Even my son says I should date more

I'm a single mom and I've got enough to do, but everyone says I should be looking for a man.

By Cary Tennis

Published January 26, 2005 8:05PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am a 30-something single mom living in a somewhat rural area with a wonderful job, and a happy, well-adjusted school-age child. My ex-husband died five years ago, and six months later I dated an old friend for almost a year. (It ended amicably.) Since then I have gone out on one (blind) date in going on three years. My mom wants me to date more, my friends want me to date more, even my son wants me to date more. The problem is me. I'm not interested in putting the time and energy into dating. Sure, I'd like a boyfriend, but relationships are a lot of work, and I'm just not interested in doing that kind of work right now. Plus, when I think about dating, I get all kinds of middle school "Am I cute enough?" nervous, and then there's all the grown-up "Is he a basket case?" worry. I have found online dating a downright humiliating experience (you know, it's like gambling, you only hear about the people that win). Maybe I'm whiling away the time here, and in 10 years will regret not trying harder? Should I heed their advice and try to date more? Or should I tell them to bug off, and hope that things will unfold on their own?

Dating Trouble

Dear Dating Trouble,

I'm inclined to suggest you follow your instincts. Your instincts are riding in a big red car. Follow it. Better yet, wait for the car that is carrying your instincts to pull into a convenience store, and when the driver goes in for a Slurpie, get in the backseat of the car. Stay down low and ride. When your mother and your friends and even your son are all peering in the window, waving their hands in your face and chanting, "Date more! Date more! Date more!" roll down the window and say, "Hush! I'm following my instincts! Don't distract the driver, he's very temperamental."

The driver of the car of your instincts is indeed temperamental. He's a surly old guy whose uniform looks like something out of the Crimean War. But he knows where he's going. If he's driving by the singles bars and not stopping, if he's not logging on to Match.com, if the very idea of describing himself -- or you -- in a paragraph or two makes him want to blow through stop lights and start smoking Chesterfields again, there's a reason for that: He knows where he's headed and it's not to a speed-dating mixer at a converted Hooters. So stick to your guns, stay low and wait till the car pulls over and he opens the door for you.

What interests me is why all these people are saying you should date more. Let's assume they all want the best for you. Let's assume that, in an abstract sense, they want social definition, groundedness, attachment, community; they want to know that you are safe and that you are loved. And let's assume that what your son really wants is a dad, or, more abstractly, guidance and love from an adult male or males.

There may be ways to bring such elements into your life using common materials available around the house. Why not tell all these concerned citizens and family that you would be more than pleased if they came over more often, and if they have any potential boyfriends lying around the yard, feel free to sandblast the rust off them and bring them by for inspection.

That is, shift the burden. Right now, as you say, you've got enough to do with working and raising your son.

It may seem to you as though your friends are saying, "You know, you really should start a garden out in front of your house, because then when we walk by your house we'd be able to think that you're much happier now, and that would make us happier too."

It's hard to tell if people are being selfish when they tell us what they think we should do. Sometimes people represent to us aspects of ourselves, and other times they regard us as an object that could use some polishing, or a narrative that could use some livening up. They want a man to jump out of the shadows with a gun, or a birthday cake, or an unlit cigar. They want something to happen to amuse them and keep them interested. It's hard to tell which is which; you often can only tell by how it makes you feel to have their attention on you.

That doesn't mean it wouldn't be nice to have a boyfriend, nor that it wouldn't be nice for your son to have a man around to look up to. What about the husbands and boyfriends of your girlfriends? You don't have to date them. In fact, if you date them your girlfriends will smack you. So don't date them. Just have them around, like furniture for your son to sit on and try to tear the stuffing out of. They can be cousins. They can be uncles. They can be friends. Cousins and uncles often have friends who play rugby and sometimes they come in for a drink of water or a Band-Aid for their abrasions and you look at each other and think, Aha, there's a good reason for cousins!

The man who is driving the car of your instincts is waiting patiently at the curb.

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