DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So this isn’t necessarily about dating, but I’d like to get your two cents, nonetheless. Strap in because this one’s a doozy.
So, I broke off a relationship of three years with my ex, Darren, at the end of October. We still love each other immensely, but neither of us were getting our needs met and I thought it wise to cut my losses and end things.
Towards the end of our relationship, I started getting massages from our mutual friend, Nick, who is also gay and is married. We’ll call his husband Jacob. Now, without going into too much detail, it was THAT kind of massage (iykyk), which my ex was fine with. After a while, my ex started getting massages from Nick as well.
Fast forward to a few days ago. After months of not speaking to Darren, I decided I was ready to resume a friendship with him. So I called him up and after telling him that I’d like to be friends, he stopped me and said “Before you decide you wanna be friends, there’s something you should know.” At first, I wasn’t worried. I thought he was about to tell me he’s f--king someone new or he’s got a new boyfriend, which I would’ve been fine with.
I wish it were that simple.
So, after telling me “there’s something you should know,” he proceeds to tell me that he is in a relationship with Nick and his husband and will be having a baby with them, which he will be carrying. (Darren is a trans man who still has a female reproductive system, meaning he could still carry a baby.)
Needless to say, I was speechless.
So, after processing everything, I asked Darren, “Let’s think logically about this for a minute. Nick and Jacob are married. You’re just their boyfriend. Have you considered the possibility that you have this baby and they bail?” To which he responded, “Yes.” And I said, “Okay, follow-up question: Let’s take Nick and Jacob out of it for a second. Do you, and you alone, think you are 100% ready to be a father?” And he said, “Yes.”
Now, I have zero doubt that if Darren really commits, he could be an amazing father. I just hope he realizes what a commitment it is. And I only say that because when we broke up just under six months ago, he was nowhere near ready to have a baby.
Now, Darren’s grandfather is the only family he has left. His grandfather is not the most involved person ever. If it doesn’t affect him, he couldn’t care less. I asked Darren what his grandfather thought of the situation and he thinks Darren is crazy, but he doesn’t put much stock into what his grandfather says. Now, Darren doesn’t really have any friends either, so once he told me that, it started to make sense to me why he’s going through with this. I think I might be the only person in his life, whose opinion he cares about, that’s expressed any kind of disagreement with this situation.
Obviously, Darren’s a big boy and he’s gonna do what he wants but I care about him a lot and I just don’t wanna see him dig himself into a hole so deep that he can’t get out. I’m just scared that if he goes through with this, he’ll be in WAY over his head.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the situation.
DEAR SPEECHLESS: Well Speechless, I think my opinion is kinda irrelevant here. I don’t know Darren, Nick or any of the others, so while I have my general opinions (six months is way too early for anyone to be making plans to have kids together), I simply don’t have enough information to make any sort of judgement call here. And honestly, I think you’re asking the wrong question. Or rather, I think you don’t realize the question you’re asking isn’t the one you’re actually asking.
What I think you’re actually asking is: what do you do when you think a friend is making a huge mistake?
This is something that almost everyone has faced at one point or another. It may be that a friend is getting ready to get back with an ex who was absolutely wrong for them. Or they might be engaged to someone who’s just awful. Or – as in your case – they’re thinking of having a baby with someone they barely know. You may know that they’re tap-dancing on the edge of a volcano, but they seem incredibly unaware of it. And if you reach out to warn them or to try to yank them back, then you know you run the risk of driving them over that edge and ruin your friendship at the same time. But even so…
So here’s a harsh truth: unless you have some sort of direct leverage over someone – maybe you’re paying for their schooling or apartment – you really can’t force folks to do things differently, or even to listen. People will make mistakes freely, even eagerly, and of their free will. At best, you can offer your opinion… but unless they actually asked for it, they’re not as likely to listen or take that opinion on board. So to start, you’re going to have to understand that saying anything means that you’re going to be facing an uphill battle. If you want to have chance for achieving the best possible result and keep lines of communication open, then you have to handle things carefully.
To start with: realize that you aren’t going to win any discussion with facts and logic. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. Nine times out of ten, they didn’t come to this decision by means of logic; like most people, they likely decided on emotion and found reasons to support that choice after the fact. Everybody does this; we make choices based on vibes far more often than facts and then dress it up with logic later. But we’ve convinced ourselves that our choice is reasonable and logical and that makes it much harder to persuade us with other facts. You persuade emotion with emotion.
By the same token, if they’re emotionally committed to that decision, your pushing against it – even if you’re making a reasoned and logical argument – may invoke a sort of backfire effect that will make them commit harder to their choice. Worse, that may even make it harder for them to back out, even if they might want to. Because they made a decision that’s important and impactful, they need it to be their decision. Allowing someone else to change their mind would be damaging to the ego; it risks making them feel weak or pushed around about something this important. If they could be pushed out of it, wouldn’t that mean they could have been pushed into it? Since people often don’t want to believe that they’re someone who could be fooled or tricked in such a significant way, they’ll end up refusing to change their mind, even when they know they should. Doubling down and forcing away doubts is a way of reinforcing the idea of “I chose this, ergo it MUST be the right decision because I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS.”
This is why, if you want to have any hope of influencing them, you need to let them think that they changed their minds on their own… not because you pushed them to do so. It’s easier to rationalize why your previous decision was right but now you need to do something else when you don’t feel humiliated for doing so. People will do all sorts of stupid s--t if it means not feeling embarrassed, even if said stupid s--t is demonstrably against their best interests.
In order to achieve this, you need to frame your opinion as wanting to be reassured by them. You’re not telling them “this is a bad idea, here’s why”, you’re saying “hey, can you walk me through your decision? Because I’d be worried about X, Y and Z thing if I were in your shoes…”. It’s a subtle but significant difference, and one that leads them to have to think about things they may have glossed over in the decision making process.
You want to ask questions – leading questions – that ultimately serve to plant a seed that hopefully lead them to think differently. In your case, instead of asking “have you considered that they could break up with you after you have this kid”, you might want to say “I don’t know if I could do something like that with folks I don’t know that well. Aren’t you afraid about what might happen if you all break up?” This emphasizes couple salient points; that Darren has only just started a relationship with this couple and that this isn’t a solid arrangement.
Darren would likely have any number of responses to that. Whatever they may be, you don’t want to push back against them, not directly. Attacking his rationale will invoke that backfire effect. Instead, you want to draw him out. “Ok, but like, giving birth and raising a kid is risky and expensive as hell, especially if you’re doing this as a surrogate. Are they supporting you at all through this? I’d be afraid of being left high and dry…”.
Again: let Darren explain these things while you ask questions from a place of seeming benign confusion. Get him to explain his logic and why this isn’t a mistake. You’re almost certainly going to hit on things he hadn’t thought all the way through. While this won’t magically change his mind, at the very least you leave things that will make him think more about his choice.
Now, with all that having been said: there’s one thing I noticed in your write-up of the situation. What you haven’t told me is whether you actually trust Darren to know his own mind or to make good decisions. That part’s kinda important. It’s one thing if someone’s making a mistake because they’re prone to making similar, life-altering mistakes. It’s another if it comes down to disagreeing with their choice or, and I hate to say this, if there’s some jealousy involved.
One of the things I see crop up fairly often is that after a break-up, the ex goes on to do something that they would never have done with their previous partner. If, for example, you were interested in having a family with Darren but they weren’t feeling it, seeing him planning something like this could trigger some complicated emotions. It’s hard to look at your ex making decisions they’d never have made with you. It’s harder still to realize the main reason why they chose not to do those things wasn’t because they didn’t want them but because they didn’t want them with you. That’s the sort of revelation that hits like a fist straight to the self-esteem and it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s much easier to say “they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re making a mistake…” than it is to say “ok, we weren’t right for each other in this particular way.”
So it’s worth taking a moment to figuring out if this is something you’re honestly worried that Darren hasn’t thought through… or if it’s because he’s doing these things with someone else.
But one last thing: regardless of whether he’s thought this through or not, regardless of whether you’re legitimately worried that this is a mistake or just very complicated feels, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. Remember what I said about how folks will do stupid s--t to avoid feeling humiliated? That goes double here. One of the reasons that people will stay in a toxic relationship is because they worry that their family and friends will shame them for having not left sooner. It may not make sense to stay in a bad situation just because you don’t want to hear “I told you so…” but people do that all the goddamn time.
If the worst does come to pass – Darren ends up having to raise a kid on his own – he’s going to need friends. He’s going to need support. He’s much more likely to reach out to you for that help and support if he knows that he can come to you and know he can do so with no risk of judgement and no questions asked. That means making it clear to him that, even though you disagree, you support him and you will continue to do so whenever he needs. So if you are worried about him, make sure he knows that no matter what, you’re ready to listen and you’re ready to help.
At the end of the day, however, Darren’s a grown-ass man. He’s allowed to make his own mistakes, even if they’re potentially disastrous. The best you can do is give him the room and grace to change his mind and be the friend he may well need.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org