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Carolyn Hax: Unexpected pregancy news met immediately with a disclaimer

DEAR CAROLYN: I just found out I’m pregnant. I am only 21 and had been on the pill, so naturally this is a shock.

My longtime boyfriend has a stable job and is being supportive, but I can’t get over the disappointment I have with his reaction. He showed almost no emotion and then said, “I hope you know we’re not getting married.”

I also don’t know why he had to bring up marriage like that. I hadn’t even thought about it, but I’m upset that the one thing this pregnancy brought to mind was the fact that he doesn’t want to commit to me.

Honestly, the idea of having a child out of wedlock is foreign to me. Where I’m from, it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know if I can live with and raise a child with someone who is never going to want to marry me. Should I tell him all this? I guess I don’t know how much responsibility it’s fair to give him, and at the same time I don’t know if I can handle any of this myself.

A.

DEAR A.: I think you’ll be surprised by what you can handle by yourself. But a pregnancy you were actively trying to prevent isn’t your greatest obstacle to seeing that right now. What’s blocking your view is a bunch of preconceived notions.

The most consequential of these at the moment is the notion that the first thing that came to his mind is also the most significant. You two aren’t movie characters and moments aren’t tests. When you drop a news bomb on people, their reaction is almost guaranteed to be underwhelming, especially when the news is of the good-thing-under-bad-circumstances variety. You want people to leap at the good – and it hurts when they don’t, I get it – but they usually react to the bad first.

So maybe he is emphatically not marrying you, but you don’t know yet.

In these situations, the kindest course for both of you is to be patient for the full, reasoned response to come out. Even if his response remains disappointing, your ability to handle that will have ripened, too.

The next preconceived notion hurting you is an offshoot of the first: that his age and employment status dictate a more graceful response. Creating and being responsible for a life might not be anyone’s idea of a novelty, given the earth’s 7 billion-plus current and former babies, but to the person new to it and blindsided by it, it’s an earth-shaker. The answer again is to give him, and yourself, some time.

Preconceived notion No. 3 is the big one, though: that an out-of-wedlock child “just doesn’t happen.” We can go on all day about what is right and healthy for the child, for you and for society – let’s not – but I find it hard to fathom you’ve hit 21 without significant exposure to parenthood outside marriage.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.

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