Dear Carolyn: I always wanted kids, but managed to get to my early 40s with no husband or children – not from lack of trying.
Three months ago I started seeing a nice guy. He has potential. But I feared he’d go the way so many had: dating for a while then moving on. This time I was determined to at least try to get something I want, so I did what I never thought I’d do. I lied about taking birth control. My bad luck coupled with pure statistical improbability really led me to believe I had little to no chance of getting pregnant.
Well, I’m looking at a positive pregnancy test. How do I tell this man I barely know that I lied to him and hey, sorry, but I’ve torpedoed your life?
I’ve made a huge mess and I don’t know how to fix it. I think I just didn’t realize until now how badly I wanted the whole white-picket-fence thing, too.
– Just Sick
A: Bernard Malamud’s got this one. “We have two lives,” he wrote in “The Natural.” “The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”
Please tackle your second life with a very good therapist.
Here’s why: The “right” answer is the truth. You sold your soul for a baby, so it seems obvious that fixing the mess requires truth-telling, immediately and in perpetuity. I filed a first-version of this column saying just that – in part because this man deserves to know your frailty.
However, your mess is en route to having a life independent of you (health permitting). Does this child deserve one parent who profoundly resents the other? In perpetuity? Does Nice Guy himself deserve to see his child through unclouded eyes?
People who cheat come to a crossroads analogous to yours, on which there are two distinct camps: those who believe a cheater’s duty is to confess, and those who believe it’s to bear the guilty secret – because confessing restores the cheater’s peace of mind at the cost of the victim’s.
Since each camp is certain the other is very wrong, that alone says people must take their specific circumstances into painstaking account before making deep moral choices on an unwitting other’s behalf.
And that’s before anyone mentions possible legal implications, which someone always does.
And you need to figure out whether you care about this man as a person, or just as a squandered potential picket fencing contractor.
So, therapy. Don’t mess around. You lied without regard for potential consequences, but you can think them through now, with someone objective, sharp and bound to confidentiality. Plus, you’ve just become rudely acquainted with what a bad person you’re capable of being. Arguably everyone will, or should, have that awakening over the course of a lifetime – but it’s still tough to live with. Having a guide can help.