1. Whatever you do, don't let IndieBabe know anything about your dating life. Or even that you have one.
2. Do not introduce IndieBabe to anyone unless you are absolutely sure he's THE ONE.
Those seem to be the two indisputable "don'ts" of dating as a single mom that people have been none too shy about sharing with me. I know they mean well. They believe my daughter has suffered, that she'll have abandonment issues (even though her dad is fully present in her life), that I must dedicate 100 percent of my time, my body, and my soul entirely to my child.
For the past several years, I did exactly that. My strategy for making it all OK for IndieBabe was to shield her with the entire force of my being. I threw myself on top of the emotional grenade to protect her from the flying shrapnel. And it worked. I made her the epicenter of my universe, and I of hers, and that's how we got through. We borrowed a line from a cheesy Disney movie as our private mantra: "You and me, pal. It's you and me."
Except there really was no "me." There was only her, as far as I was concerned. That deep-seated fear that we're going to screw our kids up for life is never more sinister than in the heart of a divorced mom. So we try to whisk away our own hopes, desires and needs while granting our child's every wish. This seems to us a fair penance for subjecting them to our marriage mistakes.
But like I've said before, I eventually realized that the single most important thing I can do for my kid isn't to shield her, but to launch us together into the wild, complex bramble of life and lead by example.
So yes, IndieBabe knows I date. I mean, it's not like she's stirring me a highball whilst I affix false lashes and spray "Charlie" behind my knees getting ready for a night out with a gentleman caller. Nor is she going to accidentally run into a random guy in our bathroom at 3am wearing gold chains and a banana hammock. And I definitely don't try to make her my baby-BFF and download all the grisly details of the blind date who showed up a good four inches shorter than advertised, spit when he talked and spent two hours selling me a second date that I didn't want.
She just knows that I have a grown-up life outside our private world of choreographing routines to Lady Gaga songs and going to the diner for breakfast in our pajamas, and I did that on purpose. She knows she comes first, now and always. With that as secure as the stick-on dolphin tattoo that's clung to her ankle since Memorial Day, she doesn't need to be duped into believing that "mom" equals "celibate." I'd so much rather she learn about sex and romance from watching me, instead of patterning herself on the Mousketeers-turned-sexpot set.
So yes, she's also met my boyfriends. Only two, but they were two that mattered. LA Andy, the remarkable man who literally put me back together, heart and soul, after my divorce. We were in a bi-coastal relationship for two years, as enamored with Virgin America and each other's cities as we were with each other. Eventually we parted because of logistics, but to this day, we all still Skype and consider each other family.
After LA Andy came a few missteps (see: My Broken IndieHeart). Then Mr. New Canaan showed up. Smart, sexy, rock-steady dad to two terrific teenage girls, he appeared without fanfare, drama, or angst...but I fell for him anyway. We talk and laugh and travel and can't get enough of each other in all the right ways. Dare I say it's...peaceful?
Anyway, lest I veer too far off into nausea-inducement, I'll get back to the point. After being with him for four months, I can't really tell you whether he's THE ONE (Um, hello...I'm divorced. Perhaps my radar on that overblown decree isn't all that crackerjack?) But I can tell you that it's love--and that I'd never really know whether he was right for me unless I knew whether he was right for us.
So I let him in. Just a little at the beginning. First meeting, he came into the city and brought IndieBabe yellow daisies because it was spring, and she was enchanted. Then he taught her to ride a bike, and she was utterly smitten. When he made her pancake balls stuffed with marshmallow and Nutella, she was a goner.
Now I let him hold my hand when she's around and (horrors!) kiss me hello. When the repeated schlep up and back the Merritt Parkway got exhausting, I asked her how she'd feel if he spent the night at our apartment now and then. I brought it up tentatively, brainwashed into fearing it would be a hot button.
"I'D LOVE THAT!" she screamed.
'It wouldn't be weird for you?" I asked.
(cue eye roll and dramatic sigh) "Please, Mama...you worry too much."
Ok, so much for that.
Believe me, I know there are risks here -- for me and for her. Could we get our hearts shattered? Yes, of course. But I have to hope that somewhere along this journey I've found enough wisdom to ride the better side of the line between being careless with my daughter's heart and teaching her (and myself) to live and love without fear.
I don't know for sure if I'm doing all of this right, which is of course terrifying. I'm feeling my way through it, just like everything else, and that feels thrilling and very much like real life. At the very least, if I make a mistake, I know deep down that she and I will always be ok because we have each other.
So when it comes to love and dating in our house, we're making up our own rules. So far, so good.
We'll keep you posted...
Follow Debra Goldstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheIndieMom