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:
- 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?
- 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 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, Oprah.com, 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.