I have found myself in a position I never thought I would. Like, ever. When I got divorced, I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted from a tumultuous decade of what (in retrospect) I can see as a toxic relationship, that finding someone else to live life with was not even a consideration. Placing one foot in front of another, I packed up my belongings, negotiated custody through a rigorous legal process, and started my new life.
It took a long time. Dating was something that lived in the far recesses of my mind – a consideration, but not an actual possibility. Starting from scratch financially and re-entering the workforce with three young kids having popped in and out employment (mostly by choice) since my firstborn, as well as the healing process of leaving a very difficult marriage, took every ounce of my time as well as my mental and emotional energy.
I sat with everything that had happened for a long time. I had no desire to bring another element into my life that would further tax me. I wanted to focus on my children, and I wanted to focus on myself. What made me happy? What made me a better mom?
After some time, I decided to dip my toe into the dating pool. Living in a suburb, surrounded by married couples, and having very few social outlets during a pandemic, I decided to try online dating. I wasn’t very invested. I was just curious to see what was out there.
I tried two different dating apps, and in the beginning, it was incredibly exciting. It reminded me of a video I saw online in which piranhas in a fish tank are tossed a chicken breast. It was flattering and exhilarating. But once you pass the initial “fresh meat” stage, you begin to realize online dating for what it is. I’ve found that the men are either fatigued in their searches and strip you bare via rapid-fire questions to quickly move you to the next level, or they pass on you. There are the men who prompt your attention with a “How are you?” and then ghost. There are the men who immediately ask you on a date or for your phone number just a few lines into the conversation.
I’ve been on dates with two men. The first quickly escalated our conversation into sexting, which was horrifying. I liked him at first blush and kept trying to redirect him onto a course that was less of a horndog missive. Honestly, the sudden change from kindness and interest to a determined sexcapade rhetoric left me so defeated that I immediately got off the app and decided that online dating wasn’t for me.
I gave myself a pep talk, though. I said I couldn’t give up without trying a little harder. It’s the exact type of spiel I have in my arsenal for my children when times get tough. So I got on another dating site and again experienced the fresh meat stage, the culling stage, and narrowed down my suitors to a decent handful. One seemed eager to meet, and although I found his pictures unappealing, I decided to go in with an open mind.
And so my second date attempt was launched. This time, it was a far too lengthy dinner with a man who revealed himself as a complete narcissist by talking nonstop about himself and his ex-wife. It came to light that he had begun dating immediately after his marriage ended and was on a mission to find a partner at all costs. He spent the evening edging closer and closer to me, giving me light touches on the arm and knee to communicate his interest – none of which I reciprocated. His radar was so tuned only on himself and his own wants that he failed to recognize my lack of interest. Which is why the evening culminated with him attaching his face to mine out of nowhere. The horror I felt froze me like a statue, but I was able to extricate myself. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.
I started engaging in a lengthy back and forth with another local man who I found good looking and intelligent. We exchanged phone numbers and proposed a time to meet up. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him, but he would dip out of conversations for hours at a time, and I would see that he was periodically checking my profile while also remaining online in the dating app for long, black hole hours. I began to wonder if he was comparing me to other women, trying to decide if I was worth it, ignoring our conversation in pursuit of other women. It made me feel like shit.
And there’s the crux of it. It was making me feel like shit. I’m not complaining about the echelon or behavior of men. I knew attempting to find someone via online dating would be a diamond in the rough type of situation and that I wouldn’t be bombarded by eligible bachelors who were perfectly suited for me. That takes more time and effort that I put into it. What wasn’t going to improve over time, however, was the shit feeling that online dating platforms were giving me.
I’m not an image-conscious person – I live life at the comfort level of someone who has three young children and isn’t necessarily motivated by fashion and beauty. And yet suddenly, I have become increasingly aware of my long nose peppered with large pores, my lack of beautiful, thick hair, the fact that I have a stomach marred by stretch mark and loose skin, that I have cellulite on my thighs and that my breasts aren’t round and perky, that I haven’t bought a new article of clothing that wasn’t intended for work or comfort in literal years.
I don’t like being dressed down online and categorized or shunned because of my appearance. And worst of all were the rejections based solely upon my children. Men my age frowned upon the number of children I have – three. Men older than me rejected me based on the ages of my children – elementary school and below. Other men liked to pretend I had no children at all, never mentioning them, never asking about them.
I understand the nature of online dating, and I was a willing participant. No one thrust this on me. I knew going in that it was a rapid-fire series of judgments based on appearance. Am I being fragile? Yes. Am I being overly sensitive? Likely. But to judge me based on my children – whether in acknowledgement or lack thereof, is where I draw the line. Do not dismiss me because I’m a mom of three young children. What do these men expect dating to look like as you reach middle age?
So where does that leave me? Where does that leave a mom of three young children who is intelligent, confident, relatively attractive and fit, who refuses to settle but is hopeful to the thought of being coupled?