I will never date a single dad again. Probably. I used to have this as a hard and fast rule for myself while doing the online dating thing, but then felt like I was getting a little too old to keep limiting my dating pool, especially because my own not-so-secret bias suggested that if a man hadn’t been either married and divorced or hadn’t had kids by this age (I’m in my early thirties), he’s probably some sort of a mutant. So I decided to be more open-minded, and cast a wider net.
I met Dan online and we hit it off with our mutual snobbery in all things music, locavore, and microbrew. I loved his hipsterrific glasses and that he didn’t chide me when I used words like extemporaneous extemporaneously. Around three months into the relationship, he introduced me to his beloved three year old son, who he has half the week. I was honestly freaked out at the prospect of meeting his child, but reassured myself that the kid was only three, so if things went awry he still has mostly oatmeal behind the eyes and wouldn’t be irreparably scarred.
Thankfully his son was not a shrieker or a goblin, but an adorable and well-behaved little boy. He took to me right away.
As our relationship progressed, talk of a shared future together organically emerged. When he asked if I wanted to one day have kids, I responded honestly: I don’t know. I still don’t, although the relationship was a serious reality check. It was a dip in the waters that frantic thirty-something-year-old parents who are also professionals are trying to navigate today. I didn’t sleep much. I took a lot of sleeping pills at night and downed a lot of coffee in the morning in a miserable attempt to make myself into a morning person so we could all be on the same schedule--the schedule of a creature still overcome with excitement about waking up at 5:45 a.m. to hear a train whistle.
The lack of sleep and constant sucking of my life-force made me wonder if this was my own bio-kid if I’d feel any different. Because I was not feeling particularly excited about the part-time parenting role that I was starting to play.
Months rolled along, and surprising feelings clawed their way out of my gut that I was totally unprepared for. I am a reasonably confident, attractive, and competent woman. I do damn fine work at my job, and although I suffer the recurring existential crisis, I manage to hold myself together in a composed fashion fairly well. Yet being around someone who was always gushing about how much he loved his son made me feel somehow inadequate. I felt like he was already on a team-- Dan’n Son, and I was the odd-girl-out.
In crazy-making thought-experiments I’d play on myself about a tragic u-pick-one-to-live death scenarios, I’d be the one thrown into the volcano or lowered alive into the plexiglass box of ants. He was always going to pick his son over me--always--and I had to just accept it.
I hate to admit that I was jealous of a three year old. Even writing it now I feel ashamed. After all, he’s three and I’m old enough to know better. Sadly, Dan was in a no-win on this one because if his attention had NOT been on his baby when we were together, I would have considered him a negligent parent not worth seeing and walked on the spot. This was one thing I had always feared about dating a parent, and it completely came true.
Other gross feelings crept out of their hiding places in my psyche too. While I was sometimes feeling starved for attention and becoming riddled with insecurity over it, I would also see these tender, doting moments between Dan and his son and become bizarrely, intensely envious of Dan’s ex who is the mother of his child. To see how much Dan truly relished his role as a father, the joy that was evident when he was with his son made me yearn for the feeling of having in some way contributed to that happiness. To know that I was never going to be in any way responsible for “the best thing that ever happened to him” as he was fond of saying, made me angry at a woman I didn’t even know. That she gave him a beautiful baby who enriched his life in every way (according to him) and the best I could do was snuggle his head after he would fall into bed exhausted at night grew into a gnawing, furious burn.
And there was more. Since he already “had his baby” and didn’t care one way or the other if WE were to ever actually have children, I started to feel like any potential baby of my own with him would just be a ‘franchisee.’ All the excitement, the anticipation, the first thrills, tiny coos and tiny shoes, feeling like your heart might blow-up from being over-filled with love (or so I’ve heard)--the first of everything was now over for him. His baby cherry was popped. He already had a ‘flagship’ son; any human who would ever emerge from my vagina would be an upsell in his life.
I realized that I didn't want a coach or a teacher--I wanted to experience the excitement of having a baby together with another nube. I wanted an equal. I wanted the intimacy that being an equal in a shared first-experience brings. I didn’t want those intimacies to be something he shared with someone else several years before. As I’d fall asleep at night, dosed on sleeping pills washed down with IPA’s, preparing for another zombie awakening and doubting if parenthood was even something that I really wanted in the first place, my indignant subconscious kept retorting: your vag is not a franchise opportunity.
I didn’t anticipate most of these feelings. While I knew that I was going to have to get my ego in check for a beat-down over never being the number one person in Dan’s life, I felt sort of pathetic over not being able to master those jealousies. Combine that with having envious anger towards Dan’s ex that totally blind-sided me, and a burgeoning distaste at the possibility of my future child being a Sizzler when he just got back from an Outback (I know that’s not really a solid franchise metaphor, I just wanted the opportunity to refer to my fictitious future child as a Sizzler) I felt totally in over my head. Even though my future dating life may once again be filled with sub-achieving CHUDs, I learned enough to know that I’m not ready to date a single dad.