All through my teens, I vowed that I never wanted kids. In fact, my mum will tell you that I said the same from a very early age. Being a parent has never really appealed to me, a viewpoint which many people find really difficult to understand.
As I got older, so did the women in my life, of course. There were a few younger dalliances, but mostly I've stuck to seeing women around my own age. But as 30 neared, meeting women with potential for any kind of romantic entanglement got really difficult. Not because there were none out there, but because many of them had children from relationships past.
See, this is something else I swore off. Looking from the outside, I was appalled by the possible complications – the ex, for one. That can always be difficult for a new partner. And then there's the 'offspring' to deal with – what role would I play to that child? I couldn't be a father figure if there was a father around to do that already, that would be wrong. So how do I fit into their world? The answer, plain and simple, was that I would not.
Then I moved back to my home town in late 2006 and the unthinkable happened. I met a woman I had known since I was about 15 years old, and we've always got on very well. But I hadn't seen her in ten years, and as I was leaving town, she was returning with a newborn daughter to start afresh. So when we met, I knew there was a child involved. It didn't bother me; I simply decided to take things as they came.
I met the child, a vibrant 10-year-old called The Daughter, very early on, before myself and SLF [Special Lady Friend] had really started seeing each other. As things progressed, I was invited round for tea, but in my new role as 'the boyfriend.' Within about 15 minutes of being there, The Daughter had pinned me under a blanket and farted on my head, after asking if I was going to marry her mum. How on earth could anyone not love a kid like that?
Even with The Daughter's open friendliness, it was still difficult for me. Over the months, I had to learn how to interact with her properly. To do this, I started helping with her homework when she needed it, and generally mucking about when she wanted to play, and also speaking to her as an equal. I genuinely considered each step with The Daughter, because her acceptance of me was and remains exceptionally important.
As for SLF, I've been far more understanding with her than with any woman I have previously met. I can feel when she's tired, and she asks me for help when she needs it. She's a very independent woman, and I'm not going to tread on her toes, but when she needs me, I'm there. Even if it's just to wash the dishes or cook dinner when she's tired, she can lean on me and I get real satisfaction from being there.
Initially, it was tough as we felt out where we would fit in with each other. We're both self-employed and both work from home, so there were days early on when we could indulge each other for an afternoon quite easily. As time goes on, that happens less, but it's more out of a respect for each other's working role than an unwillingness. If time allows, we still sack off for an afternoon to go and adventure somewhere, but work comes first in the day.
I went to visit some friends recently and recounted an experience with SLF that had had a major effect on me. She had withdrawn somewhat, and had been worried about something between us. But as soon as she mentioned it, I realised what was wrong and changed it – just like that. Crazy as it sounds, at 32, I'd never really done this before, as my friend pointed out. Until this relationship, my attitude had always been, 'This is me, you either fit around me or you don't.' Now that I write that, it sounds absolutely crazy, but that's how I was. Now I can understand the benefits of compromise and understanding, and I also realise what a prick I've been to some girlfriends. I wonder if all men go through this learning experience, or if it's possible that some might make it to the end of their lives without realising such a thing is possible or has value. I hope we all do it.
As for The Daughter's father, I get on fine with him. He's actually dating someone I know quite well and they seem to be getting on fine, and as long as he's good to his daughter we'll carry on getting along. He was as welcoming as everyone else as I cast aside my preconceptions and integrated into the most rewarding relationship of my life.
It has been quite a learning curve for me. Our relationship has grown quite beautifully, and I'm in love with SLF in a way I've never experienced before. Maybe a mother has a greater capacity for love, and a greater acceptance of people in general because of the child in their life. I don't know for sure, and I suspect I never will. I do know that our relationship, the three of us, has enriched my life in ways I never even knew existed before. The Daughter is a huge part of that, no question, and I'm excited to see her grow up and develop as a person.
We're planning to get a house together later this year, and The Daughter has been insistent that we should have a baby and get married, which I think is a good sign that I've been accepted… though we may have to let her down on the baby front. After all, we've got The Daughter!