There are lots of things that change when you become a parent. There are all the obvious clichés -- the new meaning of late nights, the new understanding of endless worry, the glamour of diapers and boogers -- but there is something else. Something no one seems to talk about even though (I think) it is a change universally felt by new parents these days.
Just as you begin to learn to function with all the cliché s of parenthood, you will be thrust once again into the dating scene. Not the fun and flirty bar scene, but the intimidating and complicated playground scene. You may know it's coming, but you won't fully get the impact until you actually start play dating.
The play date is modern parenting's answer to living in a scary world where you worry about letting your kids roam free in your neighborhood. The play date is modern parenting's answer to the age-old worry of "good God, we need to get out of the house before these little balls of energy combust." The play date is modern parenting's answer to finding new besties as an adult.
Being new to this scene, I can't tell you if this is another case of Westernization or if there has truly been a worldwide shift, but the play date is not unique to the U.S.. Since arriving in Asia, we've been on dates with families from all over and they all pretty much happen the same way. There is the initial meeting and sizing one another up: Are our kids similar ages; do we live close enough to make this worthwhile? (Maybe you have more boxes that need to be ticked, but this is pretty much it for me.) There is the semi-awkward "asking out," the back and forth about where and when, and the anticipation of how fun it will be.
Unlike regular dating, the play date is as much about you as it is your kids. There's the worry that maybe your sweet little angels will suddenly start biting, hitting or refusing to share. Or that maybe they will behave beautifully... all by themselves in the corner. Or maybe they will be fine, but their dates will be biters, hitters, non-sharers or loners. Maybe they just won't have any fun. But kids are kids. All parent's understand this so really, there's no need to worry about the kids. What you really need to worry about is yourself.
All the usual pre-date worries of your bachelor/ette days will haunt you once again. What should you wear? You'll want to look pulled-together, but still casual. You don't want to seem like you are trying too hard. What should you talk about? You want your potential new friends to know there is more to you then just being a mom (but you don't want to seem disinterested in your kids, either). You hope you share similar ideas about parenting (and life), but you don't want to seem judgmental (or be judged) if you don't. You don't want to come off as too needy. Will the conversation be easy? What happens afterward? Does the three-day rule apply to play dating? Maybe you'll discover "they're just not that into you" and never get a call back.
But unfortunately, unlike actual dating, with play dating, you'll wonder if it was you or your kids. Did I just sabotage my kids' play date or did my kids just sabotage my chance at a new friend? Or arguably worse, your child will constantly ask to play with someone whose parent you're just not into. (And that will get you wondering if you aren't that person for some other parent... but no, of course it's not you!)
If you do get a second date, you're not off of the anxiety inducing teeter-totter. You still wonder if you have to play it cool or can you gush about how happy you are to see your new friends. Can you call them a friend yet? Is it too soon? You want to be with someone with whom you can really be yourself. Should you just be your honest, desperate self? You think you really like this woman, could she possibly be really interested in you? You stalk her Facebook page for clues.
Get a hold of yourself. You're a mom now. It's just play dating. It's not like you are on the hunt for a life long partner -- one to help you navigate parentings greatest struggles and walk the ups and downs of life with humor and understanding -- only you realize you are. The insecurities and dramatic flare of your twenties is back.
35 is the new 25.
Or it's not. You already have friends. It would be great to have more. It would be great to meet people with whom you really click. But sometimes a play date is just a play date. You've learned a thing or two from all those bad dates in your twenties. You'll know when you find someone special. You won't have to think too hard about what to say or not say. You won't have to worry about scaring them away or seeming too aloof. Conversation will come easily and the early dating anxiety will subside. Maybe you'll even be lucky enough to find a steady.
Then, just as you worried about the first time your parents and in-laws met, all you'll have to worry about it is introducing your spouses. Then you'll really know if you've found the one.
This post originally appeared on Avery Adventures.