In August, I went on six dates in one week. I had decided that I was ready to look for a partner. Enough of this dating unavailable men a half-decade younger than me. They’d never seriously consider a relationship with me, my two children and our needy dog. No. I wanted to find an equal. A man who wouldn’t feel the need to step in and rescue me. I didn’t need rescuing.
But I knew deep down that was only partially true. I often felt the sort of loneliness that settled in my stomach, starting from a chaotic afternoon with my children, lasting well into the night when I pulled covers tight around my chin.
I’ve been on my own with my kids for most of the past decade. I have no idea what a supportive partner would even look like in my house. I imagined it as some sort of potluck: We’d both bring the things we have to offer and place them on the table. My ability to multitask and keep everyone’s schedules on track would sit next to his ability to fix cars, cook or read books in silly voices. Then we’d feast.
Of the six first dates I had in August, two men seemed promising. One of them met me at a brewery. We chatted happily through two beers. Finally I was out of a job interview mode I’d fallen into while sitting across from strangers. I relaxed. I laughed. And it wasn’t the laugh I did just because. It was real.
We dated for a few weeks before he admitted he wasn’t ready for something serious. Two days later, the other of those good dates called me out of the blue. We talked for a while, and I asked him to dinner. Things were falling into place. A feast was laid out on the table, and it looked delicious.
But two weeks later, the election happened. Once it was clear that Donald Trump would be president instead of Hillary Clinton, I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to gather my children in bed with me and cling to them like we would if thunder and lightning were raging outside, with winds high enough that they power might go out. The world felt that precarious to me.
[How to survive the holidays while single or divorced]
My oldest came out of her room the next morning to show me the money the Tooth Fairy had left her. She’d unexpectedly had to have a tooth pulled, and so bravely went through it that I said, “Just think: You’ll always remember the day you got a tooth pulled with the day we elected our first female president.”
When I told her Trump had won, she protested: “But Mom. You said Hillary was going to win.”
“A lot of people thought the same thing,” I said. I hugged her, a little scared to send her to school, out into the big sky country of the red state where we live.
Twenty minutes later, at a stoplight on the way to drop off my 2-year-old daughter at day care, steam started creeping out from under the hood of my car. Fortunately my mechanic’s shop was nearby.
My radiator was cracked in two places, right at the top. “I really wouldn’t feel comfortable with you driving it,” one of the mechanics said. Luckily a new radiator could easily be obtained and installed that day. I thanked them.
I didn’t start crying until I had crossed the street to walk home. We had a few miles to go, so I carried my daughter. I didn’t mind carrying her; I still had that urge to cling to her and keep her close. It was cold that morning, but the sun started to warm us enough to remove our hats. Halfway home, my tears stopped, and my despair grew to appreciation.
[What if we thought of monogamy as a spectrum?]
I have the means to fix our car. I, on my own, can support my family. I not only have the strength to keep it together mentally and emotionally but I also have the strength to carry my daughter home. I have the strength to carry all of us.
That urge to cling to my family while keeping our foundation strong didn’t mesh well with continuing to date the man I’d been seeing. He also has a daughter. He, too, had been feeling a lot of the same emotions I was experiencing: hopelessness; fear; uncertainty about the future; panic over having to talk to my 9-year-old about anything that might come up at school, or what to do in the instance of sexual assault. But I couldn’t reach out to him anymore. He was too new, too unfamiliar.
My focus had to be on my community of friends that are my family. I need to fiercely love the people close to me instead of learning to love someone new. To reach out to others could weaken the bonds that hold my family together.
“I can’t,” I told him. “I just can’t.”
I’ve lost the desire to attempt the courtship phase. The future is uncertain. I am not the optimistic person I was on the morning of Nov. 8, wearing a T-shirt with “Nasty Woman” written inside a red heart. It makes me want to cry thinking of that. Of seeing my oldest in the shirt I bought her in Washington, D.C., that says “Future President.”