Dating Children

I remember watching an episode of The Bachelorette in which single mom Emily Maynard was visibly offended when potential beau Alessandro used the word “compromise” to describe how he felt about being involved with her as a single parent.

“You see that as a compromise? You don’t see that as an honor?” she asked. She later stated, “Me having a daughter isn’t a compromise and anyone I’m going to spend my life with is going to see it as the biggest bonus ever.”

Okay, the word “compromise” isn’t the most warm and cozy thing to say in this context; a parent doesn’t want to hear anything less than glowing applause about his or her little dumpling, even if the pookie doo cusses them out on a regular basis. But I think the guy is being honest about what the situation means for a lot of people.

It reminds me of my own experience “getting to know” a guy with not one, not two, not three, but four kids — all under the age of 18. I say “getting to know” because our brief tango didn’t get very far for a few reasons … one of which being juggling The Parenthood.

I was wary from the beginning with “Chris.” Two baby mamas, and two boys and two girls. That’s a lot of people to factor in when trying to learn about one person. And I include the baby mamas because they are very much a part of the equation. Their moods affect his mood, their finances affect his finances, their availability affects his availability.

One of the first characteristics I discovered about Chris is that he’s a terrific, super involved, ever-present father. All of his kids are involved in sports and church activities. Virtually every day and every weekend, somebody has a practice, a rehearsal, or a game — and he’s at just about every single one. Every day. Every weekend.

Turns out that such a demanding schedule, coupled with the spontaneous responsibilities of parenthood, are not all that conducive to a potential relationship. We talked on the phone often, but that’s all we ever managed to do. Talk. Every planned date was postponed because of a basketball tournament, somebody’s tummy ache, no one to watch the kids on his weekend, or scheming baby mama antics.

Which led me to the conclusion, “I don’t think there’s any room for me in your life.”

“Of course there’s room for you,” Chris said. He then explained, with all seriousness, how I could come to the boys’ football games and we could hang out and talk in the stands.

As much as I dig football, his suggestion wasn’t going to replace the need to spend time together — just us. But dedicated “just us” time with this dude was as difficult to come by as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The reality? I was one of several people vying for this man’s attention on a daily basis. And as the adult and the one he was not legally and ethically responsible for, I was always the last in line.

Don’t get me wrong; I never wanted to come before his kids. I told him often that he was an awesome dad, a prime example, father of the year. I expected nothing less of him than to be there for his children. After all, if he was a deadbeat dad and could spend all of his extra time with me, I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that either.

At the same time, just like a new baby (pun intended), budding relationships need nurturing. You’re supposed to feel like a priority. And frankly, I felt neglected. But how do you say that to a devoted parent without sounding like the Trick That Stole Christmas? It’s touchy territory.

I struggled with this feeling because I was sensitive to his responsibilities, but still didn’t feel he deserved a free pass from the “meet me halfway” zone. He constantly regaled me with stories about his kids, as if being a dutiful dad excused him from having to put much effort into courting me (yeah, old school, I know). Just because a person is a good parent, doesn’t make him or her a good partner, and I still needed to do my due diligence.

Honor or compromise? I’d say both. I felt honored whenever Chris said he couldn’t wait for me to meet his kids and that I’d make a great step-mom. (Which, how the heck would he know since we spent almost no time together?).

As far as the compromise, all relationships involve compromise. A man would have to accept me and my mucho miscellany just as much as I would have to accept his. A person without kids isn’t a walk in the park just because of that fact alone. Far from it.

The compromise isn’t personally about the child. You could be raising the freaking Golden Child for all I care. It’s about the lifestyle change. The child-free person’s life is the one that has to drastically transform when involved with a person with kids, not the other way around.

This can be especially daunting for someone like me who fully savors her freedom. Many an evening I talked to Chris and he was on his way to Chuck E. Cheese or somebody’s rehearsal…and I was on my way out to paint the town. My life consists of spontaneous weeknight outings, trips on the weekends and sleeping in — all things I would love to do with my boo. All things that would slow down like cold honey to mesh with a family man.

Still, I don’t consider a man with children to be a deal breaker. But not being able to make time for us, is. No one should apologize for their kids (unless they’re really, really bad. Kidding! Sort of … ). Nor should I apologize for expecting a certain level of engagement with the person I’m interested in. How people work that out? I’m not sure. But they do it every day.

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