Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Women Should Know When Dating Single and Divorced Dads


I recently received an email from a female reader seeking my input on a situation that she's dealing with. She's a single woman without kids who's dating a divorced dad with a daughter. She has some real concerns about how the relationship is going and wanted to hear from my perspective the true dynamics of what she's experiencing. 


Let me first say that I'm not a relationship expert. I'm not a psychologist or therapist. I’m nothing more than a dad who has walked an interesting path on my way to raising two wonderful kids. I’ve had some real life experiences regarding this topic and I've learned somehow to navigate my way through the circumstances. Now I have the privilege of sharing a bit of what I’ve learned on this blog.

As you may know, I'm a happily married father. You might also know that my first marriage didn't quite work out as I'd hoped. That relationship produced a daughter who was 3 at the time that the divorce took place. I got remarried 2 1/2 years ago and we now have a son who just turned 11 months old this week. You can read The Story of My Blended Family by The Upbeat Dad to learn how it all came together. 

Today we have a blended family of four. Not long ago, I had a household of 2 - just my daughter and me. I was a single, self-employed, full-time dad with a growing, impressionable daughter. I desired to be in a relationship that could lead to marriage but I was in no rush to do so because I knew the devastation that can occur when marriages don't quite work out. I'd rather be single for the rest of my life than to get married and end up going through another divorce. It was that painful of an experience. 

My divorce ended 9 years ago and as I mentioned, I got married just over 2 years ago. So for 7 years I was a single dad. Throughout that time I dated a bit and I learned a thing or two about the unique issues that one encounters dating as a single dad. I wrote Dating 101 For The Divorced Dad to share my thoughts on the "do's and don'ts" of this process. 


Now that I've given that background on the journey I've taken, let me share with you a bit of what I conveyed in my response to the woman who emailed me. This applies more to those who date loving, responsible fathers. By this I mean that it does not apply to those who date men who have children and essentially disregard them as they enter new relationships. These are not the type of dads I'm talking about here. I'm referring to dads who make their kids a priority and try their best to balance being dads while building new relationships.

Here are some thoughts and tips that can help women build successful relationships with these men:

     1.     Avoid the rebound: Men who are just coming out of a relationship – whether by divorce or other means – are generally not emotionally ready to begin healthy, new relationships. It may be simpler to befriend one going through such a transition, giving him time to heal, and later on developing a relationship. More often than not, the more intense a relationship is with a newly divorced man, the less likely it is to succeed.

      When you add the father factor to this scenario it gets more complicated because, in a sense, he could be trying to replace his ex and having a pseudo-family. All this can be harmful in the long run because until he’s healed and whole, the comparison to his former relationship will remain for quite a while. When he’s moved on from that relationship, he can better assess the quality of a new one.

      2.     Take time to know him: Men are typically not the type to open up and share their wounds and scars. So it’s important to take things slow and get to know the man behind the mask. Don’t be in too much of a rush to meet his kids – get to know him first. Even if he wants to get the kids involved in your life, try to delay this process.

      Remember that the man isn’t the only one affected by the divorce – the kids are too. When someone new comes into the picture, they can easily resent that person because they view her as a replacement for their mom in their dad’s life. Get to know him for who he is. The other stuff comes in time.

     3.     Give him time to balance being a dad and a date: For many men, the experience of dating while being dads is very new. They’ve gone from simply focusing on their household and careers to now also focusing on a new relationship. I know that for me, it wasn’t easy. Being a full-time dad was my responsibility.

   


      When I dated, that was the exception – not the rule. I had to learn to make someone feel special while having my primary focus on my daughter. I couldn’t allow her to feel as if a new love in my life means she’s now on the backburner, as the expression goes.

      4.     Avoid the extremes when meeting the kids: When a dad has been convinced that a new love is a “keeper”, inevitably he will introduce her to his kids. There are two extremes that one should avoid. These are: trying too much to impress them; and becoming their competitors.

      Most women who date a dad would like to know that their kids like them. Some go to great lengths to sway the kids towards them. So they buy them gifts, take them shopping and really stretch the limits trying to impress them. In their view, by doing this, they’ll win the kids over and consequently, make it easier for a family to be formed.

This approach can be harmful in the long run. First, kids are smarter than we think. They’re not easily swayed. Their affection is not easily won – and it certainly cannot be bought. They might readily accept the gifts but might not so readily accept the new person.

The other extreme is becoming the kids’ competitors. Some women feel as if the man has a choice – either the kids or them. So instead of being open and warm, they become withdrawn and cold as they meet the kids. Some might feel that they’ve already won his heart so there’s no need to impress the kids.

This can be more harmful than I could describe here. His kids are his own. His blood literally runs through their veins. They are not to be competed with; instead, they should be embraced and honored for who they are. Any other approach generally leads to an unfavorable outcome.
A colleague of mine, Christina McGhee introduced me to the term, bonus kids, instead of step kids. How cool is that? You’ve got the man of your dreams and his kids are a bonus. This approach in more likely to make a favorable impression than the divisive competitor approach.

5.     Be true to yourself: This final point, in my view, is the most important of them all. Be true to who you are. You are not and could not ever be like his ex – no matter what her qualities may have been. Particularly when a man isn’t fully healed from his former relationship, he often seeks the good qualities in his ex in a new person.


      Just be who you are and if the relationship works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, at least you didn’t lose yourself in the process. When it comes to meeting the kids, again, be who you are. You’re not their biological mother – you can never be. But you can win their love, respect and admiration by genuinely caring for them and making them feel special. I believe it was Shakespeare who wrote, “To thine own self be true.” That statement is the strongest point I could make in this post.

      I hope that these tips have been helpful. Dating a divorced or a single dad isn’t such a simple process. But with tips such as those I’ve shared here, as well as many more, you can navigate your way to building a successful relationship. My wife was simply remarkable in the way she handled our dating experience. I could have even asked her to write this post from her perspective because she did a masterful job at just being true to herself, while becoming a part of my life. She and my daughter have developed such a close bond that, unless you knew otherwise, you’d think that they were biological mother and child. That’s been a joy to behold.

      In my view, kids are a joy and a treasure. Marriages come and go but kids are for keeps. When we as adults get into new relationships, if we take the proper approach to consider them first, then things generally work out fine. If you’re a woman who is dating or is considering dating a single or divorced dad, I wish you the very best. Just be yourself and if the relationship works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, life goes on. In time, good things come to those who wait. It took 5 years after my divorce for me to meet my wife and 2 years later we got married. It’s come together just fine and it’s really as a result of the tips I shared here.

      As always, I welcome your feedback in the Comments section here on the blog. Do share this post with those who you feel would benefit. Life is much better when we share positive messages with each other. That’s what it’s all about.


      Do enjoy your day.



The Upbeat Dad



  

34 comments:

  1. This has hit home for me. My boyfriend and I have a 10 year age difference with me being the younger of the 2. He has 1 biological child from a previous marriage and one adopted son. It took me awhile to adjust to this life since I have never been married or have any children of my own. We have been together for a year and have had many family gatherings in which I was able to spend time with the children. This kind of relationship does work, although I thought it wouldn't. Honesty and communication has been the 2 key factors.

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  2. Women who believe marriage is for keeps should RUN away from men like this. A divorced dad will never value and honor their wife unless she bends over backwards adjusting to his life. Some women don't mind doing this - others take the view that a relationship should be reciprocal. She gives more to the relationship than he ever can! You heard it from the man himself - "You’re not their biological mother – you can never be"... "I had to learn to make someone feel special while having my primary focus on my daughter."...the fact is, if these men valued their second wives the wives would naturally feel special (it wouldn't be work.) These kind of men have too much baggage and take the fun out of dating. No woman wants to grow up, dream of her future husband, and - oh wait - that person has another wife hanging around in the picture. The romance screeches to a halt. Sorry boys, but blogs like this are frustrating because you are the guys who ruined your marriages, put your kids in hurtful environments by your irresponsibility...don't expect the new woman to pick up the slack. You should be asking what she might expect of *you* (she may know a thing or two more than you about how to make a relationship actually work.)

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    1. WOW! your reply totally smacks of stupidity. 1st off.. who says the wife not the one who broke the relationship in the 1st place?

      Your very last line indicates that you cannot be rationed with. Going around blaming all single dads as the cause for the marriage breaking down in the 1st place means that you as the poster, should consider there are other reasons why couples split. Unless all your partners cheated on you? FYI - women cheat too...

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    2. Men who believe marriage is for keeps should RUN away from women like Anonymous on 10/10. She's so selfish that she believes she should come before someone's child. She doesn't understand that children always come first. She refers to a responsible man's duties as "baggage" and seems to think life should always be "fun". She needs someone else to make her "feel special" and has such low self esteem that she can't bear ever being compared to another woman. Evidently she spends a lot of time comparing herself to other women and comes up short. And (if you can believe anyone could be so ignorant) she believes divorce is always the man's fault even though 70% of divorces are initiated by women. She doesn't think much of men, because she believes they all need a woman to "pick up the slack", although she apparently doesn't believe in doing anything for her spouse, since she focuses on "what she might expect" of her potential husband.

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    3. Heh, strange to say, I think these two extreme views of the situation are actually both valid.

      ABSOLUTELY, the woman will be burdened by a divorced dad's baggage. I don't think you'd find too many people who aspire to marrying a man who already made a vow to spend their life with someone else and have a human being to represent that love to boot (and yes, it matters that the man prioritizes that representation of that love). A good test would be to look at your daughters and ask yourself if that's what you'd want for her.

      No, women are not selfish for wanting to build a life with a man who is first and foremost their partner and not someone else's (believe me, the co-parent's decisions WILL partly define your own). A case could be made for the idea that women who are in a relationship with a divorced dad doesn't have the self-esteem to find someone better.

      That said, there is also something to be said about being embraced as part of a family, a far more difficult feat than building your own. Love comes in lots of ways (I know, cheesy...but still true!) sometimes that way involves a difficult path. Divorced dads can be a better partner in that they may have learned from their previous relationship and the fact that they are responsible enough to want to be part of their child's life is a sign of good character. For women who can't have children, the kid is a blessing. For the more independent women, these families can be ideal as they would have more freedom to do their own thing when he's off being a dad. Finally, if everything one hoped for in a marriage/family comes ready-out-of-the-package so to speak, it would be a mark of stubborness and inflexibility to be unable to accept it simply because it doesn't arrive in the way one wanted it to.

      I think what ultimately matters is that all parties involved know what they're going in for and that people are only people. Women need to understand what going into such a relationship entails and not throw fits when they're not prioritized. Men need to respect both the women who decide it's not for them and those who decide it is a good lifestyle for them.

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    4. I don't know - my parents, who are still together, love each other so much, and my siblings and I are a product of that love, but we kids definitely did not come first growing up or now. I think divorced parents use the kids as excuses to stay in touch way too often. I think any women coming into this situation needs to be wary of the excuses divorced dads make in regards to the child. "But I'm being a good dad!" A good dad models a healthy relationship with his significant other by prioritizing it. I think the first poster directed her comments to women who have never been through a divorce and would never want that in their lives nor would they understand the dynamics surrounding that, understandably so. I don't think that is selfish at all.

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    5. Original poster here...thank you for the comments that showed some understanding of my perspective. I just want to point out that my comments also hold true for my opinions of single moms...I don't believe in divorce. Usually there is a fundamental break-down of a marriage before the divorce, and while blame cannot always be attributed 50/50, I am sure 70% of women did not necessarily cause the break-down of their marriages. Regardless, at a certain point both partners agree to throw in the towel, and in my opinion, this shows a weakness in character that can be attributed to at least one of the partners. Good luck out there.

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  3. "Marriages come and go but kids are for keeps." (Really? Don't the kids grow up and leave and make families of their own? Isn't the wife supposed to still be around? Wouldn't your kid want their mommy to still be in the picture??)

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    1. Well said! Isn't marriage meaning planning to spend your life with your partner---- your partner is your No. 1 priority????? ( not the kids from a previous marriage!)

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  4. Yeah marriages come and go...says it all really.

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  5. Do you believe in love at first sight. The best and most beautiful things in the world can't be seen, nor touched, but are felt in the heart.
    dating advice

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  6. Love at first sight quickly diminishes when an ex-wife is hanging around.

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  7. I think the relationship may work if the woman is understanding and is willing to compromise with the issues that will eventually develop. She should be very much in love with the man as well.
    Overall, it would be ideal for a single father to date a single mother.

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  8. Divorced dads need to get in touch with each other, find a way to communicate with each other and help each other through some difficult days that you might be up against. Such as the ignorance and prejudice of people who don't want fathers to have help. Sometimes they act like gatekeepers, censoring information inappropriately.

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  9. Thank you for the post - I will be mindful of these things while i'm hitting the town! :)

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  10. Hi Rodrick,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

    Wilson Peter
    matchmaker Chicago Illinois
    matchmaker Chicago

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  11. Thank you for this. I think sometimes you meet someone wonderful and they have kids. An ex in the picture doesn't mean the new gf or wife is less important also doesn't mean a woman dating a single dad has low self esteem. I would love to hear your wife's account of dating a single dad and her advice and perspective.

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    1. I would also love to hear your wife's account. It's rare to hear stories from women who have successfully navigated the creation of a blended family.

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  12. I have beeing seeing my partner for 6 months now. He is divorced, with 2 children. I have no children and have never been married. His marriage was well and truly over before we met but it has been a very acrimonious divorce. I have not met the children yet. We thought it best to wait and make sure we are on solid ground together before adding them to the mix. We agreed that after 6 months the introduction between me and the kids would happen.

    He is a devoted Dad and I know how difficult it has been for the kids during the divorce. They are 9(girl) and 6(boy).
    Does anyone have any suggestions of activites or environment for the first meeting? I dont want them to feel as if I am there to replace anyone, or that the day is all about me. I want them to feel like the day is all about them, and I am just someone they can have fun with while getting to know.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  13. Hi there.

    I would like to get some opinions on my situation.

    I am dating a newly divorced guy with a 3 year old son. We are seeing each other for almost 2 years now, he divorced just recently (and left her wife more than 1/2 year ago). Yes, I am the main reason he got divorced. I will not go deeply in this situation, still it is not favorable to me, so.. :)

    1. He is still attached to his wife. She got a job only 3 week ago, so he was (still is) paying for everything for her (and his son, naturally). They agreed in the divorce papers that he will pay a loan for the house for one year (he gave the house to her), after that only alimony (and, of course, split other expences for the kid). But he gives her money, and a lot of money, that she spends not on the kid (even her hair, manicure, pedicure, etc.). He offered to give her money on her new sitting room decor. This is too much I think, no?
    He texts her, calls her. She also. But when I am nor around. He says it's only about the kid, but I doubt it.. I do know, that she is in course of what he is doing, what is happening with him..
    2. Naturally, he tries to be the best dad for his kid. He spends as much time as possible with him. But I am not included (he says, it is because he is not ready, and they agreed with his former wife, not to get son introduced to me). So, I am left out (with thoughts, that I am not important enough to him, that he is not planning future with me). I "get" some time leftovers only.
    3. He says, that he wants to be with me, and he has feelings for me. It is obvious for me too. But he doesn't want to live with me, and is not introducing me to his life (family, kid also). And we are spending not enough time together. It would improve if we spend time with kid together, he wouldn't have to split his time.
    4. We fight about those things a lot. That's bad, but I am a normal woman, I want normal relationship - I want to know a kid, to start living together, to know that I am the only woman, he take care of, that he contacts his former wife only when something very important is to talk, and rarely, etc.). I did say that to him a lot of times.
    5. I have to mention that he visits his phychotherapist once a week. And he is getting better in his opinion (he is not that concerned that he takes something from his son, when he is with me; he stopped looking over his shoulder, when walking with me; etc.).

    What should I do? He says I should wait, and everything will fall to it's places. I am not a woman-rag... Should I clench my teeth and wait for this to happen? But I have waited so long, passed so many s*it.
    Thanks.

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  14. Run from a man who will cheat on his wife. He will cheat on you too. Don't waste your best years on this kind of man.

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  15. Even if you’ve never sweated through a Dolce & Gabbana bustier on a neon-lighted dance floor somewhere deep into a fifth or sixth shot of Grey Goose, you have surely, by virtue of living, absorbed the message of Beyoncé’s revenge-as-empowerment anthem, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” The Desire System

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  16. I have a question - Just read your post. Have been dating over a year now and the bond between us have been excellent, open, honest and mature.... Met his daughter (10) about 6 months ago, our bond too had become so unbelievably strong. Recently he started resenting me and saying he feels as if she enjoys me more and started excluding me from activities. It is her birthday this week, and I was crushed when i heard that he and his ex wife discussed getting her a bike. I do not feel part of this unit anymore and feel totally as an outsider. It would have been nice if we got her a gift together and build our unit instead, not? I am confused as to what is normal and what is not here.

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  17. If dating single dads is so effing awesome, then why do the ALL lie in their profiles and you are lucky if you find out on the first date???? Obviously, they know how much it sucks to date them and know they are no match and cannot give nearly as much to a relationship as people without baggage. First they lie about having kids to trap women and make them attached to them, and then when the women realize how much it sucks and how much crap they need to deal with bc that guy was too obsessed with sex that he reproduced with an effed up woman before and now has baggage….All the smart beautiful women like myself with advanced degrees and great looks should never ever ever even go there unless in their forties and desperate. Believe me, I work in education because I love kids and at first when I met my ex I was happy about the fact he has a kid. I was sooo naïve and thinking “yeah another cute human being in my life, what could be wrong with that???”. EVERYTHING!!!! No quality time, a crazy bi**** he was too addicted to having sex with in the past and then realized it’s not everything and you can’t deal with an effed up person your whole life because they give you sex, so they finally get a divorce and HAVE TO take the kid or else the kid would end up just as screwed up like mommy….and they call themselves so great and loving and giving….giving ONLY to their kids who are in this world as a result of their mistakes of getting involved with horrible people….either that or THEY cheated and got a divorce. Everyone can reproduce (unless infertile) and of course our instinct is to take care of the offspring. It is basic instinct and does not make single dads any better than other guys. The only difference is that single dads either cheated on their wives or were involved with effed up women who they finally had to leave when they grew up enough to realize that life is not all about sex and they got involved with some effed up person and most likely have messed up kids as a result. Then they look for childless women to knock them up because they know nobody with great looks and sane would marry then and call women selfish for not wanting their crap. How about you all go and log in right now and let the potential dates reading your profile know the truth that you are in fact daddies???!!!! What a great way to avoid selfish women, right? The problem is, you know no one would be interested except for desperate people without other options because you all know how much dating you sucks…. Be honest with your self and others and date people on your level with the same amount of baggage as you bring (SINGLE PARENTS SHOULD DATE SINGLE PARENTS OR NOT AT ALL)!!!!! Nobody on eharmony ever has kids if you look at the profiles. I now learned to be very blunt about that and I make sure I ask that question again before I even exchange a few text messages because there are too many liars out there and I’ve already wasted 4 months of my life dealing with a horrible relationship with a “wonderful, caring, and giving” single daddy. You are the entitled ones who deceive childless women and are looking for someone to dump your baggage on. STAY AWAY!!!!! As a womam who puts her man first, you will never be first and you will give your life away to fix and suffer from someone else’s past mistakes. You will be an outsider in your own home and if disrespected by kids, you will be blamed for not being “understanding enough”. Single dads can be horrible, soul-sucking people who only care about THEIR BLOOD and then spoiling their kids is a result of their own selfishness. It makes them feel wonderful and needed. Then they create kids as effed up and entitled as their effed up exes are and end up single. Then they wake up when their kids move on without giving too much crap about them and realize why they are so lonely. At that point they are too old and even less desirable in the dating pool.

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    1. Absolutely right. As a attractive girl with degrees, I was seeing a single dad for about 4 months. And it sucked! I had never had a priority in his life. And I was being blamed for not wanting to meet his child. All these stuff has nothing to do with my life!!!!!! His kid is not my thing! I do not have responsibility for that! And I want the amount of attention a girl would get in a normal relationship. And there is no wrong with that!!!!!!

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  18. As long as their needs are met, kid’s moodiness and ridiculous spoiled behaviors should NEVER come first. Parents like that are the reason why the American society is so messed up and people so entitled. If you find a great woman who you know has enough common sense to care about your kid and is WILLING to TAKE ON YOUR BAGGAGE and is a great person who you want to marry, you need to put her first or else don’t be surprised when she’s gone…there are PLENTY OF guys without kids out there who would die to date her, ya know???? Plus, if you were honest enough to include the fact that you have kids in your dating profile, nobody will be hurt. Funny how you all put your kids first but are too embarrassed to admit their existence on your dating profiles right off the bat. OK, the venting was helpful and this is not about all single parents but just the ones who deceive potential partners and lie about not having kids in their profiles. Us, as you call us selfish bitches, are hurting when it is time to go too. You trap us without saying how bad the situation will be and then we have to leave heartbroken when he face the undeniable truth that we deserve better!!! Be honest from the beginning or stay away.

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  19. I would never stay in an exclusive relationship for nearly a year where you guys can't say you love each other. Something significant is wrong.

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  20. Wow - there are some seriously biased comments in here. A lot of people have had bad experiences, but 'always' and 'never' are very specific words and in my opinion way too harsh for these scenarios in here. People of divorce aren't all bad. Single parents aren't all bad. They aren't all good either. It's no different than anything or anyone else in life. There are good and bad. If you can't handle weeding through the bad to find the good then you will never find it. If you are scorned and forever bitter because of bad experience, the good you seek will never come. First and foremost YOU should always come first. I don't mean this is a selfish way - I mean this as in if YOU are not happy and healthy you are in no shape to be taking care of a kid or a partner. Let's face it - life is stressful. Moreso now than ever. If you don't take care of yourself you will never be able to have a successful relationship because you will be too screwed up to do so. The same goes for parenting. I do not necessarily believe in 'forgive and forget'. Some things are unforgiveable. But you do need to move on with your life. If you continue to let your bad experiences run your life you are letting the bad people who put you through those situations win. Don't let them win. Don't let them change you into an angry and bitter person. Remember what happened, Learn from it and move on. Use that negative experience to make you a better person. This is easier said than done, I know from personal experience. I am damaged goods and my current had to deal with that baggage while I got myself back on track - back to being me. Most people going through a divorce/break-up experience this. That is part of why #1-3 of this blog are so important.

    Once you have healed, you should date whoever you care about - whether they be single, divorced, a parent, whatever. If you care for them and they care for you - it's worth a shot. It won't always work out. But you'll never find the right one if you aren't willing to try. And for the love of god do not date someone expecting them to change. Love and accept them for who they are, not who you want them to be. Expectations never last.

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    1. Dating a single parent is a package deal. If you don't think you're ready for that, discuss it with your partner. Chances are they don't expect much expect for you to be understanding. If you don't want to deal with that then don't bother. If you even think about giving an ultimatum, you will lose. In some ways the child will always come before you. They aren't only flesh and blood - they are in need. Your responsibility as a parent is to care for your child, provide for them, teach them. But in other areas of life you should come first. There are two sides to every story and there isn't always a "right side". You should get married knowing that it will last forever, not thinking that you can always get dovirced if it doesn't work out. But you don't need your spouse the way a child does. It is different. Yes, the spouse will be there after the child is grown and moved out, but they are still your child. They will always need you. And you will always need them. A common mistake from the parents tho it that Your child can't always be #1 - they need to learn value and struggle in order to appreciate. They need to learn to earn and deserve, not just be given. They need to learn sadness and disappointment, and how to recover from it. How to pick up the pieces and keep moving. If your child is always #1 they won't learn most of those things and they will probably end up being spoiled self centered little brats. Nobody wants to have 'that kid'. You can't give them everything nad you can't control them - you just have to guide them. You have to find a happy balance somewhere in the middle.

      Relatoionships don't work on their own. You have to make them work. That goes for all types of relationships in life. If both parties involved aren't willing to put in the effort it won't work. If both parties can't be understanding about the others strengths and weaknesses, desires and fears, it will not work. If you can't communitate with eachother without ending in an arguement it won't work. This has nothing to do with being divorced or being a parent. It has to do with being human. We are all flawed, but we are not all accepting - we are not all understanding.

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  21. i'm in love with him and crazy about his kids, it's a year next week, and no i love you. am i supposed to leave ?

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