When I first started to write this column — about what it’s like to date as a single mom — I was thrilled when my discourse took a dramatic turn: from single-mom-seeking to that of single-mom-finds-Mr. Right. I wanted to stand up and proclaim my new life adage: “See, you can live happily ever after!”
But my single parent readers saw right through me. And they were not very happy with me; maybe “outraged” is a better word. Ever since my daughter and I moved in last summer with the man I affectionately referred to as “the Israeli,” readers from across the country have emailed me to shake their fingers.
“I hope I’m not being too personal, but I was very surprised to read that you and Mae moved in with your boyfriend,” wrote one single mom in Chicago. “I realize you had her when you weren’t married, but aren’t you at all worried about Mae’s perception of this type of living arrangement, particularly as she gets older and starts thinking about male-female relationships of her own?”
She went on to tell me that she’d never move in with her guy unless they were married: “I owe it to my daughter to raise her in a totally respectful environment, and I won’t risk having her see another relationship fail unless it’s truly her stepfather and we’ve done everything possible to make it work.”
“How smart is it to move in with some guy to try it out?” wrote another single mom. “What if it doesn’t work out? The child in-between is going to be the most hurt if that happens. Put your child first and don’t move in until you marry.”
If you think that I’m going to stand up now and defend myself, you’re wrong.
Because things are not going well, and I have a terrible feeling that my readers might be right.
It’s like he’s getting all the perks of being married — home-cooked meals, his underwear cleaned and folded, a warm body in bed — and I get scraps of security and commitment. Sure, he’s a great playmate for my kid — they fart together and sing in Hebrew — but that makes me feel like I have two children. Our daily conversations sound like this:
Me: “I want this to work.”
Him: “I’m sorry, but it’s not working.”
Me: “But, honey, you’ve got to work on it, too–”
Him: “I gave up a long time ago. If it weren’t for Mae, I would’ve called it quits way back when.”
Me: “What do you mean ‘way back when?’ We’ve only been living together for four months.”
And this is precisely when I stop breathing and have what Yossi calls “an attack,” as in, “Rachel, you’re having an attack.”
He can see it coming, when my jaw goes tight and my eyes narrow, like a two-year-old before a tantrum. I huff and stomp out of the room.
“It’s not fair!” I scream. I’ve already been through this abandonment-hell one time — with Mae’s biological father seven years ago — and he can’t give up on me — and us — this easily.
I’m the kind of woman who loves fiercely to the end, holding onto the rope so tightly that my palms turn raw. I pound back into the room and ask if he can turn off the TV.
“Nothing I do is right,” he says. “You’re always angry at me.”
“I’m not attacking you,” I say. “I’m just asking if you’d give me a sign — just a little sign — that you want to work on our relationship.”
“I gave up a long time ago,” he says, again.
“How long ago?”
“The first time that you got mad at me.”
“But, Yossi, anger is a feeling, just like love. It’s a part of any relationship.”
“Stop attacking me,” he says.
To make matters worse, soon after we shacked up together, Yossi’s contracting business slowed down. I mean, really slowed down. As in, he was getting out-bid on all of his projects. Usually, work comes to a standstill in the winter, when it’s raining in the Bay Area and you can’t build. But it hasn’t picked up during the dry spells.
So, if you take a manly-man like Yossi — who, at age 45, is struggling with this new living situation since he has never been married or even lived with a woman — and now you take his paycheck away… Well, you end up with a guy who sits in front of the TV all day, watching the military channel, and goes outside only to smoke (Marlboros, of course.)
I still think that I can fix our relationship. But I sure can’t fix his self-esteem.
My single dad friend Peter Ehlrich in Toronto, Canada, who founded the site www.singleparentlovelife.com, wrote to me recently: “When you tell someone you love them, you’re actually giving them permission to hurt you. And if you’re a single parent, you’re giving that person permission to hurt you and your kid. But so what? Love takes courage. Living and breathing a courageous life is the only way to succeed in love and most anything else.”
But right now I don’t exactly feel very courageous. Crappy is more like it.
Some of you might be wondering what Yossi thinks about being the “subject” of this column; or if he reads it. He’s not much of a reader. I’ve left print-outs of the column on the kitchen table, but they soon get pushed under a pile of Mae’s artwork. When I’ve asked him if he’s curious, he says, “I just hope it’s all good.”
You’re probably also wondering how Mae is doing. After all, our mother-daughter bond is like a firmly knotted string bracelet. “You’re always my Number One,” I tell her every night. No matter what, she has to know this and feel this as long as our world is spinning. We climb into her princess bed on the top floor of the Tower, and I kiss the top of her head.
But even though Yossi and I aren’t arguing in loud voices, Mae senses the tension. Yes, she’s resilient, but I notice that she’s moodier lately. She’s having tantrums, too. Dare I say, like her mother?
“Sweetheart,” I told her recently, “you know how sometimes when you and a friend at school are having a hard time, and you need to find a better way to talk?”
She nodded her head.
Well, that’s what’s going on with Yossi and me,” I said. “And we’re trying to find a better way to communicate.”
“But why can’t you two just get along?” she asked.
And it’s a good question. But not one I know how to answer.