I recently heard about a single mom who falls madly and deeply in love with every man she dates, convinced each is her next husband and introduces each guy to her daughter as such. Heartbreak ensues time and again for the kid.
This is an extreme version of what not to do. But the problem doesn’t start at the introduction. The problem is the mom’s expectations of dating.
Both here and on my radio show I’ve said plenty about my stance that you should not hide your dating from your children. Furthermore it is perfectly healthy for your kids to meet someone you’re involved with before you commit for ever and ever — much less hit that supposed magical mark of six months that seems to be the socially acceptable moment that guarantees an emotional safe zone for your offspring to be in the same room with a man for whom you have romantic feelings. It is normal and healthy for you to date. Being ashamed of your sexuality and hiding it from your kids is not healthy.
My feelings were confirmed even more a couple months ago when, randomly, on three consecutive Saturdays we welcomed male visitors: one is Steve, a longtime friend who lives in another state and was passing through on work, joining us for breakfast and a tour of the local waterfront. The second is Marc, my single-dad bestie and his young daughter, with whom we spent the day at the beach. The third was a lover, someone I had gone out with, lives far away and made the long trip to see me, and by default, meet my kids. He spent a day with me and my kids, who then left for the weekend with their dad.
And guess what? Just as when we hung out with Steve and Marc, my kids were totally cool about hanging out with my lover for an afternoon. They haven’t mentioned him since, and frankly I wonder if they even remember that afternoon.
But they probably would have had I introduced him as my boyfriend.
But I didn’t introduce him as my boyfriend (because he wasn’t), or as their future step-father (uh, not even), or even a friend (because parents use that lie to mask their shame about dating). I didn’t say anything at all, except to introduce everyone by first name, just as with our other guests. I wasn’t sure where that relationship was headed (down in flames, if you must know), and that was mostly fine with me. Because that is how relationships often go.
And that, I think, is where my dating and parenting divert from the vast majority of people. I very rarely see women spending time with romantic interests for any other reason than to find a husband. And I don’t see much precedent for people in general dating for any other purpose than to hitch up as fulltime mates. Which is fine. But if that is your only goal, then things get confusing as a mom. Because for most people — crazy star-striking-love-at first-sights aside — it takes a long time to know if you want to commit. And when that happens it is very clear, and very different from other types of relationships that may come out of dating.
Here’s an abbreviated list of reasons I date:
Good times. Laughs with a fun, smart guy – why not? I mean, you spend a couple hours at a rom-com and aren’t disappointed that it fails to text the next morning.
Company. Life is lonely. Sometimes I hang out with friends who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do. Sometimes I go out on dates with men who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do.
Business. Once on OKCupid I was contacted by a gorgeous British plumber who lived in New Jersey at the exact same time I was trying to find a plumber to unclog my toilet. He thought I was joking when I shared the coincidence. The situation resolved itself before he could come to my rescue (but not without producing plenty of porn-quality fantasies between my ears), but had that worked out it would not have been the first or last professional contact I made through dating.
Friendship. You know Marc I mentioned above? We went on an OKCupid date when we decided to be friends.
In other words, I can find compatibility of all sorts with many different kinds of men. So when something really special comes along, it is easier to discern him from a guy who was valuable for a fun evening or replacing a flush valve. Which brings me to another reason I date:
Looking for love. Duh.
Looking for a husband. Absolutely.
In essence: Dating is life. Parenting is life. Stop making such a big deal out of the former, and the latter becomes far less complicated.