“Hey, I have a dilemma,” my colleague texted me during her morning commute. She’s an attractive, tall, Eastern European blonde in her early 30s. As of late, she has taken to consulting me for all matters related to men.
“Would you date a guy who’s got two kids?”
Her question amused me. She hadn’t even gone out with the guy once and was already inventing excuses to make him unsuitable. The texting went on like this:
“Why not? You’d be dating him, not the kids.”
“Prefer someone w/o kids. Sounds like a lot of hassle.”
“You don’t know that. You haven’t even given it a try!”
“He isn’t divorced, just separated.”
“SO WHAT?! So am I. Separated is fine. Divorce takes time & energy, not as easy as you think. Is he nice?”
“Very interesting. Reads Murakami.”
“Hmmm, intellectual type? Liking this.”
“But he may not want to have any more kids.”
“Oh FFS!! One thing at a time!”
No baggage please, we’re single
I arrived at the office ready to give her a good bollocking for auto-sabotaging a potential relationship with a nice man before giving it a go. But I was surprised to find out most other female colleagues in the same age bracket would also turn down a date with a man with children from a previous relationship.
In evolutionary terms this makes sense: if you’re a woman at the peak of your fertility, you are consciously or subconsciously thinking about procreation; therefore you want a man for whom the protection of your offspring, not another female’s, will be top priority. Other women’s kids are unwanted baggage.
Unfortunately, for men looking for a date with a young single woman who does not yet have her own children, being a dad can be like wearing some kind of blazing scarlet letter of shame on their chests, no matter how wonderful they may be. They become instantly less eligible, whereas women in their 40s, 50s and above may generally accept it as inevitable for their age group.
Advice is easy to give when it does not concern your personal interests, but my colleague’s question made me realise that, If I do meet someone new of a similar age, it is highly likely they will have an ex or two, and a couple of kids in their “baggage”. In other words, her dilemma and choice could be my own.
I’ve gone out with divorced fathers before. The relationship didn’t last long enough for me to meet any of his daughters, but it did cross my mind that the day it happened it would be terrifying. You may never be able to love someone else’s child as if it was your own, but how do you build a relationship of trust where you’re comfortable sharing his time and demand for attention with his offspring, who may only see him on certain weekends.
The colleague in question eventually took my advice, went on a date with the father-of-two, but came to the conclusion he was not boyfriend material. He had mentioned the ex-wife and kids one too many times, breaking the golden rule of first dates: do NOT talk about your ex!
A few weeks later, over lunch, my colleague tells me she had signed up for the dating app Tinder and had already arranged two consecutive dates over the weekend. Her first date, a bombastic, wealthy, Porsche-driving Greek banker pushed his luck too far by inviting her to “watch movies” in his home. The second, however, a tall (taller than her), handsome software developer, who was into sport and travel, kept her absorbed in interesting conversation for hours on end, didn’t sound like he was after a shagmate, as many Tinderers seem to be. He had even sent her the obligatory post-date text message in good time as proof that he was keen.
Finally a chap that meets her standards, I thought, when she suddenly blurted out:
“But he has ugly teeth! It’s not like he doesn’t have money to fix them, so I don’t understand why he hasn’t done it yet..”
I nearly hit her with my empty orange juice bottle. Objecting about kids was one thing but TEETH?!
Chatting on Facebook to an old classmate from uni about online dating, I mentioned my colleague’s tendency to always find fault with the men she was seeing. She said:
“Every woman has her own set of standards, but my therapist tells me times have changed and women have become increasingly demanding about what they expect from a relationship. They are no longer financially dependent on men, nor is being single something to be ashamed of any more, therefore they not have to put up with any moron just to say they’ve got a man.”
I can see a lot of truth in that statement – I have my standards too – but if a small physical imperfection can really stop you from falling in love with someone, the world may end up with many frustrated single men and women, who can’t find their Adonises and Aphrodites.
When it comes to meeting your match, there is no fool-proof yardstick with which to measure your potential partner’s suitability, since everyone’s ideals are so subjective and so changeable.
I used to think being with someone whose taste for music was entirely different from mine made no difference at all, until the day my husband erased all my Schuberts from our joint Spotify account because he detested classical music.
In my current world, I would happily turn a blind eye to slightly misaligned teeth, but I may not take too kindly to a lack of appreciation for classical music. My colleague might say that is as superficial as her reservations about her date’s dental appearance, but, for me, beautiful teeth don’t stir deep emotions within, whilst Schubert and Bach do.
Brazilian author Martha Medeiros says in one of her essays that listening to music is a physical and sensory experience that transcends rationality. It taps into a part of us that is not corrupted by thinking and logic and is therefore pure. When a man and a woman share those sensations together, a wordless dialogue, a communion of sorts is established. It occurred to me that this may be akin to engaging in sexual intercourse, but in a disembodied manner.
Yes, I’d like that.
With the authority of an “older sister”, I told my colleague to stop fretting over irrelevant details, as the essence of a happy relationship is not about teeth or hair, even whether a man had kids and an ex or none. But in my heart of hearts, I know that, in practice, our list of tickable minimum requirement boxes for a new relationship to be “right” for us varies widely with time, and from person to person.
They can be grossly misleading too, and our standards can go very high or very low, depending on our emotional needs at any given time. That is why you see so many mismatched couples that make you think, “what on earth is he/she doing with him/her?” That is how I ended up marrying a man I knew from day one I could not be happy with.
Unfortunately, there is no other path to emotional maturity that does not involve suffering and lots of trial and error; really stupid errors too. Often, toxic relationship patterns will be repeated over and over with different partners because you haven’t learned your lesson the first time round, because you keep ticking the wrong boxes, seeking happiness in the wrong places.
Relationships work just like a video game – you can’t play the next level up until you have passed the test of the current one.
The hacker with the crooked teeth asked my colleague out on a second date barely an hour after we had been discussing him, and I had told her, “I have a feeling he’ll want to see you again within the next two days.”
“You’re a clairvoyant!” she squealed, delighted.
I am no such thing of course. But I have not aged in vain; my intuition is sharp.
Hopefully she will discover so many more qualities in her Tinder-man that the appearance of his teeth will become a non-issue.
In the meantime, I am setting up my own Spotify account so I can enjoy my classical music and my jazzy numbers in peace. Because my biggest box right now, I realise, is to have a loving relationship with myself.