I was sitting with a friend a while back, explaining my exasperation with dating as a single mom.
I wasn’t getting ghosted, but there was an eerie quality to the way men would come on strong and then gradually float away, Casper-like into their own haunted versions of a relationship. As expert relationship-evaders, they were hiding right in plain sight. They avoided labelling the connection, though they still pined for my attention. They didn’t want the burden of my little family, yet they wanted to be in my trusted circle. I found it baffling. My friend had to make it clear for me to understand:
“These men like you and want to sleep with you, yet you have kids and they don’t want to get seriously involved. You honestly don’t know that? I’m concerned that you don’t know that,” he lamented.
There it was. The obvious, simple explanation that I had been avoiding. The truth hurt. I whittled away at the pain and processed my grief in stages. I still had so much naïvite despite living what I thought was a pretty edgy life.
I was angry. I decided to confront my past lovers and have them confirm what I already knew:
“You were great, I just didn’t want to be a stepdad.”
“I wasn’t looking for something that serious.”
“If you had dated me, it would have been like having a third child. You don’t deserve that.”
On one particularly furious night, I confronted an ex-lover in-person. Amped up from bottomless mimosas at brunch, I demanded answers. He had ordered Chinese food for us, hoping to have an amicable (or romantic) evening, and when I flung accusations at him, he flatly asked me to leave. Adding insult to injury, his dog, who was once my cuddle buddy, bit me sharply on my elbow on my way out. It was as though my new bravado made me a stranger to him. Or perhaps his pup also needed to sabotage our bond with some grand gesture to stop the relationship dead in its tracks.
Looking back, my anger was mostly misplaced. I was just scared. The truth was, dating had always been hard for me, even before I had children. For as long as I could remember, I had a specific process by which I vetted the potential viability of a new relationship. I’d create a list of pros and cons, and if the pros didn’t significantly outweigh the cons, I didn’t feel comfortable moving forward.
Before you call me picky, let me clarify. I’d justify my body, my face, my career, or my “coolness” as examples of my own worthiness. I’d think of my darker parts, or the less easy parts of myself, and hope that they didn’t overshadow the good. If they did, I would hide them. Whether it was my need for reassurance, my moments of moodiness, or very real history of some impulsive, bad decision-making, I was aware that I wasn’t the simple, unhindered person I had portrayed myself to be in hopes of being accepted.
The word baggage comes to mind when we think about why relationships end or why they never even get a chance to begin. So, in my case and at this point of my life, my baggage was having two young children. For others, it could be their financial troubles, personal histories of trauma, toxic ex-partners, or chronic illnesses. People have the right to run away from our burdens and it’s good if they do—they simply are not meant to carry them. However, if they choose to, we have to choose to accept that they still want us, difficult as our circumstances may be.
My whole life, I’d look at strong couples who seemed to embrace one another’s imperfections. I knew it could happen, I just didn’t think it could for me. In fact, I always struggled with the sense that I was too much or too complicated to get the love I was looking for. Once I added children to the mix, I knew that nobody could see me as the carefree, unattached, and simple partner I felt I needed to be. I mourned this, accepted this, and made more room for truth. Once I did that, a gradual wave of acceptance started to pull forth some self-love magic.
From a practical lens, this meant openly broadcasting that I was a mom when I went on dates. From a spiritual perspective, I began to embrace the darker parts of my being and pull them into the light. Really, I am a catch. Truly, I have to continue to go to therapy, examine my insecurities, and check my moments of selfishness. Both can be true at the same time. I’m grateful for the gift of motherhood as it made it impossible to disown an integral part of who I was. I may be able to hide my insecurities, but I literally can’t hide the two living, breathing daughters I brought into this world.
So, what I’m saying is: embrace your baggage. Grow from it. Don’t protect someone else from it. Behind your internal acceptance of it lies an infinite world of possibilities, and one of those may just be love.