We danced around our mutual attraction for a few months, and eventually gave in. We both didn’t want a relationship, but after a few weeks, I started to have feelings for him, and he’d made it clear he didn’t want to be involved with anyone. Fearing future heartache, I ended it.
A few days later, I sat with some girlfriends over lunch, and told them my painful tale. I couldn’t lose my babysitter in all of this mess, too.
“Maybe I should set up an online dating account to help me get over him,” I said.
They nodded enthusiastically, suggesting OkCupid. After a day on the site, I had three dates on the calendar.
At first it was confidence-boosting to see that there were a lot of men who wanted to get to know me. Dating became a distraction from my daily life, an escape from my full plate of responsibilities. Even with my friends’ willingness to help out with child care, every night out was a scramble to set up who could watch my kids and when I had to be home by their bedtime. Most first dates didn’t make it to a second one, and the whole thing seemed like a waste of everyone’s time.
Then, someone piqued my interest. We went on three dates, then four. My older daughter was away for a few days after Christmas, and he asked me to go out of town with him.
It wasn’t far out of town, and only overnight, but I hadn’t had the means or energy to travel out of town in almost two years. A little overnight trip wasn’t a small feat.
Two days before we planned to leave, I looked over at my toddler eating lunch and saw the tell-tale signs of pink eye.
I canceled our dinner date for that evening. I canceled lunch with friends the next day. I canceled our trip.
He didn’t have kids and didn’t understand the sinking devastation I felt. I needed so desperately to get a break from my day-to-day life of working at home. How could I ask someone to get involved?
“I gave him an out,” I said to my friend a couple of days later while wallowing through the sixth season of “Parenthood.”
“Why did you give him an out?” she said.
“Because why would he want to be with me?” I said. “I can’t do anything. I can barely walk freely around my house. I can’t go out of town, or go see a movie. Who’d want to be with someone like that?”
I started to realize how much of a recluse I’d become over the past couple years. I thought that by being single for all of that time, I’d been taking an opportunity to work on myself, get comfortable with being alone, and enjoy my life without a partner until I was ready to date again. Yet the only thing I’d been doing was keeping my head barely out of the water.
Asking a man out on a date, or accepting one, wasn’t just 90 minutes over a beer, sharing the anecdotes that would make us attractive enough to make out with each other. What it really came down to was me finding someone who could take on part of my responsibilities. I couldn’t see dating as anything but that.
Taking the time to get to know someone meant pulling from time I spent working or taking care of myself. Going out with someone drained me.
“You can’t expect to either quit having sex or find a perfect match when you’re 40 years old and have kids,” a male friend said. “It’s nice to have someone who will have sex with you and not be a jerk, yet not have any expectations or all the emotional stuff.”
He had a point. I wanted to escape for an hour or two in between some flirty distractions without worrying about whether he’ll be a supportive, healthy, future partner. Dating was not a romantic comedy. I had two very real kids at home who came first, took up most of my time and energy, and I didn’t have much to give.
Considering the friends with benefits option after the babysitter fiasco seems like I’m setting myself up for failure. Maybe not. I can say “I don’t want a relationship” with more truth to back it up. So, I’ll accept my friend’s offer, and be friends with benefits, except ones like hope or expectation.