My friend Stacia and I have decided to bash heads together recently and churn out pieces for each other. She’s written this wonderful piece for my blog, and she asked me to write something about growing up in a single parent family and did that dictate my choices of women. You can view it here. But for now, please enjoy this:
An evolving concept of dating: One solo mom’s work-in-progress
My pre-child concept of dating is as dated as sleeping in on the weekends.
Dating with child is exponentially more complicated than regular dating, which I already thought was kinda tough. I’m not great at it, never have been. I follow every connection. My imagination gets away from me. I miss red flags. I idealize. I figure it all out too late and mourn not the relationship, but how much time I wasted on it.
I think what I have always done, instead of date, is fall in and out of love too easily.
Now that I’m a mom who is not living with or on good terms with her child’s father, I don’t have that problem anymore. Recently my therapist asked me if there was anything I could thank my abusive ex for, so I guess there’s that!
Challenges to dating as a solo mom are the same as challenges to existing as a solo mom: the biggest barriers are time and money. Who do I trust to watch my child while I go on a date? Would my date consider splitting the cost of the sitter and taking a nice walk instead of springing for movie tickets?—because hey, if I can work in some light cardio on this outing, that would rock. Will it be a dinner date, and if so, does the restaurant have takeout boxes so I don’t have to pack either my or my child’s lunch the next day?
I feel like you might be laughing at me. I’m being totally serious.
Then of course there is the much larger and more important consideration of who I bring around my child, because as much as I might want to think He’s dating me, not my kid, he is dating me AND my kid. My son is a big part of my life, so to get to know me, he has to know this about me. I either let him in or I don’t. How soon I let him in has everything to do with my child and little to do with me.
Because I have a child, romantic entanglements turn quickly serious whether I want them to or not. I think about what my son wants and needs in the person with whom I choose to spend time. Of course, all the necessary compatibilities must be present: mutual attraction and respect, trust, honesty, a healthy mix of shared and divergent interests so that we have both things to talk about and things to learn from one another. Add to that already elusive, hard-won fortune a third tiny body and spirit and now, we’re into combinatorial mathematics. The right person must be this and that for me, plus that and this for my kiddo. It’s not daddy shopping; it’s matchmaking. The traits I require are the ones I know will effortlessly complement the most important relationship I already have. Can this guy handle projectile puke on the back of the driver’s seat? Can he play cars on the floor for hours? Can he eat waffles and eggs for dinner two nights a week? It’s relatively easy to love your own child. Loving other people’s children is a much taller order.
Can he take a backseat while I parent, and keep his mouth shut when he knows he would do things differently? Can he walk that high-wire line between speaking with authority but not talking over me when I’m correcting, instructing, or having a sweet moment of understanding with little dude? Can he do these things without being jealous or feeling somehow emasculated that I won’t suffer him strutting around modeling How to Be a Man? That time a few weeks ago when my boy bear-hugged him and said, you’re my best friend—can he remember it now, when the same boy matter-of-factly reminds him, you aren’t my daddy? Can he hold the complexity of a child’s affection and confusion without imposing his adult expectations of respect and credit for his contributions?
And on those rare occasions when my child isn’t with me/us: Can he make his own supper sometimes, keep track of his own appointments, remember his mother’s birthday all by himself? Because I sure as a hell do enough cooking, tracking, and remembering for two that three sounds downright exhausting and absurd. Can he be both independent and a reliable partner? Can he respect that he is fitting into OUR lives, mine and my child’s, and feel gratitude rather than resentment about it?
The dynamic of beginning a relationship with someone who isn’t a parent to (but might take on a parental role with) my child is one that eliminates the planning for a co-created future that is built into the excitement of meeting and growing close to someone. It’s less romantic and more practical. Can this person and I find romance in other areas of our relationship?
My son and I are a package deal. I expect most people who are parenting alone feel this way. I’m lucky to have found someone who embodies most of the traits I desire in a partner, but also the ones my son needs in a male role model. And I found him without looking for him, without rushing things or trying too hard or idealizing the relationship (in other words, don’t ask me for tips because I’m not really sure how it happened!).
I wouldn’t call my situation a dating-as-a-solo-mom success story, but a happy, healthy work-in-progress. And here is where my situation starts to resemble a “normal” relationship: it works because we communicate, cultivate trust and honesty and mutual respect, are super attracted to each other, and have fun together. Maybe dating as a solo mom isn’t about layers of complexity so much as a stripping-down, a return to the fundamentals of getting close to someone.
Both the men in my life have helped me realize that.