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July 6, 2012

My Boyfriend's Secret

When my partner dropped a bomb about his past, I had to decide whether to stay or go.


Photo Credit: Zia Soleil/Getty Images

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We need to talk," said my boyfriend, Karl.

He had my attention — nothing good ever comes after that statement, and there was also the desperate smile on his face. It was the unmistakable look of a man with whom you're about to be very, very angry.

"OK, who did you sleep with?" I asked, trying to make a joke.

"No one! But, well, I did get someone pregnant."

"Excuse me?" I asked, not believing I could have heard him right.

He quickly told me his story: A few years ago, without my knowledge, he had donated sperm to his lesbian sister's partner, and now she was three months pregnant with his biological child. We'd been dating for four years. I began to sob hysterically.

"If they'd asked me to donate now, I'd have discussed it with you," he continued, stricken. "But I did it a while ago, when things weren't as serious between us. I didn't know for sure that they would even use my sperm or that it would work. I didn't want to upset you for nothing. I just found out."

I began to scream at him. So what if we hadn't been that serious? He could have given me a heads-up, asked my opinion, let me know at any point over the course of our relationship. I hurled a few insults to top things off, then took a deep breath and tried to calm down. A part of me was already seeing his point of view — sperm donation is a thorny topic to begin with, much less when you're in a new relationship; it brings up all kinds of questions neither partner is ready to answer. And I appreciated his desire to be a loving, supportive brother. But that he hadn't told me about it until now, after all these years? That was devastating. And I couldn't get past the consequence of his decision: A baby was about to come into the world that was his but not ours.

In the immediate aftermath, we talked until we were exhausted, had teary sex, and then he fell asleep. He probably thought things were all patched up while I lay there mentally dividing our belongings, thinking about the plans I'd have to cancel and which friends I'd call in the wake of our breakup. Because we had to break up, right? Although I knew what he'd done wasn't really cheating, it felt exactly like that to me.

When Karl and I met in 2008, our relationship was long-distance, so it didn't seem destined for marriage. We got to know each other in short, ecstatic bursts that I thought couldn't possibly represent a relationship in the real world. Then he moved to New York City, and over the next year, we became crazy about each other. Our relationship was like an ongoing, insightful conversation: sometimes hilarious, sometimes contentious. Pitting myself against Karl's brain always made me feel sharper.

Still, we weren't in a rush to commit. We loved each other, but we also loved our separate apartments and busy careers. As I neared 30, I pondered marriage and kids — and how much longer I could avoid both. The truth is, I was scared. Opening that door to adulthood meant closing many others, and I wasn't ready to narrow my choices. Besides, Karl and I hadn't seriously discussed our future. Until now, I had been content to coast along on the cusp of adulthood.

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