Do you have the single-mom blues because you’re not “building something”?

Those foreverest love locks? Torn down.


If I were a single-mom super-hero, my super power would be finding and executing fabulous, passionate affairs — that go nowhere fast. Starting when I was a recently deblossomed 20-year-old backpacking around Chile and traveling around with a recently divorced Englishman for a few weeks, I have had a keen knack for finding me with whom I’m sexually, intellectually and romantically compatible — for the short-term. Save for my marriage, which didn’t last that long, and a few relationships that lasted a year or three, I have had so many delicious love affairs that I could write a book. (Which, I am in fact writing.). I love the intensity, the theater of getting to know and be courted by someone new. The bigger the story, the better, as I wrote about here.

I’d love to say that I am always purely cavalier about these trysts, but there is usually a fair dose of heartache when they end. I wonder: Why didn’t he love me more (or at all)? Why didn’t life allow us to live in the same place/be in the same place in life/him not to be a dick/me not be a fickle bitch?

I also know that I totally adore a fantastic affair. As I’ve written, this time of life is fabulous for a great fling. You have your kids. You have your own life. You’re old now — you’re free to write the rules for romance on your terms. I certainly do.

And yet. As I traipse out of his apartment, wiping the smudged makeup from my under-eyes, as I text him while standing on the edge of the playground, a shit-eating grin on my face, cheeks flushed, knowing very, very well it is going no where at all, I can’t help but feel a hearty twinge of guilt.

Because this is fun. Fun for me, and me alone (though hopefully it is fun for him, too!). It will end and I will still be a single mom, and my kids will not have a fantastic step dad or any kind of role-model for a healthy long-term relationship. I don’t know how to do that relationship. If I did, and if I really actually wanted it, I would have found that. But I haven’t. Not yet, anyway.

Which begs the question: As mothers, how much of ourselves do we owe to our children? Are we obliged to commit our womanhood, or sexualities and emotional needs to our families? Or are we free to express that part of our lives in a way that satisfies us most? After all, how many millennia were women forced to stay in horrible marriages for the sake of family? How many today chose to do the same? How many miss out on very happy lives by staying in mediocre — if long-term, committed — relationships in the name of positive role-modeling?

Even if you are nothing like me, hate casual dating and just want to live alone, or would prefer to remarry but have not found the right man, you likely suffer from the “not building anything” syndrome, too. 

To which I say this:

  1. Who is really building anything, anyway? “Happily” married people divorce, have affairs, are addicted to porn and prescription drugs, die, become disabled and have mentally ill children that make their homes war zones. I appreciate the merits of getting through that in one piece, stronger than ever. But how often does that happen? And how often do these challenge end in years of bitterness or decades of depression?
  2. You are building something. You are building a family, and your own life, and a romantic life on your terms — even if it is not your Plan A, or even Plan Q, or looks like anything your grandma might have envisioned. Your family is whole, and it is OK.
Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

10 thoughts on “Do you have the single-mom blues because you’re not “building something”?

  1. Oh my goodness. I relate to this. Relationships are so so difficult as a single mom but oh so fun too. I actually feel guilty at times that I’m being selfish with having fun with a relationship. However, I’d like to say I haven’t dated a douchey kind of guy since my son’s father, but these relationships may not end up where I want it to (altar), but all I know is, like you said #2, My Family is Whole. My kid has Me and I’m not a quitter and I’m strong enough to raise and build my own family the way I think is best for my kid. This might be a gestation period for something else greater down the line, but right now, I make the most out of our days and make them the BEST days for him, I’m not waiting for a man, and I think I should be focused on building my own family’s legacy and not beat myself up for things I feel I could do better. Just do it and be happy.

  2. Wow! This article hit the spot! As usual, you managed to articulate what I am feeling. Happiness is a luxury when you are solely responsible for your children. If you can be happy and have fun at the same time, I say do it and keep doing it.

  3. I’m 47 and recently had a brief fling while on vaca in Europe. With a 31 year old. WtH??? We’ve had brief texting since I’ve been home, which is completely ridiculous because it can go nowhere (although he does live in the area when he returns in 4 months.). As fun as it was, and the delightful daydreaming since, I’m struggling because younger guys are attracted to me, and I’m attracted to them. This guy had his sh*t together: Successful writer, Ivy League education, and funny. I’m just not finding this same energy with those my age. Where are they? I know I’m only sabotaging myself by romanticizing these flings. But my God, was it fun! Sometimes it gets depressing…

    1. But sabotaging yourself because? You’re spending energy and time on a man with whom a long-term traditional marriage is not likely? That doesn’t make it not worthwile!! JEEEZE (PS I just returned from Europe in nearly identical straights – though this guy is age-appropriate and lives squarely in Europe with his school-aged kids).

  4. Emma, this is one of the reasons I love your blog: a willingness to say what others won’t. I’m 48 and every blog that centers on midlife dating, and dating in general, seems to have one goal: how to finally find yourself a man and get married. Like that is the only goal we should have. I want to read about how to lead an amazing life, with or without a man.

    I think I’ve finally realized that at this point in my life I just want to date around. Have fun. If I meet someone fantastic that makes me want to change my priorities, great, But if I don’t and meet interesting men and have fun, I’m happy.

  5. This was very relevant for me right now. I just ended a 3 1/2 year post divorce relationship with a man I love very much but between our 4 children and ex’s it got so hard to keep the drama out and he didn’t want to get married or blend families so we had a shelf life. We managed to keep it all together for years but then it just kind of feel apart when I wanted and asked for more. I’m feeling really awful like the bottom has dropped out again and I’m not building a family and life. I have a lucrative career, own my own home, my kids are doing fine. I have hobbies and interest why do I feel like shit if I’m not in a relationship, it’s frustrating and something I’m trying to change. Thank you for writing so honestly!

    1. I think it is normal to want to be in a relationship. One, you were in one for a very long time, so were used to that coupled life. Two, society tells us we should be partnered. Three, I do think there is an inherent, human need for romantic companionship, whatever that means for you at this moment. Feel what you feel, and aim to get your needs met in a healthy way. xxx

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