Today’s post is going to take a different path than usual. Most of my entries are focused primarily on Sawyer; this one is more focused on me.
When I was growing up, I had the dream most little girls do: I wanted to get married and live happily ever after with our beautiful children in our beautiful little house. As the child of divorced parents, I honestly never thought I would be back in “the dating game” as an adult. I always swore that whatever happened in my marriage, we would work through it together and come out stronger. However, life happened and things changed and here I am: 41 years old and a single mom to my three children.
My ex-husband and I split in 2016 after 14 years of marriage (our divorce was finalized a year later). It was a very hard time in our lives, and when we separated, I was 34 and dating was the last thing on my mind. After being a stay-at-home mom for almost our entire marriage, I left with very little money to my name and no savings whatsoever, so my main focus was on finding a job to be able to provide for myself and the kids. We moved back to my hometown in southeast Missouri, and settled into our new normal. I mourned the loss of my marriage for a while, and focused on my kids to help get me through.
It took me about 6 months to even begin to think about dating someone new. I knew it was going to be hard on all of us, and I was scared of how it would affect my children, who were still adjusting to their newly broken home. At the time, Emily was 13, Caitlyn was 8, and Sawyer was 3. Each of the kids was dealing with the divorce and processing it differently, and I was very aware of each of their different needs. I questioned for a while if any of us were ready for me to move on. However, I sat down and talked to my girls about it, and with their approval and encouragement, I decided to start dating again about 8 months after moving back to Missouri.
Let me just say that dating has changed a LOT since the last time I was single. Back when I met my ex husband in the winter of 2001, there were no such things as smart phones and dating apps. I think EHarmony existed back then, but if you wanted to meet people, you had to get out and go to parties, sporting events, bars, or clubs. There was one “decent” club for young people in our area back then (R.I.P., Nite City!), and that was where I had met my ex-husband at 19 years old. As a 34-year-old woman whose body has birthed 3 children, I knew that dating was going to be a lot different, but I wasn’t fully prepared for exactly how different it is when dating as a single parent. I knew I was too old to be shaking my ass at clubs anymore, and I’m not really big on the bar scene, so it was a challenge to meet people. Our town is very rural, and there aren’t many ways to meet new people around here. At the suggestion of family and close friends, I dove into the world of dating apps to try to meet new people and get myself back “out there”.
Dating is scary enough when you’re young and still in your prime, but after you’ve experienced a lot more life, it’s especially terrifying. There’s a whole new set of insecurities that pop up, such as being intimate with a new person after years being with the same partner, and wondering if you’re still “hot” and “fun”. When I met my ex-husband, I was 19 years old with a banging body and the energy to dance and party all night long. At 34, after 3 kids, my body looked (and felt) like it had been banged up in a car accident, and I honestly didn’t think I even remembered how to flirt. I had no clue how to tell if someone was interested in me or not, because it had been so long since I’d even paid attention to stuff like that! I had no clue how to be “sexy” anymore, and the first few dates I went on were more than a little awkward. Luckily I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in my own skin since then and hopefully I’m not as awkward and nerdy these days. LOL
Being back “in the game” has been a learning experience, for sure. When you’re dating as a single parent, you no longer get to think just about what you want out of the experience, but you have to think about your children, too. Like most moms, my kids are my world; I would never be with anyone who didn’t love and accept them. There are a lot more rules and boundaries (or at least, there should be!), when it comes to dating after you have kids. One thing I learned pretty quickly was that I should NOT bring people around my children unless I was absolutely 100% sure they were going to be around long-term- especially Sawyer. Sawyer has always been a very loving, affectionate child (despite the theory that autistic children don’t show affection often), and when he likes someone, he develops a very strong sense of caring for that person. When he loves someone, he loves with his whole heart and soul. There have been a two times where he got very attached to someone I was dating, and then when it didn’t work out, it broke his heart as bad (or worse) than it did mine! It’s truly heartbreaking to have to try to explain to a child why someone they love won’t be around anymore, especially when that child has a hard time understanding certain things anyway. To this day, Sawyer still makes comments about the last man I was in a relationship with, and it hurts my heart for him. He doesn’t understand why someone can simply walk away and never come back again, especially someone who claimed to love me and the kids, and I don’t know how to explain it to him without villainizing people.
For this reason, I am very, very careful about who I will date, and I am even more careful about who I allow around my children. I do not bring men around my kids until things are serious, and there are real plans for a future. I date with a purpose (no hookups here!); my “rules” often put a damper on things for certain people, and that’s ok- it just helps to weed out the people I don’t want in my life. I’m not trying to jump into anything serious right off the bat, but I also need to know if my kids and the life we live is going to be an issue. If there are signs early on that someone won’t be able to accept and love my children as much as they do me, I end things early on before anyone gets too attached. I also realize that dating a mom with a special needs child is a dealbreaker for some, which is why I tell people early on in the getting-to-know-you phase that my son is on the autism spectrum. I have literally had men tell me before that they couldn’t “handle being around a retard” or say things like “Oh, he’s a window licker?” and ghost me immediately. The first couple of times it happened, it shocked me and really upset me; now I realize it’s just the trash taking itself out. It’s definitely their loss… Anyone who has ever met Sawyer will tell you he is the most sweet and lovable child ever.
It’s been 7 years since my divorce. I’ve dated quite a bit, and had a couple of serious relationships, but I am still waiting to find the right one for me. After being married for 15 years, going back to being single was a hard adjustment, and the first couple of years, I felt the pressure to find someone else and get married again, but thankfully I’m past that now. Sometimes it still gets pretty lonely, but for the most part I have gotten used to being on my own. I don’t know what God’s plan for me is; I simply have to be patient and trust that He will bring the right person into my life when it’s time. Until then, I refuse to settle and I will enjoy not having to share the remote or the covers. 😉