It would be a lie to say I didn't have any dating skills. Like most young women, I'd had plenty of dates that never went anywhere, and some memorable ones that eventually blossomed into relationships. The dating part seemed relatively easy -- if there was a spark, you went out again -- but the relationship part was a different story entirely.
When I found myself in the midst of a divorce and navigating a new dating world -- this time as a single mother -- it dawned on me that any experience garnered in my former incarnation as a single woman had to be thrown out the window. Dating-as-a-divorced-mother was an entirely new game, one whose rules -- despite my eagerness to learn them -- remained steadfastly mysterious. There weren't going to be any short cuts, and I didn't know any single mothers to consult for tips. I would have to learn them on my own in the trenches.
Men and women seem to cope differently with the collapse of a relationship. In my experience, men are often more skilled (or at least faster) at getting back in the game. I was not in any shape to go out and meet a new love interest, nor was anyone seeking my company (dour divorcee is hardly on the top of anyone's list of desired dates). Eventually, after the fog of said miserable divorce started to lift -- or perhaps precipitated by my intense desire for it to lift -- friends and acquaintances began to set me up on dates.
Early on in the blind date parade, there was the attractive young television director, with whom I shared a quirky lunch date. We sat down at a restaurant on Melrose and began the process of inquiring about each other's lives. He took such lingering pauses before responding that I started to think he'd forgotten the question. Then, just as the silence had stretched to the point of becoming awkward, he would reel himself back in from his mental escape hatch and say something witty. He seemed to be toying with me, but since I was so out of practice, I couldn't be certain. Perhaps it was his dazzling smile that made me give him the benefit of the doubt. In a grand gesture, he ordered several entrees and two desserts and encouraged me to "dig in." Feeling starved of just about everything in life at that time, I did just that and heartily devoured the feast in front of me. He lightened up as the meal progressed and we seemed to have fun, but when he walked me to my car, he said, "It was nice to meet you" in a way that told me he would not be calling again. I chalked it up to my voracious appetite, which may have been a turn-off for a Hollywood director accustomed to whippet-thin actresses who rarely eat, but I found out later that he already had a girlfriend. It turned out that he was merely "shopping around" while she was out of town. Lesson number one: Ask more questions before accepting blind dates.
Then there was a perfectly nice fellow, a body-builder with a sensitive side who shared lavender cupcakes and tea with me one hot summer afternoon. He asked thoughtful questions and was a good listener, but we had a distinct lack of chemistry. There are a lot of negotiables in a relationship but sexual attraction is not one of them. Lesson number two: If there's no chemistry, do not pass go.
Next there was the flamboyant dentist who picked me up for our date and drove like a maniac, with me holding on for dear life. During dinner he deposited his gum into the middle of his olive bread and folded it over like a sandwich, while disclosing that he always falls in love "with a woman's silhouette." He also mentioned that he found these pleasing silhouettes most frequently in (significantly) younger women. Lesson number three: They must have reasonable expectations.
After a series of disheartening blind dates, I met a handsome young man who cast his net over me, completely bewitching me with his humor and charm. (Did I mention how wretchedly in need of some laughs I was by this point?). He was such deliciously good company that it ensured his popularity with people in far loftier social circles than I. Needless to say, the added complication of having a child was not a big attraction for him, either. Lesson number four: Must like kids.
Dating as a mother demands a new level of maturity. The margin for error you once enjoyed pre-motherhood has radically diminished, and you now have one or more little people depending on you not to screw it up again. Dating someone in similar circumstances saves a lot of time. Lesson number five: Date someone who gets your life.
After a disheartening slog through the dating trenches, I took a break and focused on other areas of my life that were sorely lacking. When I was ready to resurface, a friend introduced me to a different type of man: a divorced dad, with kids.
When I was introduced to Rob, a father of four, he was not looking for a serious relationship. He had vowed not to wed again -- at the very least not until his children were older. It seemed a very sensible edict, and I wasn't looking for another marriage. He was the very picture of masculine dependability -- juggling work and 50/50 custody of his children. It was wildly attractive. As one of my friends pointed out, "With four kids, at least you'll never have to wonder what he's up to!" Finally there was someone to share the journey with; it was a completely satisfying simpatico. Flying in the face of his proclamation, we fell in love and became engaged. Lesson number six: Recognize a good thing when you see it.
Falling in love as a single mother ceases to be a simple act. If you're lucky enough to find yourself in that position, it not only involves two hearts -- now there are three or more to consider in the equation. Blending a family becomes a complex series of negotiations that requires compassion, understanding and, more than anything, patience. Progress is made in tiny steps that are non-linear and often invisible to the naked eye.
Last year, after six years together (and our share of struggles), Rob and I tied the knot. I'm happy to report that, throughout the years, our unique blended family has formed genuine ties. Lesson number seven: Recognize that all good things require work.