It was a quiet Friday evening. My sixteen year old son was upstairs studying. My eleven year old was downstairs with friends watching TV. And I? The white wine was to my right, the Ugg slippers warmed my feet, and the faded flannel nightgown enveloped me like an old friend. I flipped on the computer...once again awash in reserved hope.
Up they came! The endless rows of my potential lovers staring at me as they leaned on cars, held adorable children, partied in tuxes, worked the barbecue, and flaunted pecs all designed to communicate their wallet size, love of kids, ability to clean up nicely, be a family man and drive me wild between the sheets.
Sucked in by the seemingly endless possibilities I began scrolling through the thumbnail photos and summaries allowing them to assert their usual slightly hypnotic effect upon me. Click. Long sunset walks on a beach. Click. An elegant evening at the opera. Click. Loves true fine dining....
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" came a voice from behind me. My older son was standing maybe 6 inches away staring wide-eyed at the faces on the screen.
I turned back to my computer and thought quick and hard. What to say?
"I'm looking for a photographer," leapt into my mind. But for what? His Bar Mitzvah was years ago.
For a split second, "I'm looking for an old college friend ," seemed workable. But I could just see my son leaning in closer and saying, "And his name is Here4You or Singing And A Brain?"
The idea of floating, "I need a handyman" seemed especially promising because the fact is I did, and would have been happy to find a guy who was useful around the house.
But my son is sixteen and knew I dated. Maybe, I thought, he could handle the truth. But could I?
"Do you know what online dating is?" I asked tentatively.
"Kind of," he replied.
"It's when lots of single adults with common interests go online to a particular site and fill out a form describing the kind of person they are looking for and then each person gets a list of possible dates that fit their list. It's hard for busy parents to meet people any other way." (This is a well-edited version of my stuttering delivery.)
"You mean you go out with a stranger?" My too intelligent child said.
"Yes and no," I explained. "We only meet in a public place, I take my own car, and drive myself home. ' I don't actually go on dates with them until I'm sure they're good people. And only adults can do this," I added . "Not kids."
"OH, like I'd want to do that?" he responded with horror.
"No I wouldn't expect you would," I said. "Besides you can't. But as you know I'd like to meet someone."
At this point my son began backing out of the office. Apparently my sharing was creeping out of the "need to know" and into the "overload" column.
"See ya." He said.
I smiled. "I love you."
He went back to his room. I went back to my site.
He probably thought I was nuts. Or worse, pathetic.
But that next weekend when he was out with a friend and I got dressed up in my best black slacks and sweater and sashayed into the restaurant to meet my date I felt sane and strong.
There is no shame in online dating and if your kid catches you just tell him what it is. (if he's old enough).
It won't traumatize him. At worse it will only nauseate him.
A younger child is different. What's the cutoff point? It depends on the child. I'd say if he or she is old enough to date it's safe if just a bit embarrassing to disclose. Just make sure he gets this is an adult thing...especially if he's one of those kids given to high risk choices. For young ones keep it vague. "Just looking up some people," you might say. If he/she says "What for?" you might answer, "it's interesting to read about them." Then click off the computer and offer him an ice cream cone.
Online dating is not a topic for dinnertime conversation. But it is life and if you are caught, and you make something up your child might suspect you're fibbing. That's no way to model the kind of response you want when the tables are turned and you suspect he's up to something. How can you insist "Tell me the truth," if you claim a screen filled with photos of men holding, drinks or babies or stethoscopes with bizarre names such as "Lean Not Mean" is the best way to locate an exterminator?