Saturday, May 5, 2012

SMC Stands for Seriously Manless Chick

Being a single mother by choice, by definition, means the woman is okay being manless. I'm not talking about her father, uncle, brother, or brother-in-law, though I have none of those. I am speaking about a romantic relationship with a member of the opposite sex. She has decided to step away from society's expectations of the traditional family. She is not the woman who always has to have a boyfriend or the one who puts marriage at the top of her personal-goals list. She is also not the chick who goes out in the evening all the time because you can't do that when you are an SMC. That lifestyle usually requires hiring a babysitter, and that becomes too expensive.

It may have been very painful for her to have reached this place of peace by which she was able to honestly look at her situation, come to grips with her years, consider her biological clock, and say to herself: "For whatever reason, at such and such an age, I am single. I am not in a relationship." Or "I am not in one leading toward marriage." Or "My relationship is not heading toward commitment fast enough." Or "I don't want the one I'm in to become something serious. I want to have a child." Or "I want to raise a child." The final statement, of course, in this fraught chain of thinking is "I want to become a single mother."

Little girls don't grow up dreaming of becoming single mothers. No one's written "Cinderella" from the perspective of a woman pining for single motherhood. No one, not even either of the Jennifers (Aniston or Lopez), has acted in that "First-Choice Plan." To choose single motherhood is to take a radical path. Usually, though not always, it is a default position. Plan B: the plan turned to when Plan A doesn't work out.

Deciding to become a partnerless parent potentially means making huge sacrifices in regard to one's freedom, one's social life among them. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. One former full-time single mother I know was able to maintain a robust love life because she lived very near her sister. The sister and her husband, childless at the time, were more than happy to babysit her son so she could go out. And go out she did! She found one husband and, when that relationship failed, found another. But let's not kid ourselves. Though she resembled one (other than the relationship part and a couple of child-free weeks in the summer), she was not an SMC. Her first husband just lived on the opposite coast.

My best single-mother friend knows an SMC from the D.C. area with two young children who married a friend from work. I have read about another with two children who married someone she met after relocating back to her Midwest hometown. She and her husband had an unconventional marriage, more of a part-time marriage, in the sense that they did not even live together. However, I have since learned from someone who knows her that the relationship has since fizzled. In the Seattle area, the mother of one of my sons' half-brothers (through their sperm-donor father) got married in the last year. I have met an SMC who remarried from my own Boston chapter of Single Mothers by Choice. And one of the chapter's former leaders, in a serious relationship at the time she volunteered for the post, got engaged to someone she'd met through work shortly thereafter! She has subsequently married him.

Stories of SMCs finding love, marriage, or some other type of commitment do exist. Yet in my experience, they are fewer and farther between than one might think. As an attendee of SMC Boston meetings for close to ten years, I have observed with interest how often (or, most likely, not) the subject of dating has come up for discussion. In my early days with the support group, it was rarely raised. I felt it was the 800-pound elephant in the room. But, when it was, I was invariably the person who brought it up. I listened while other members talked about how hard it was to fit dating and a relationship into full-time single motherhood. As I naively and wishfully often do, I thought to myself: Phooey! I'll manage it.

Well, lo and behold, didn't I manage it for three years starting exactly one month after my oldest son was born! However, the admittedly casual relationship became too difficult to maintain following the arrival of my second son. Charlie was a difficult and colicky baby, making me even more of a wreck than I had been already (hint: that's not easy to do) and continuing my downward slide into chronic fatigue syndrome -- a condition I suffered from for four and a half years, two and a half of them spent not getting so much as one decent night's sleep, thanks to my little horrible sleeper!

Following the breakup, I could not even think about finding a new relationship for two solid years because I was in the throes of utter exhaustion. I was just trying to survive -- get out of bed, get dressed, take care of my sons, and work on my memoir. Prop myself up, basically, like a limp scarecrow overseeing the garden.

When I finally felt "well enough" to venture into those waters, I found online dating much harder to manage than it had been pre-children. There was the issue of pulling myself together to look nice when I usually felt like crap -- granted, not as crappy as before but crappy nonetheless. There was the issue of keeping up with the communication satisfactorily enough to get a first, second, or third date. I often failed at this juncture, being unable to get to the phone often enough, talk long enough, place a return call within an acceptable amount of time, or reply to an e-mail with the right amount of enthusiasm. Geez. Let me tell you: it's hard to be enthusiastic when you feel like crap!

It wasn't long before I discovered the conundrum that my life choice has handed me -- men my age, already reluctant to date a woman the same age (pushing fifty at the time), were also not interested in dating someone with young children. Their children were in their mid-teens, in college, or even out while mine were watching Bob the Builder. As if these were not big enough strikes against me, let's just pile on the matter of my unavailability (no weekends free of child care, no weeknight off per week, and no adult-only vacation weeks like divorced mothers). Voila! Behold the surefire recipe for Undateable Middle-Aged Woman, or UMAW. Oh, but don't forget The Babysitter Factor or, as it is more commonly known, The Wallet Drain. A. My home was too messy to bring in a babysitter most of the time. B. I rarely found one when I tried. C. I couldn't afford one often enough to keep a relationship alive. (In case you're wondering, my former boyfriend was extremely understanding regarding all of these points. He was a saint, really. Yet even saints have their limits. He broke up with me.) Paying for a babysitter enough times to get a ring has got to be like shelling out for one year of college.

Despite my numerous disadvantages in the dating pool, I rejected several potential suitors because they were not my type. Yes, I am picky, too, which is one of the reasons why I am in this predicament to begin with. You would think that someone who chooses to be a single mother, replete with all the hardships that entails, would be domestic and possibly sedentary. Well, think again. That is not me at all. So I said "bye, bye" to those nice few men who were willing to put up with old, unavailable, not-rich-enough me along with young them (my boys). When not plagued with chronic fatigue syndrome, I am athletic and outdoorsy -- both characteristics of which presented the final Catch-22 in regard to finding a relationship: I had no free time (or very little of it anyway) to do the things I love and that I hope my companion also loves.

So it felt like an absolute miracle when a smart, successful, gorgeous man less than a year younger than myself -- a former Outward Bound instructor, no less -- decided to give me a chance. Since he had a flexible schedule, we were able to see one another during the day when my boys were at school. The arrangement solved my babysitter problem . . . but not my spending-money problem because I was losing work time while still paying for preschool. Alas, the strikes against me proved to be too much in the end: he could not get past the young ages of my children.

Has the simple fact of my SMC-hood also been a factor? No and yes. Mostly, I have found that men -- obviously, the ones I would be interested in -- are not put off by the unusual nature of my family. Instead, they tell me they admire the choice I made and call me brave. However, I have always managed to locate that one man who can't handle my truth. Before having children, I found the man who changed his mind about wanting to date me after I told him my parents had died and I was an only child. Somehow my misfortune made me "not family-oriented" like him, he said. I wonder exactly how family-oriented he would think I am today?! Likewise, leave it to me to find the man who rejected a woman for being an SMC instead of a divorced mother. Having pursued me for twelve weeks via e-mail, it was very obvious what the reason was for his sudden disinterest. He ended our first phone call right after I told him about my choice, blubbering on with some bullshit story about becoming closer to an acquaintance. The sole purpose of the call, I might add, was to nail down the particulars of our first date.

Once again I am taking a break from online dating. It took me a while to get over Mr. Outward Bound. Then when I felt ready to dip my toe back in, I rejoined the dating website that connected him to me. I had seen the profile of an attractive creative type who likes to kayak from the community next door. I wrote him an e-mail and cautiously awaited a response. Nothing. Rejected for my age again, I surmised, which was exactly the same as his. Feeling a rush of all-too-familiar disappointment, I let that website membership expire and have not pursued any other since.

I would welcome meeting someone in my real life, but I don't need to now. Having turned fifty last September, I have resolved to refocus on my career. I don't need a relationship and, for the first time in my life, I rarely even think about one. Perhaps this means that after eight and a half years of being a single mother by choice without a support network, I have finally and truly become an SMC -- a Seriously Manless Chick. And I am okay with that.

Hell, at a recent Boston chapter meeting, I was the one who responded to the questions about SMCs finding romantic relationships. My conclusion: very hard to do, easier if you have one child as opposed to two, you need money to hire child care, better to wait until the kids are older, and you need energy and determination.

I could tell my rather negative report on my own experience and the observation of others didn't sit particularly well with members of the group. It was not what they wanted to hear, and I could see my former self in them. "Anything is possible," they said hopefully.

Yes, I agree. But good luck with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment