I’ve met someone. OK, I meet a lot of people–even met Bradley Cooper. I will talk to anyone who doesn’t run away from me–Bradley Cooper walked briskly away, thank you very much. But you know what I mean. I’ve met someone who hasn’t contributed to one of my Dating Faux Pas Posts yet. I’ve met someone who I actually like, and am enjoying getting to know. He knows this–we use our words–so I’m OK with sharing him with you.
But alas, this isn’t about him (Sorry, Sweetie). You know I’m pretty self-centered, so it comes as no surprise that this is about me, once again. This is the first person in a really long time that has made me consider what to tell the kids. Up to this point, I had been adamant that the kids not know if I am dating. At all. None of the men I dated were worthy of considering telling the kids.
With this man, I realized I may eventually need to tell them. They started asking where I was going and with whom. I realized I may want to eventually incorporate him into my life–meet my friends, share in activities I enjoy with friends and family, etc. This one was worth thinking about how to do this. The other men I’ve dated–they taught me a lot about myself and life. Some were more fun than others, some taught me how to have firm boundaries, some taught me how to be authentic and vulnerable and kind and gracious. They all taught me what I want at this point in my life.
This one, this one is different. So I’m left with not knowing how to do this. When my marriage ended, I said I wouldn’t date again until the children were young adults (How’s about that for black and white thinking??). I didn’t want to confuse them, or set them up for another important figure in their lives parting ways with them. I know what that does to kids, I know the issues that arise with attachment and security. I am terrified of screwing up my kids.
I’ve realized my anxiety over when/how to tell the kids I am dating stems from my ambivalence of how I feel about relationships, and what I want to teach them about relationships. I want to teach them to value themselves and choose partners who value them as well, and are good to them and good for them, and that there are different levels of relationships like there are different kinds of friendships. They shouldn’t all be uber-serious or engagement-worthy–there is value to dating casually when both parties are respectful and safe. You can learn a lot about yourself and the world around us.
I also recognize that society values that one soul mate, devalues casual dalliances, and shames those who deviate from the one soul mate, happily-ever-after outcome.
I have dated both casually and seriously through my life; some have been good for me, while some have not. I fear my kids seeing me date several men or fail in further relationships will send the message that casual dating is OK, when society says not so much. In some brief moments I still reflexively think marriage is the ultimate goal, what we should strive for, but I know it’s not entirely accurate. I know that I was married and it was not good for me. I know I want to teach and model to my kids that any iteration of a relationship that is supportive and kind and mutually respectful is the goal. I want to teach them that labels are meaningless, and actions between partners are what gives meaning.
I fear that if they believe marriage is the ultimate goal to pursue, they will either see me as a failure, or they will chase a goal for the wrong reasons. Yet I fear if they don’t believe in marriage or in monogamous, committed relationships, they will be left feeling unfulfilled and miss out on the beauty that is love, even when it is fleeting.
“Marriage is a promise until death to be nice to each other and have vows or wows. I can’t remember which one,” my 9-year-old son said. He’s on to something, that one. I’d venture to say we don’t have to call it marriage though. A mutually respectful relationship where we promise to be nice to each other (the vows), and to have fun (the wows!), and to be graceful and gracious to and for each other–it doesn’t have to be a marriage for it to be real and good and goal-worthy. If it turns out to be marriage that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be.
My son also believes dating is when two people kiss, and after they kiss, they get married. So I’m practicing what to tell my kids when they inevitably ask about my friend, because I’m not getting married anytime soon. Wait, did I just kiss and tell? Oh well, not the first time. I will tell them my friend is a special friend whom I like very much, and he likes me. We are kind and respectful to each other. We have fun together. I like who I am with him.
If they ask if I am getting married, I will explain that marriage is a very serious decision to make, one I am not ready for nor am considering at this point in my life. And I will tell them right now, my friend and I are enjoying getting to know each other slowly, over time and experiences. And really, isn’t that goal-worthy too?