The hardest part about being a single mom is the best moments. Those times when Lucas is doing his silly ‘What does the Fox Say?’ dance in his jammies, or I come out on Saturday morning to find Helena reading The Trouble With Dragons aloud to her little brother who is snuggled against her on the couch. It’s these fleeting, wonderful moments of family, of watching children grow up too fast that makes me feel as if our lives are not really happening, but instead evaporating into the ether. It can be hard to fully live in my life when I do not have a partner alongside me to document life.
Being single is hard in other ways, of course. It’s the fear that comes with being the sole support of a family. The overwhelm of loving and disciplining and managing two kids on my own. But less than these logistics, the lonely factor is the toughest. I am an adult, and I need an adult with whom to share. To chat about my new client or Obamacare or neighborhood gossip. It is the intimacy of the mundane I ache for.
And so I distract myself with dating.
And I love dating. This time around in romance has been one of the greatest joys and surprises of my life. I’ve written about how the fact that I already have babies liberates me to enjoy men in ways I did not when I was dating in my 20s. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I love most of all this parade of interesting men, men who have big careers and lives, personalities and appetites. I love the ritual of the meeting and the flirty and the dating. One network executive insisted on picking me up (arriving at 8 o’clock on the dot), and waited for me in the lobby of my apartment with a gift-wrapped copy of the latest pop-business bestseller and Vosges chocolates. When I stepped out of the elevator, I also stepped out of my life — indulging in the luxury to imagine myself in a taffeta New Look frock and white evening gloves, heading for a book party or the theater or steak house where champaign is served in coupes instead of flutes.
Indeed, what I love most about dating is that I am a player in the theater of romance. Each of these men present fodder for a fictionalized version of what my life might be with him: It’s me, getting my hair blown out at Lou’s niece’s Queens salon, in the mix of his loud, warm and crazy Italian family who adopt the kids and me as their own! Hey there! It’s us again! Hunkered down in a cute Westchester colonial with the theater teacher (August upstate while he performs summer stock, natch)! Welcome all! Here’s my artist husband and our kids hanging out at downtown gallery openings on a random weeknight because that’s how we roll!
It’s me, but bigger and louder. The clothes are cooler and my jokes funnier. There is always more exotic travel and fabulous friends and real estate than feasible in real life.
These dates and men are real, of course. They are also flitting diversions. Evenings full of intimate details of divorce and sick parents and disappointments thinly veiled with over-inflated resumes and bank accounts. Of too many drinks and laughs about online dating and maybe a cab ride back to his place or my place or his office even though … well .. why not? Diversions from the loneliness. Diversions from life.
Yet every now and again on a third or a 10th date, while we slurp papparadelle and wipe our mouths with linen napkins I find myself lost and laughing about how the kids and I rented a cabin on a farm upstate and the nasty geese chased Helena into a hysterical terror and I glance across the table. What I find is a not large and glamorous audience-ready production. In fact, the audience has evaporated. Instead I find a face and eyes that are soft and quite, and they grow to massive expanses to fill the small space between us. “You’re a good mom,” he says. “They sound like great kids.” His voice does not project. His voice is low and clear. His voice is that of a man in a so-so Italian restaurant in Midtown, across the table from a woman. A woman in life.
And it fills me up.
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.