Another reader response from June 15, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
I’ve just got a quick comment on your advice to Sheri (the 42-year-old with 2 kids). You told her to be up front with her 34-year-old potential squeeze/summer fling, and suggested that any guy who is scared off by kids isn’t worth it [Note from Breakup Girl: Whoa! That's totally not what I said. BG is not in the biz of that kind of flip character call. My actual point: some guys (and gals!) are -- legitimately -- reluctant to get into a pre-fab family when they'd like to fab one of their own from scratch. And also for the reasons that Jo so eloquently describes below. In some cases, this may mean that -- even all other things being lovely -- a potential couple may be, practically speaking, incompatible. That's all.] I just wanted to add something.
It looks like Sheri wants a nice, relaxing, “just for Mom” relationship; she’s not thinking tickets for four to the Spice Girls with hotdogs to follow, she’s thinking candlelit dinners and a suite at the Ritz. It seems to me that she needs to a) let the guy know that she’s got kids, and b) (once she’s sure this guy is going past date #4 or so) let the kids know that she’s got him, but c) let everyone know that the relationship is for fun, not fatherhood. She won’t have to hermetically seal the kids off from the relationship, but she can keep their evenings out for the nights when Dad/her mother/her best friend has the kids. Then, if their relationship lasts past Labor Day, the two of them will have a good relationship, which will help when he gets to know the kids.
The most important thing is that she let him know that she doesn’t want him to parent (or even be involved with) her children, without feeling guilty or awkward about it — and then to act on that, firmly. And she has to be sure that’s what she wants. The reason many single people bolt at the first sign of offspring is because there are so many hidden pitfalls; a lot of parents are looking for a step-parent, rather than a lover. Even if they aren’t, sharing the day-to-day life of a parent means sharing the day-to-day life of a child — which can be pretty hairy if your idea
of responsiblity is a tank of fish. Being pitchforked into weekend psuedoparenthood is very, very frightening, especially since the kid isn’t usually happy about “Daddy’s/Mommy’s new friend,” and often takes the first available opportunity to whack you with some Lego.
But I digress. If she really doesn’t want him to play Nintendo on the third date, she should tell him so, and then take things as they come. If she does, then she should look for a nice child-friendly man (a single dad, maybe?) who will happily build blanket forts, miss meetings to make day-care pickups, eat Kraft Dinner on the second date and spend his day off at the amusment park.
And oh yeah — the fact that a 42 -year-old with two kids can meet a charming 34-year-old while I, single at 37, can’t get arrested (I’m the five-years celibate “loony Norma Desmond clone,” as if you could forget that letter) just strikes me as one more example of the Unfairness of the Universe.
Breakup Girl responds: How about snagging a couple of kids, then hitting a singles event? Could get you both (a date, and arrested)? Kidding, kidding. Thanks for writing.