thing and meant that she was welcoming me into the family and considered me a permanent part of it. But I still don’t like it! I want her to stop, but when I vented to a friend about it, she told me I should be thankful his daughter was being so welcoming to me. I disagree. Her father’s choices were his; he made the decision to cheat—I wasn’t a conniving seductress. How do I help my partner see it from my side?

—Nobody’s Mom, Step- or Otherwise

Dear Nobody,

Your friend is right, but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The relationship you’re in was built on a foundation of deceit: You weren’t “dating [your] partner” for the first seven years you were “together”—you were participating in a secret affair while he kept up a pretense at home with his wife and children. His marriage ended, it would seem, only because she found out about the affair. (Presumably, if she hadn’t, you and your partner would not be living together today.) “Conniving seductress” is a bit dramatic, of course, but accepting no responsibility at all for the consequences of his “decision” to cheat on his wife is astonishingly self-serving. I think it’s remarkable that one of his children has worked hard to have a good relationship with you; I think it speaks volumes about her maturity, empathy, and capacity to love and to forgive. That you rebuffed her efforts at first—because you knew perfectly well how much pain your relationship with her father had caused her and thus expected her to be unpleasant to you, and because the two of you had no “interests in common”—suggests that you could learn from her example.

I understand that you have no desire to be anybody’s mother or stepmother. Perhaps you should have thought about that when you moved into the house your beloved bought when he divorced. (Logic would dictate that you might have thought about that years before, when you began “dating” the father of two young women.) Did you imagine that both of his children would conveniently disappear? (I’m guessing that this is the only thing you’ll help your partner to see if you press this issue.) If you want this relationship to go the distance, the least you can do is accept the honorific his elder daughter is choosing to bestow upon you.

—Michelle

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