Like a widower, the mother who splits with her lover during pregnancy–or more acutely, because of it–is expected to sustain an extended season of mourning and reverence and soberness. She will be watched, her next actions weighed and measured. If she returns to the fray too soon, she is a bad mother, dodging her new role as diaperer, doter, and dairy in order to don peep-toe stilettos and hit the stroll, wielding a clutch full of condoms.
When the casual observer spots this woman with an infant, he conjures an image of domestic life for her that includes a shared bed, nightly lower back rubs, and a partner, because early on–while the baby is still dewy and wordless, while the mother is still bathed in her miraculous life-bearing aura, while the father is still awed by his heir–this is simply implied.
There is no uncomplicated way to explain the echoing loneliness, the cavernous absence, the awkward near-daily phone updates on their daughter’s development. At a time when her most intimate moments should be spent with her partner at the rail of a crib, whispering over the shared triumph of getting their colicky infant to rest, the last thing anyone suspects is that she’s calculating the appropriate time to wriggle free of her billowy blouses and pull on the form-fitting regalia attendant to getting back Out There.
Out There, with its speed dates and hookups and earnest long-term courtships, is no longer her scene–or if she is me, it never was. If she is me, she is practically hermetic, all her previous relationships casual and unconsummated, or in the case of this last, the result of happenstance, fondness, and, later, inertia. Every man she’s dated–and there have been less than a handful–was found in the places she most regularly frequents: school, work, church.
She doesn’t know how to meet them, otherwise.
Regardless, an unbidden desire to meet them has risen, like decomposing Lazarus improbably exiting his tomb.
She knows there is a link between this pining and her heart’s recently enlarged capacity for love. Love is emanating from her pores, insomuch that she runs the risk of becoming an unrepentant helicopter, hovering over her increasingly independent child, lifting her for hugs and kisses before she ever has the chance to ask for them. She needs a reservoir for the runoff; a dreamcatcher for the excess; a man who makes more sense within the context of a world that has reimagined her as someone’s mother.
And, there–there is the other rub: she is someone’s mother now. This necessarily changes everything.
If dating was a house of mirrors before, filled with misshapen images of herself and her possible suitors, dating with a child is a house of cards, full of false starts and toppled attempts to balance a new identity with an old one.
She will need to reconfigure her banter, curtail her nervous laughter, meet eyes and match their fervor, infuse all conversation with clarity. She can no longer be one for ambling. There is no time.
It has become apparent to her, in these twenty months she’s spent alone, that as the mother of a one-year-old, she will be treated as though she is unavailable. And in so many ways, she is. The best part of herself has been claimed, the bulk of her time accounted for.
What can she offer a prospective paramour, other than leftover love, the slivers of time per day that her daughter spends sleeping, the occasional phone call at dawn?
She must grow more.
It is impractical to desire a garden she has no space or time to tend. But what is life without the wildness of flowers, the sustenance of fruit and grain, the lushness and full spice of the herbs? And what will she do with the love overflowing these buckets, if not use it to water a series of promising seeds?
Her season of mourning has ended. A partner is not so readily implied of a mother with a toddler. Now, the wind has turned. The soil will yield to tilling.
How soon after the birth of a child do you think it’s acceptable to start dating again? Do you have any tips for newly single, new mothers?