This past Sunday, as I was packing up the car for my son’s 3rd soccer game of the weekend, a neighbor popped over. He’s single, younger and been a friend since I moved in the hood five years ago. The conversation began about him, as he’s trying to decide if he could get married or survive having kids with his girlfriend. He knew that this weekend was hectic for me, as we saw each other earlier in the week and when he shared his fun weekend plans, I shared mine: attending a yoga workshop and working on a magazine article and a PR project. But I also had to squeeze in long road trips Saturday and Sunday afternoons for a soccer conference an hour away. He laughed as I struggled with a soccer ball and a folding chair and said: “See, dogs are SO much easier than kids!”
I just chuckled thinking how I hadn’t showered after my 8 a.m. yoga class and probably looked like the poster child for contraception. I replied, “Well, parenting is a club that requires insanity to join. Kids ARE terrorists, but they’re worth it!”
I figured the conversation was over, as we typically banter as I’m shuffling kids in and out of my house, or am parking my car, or on my bike returning from the strand. We never have terribly long talks, although we’ve been neighbors and friends a while.
He then surprised me by walking over and beginning a very serious conversation, that, not only made my day—but helped to renew my faith in dating, and in men in Southern California, in general.
First of all, I have ideas about what men who have never married and are without children would want—and I just don’t imagine that I’m on their list. AT ALL.
My friend gave me a gift that day of a perspective I hadn’t considered. And, he helped me see that by pursuing balance: by attending to my boys’ needs, as well as my own dreams and my own needs, I was on the right path.
It was just what I needed to hear, as I venture into my first attempt at dating in almost 15 years. I hate to say it, but I’m a complete dating albatross from the 90’s. I met my husband in 1997, fresh out of a very serious relationship. I met him the day I moved to Atlanta from New York for an editor position. Even though I didn’t date him for 3 months, and stayed ‘just friends,’ he was the first date I had when I was ready. We were engaged shortly afterwards. Flash forward 10 years later. He has his mid-life crisis, finally leaving for good when our youngest is eight months old and staying permanently in Europe. Shellshocked from an international move, still breastfeeding and worried sick about my other son, the idea of dating, was just ridiculous. For nearly two years, I just kept my focus on taking care of the boys, staying positive and treading water. My first date, was actually a job interview, as I wanted to be an editor with his publishing house. Instead, we ventured into a very serious relationship that mirrored a marriage. So, as you can see, I have NO experience in casual dating—especially in a cool, Southern California beach town.
My neighbor, in his attempt to talk about his fears, ended up giving me an amazing gift from his perspective—which really touched my heart. I hope it does yours, too, especially if you’re a full-time single mom, like me.
The gist of his message was this: single men who have never married, want to know what their girlfriends will be like as mothers. They want crystal balls. They are terrified that their girlfriends, who were so cool and fun as singletons, will become obsessed and possessive with the children and never allow anyone to babysit. They have seen friends who rarely go out or go on vacation sans children. They have witnessed fun and intimacy drain out of their friends’ marriages after children arrive. They want to know that the future will hold moments of intimacy, excitement, travel and calm. They also want to know how their girlfriends will interact with their future children—but of course there is no way of knowing. So, when they see a single mom who has found ways to incorporate balance her life—it’s inspiring, hopeful and attractive. In fact, a woman who raises her kids solo, while also hiring sitters regularly, pursuing her passions and taking care of herself—while still finding time to be present with her children—is very attractive. It’s proof that fun, intimacy and individual pursuits won’t be forgotten once kids enter the picture.
Here’s how the conversation began. Initially, he kept getting interrupted, as I was encouraging my 5-year-old to put on his shoes by himself (in the house) AND to go up to his room to get his jacket. As I kept yelling through the garage doors: “I Can Hear You! Don’t worry!” to my 5-year-old, who is scared to run up to the 2nd floor alone without hearing my voice, my friend said: “My brother was just like that-scared of monsters. My mom used to yell at him. She yelled at all of us, all the time. You talk with your boys, not at them. You also don’t negotiate. It’s pretty cool.”
I was speechless. Who knew he had time to observe my parenting style?
He then told me how terrified he is of having kids. As I mentioned, he’s seen so many friends become miserable and disconnected after becoming parents.
When he touched on the reality of parenting being a struggle for intact couples who also have family nearby, I began to feel uneasy. I don’t like harping on my ‘story’ as I know that I am more than this story and it doesn’t define me. But the reality is, I have no family here and with an ex in Europe, I don’t get weekends off, like most divorced parents. I’m still a bit insecure about this, and imagine that I’m insanely unattractive to most men.
He then reiterated that he’s known me for five years and how cool it is that I hire my nanny and trust her. The reality is, I’m lucky that I can afford her. I spent much of my mother’s inheritance on sitter fees, but felt like it was an insurance policy for sanity. When my youngest was only 3, I spent a month in Italy. It was insanely expensive, but I’m glad I did and my boys were fine. It had been six months without a break, all of us needed separation. I had felt that it looked poorly on me as a mother. This sweet person was telling me that it, in fact, was the opposite.
He reiterated that single moms who are balanced, in shape, patient mothers, and still find time for fun, are incredibly attractive to single men. He encouraged me to not just date divorced dads who may be much older, a bit scared and emotionally unavailable from their divorces, and, perhaps, secretly want women to help them care for their children. Without saying it explicitly, he encouraged me to not sell myself short and to open myself up to more possibilities.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but isn’t that wonderful to hear?
So, my fellow single moms. Take heart. Focus on yourself, as much as your children. Be patient and present with your children when you are with them—as I’m sure most of you are—but pursue your dreams and your needs too. It’s not being selfish, it’s being loving to yourself. And as single moms, it’s rare that anyone asks us how we are, or what we need, isn’t it? So maybe we need to be our own advocates. And when we focus on these things, and making a better life on our own—and NOT on finding a significant other—maybe that is the right path towards more laughter, love, light and a compassionate circle of friends.