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My partner concealed he had more than one ex-wife. Should I be nervous about our future?

Photograph: IanDagnall Computing/Alamy:© Photograph: IanDagnall Computing/Alamy

My partner concealed he had more than one ex-wife. Should I be nervous about our future?
n the early throes of a new relationship, most of us conceal how much we want to be liked,’ writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith. Painting: Anthony van Dyck Wooing his Model (1827) by Gustaaf Wappers.
After several months of dating, my partner revealed he had another ex-wife and three teenage children.

He’d only ever mentioned one ex-wife and two small children. He explained his rationale and I decided to continue with the relationship. I had been single for 15 years and I feel I’ve really connected with him.

We have the best time together, and although he’s away a lot with work, he’s communicative, considerate and has given me the sort of relationship I never thought I’d find. I feel he genuinely loves me and wants the best for me. He’s always saying how much he appreciates me. But I am nervous about the future as he has so many commitments (I don’t have children but hope to one day, and he’s on board).

My family feel he’s deceived me and they fear for my future. I don’t know how to navigate my way through this. All I’ve ever wanted is to meet someone to build a life with and I feel I can’t enjoy it. I’m scared I’m making a mistake. I’m scared I’ll never meet someone like him if I walk away. I’m scared my family won’t ever accept him. What do I do?
Eleanor says: Nobody likes to feel that something big has been elided. Transparency is, in a lot of ways, the ideal in close relationships. But I suspect there are ways we all fall short of that ideal, quite deliberately, all the time – especially in the early stages of dating.

Hoping someone will fall in love with you is a bit like hoping they’ll believe what you’re telling them, in that you actively set back your chances of succeeding by announcing that’s what you want. “Like me!” akin to “believe me!” makes you seem less deserving of the thing you want. So in the early throes of a new relationship, most of us conceal how much we want to be liked and we conceal other “warts and all” things too. Finances, health problems, neuroses, the worst lie you ever told – everybody has aspects of themselves they don’t bring to the first date.

But a whole extra family is a lot to not mention. We tend to conceal the things we think will see us unfairly written off, and I can see why he’d fear that two previous families look worse than one. Maybe he gambled that once you knew him, you’d understand, but that in those early stages you’d think that while one divorce looks an accident, two looks like carelessness.

This omission demonstrates a facility with concealment that might be troubling. And it makes me quite sad for the teens that they were the “extra” reveal: that the fact he’s their dad was a temporarily excisable part of his identity.

But I think a great deal lives in the details. It speaks well that he told you, that you didn’t have to find it out. Has he reassured you there are no more big surprises? Are there other indications that he takes his role as part of their family seriously? What do the kids and exes think of him?

If you’re satisfied with the answers, I’m not sure that your family’s impression needs to matter more than your own.

You mentioned being fearful of your future together. It’s true that he has a lot of commitments. To my mind, the possibility that his attention would be divided is actually a good thing – it would be no great recommendation if he was wonderful to you and your hypothetical children, but gave no time to his other families. That would just make you fear that if you did break up you’d be relegated to their category. So the more you have to share him now, the more reassurance you have that he’ll be supportive no matter what comes.

There’s a lot of fear at the end of your letter – of other people’s judgment, of missing out, of him. Unfortunately that means there’s fear associated with every option. It’s natural during big life shifts to fear we’re making a mistake. But one way to guarantee things go badly is to be consumed more by what might happen, than by what is happening.

Story by Eleanor Gordon-Smith: The Guardian: