Being a divorced mom feels like a minefield of judgment that you either have to learn to navigate or ignore.
Work needs you to stay late to finish up that report, so just ignore the judgmental looks the other soccer moms give you when you show up halfway through practice. The smoke detector’s going off and your kid yells from the other room, “Mommy, are you cooking again?” Worse, the pizza place recognizes your number when you call. Pineapple on pizza counts as a serving of fruit, right?
The first year and a half after I’d left my ex-husband had been rough. My son and I had settled into a routine, but the glow of having my own space and life again had worn off. I realized I was, well, lonely. I had no luck trying to meet men in real life, so my therapist suggested Tinder, telling me it had worked for some of her other clients.
“Isn’t that just for hookups?” I asked, and she reassured me that, no, her clients had found real relationships on the app. That night I downloaded it, took a deep breath and signed up. Then I chucked my phone in my nightstand’s drawer and went to bed, too chicken to actually start swiping right.
The next morning, I woke up late, my son didn’t wanted to get dressed, then we forgot Bearie at home and had to go back for him, work was crazy, and the app sat on my phone like a little flame nagging me to “get out there!” and find someone.
After a long day, I barely made it to day care before it closed. Like the single, working mom that I am, I’d already decided I wasn’t cooking that night.
No shame — OK, maybe a little — but my son, C, knows the term “happy hour.” I’ve figured out how to get us fed on happy hour apps at most of our local restaurants for less than $15. When I tell him that we can go to a restaurant if we can make it before 6 p.m., he jumps off the playground and beelines for the car.
Our favorite local place has nice, wide booths and caddies of jelly packets perfect for stacking into towers. Once C was occupied in building and destroying a castle, I pulled out my phone and tapped on the Tinder app.
“All right, Dena, let’s do this.” Pep talk out of the way, I began swiping. Lots of swipe lefts later, C abandoned his jelly towers and climbed into my lap.
It was too late to exit out of the app; he’d already seen the profile currently up on my screen. “Uh, looking at men.”
“Why?” He settled into my lap, back against my chest, and looped an arm around my neck.
Inwardly, I debated. How open did I want to be with him about my emotional state? I wanted to teach him how to identify, accept, and handle his emotions, a.k.a. emotional intelligence, but where did I draw the line? “Mommy’s lonely, honey. I miss having someone to talk to when I get home from work or discuss the books I’m reading or go to the movies. And I miss…other things.” Yeah, drawing the line at telling him I missed sex.
“So you’re looking at guys to not be lonely?”
“Exactly. But not this one.” I swiped left.
It didn’t take C long to catch on to how the app worked. Congratulations, Tinder, your app is 5-year-old friendly.
“Mommy, he looks nice!” C pointed at one picture of a smiling man standing in front of a boat.
“He does. Let’s see what he says.” I tapped on the photo and pulled up the guy’s information. “No crazy chicks or drama queens,” I read out loud.
“What’s a chick?” C asked.
“A sexist term for a woman. Swipe left.”
He dramatically swiped the photo to the left, dragging his finger across my phone’s screen with a flourish. A few profiles later, I stumbled across the ubiquitous shirtless mirror selfie.
“Ewwww!” we both exclaimed in unison and then collapsed into giggles. My son tucked his head into my shoulder, his breath warm on my shoulder. And sometime in between waiting for our meal to arrive and Tindering with my 5-year-old, I realized this was the perfect chance to teach him about consent.
“Do you think women like to see pictures of men without their shirts?” I casually asked. The waitress dropped off our plates, and I tilted my phone away, embarrassed and hoping she hadn’t seen the screen.
C dipped his broccoli in ketchup and munched on it thoughtfully. “No, it’s weird.”
“Right? I mean, I want to see what he looks like, but without a shirt?”
I’m striving to raise my son in a sex-positive environment. He knows the correct anatomical terms for his body parts. So I decided to go for it. “And you know what? Sometimes they send pictures of their penises without asking!”
“Penises!” His blue eyes went wide.
“Penises!” I threw my hands up in the air for emphasis and made a silly face, scrunching up my nose.
“But only your parents should see your penis during bath time!”
Like the time he asked me to buy him a brother and I commented that you needed a daddy to make babies, which led to an awkward discussion about how babies are made — the term "adult fun times" and references to the zucchini seeds we’d grown in our garden that summer figured in.
I’d just stepped in it.
“When you get older, other people may want to see your penis too, as part of adult fun times. But you should always ask first. And if they say that they don’t want to see your penis, you shouldn’t show it to them. And if you don’t want to show someone your penis, you don’t have to.” That got awkward quickly.
“OK. Can we play Zombies now?” Clearly over the conversation, he grabbed my phone and, in the process, swiped right.
“Oh, crap!” I yanked it back out of his hands, but it was too late. He’d just matched me with...hmm, this guy was cute. Like, super cute. And he didn’t have any shirtless selfies on his profile.
After scolding him for grabbing my phone and listening to his apology, I pulled up his favorite game, Plants vs. Zombies, and handed it back.
Apparently, I am that mom. And I’m OK with that. Because, to me, raising a boy in today’s society is about more than teaching him how to kick a ball or catch a fish or drink beer. It’s teaching him how to identify his emotions and that they’re valid. It’s stopping the tickling immediately when he yells, “Stop!” because, hey, consent.
And teaching him that sending is an unsolicited dick pic is never cool.