Everyone Told Me To Date Post-Divorce, But Being Alone With My Kids Felt Better
I just really liked us. And I knew from experience that adding a person would change us.
I don’t remember his name so we will call him Peanut Butter Toast. We met for a morning coffee at a local diner on New Year’s Eve and he ordered himself peanut butter toast. I can still see it congealing in the corners of his mouth as he talked, trying to find a connection with me when there was not one to be had. Taking bites of his toast between anecdotes about dancing at a wedding or walking his dog or fighting with his mother while I sat wrapped around myself tight as a drum. Closed for business.
This was the first of several duress dates I had as a single mom. I had been on my own with my four boys for about a year and people were talking. Worried that I was wasting my 30s by not dating. Worried I was “too wrapped up with those kids” who were my kids but would some day grow up and then I would be alone all alone and too old for anyone to love me. I would be in my 40s at least, an impossible, wrinkled, sexless age of loose linen and leak-proof underwear. It would all just be too late. Peanut Butter Toast might be my last kick at the can. And so he asked me on a date and so I said yes and told everyone I said yes to get off the hook.
He was a nice enough person presumably. I was a bartender at the time and he was one of those harmless regulars who would drop in for a mournful pint of ale twice a week, lonely and lost. A great big pool of anonymous need. Allegedly handsome though I couldn’t tell, not really. Certainly good enough for the likes of me. A single mother of four boys in my early 30s, a bartender.Not in a position to be picky.
I was not the right kind of single mom, not palatable I guess you could say. I've known some palatable single moms. Certainly my own mother had been one of them. Keeping themselves right, trim. Attentive, aware, watchful. A repertoire of six to seven choice little parables about their misty, adorable, fairly silent shadow children that make a point and that point is always, I love them but don’t worry I have space for you.
I did not have space for you. I did not want space for you. I barely had space for these duress dates and I certainly was not interested in them even though I went on a date every year or so just to convince people I was normal. Convince them that I was trying, really I was, that I had not thrown in the towel. That I was just kidding when I said I would become a joyful spinster paddling my own canoe like Louisa May Alcott.
I loved our rhythm, still love our rhythm, more than I have ever loved anything in my life. Yes, even though I was poor. Even though I was single. Even though there were so many kids. I just really liked us. And I knew from experience that adding a person would change us.
I made myself go on these dates even though I resented the hell out of them. The awful artifice. The way they took me out of my happy fugue state and made me look at myself through the eyes of a would-be lover. How disappointing I seemed all of the sudden when I was happy, so happy, five minutes ago. Eating chicken pot pie cross-legged around our coffee table, watching Elf with my kids and playing Connect Four. Reading a chapter book to my younger boys while my older boys pretended not to listen, stretched out all long-legged on the floor beside me. Folding laundry in the quiet of a sleeping house, a big sloppy mug of tea beside me.
I only had space for them. For us. And I did not want a new person to become one of us. They simply could not. I would not let anyone become one of us. We were already our own thing. We already knew how to be ourselves with each other. I loved our rhythm, still love our rhythm, more than I have ever loved anything in my life. Yes, even though I was poor. Even though I was single. Even though there were so many kids. I just really liked us. And I knew from experience that adding a person would change us. That I might forget us if someone managed to catch my attention better than Peanut Butter Toast was able to do.
It happened to me, once. A single dad, a friend. Someone I could love. Someone who looked at me like I was a dessert he didn’t know he was allowed to sample. I forgot us for just a moment. I liked this other version of me that had nothing to do with us. It was easier. Little things changed.
I was less patient with them, distracted. Phony. Found excuses to be away from them in little ways they might not have noticed or maybe they did, I still don’t know.
But I remembered, then. How it felt when I was the little girl of a single mom. Her gaze sliding away from me, from us, to the man who would make us a legitimate family. We were always waiting for the curtain call to the big stage of becoming a real family. The family we already were, and always had been, was just a dress rehearsal.
I hope they get to love every person in their life without a qualifier. That they wake up every morning in a house that is warm and regular, full of people who love them and each other and their own lives exactly as they are.
And so I chose. I chose to watch rom-coms on a Friday night when they were at their dad’s with a personal-sized lasagna instead of any more duress dating. I’ll tell you those rom-coms satisfied me, left me feeling a bit lighter, giddier, easier. They were enough for a very long time. They kept us safe.
Any time a friend tried to gently steer me towards dating I would picture my kids with a new man having to sort of advertise themselves. Combing their hair, fixing their shirts. Getting ready to perform for a person who might want to change them, fix them, ignore them.
A wall went up, more impenetrable every time. A deep, deep moat that was uncrossable for years. Maybe it will never be crossable. Maybe I’m okay if it’s not crossable. Maybe it’s okay that I chose us. That these boys ended up becoming the loves of my life. Mostly unrequited, of course. They will have their own loves in their life. Their own people. Some of them already do
I hope they don’t have to choose. All the time I hope they get to love every person in their life without a qualifier. That they wake up every morning in a house that is warm and regular, full of people who love them and each other and their own lives exactly as they are.
Maybe then I’ll believe I did the right thing.