Tag Archives: Dating after divorce

They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

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Ageism, Dating and More Ageism

No. Just... no.

No. Just… no.

I’m an ageist.

There, I said it. I didn’t know I was an ageist until last week because, outside of professional sports, I had never previously discriminated against the elderly.

But now I am.

And the real beauty is that almost EVERYONE qualifies, so basically, depending on the situation, I now potentially discriminate against every single person on Earth. Except babies. They’re cool.

One of my oldest friends (not in an age sense; in a friendship-length sense) is female. We talk about everything.

And I just found out recently that one of her best friends who is our age (35-ish) is married to a guy who is 50-plus.

And my gut reaction was: “That’s gross.”

Then she told me about how all her girlfriends will get together and sleep over at their house, where this wealthy older man “spoils” all these attractive women, 15 or more years younger than him.

Shocker.

“He’s yummy,” she said, just before explaining that he goes to bed before 9 p.m. every night, and spends all his mornings reading the paper in bathrobes that cut off mid-thigh.

My natural, instinctive reaction was revulsion. I don’t know that I can adequately explain or defend it. It’s simply how I feel.

When this wife was born, the husband was a sophomore in high school.

When the husband graduated college, the wife was in first grade.

Chew on that, outraged people who might feel like debating this.

It’s totally gross. Like this, but less awesome:

The Dating Math (Pre-Marriage Edition)

In school, your “dating” options are limited.

In grade school, you’re mostly stuck with boys and girls in your class and a few randoms you meet through other channels.

In high school, the girls’ options open up to all four grades (and later, college guys), while the boys generally are limited to just one grade up and back.

While our college years represent the closest thing to “real life” any of us experience throughout our schooling, the age thing tends to play about the same as in high school, though women tend to have more upward mobility—age-wise—than guys.

For example, it’s not unheard of for a 19-year-old sophomore girl to date a young professional man who is 23 or 24 (and I’d even recommend it for those looking for stability—more on that in a minute), but you almost never see a 19- or 20-year-old guy with a woman much older than he is.

In the Department of Overgeneralizations, you’ll discover a few laws of human nature (that I’m totally making up on the fly because I believe them to be generally true and the furthest thing from actual law.)

Boys and young men are constantly hoping to, or actively trying to, have sex with the girls in their life to whom they’re attracted. Which is often several.

Girls and young women are constantly hoping to find someone who will fall in love with and marry them, frequently misinterpreting sexual interest as potential love interest and ultimately spawning the “Boys are Mean™” and “Men are Pigs™” movements.

I don’t believe there to be many males who spot a female from across the room and say: “Ooooooohhhhh! I want to marry THAT one!”

It tends to be more like: “Oooooooohhhhhh! I want to nail that one!” and so the male tries to court the female hoping to get laid. And what sometimes happens in that courting process is that the male will decide the pain of losing that female is greater than the “benefit” of his independence and will eventually choose her to settle down with.

So you end up with a lot of girls who are obsessed with Disney princess movies and romantic comedies marrying men who know jack shit about what real love is. They just know they’ve agreed to stop having sex with other women and to give up most of the weekend keg parties and other bro-hobbies for the rest of their lives. Five to 10 years later, half of them divorce.

It’s a sad story.

Now, please allow me to slightly contradict myself.

The Older Guy Contradiction

So. Ladies. New rule. Unless you’re absolutely sure you have an exception to the rule (and there are always those, too), then you should never be dating anyone who isn’t about five years older than you if you’re between the ages of 20-30, because almost every under-30 male you know is still similar to a child from an emotional-maturity standpoint.

From about third grade on, girls have a five-year emotional maturity advantage over boys.

Many girls are so eager to “fall in love” and get married in their early 20s, so they accidentally con young men who don’t know how unprepared they are into agreeing to marriage.

The girl thinks she’s getting a husband just like her father or the men (who aren’t real) she sees on TV.

The guy thinks he’s signing up for a permanent girlfriend like he currently has. He thinks: “Life’s pretty good! We have fun with our friends and we hang out all the time, and the sex is great! Sure, I can do this forever!”

Neither side is being disingenuous. It’s just that no one teaches us how completely insane and outside reality that type of thinking is, and I’m not sure we would have listened even if they’d tried.

If you’re a 25-year-old female, you need a 30-year-old male to even have a chance to be on the same emotional-maturity level as you. It’s a gap that pretty much closes after age 30. Many guys figure out in their early to mid-30s (whether married or single), that the lifestyle we lived in our youth doesn’t bring sustainable happiness, and that “freedom” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I wish girls weren’t in such a hurry to get married. I wish young men were smart enough to communicate why it’s too soon. They simply don’t know they’re still apes, because we all lie to ourselves.

The Dating Math (Post-Divorce Edition)

I was online dating for a short time right after my wife left because I’m a stupid moron.

You can filter out online-dating profiles based on a variety of criteria. For example, every single woman with no children filters out guys my size (5’9”) and/or guys with children (I have a young son).

Whatever. People are allowed to date whoever they want. The moral of that story is simply that online dating is bullshit. Write that down.

I’m 35.

I’m at a funny age, even though I suspect there are literally millions of people just like me out there (thirtysomethings with kids who don’t like being single very much). We just have a hard time finding one another, so we online date and then wish we could set ourselves on fire afterward.

The dating math for guys my age and with circumstances similar to mine is sort of interesting.

Under the right circumstances, I could meet a 28-year-old who has never married and wants to have children. Whoa. Or I could meet someone with a couple kids who has two or three years on me.

If I decided I wanted more children, something would have to happen pretty damn fast for it to be mathematically feasible, considering I’m not dating anyone, nor do I even really know any single people.

I remember being 21 and thinking that 21 year olds would ALWAYS be attractive.

And I guess, physically, maybe they always will be.

But years have a way of morphing you on the inside. And now it just sounds wrong and unpleasant.

There isn’t a 21-year-old on the planet I can see myself wanting to talk to for any great length of time (and that’s just 14 years’ difference!), and even if there was, there aren’t any 21-year-olds trying to get with Graying, Thirtysomething Guy with Kid™. Just not happening.

Which is totally fine. I’m merely walking through the mental exercise of dating someone about 15 years younger than me.

I feel like we all need to agree to keep it within a 10-year window throughout our adult dating years. Seriously.

Can we agree on that? I feel certain we can’t.

I’m sorry, ladies. I don’t care that he buys you Porsches and unlimited spa days. At some point, this is just going to get awkward. I can’t quite put my finger on when, but I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.

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Dating After Divorce: An Exercise in Relearning

This, I get. This makes sense to me.

This, I get. This makes sense to me.

In the 1860s, despite relatively widespread use of keyboards for writing and professional communication, businessmen investing in typewritten communications were still tinkering with key arrangements.

The father of our current key layout is a guy named Christopher Latham Sholes, a newspaper editor from Milwaukee.

His first layout had two rows. Like a piano. In a pretty straightforward alphabetized sequence.

The mechanical functionality of this layout led to many neighboring typebar jams.

For example: Letters “H” and “I” were next to one another on the keyboard as they are in our alphabet.

So if you typed the sentence “This typewriter is a piece of shit” too quickly, the rapid succession of the H and the I hitting the paper while typing “shit” would often cause the H and I typebars to jam, and forcing otherwise well-mannered writers to say bad words.

Sholes kept tweaking.

In 1868, he introduced this layout:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 –

A E I . ? Y U O ,

B C D F G H J K L M

Z X W V T S R Q P N

Then in 1873, we got this:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 – ,

Q W E . T Y I U O P

Z S D F G H J K L M

A X & C V B N ? ; R

Then in 1878 we finally got the iteration we all know now. The modern QWERTY standard, named after the six-letter sequence in the top-left corner.

These keystrokes are now completely done with muscle memory. I’ve put in well over 10,000 hours at the keyboard. It’s as simple and natural for me to communicate this way as it is speaking.

So, it’s painful for me to think about writing in an era where the keyboard was sometimes changing. Getting a new typewriter, or writing from a different location might have meant a total rearrangement of the keys.

Writing may be second nature to me.

But typing 1,000 words on a keyboard where all the letters are rearranged?

It would be a frustrating and painful experience.

The Single Dad Fumbling Through Bachelorhood

That’s what I am now.

After so many years of doing things a certain way, life has forced me to find a new way.

And I’m really bad at it.

A co-worker and I were talking about a woman who works in my building while we were walking in this morning. She’s a single mom. Super pretty. Was nice and funny the one time I ever spoke with her at length.

“She would be an ideal person to ask out,” I said. “I almost did a couple months ago.”

“Oh yeah, single guy! Why don’t you?” my co-worker said.

“You’ve been married a long time. I almost never see her. I’d have to approach her out of nowhere in the parking lot. When’s the last time you had to initiate conversations with women outside a social environment that brought you together naturally?”

“Yeah. Never.”

I got my first crush in third grade.

And from that point on, I was always where girls my age were. Single girls, too.

We had cutesy relationships in grade school.

Borderline serious in high school.

Then we went to college where it was even easier to meet women. We were always surrounded by tons. And everyone was always armed with liquid courage AND social support from nearby friends.

I had a high school girlfriend my senior year. She was my first “serious” relationship. Ages 17-18.

I dated a girl for nearly two years in college my third and fourth years. (Yes, I took five years to graduate. I make bad decisions.) Ages 20-21.

I had met my ex-wife at a party my freshman year. We stayed in contact off and on. And we got together for good in the summer of 2001 through this past April when it crashed and burned.

What’s my point?

I have, literally, never been in a situation where I wasn’t surrounded by copious amounts of like-minded single women OR in a committed relationship.

Until now.

That woman who works here? The cute one on the third floor? I don’t know how to talk to her. I don’t. If I found myself in the same place as her through chance, I’m sure I would say something. I’m not a complete wimp. But to go seek her out? For the sole purpose of expressing interest in seeing her socially outside of work?

I’m just not wired for that. And I’m a little unsure how I’m supposed to be after reflecting on my life up to this point.

All of the keys are rearranged now. Everything’s foreign. I’m being asked to do something I know how to do. But I’m being asked to do it in a way I’ve never faced before. In an environment not particularly conducive to success.

Most women aren’t single anymore. I have a child. I’m older. And I’m almost never in a place where like-minded single people are. Sometimes I’m in bars. But I’ve never been hook-up-with-girl-at-bar guy. And I don’t intend to start now.

I’ve learned to be okay. When it’s quiet. When it’s just me in my head.

I’ve learned to cook for myself. Do housework. And find ways to entertain myself when my son’s not there.

I’m much closer to stable. Much closer to healed. Much closer to ready than I’ve been at any point in this divorce-recovery process.

I’m looking at the keyboard.

But I don’t have to.

I know where every button is. Every keystroke, second-nature.

I can play this game.

But then I look at the world.

That couple over there.

How’d they meet?

That woman over there.

I’m afraid to interrupt her life to talk to her. What if she’s already with someone? What if she thinks I’m stupid? What if she thinks I’m short? What if she thinks I’m ugly?

I’ve always been a fan of asking questions when I’m pretty confident I’ll get a positive response.

I always knew when girls liked me. I still do. You can just tell.

But it’s a brand new keyboard now.

In a lot of ways, I do know what I’m doing.

But when all the rules have changed?

Even knowing what you’re doing can still result in: dmh*cvy4hfjdf%jcbsyeuk;dkdoicud$jaekjazrx,dfofh5.

And you can say that again.

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The First Date, Vol. 2

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I'm not sure it matters. But I'm grateful to have met her. And I've already grown because of it.

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I’m not sure it matters. But I’m grateful to have met her. And I’ve already grown because of it.

My shirt was untucked so she wouldn’t see the pleats.

I was running late from work and hadn’t had time to change.

I pulled into a parking space in front of the jewelry store where I had promised to pick her up 20 minutes earlier.

I hope she’s not too mad, I thought.

I beeped my horn for her to hurry. Applebee’s was probably going to be slamming.

She tried to tell me about her day at work, but I was only half listening while answering some text messages and driving at the same time.

I can only do so many things at once, lady!

Rod Stewart was blowing my mind on the radio and I turned him up so she would know to change the subject.

We got to Applebee’s and sat down right away. The Olive Garden next door was packing them in because of unlimited salad and breadsticks so we totally lucked out at the neighborhood grill and bar.

I invited her to order anything she wanted… so long as it was on the Two for $20 menu. Like a boss.

She texted one of her friends, probably telling her what a charmer I was.

I’m getting lucky tonight, baby.

<Insert vinyl record-screeching sound here.> C’mon now. Non-punctuality? Applebee’s? Rod Stewart!?!? You didn’t really believe that.

Only the untucked-shirt part of that story was true.

I arrived right when I said I would.

I sipped a sugar-free Red Bull because I didn’t want to yawn during our dinner conversation. I brought her a bottle of water, just in case. She appreciated it.

She’d had a tough day, she said. She manages a jewelry store owned by a man she calls her dad, but who isn’t her biological father. The vast majority of day-to-day responsibilities at the shop belong to her. Almost every day, she experiences all of the negatives of being a business owner without any of the financial perks. I bet it’s exhausting.

It took about a half hour to drive to the restaurant. We were a little early but were still able to get a table pretty quickly.

She likes sweet wines.

I prefer dry reds.

So, we ordered by the glass.

The conversation was effortless. I remember being curious what we would discuss. Wondering whether personal topics would be broached.

Her divorce was finalized only a month ago. And from a separation standpoint—she is three months behind me on the healing curve.

She’s an incredibly open person. Just puts it right out there. No walls. I’m learning to appreciate that more and more.

It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in five hours—the length of our time together. More on that later.

Dating as a Divorced Adult

The stark differences between 34-year-old me and 20-year-old me were on full display last night.

I seriously didn’t think about sex one time. Okayyyy. Maybe once. But only because I have a man brain and she mentioned a couple tattoos.

Honestly, there was zero sexual tension as there would have been several years ago.

Maybe because we’re both still reeling from our marriages ending.

Maybe because it felt foreign to be sitting in a dimly lit restaurant with a relative stranger.

Maybe because we didn’t drink enough.

Maybe because we consumed 89,000 calories.

Maybe because she thought I was stupid and ugly, but faked it well.

Not thinking about sex is a wonderful thing. It helps you focus on substance. On listening.

And you are less anxious as a result. No one likes anxiety.

On the flipside, I was worried about feeling pressure because the stakes are so much higher now as an adult. At least on paper.

When you’re young and a date goes bad? Who cares?

I could have two more the next day!

When you’re Divorced Single-Dad Guy who knows approximately ZERO single people?

The field narrows.

So, it’s like: OMG! OMG! I gotta be amazing! Brilliant! Funny! Sexy! Skinnier! Richer! Stronger! Braver! Taller!

Because if I don’t, maybe it will be another seven months before I meet an attractive available woman to share dinner with.

When you’re young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You’re only worried about which club or pub or keg party you’re going to attend this weekend.

When you’re me?

You wonder how many weeks it will be before you’re even able to coordinate schedules to be in the same place at the same time again.

She has a very hectic professional and personal schedule.

I have my son half the time.

So, even if she wants to see me again—and I am inclined to ask—it could seriously be, like, January the next time we’re both available.

But maybe I’m just exaggerating. I totally do that sometimes.

A New Kind of Tough

This woman is a brand of tough that would take me a long time to fully understand.

Hers is a story filled with tragedy and heartache. And you only know it because she’s not afraid of telling you who she is.

She’s been through so much shit that she doesn’t know shame. She doesn’t know fear.

I’m whining about divorce all the time.

And divorce is just barely sneaking into the Top 10 of her Shitty Things That Have Happened to Me list.

I hesitate to share her story, even though three times she has told me to write whatever I wanted.

But I also want to give you a taste of who I spent five hours with last night. Because so much of it surprised me. That pleasant, smiling, pretty girl behind the counter of a family owned jeweler? How could she have baggage? How could she be tainted by all the shit?

Here’s how:

Her mother abandoned her, leaving a 21-year-old father to raise a baby daughter alone.

Her father loved and cherished her. He painted. Made crafts for his daughter. Took her fishing. Loved music. Metallica. Aerosmith.

But we all have demons.

My date’s father was a drinker. Like my dad, in a lot of ways. Because he never had any of the problems commonly associated with alcoholism. He went to work. Maintained healthy relationships. Stayed out of trouble. No violence or sexual misconduct or anything like that.

He just drank.

My date recalled stories growing up in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her dad.

“I went for the coffee and donuts,” she said.

Sometimes, her father’s hands would shake from withdraw symptoms, so they would only fill his coffee cup a small amount to avoid spilling.

A total goofball, his adoring daughter called him.

Her father was killed in a car accident when she was 12.

Mom’s been gone forever. And then the person who matters most is gone, too. Out of nowhere.

My chest tightened as I started to see my date for who she was. As I started to realize the depths of trauma and tragedy that have touched her.

She started tearing up. She almost never does that, she said.

The waitress showed up right then. I hoped she didn’t think I made my date cry.

She regrouped quickly. Told me happier stories about her father’s art. She has one of the last paintings he ever made. Showed me a photo of it. A small boat nestled up against a palm-treed peninsula or island. Calm waters off on the horizon. I liked it.

She also lost a best friend unexpectedly. I don’t know the details. I just know she’s an only child like me and keeps her best friends close. Which makes it extra brutal, all that she’s endured.

By the time her failed marriage came up, I had a healthy dose of perspective.

A healthy dose of gratitude.

And an inkling of a clue as to the kind of woman I was with.

A special one.

Whatever Comes Next

She likes football.

And playing card games.

And non-traditional family.

She likes making crafts—really creative things with a needle and thread.

And designing jewelry.

And music.

She wants to learn how to play guitar to honor her father. She worries about her small hands, though.

She has reconnected with her biological grandmother who she didn’t know growing up. They sew together now, and have built a loyal and loving grandmother-granddaughter relationship.

She likes the number 13. I always have, too. We joked about how shitty 2013 was for us despite our affinity for those digits.

I have absolutely no idea what my future is with this woman.

Perhaps friendship.

Perhaps nothing.

Perhaps something.

I don’t know that it matters. Which was my favorite part of going on my first date in 14 years.

Because I don’t care what happens next. Whatever happens next will happen.

The world will keep spinning.

The sun will rise and set.

The clocks will keep reminding us that yesterday is yesterday, we can’t know what tomorrow will bring and that we only have right now.

And today I choose gratitude.

Because someone volunteered to share a moment with me.

Because someone trusted me enough to share their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities.

Because someone proved to me that no matter what happens next, there is life after divorce, there is life after death, there is as much life as we choose to live.

This too shall pass.

I’m inspired by her perseverance. By her courage. By her fearlessness.

I’m inspired by her ability to love after all of the, just, totally epic pile of shit she has endured since forever.

I’m inspired by her faith. That her spirit endures. That she wants to discover more, and be generous, and love her friends and family.

The world tried to break her.

But she wakes up every day, and says: “Not today, bitch.”

I can use a little more of that in my life.

And, platonic or otherwise, I hope to do that very thing.

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The Top 10 List

top-10

In junior high, most of the kids made Top 10 lists ranking the girls or boys they liked in our class.

We’d write them during study hall. We’d write them during lunch. We’d write them on recess if the weather kept us inside. We’d write them during class.

It was always nice to find out you ranked No. 4 on the hot girls’ lists.

“Well Matt, if she strikes out with Jason, Chad and Andy, you totally have a shot with her.”

So, you’re telling me there’s a chance!

Relationships in junior high tended to be measured in weeks, not months. If a couple was “going together” for three months, they were well on their way toward marriage, comparatively speaking.

So, you could go from being someone’s Plan D to Plan B or A virtually overnight.

My memory is total shit sometimes. But let’s see if I can reconstruct a viable 8th grade Top 10 list.

The Top 10 List, circa. 1992

1. Erin – She was the token hot girl. And I don’t mean that as an insult to her. I can’t recall her mistreating me or anyone else even once. But it is still shallow and cliché to put the hot blonde up top.

2. Sarah – I usually kept her at No. 2, no matter what, even though she was secretly my No. 1 most of the time. We were good friends and had access to one another’s lists, so I had to play coy. I wrote a post called The Other One That Got Away in July. I have never written The One That Got Away, and probably never will. It’s reserved for this girl.

3. Kelly – There wasn’t a lot of sexy (I’m using that as a noun) prancing around the halls of our small-town Catholic school. But if anyone pulled it off, this girl did. I almost feel dirty even thinking about this. I’m trying to channel 13-year-old me here, okay? We have a lot in common. Neither of us get any!

4. Jill – We had a pretty good platonic friendship back then. Meaningful relationships go a long way with me. That was true in junior high as well. We were in band together. Yeah, that’s right, dicks. I played in concert band in 7th and 8th grade. The trumpet. I was, like, the third-best one. One time, we had a concert band show out at the high school. I was wearing a short sleeve button-up with a clip-on tie. And I dripped ketchup on my shirt before the concert. Somewhere in this world there’s a photo of me wearing that terrible, stained outfit. Clip-on tie. Hahahahahaha. That’s probably my mom’s fault.

5. Lisa – Kind. Pretty. Smart. Athletic. She was a Top 10 staple on every guy’s list. I ran for vice president of my 7th grade class and lost to her.

6. Abby – This is the first girl I ever had a legit crush on. Third grade. Sparks flew. She didn’t feel them, though. She got in some legal trouble as an adult with my cousin. They took things that didn’t belong to them, or tried to. My cousin is now married with children and doing well. He’s a very good guy. I hope she’s well, too. Always a sweetheart.

7. Chris – She might have been the tallest girl in our class. Definitely taller than me. And I’m a little sensitive about being short. But—and this is an important point—I WASN’T short in 8th grade. In fact, I was in the upper tier of height back then. Basically, as tall as I am now. I broke my ankle in 8th grade during a pick-up basketball game. Because of that injury, I had a podiatrist take a lot of X-rays of the bone break. That podiatrist—I swear to God—told me and my mother that I could expect to be about 6’0” or 6’1” tall based on the remaining space between my growth plates. I was so excited. But everyone kept growing. And I kept not growing. Maybe smoking and drinking coffee really does stunt your growth. The Old Wives need to get their freaking stories straight so I know what to believe and what to ignore.

8. Kendra – For about three years in a row, my friends and I would toilet paper this girl’s house on Halloween. I have absolutely no idea why we thought this was a good idea. It must have really pissed off her mom and dad and neighbors. Until you’re a homeowner, you just can’t appreciate how annoying it would be to spend hours picking up bits of toilet paper from your yard. I’m quite pleased that I don’t have any trees in my front yard. Some anonymous cock did shoot an orange paintball at my house once. I’m still angry about it.

9. Stephanie – If we’re getting super-technical, she was my first-ever girlfriend. In 5th grade. We were “together” for about a month. Maybe. Our magical romance consisted of a few phone conversations and no kissing.

10. Rachael – I wasn’t particularly attracted to this girl, and to be honest, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have included her on my Top 10 lists in 8th grade. However, Rachael was the only known non-virgin in 8th grade. In our entire class. That’s the kind of information that can elevate one’s Q rating in the eyes of young, hormonal teenage boys. Just. Saying.

Author’s Note:  In the off-chance anyone from my past is reading this, I pray this doesn’t offend you. Because of my excessive drinking and pot smoking from about ages 17-28, I don’t remember when certain girls came and went from our school. But I can promise that Adult Me thinks you’re wonderful and wouldn’t dream of including you in any rankings today. Probably.

A Whole New World

Everything’s different now.

I’ve said it before. And it’s true.

Every girl I like is married. Every. One.

I don’t have any single female friends. Perhaps in time, I will.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to long for the past.

Every girl was single. The girl in the most-serious relationship had been “dating” her boyfriend for two months or so and maybe they’d kissed. Maybe.

I’ve been working on this new strategy where I try not to think too much about this. I’m trying to trust that this is the sort of thing that’s going to work itself out naturally. The old “Ehhh. I don’t care about finding a girlfriend, so maybe I’ll finally find one” double-reverse Jedi mind trick.

But how? When? Where?

If I just keep doing all the stuff I normally do? Going to work. Hanging out with friends here and there. Playing a little golf. Playing a little poker. Watching a little football. And focusing on my son the rest of the time?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. The odds aren’t exactly in my favor on this thing.

Here’s the sequence of events that will have to happen for me to date someone locally:

1. I actually have to meet someone. In five months, I have met TWO girls. One lives in North Carolina and was visiting her family for a wedding the weekend I met her. The other was 10 years younger than me and is best friends with my neighbor Ryan’s fiancée. I’m thinking, no.

2. She has to live nearby and be available. I haven’t met even one person who meets that description.

3. I have to like her and she has to like me, gray hair, five-year-old son, and all. Uh-oh.

4. For it to be anything more than a fling, she has to have stepmom potential. She has to be capable of loving my son. She has to be on a relatively similar wavelength as me as far as God and politics and life philosophies and all of that.

Do you have any idea how far-fetched that sounds to me?

Do you have any idea how tired I am of sitting around by myself half the time?

Do you have any idea how concerned I am about turning into THAT guy—that older single dude you’ve known for so long who shows up alone to parties and family functions that eventually everyone just assumes is a closet homosexual because he never has a girlfriend?

I’m sure I’m over-thinking this. I do that a lot.

But I can’t lie. I wish I could make a Top 10 list right now. I wish I could write on a piece of paper the names of 10 girls that interest me and are available.

Not because I’m dying to date someone. I’m not.

But it would be comforting to know the option was available.

Oh well.

You play the hands you are dealt, I guess. You fold, fold, and fold some more.

Then once in a while, you get dealt a couple aces. You win a huge pot.

Then everything starts to change.

And maybe—just maybe—today’s that day.

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