In my former life — my married life — I lived by the clock. Up at 5:30 AM, asleep by 10:30 PM. Lunch at noon. Activities and commitments scheduled all day long, far into the evening. My time was mapped out not only by the hour but by the minute. And I was always punctual or early. Never late. I was in control. Time was on my side.
These days, when it comes to determining the right time to bring my kids into the dating mix, I struggle. First date? Three months? Six months? I have no idea. This is uncharted territory for me. What I do recognize is that whether I choose to make an introduction early on or later when I know a relationship is stable and exclusive, the pros and cons of each choice are ones I need to carefully consider.
I began dating nearly 21 months ago immediately following my separation. Since that time, I have not formally introduced my children to one person I was seeing. That was a decision I made at the outset but today question whether it was indeed the right choice.
I myself am a stepchild. I was actually there when my mother and her husband met back in 1988 at a Catskill Mountains hotel. Think “Dirty Dancing.” My mother and I were standing in a crowd when a woman walked by wearing an ugly pair of boots. With one snide comment to my mother about those boots, my future stepfather whipped around, added his two cents to the conversation, and the rest was history. They were married a year later. My mother loves to say, “Timing is everything.”
But is it?
My rapport with my stepfather was good because we met at the beginning of their relationship when there was no relationship, and he was not some random stranger showing up at our front door to steal my mother away, if only for an evening. Before that fortuitous meeting, my mother’s dates picked her up at our house and my brother and I were briefly introduced. Mind you, there was no online dating back in those days and each man was one she met in person beforehand. If the relationship did progress beyond the first few dates, an outing for all of us was set up such as a day trip or a dinner.
Discussing with my mother her choice to make introductions so early, she explained wanting to see how her date interacted with us and vice versa. As a single parent who frequently dates, her point seemed valid. So when I had my chance, I gave it a try.
I began dating a divorced dad who believed it best to quickly introduce his kids to a romantic interest. He had full custody of his children and there was probably a convenience factor built into his decision. So while on FaceTime one night he, without warning, brought his daughter over to the camera and I was regaled with a cacophony of Broadway show tunes. To “reciprocate,” I had him say a quick hello to one of my kids, although I’m pretty sure it was not as painful a prospect for him. As it happens, this conversation was the last we “saw” of each other so, in retrospect, the meeting was premature and altogether unnecessary. The good news is my ears have since recovered.
When I see a man using his children in this way to accelerate a false sense of intimacy, it tends to have the reverse effect on me and I become more distant. Yes, I thought it was commendable that his daughter wanted to be a Broadway star. But the truth is if I didn’t yet know whether I liked him, he really shouldn’t have expected me to have very much interest in or affection for his children. I certainly didn’t expect him to feel that way about mine.
I spent another 10 months in a relationship with a guy who was so heavily focused on only his son, a child I never ended up meeting, that when we finally stopped seeing each other I was shocked as he romanticized his hopes that I would continue to think of “them” at least once in a while.
But the worst offender of all? You know his type well. He’s the guy who either befriends or, even worse, feigns interest by constantly asking about the kids, talking about them, but never, not once, asking to meet them personally. He’s that guy, the guy who, Jerry Maguire style, “shoplift[s] the pootie” from a single mom. Not cool.
Most of the men I date are men I meet online. For obvious safety reasons, meeting someone at home right off is not an option. Regardless, using my kids as a relationship barometer when I am still unsure of my own feelings seems likely to predict only a sea of trouble. Divorce is difficult for the whole family, not just the parents who are splitting. Bringing someone home to meet my kids will be a new experience for them and one that will require an adjustment. Expending that much energy on any old guy doesn’t seem fair.
So I invite the future man in my life to meet me first. Get to know me. See me for my good qualities as well as for my faults. He can decide which are which. Yes, my three children are an integral part of my life. I do not hide that. But motherhood is not all that defines me. When this man cares for me, loves me, and the feeling is mutual, introductions will not be the next chronological step in time but, rather, a natural progression.
I don’t want a new father for my children. They already have one who they love very much. I don’t want a stepfather for them either; the term “step” connotes distance. I simply want someone wonderful, that one guy who will lovingly and willingly establish and cultivate a new and independent relationship with my kids as a good friend, role model, and mentor. In return, I promise him he will receive not the love of one but the love of four.
They deserve the best and are relying on me to be a thorough screener in the process. My children are my crown jewels and I will guard them as such. But I am not a princess and I do not wait for my prince. Instead, I live my life knowing we will find each other in time.