On Children and Post-Marriage Relationships
Dating as a single parent is fraught with a daunting quantity of risk. Because if you find yourself fortunate enough to meet someone with whom you wish to form a relationship, it’s not just you that’s getting into it, it’s your kids, too.
Children add so many layers of complexity to post-marriage relationships. But these layers can be really good at filtering out riffraff.
I have kids. And they define a large part of my identity. If a guy doesn’t have kids, doesn’t like kids, or isn’t at all interested in kids, there is zero chance of any kind of relationship. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many single parents actually contemplate getting involved with people like that.
Time is hard to find when you’re a single parent. It’s very hard to get out and meet people when you are the sole caregiver. Gone are the pre-kid whirlwind romances where you spend a ton of time together and get to know each other fairly quickly. It’s hard to get to know someone when you can only escape once a week. This ups the ante, too. A guy has got to be a pretty solid contender if I’m going to allocate that precious chunk of time to him. The last time I was dating, I invested a lot of time corresponding with people before I braved an actual meeting. Not very many men made the cut. Most guys want to meet in person right away to see whether they 1) want to have sex with you and 2) might get to have sex with you. The ones that are willing to put the effort into communicating tend to be the ones looking for something more.
There are only so many dates one can go on before the next step involves coming to your house, and I don’t see the point in hiding all evidence of children, au contraire. I don’t need to apologize for how I live. When you have kids, you have to navigate some very un-sexy things like the pile of muddy shoes in the entryway or the globs of red toothpaste in the sink or the small zoo of stuffed animals in your bed. If a date doesn’t find that stuff endearing, there is just no hope.
Eventually, it’s time for the kids to meet the guy. If I’m not excited about this prospect, that’s a pretty good sign that it just shouldn’t happen, and then what’s the point. When I introduced my last partner to my kids, I was very very sure that I was in the relationship for the long haul, and I was confident that the meeting was going to go well, and it did. My total experience at introducing boyfriends to my children is 1, so I can’t compare and contrast, but I can say that my kids absolutely adored my partner and he adored them. The same was not true of my ex-husband’s now ex-girlfriend, unfortunately.
I love my kids and they are my #1 priority. That will always be the case. So if anything happens in a relationship that I feel threatens their well-being, or threatens my relationship with them, then it’s over. End of story. Sometimes it takes a long time for these things to surface. But when they do, swift action is necessary. It’s excruciatingly hard to extricate yourself from a relationship that your kids are invested in too. Especially if they are still dealing with the grief of parental separation. And it’s really easy to point fingers and say, why did you put your kids through that?
Better to put my kids through the pain of another parental figure abandonment, than to continue in a relationship that is an unhealthy model to them. I’m only human. People are complicated. It takes a long time to get to know someone. I can’t keep my relationships and my kids separate forever, it’s just not possible, or wise, even. What I can do is show them that I deserve love and respect, and so do they. If it’s not there, it’s ok to say goodbye. And it hurts, and you learn from it, and you move on. That’s life.
I’m writing this not because I’m ready to date again, but because I’m contemplating the grief my children are experiencing and whether it’s fair for me to ever potentially inflict that on them again. But it’s like buying another pet after one dies. The prospect of future grief doesn’t eclipse the decision to open up to the possibility of loving and caring and being loved and cared for again, when the time is right.
Navigating the perils of dating as a single parent has been great inspiration for the study of people—single men, not so single men, and of course, of my own self.