Things to Consider Before Dating a Single Parent

Recently I’ve been thinking about the specific issues that can come up in a relationship where someone without children dates a single parent, especially if that “someone” doesn’t have kids, themself. To be clear, I believe everyone deserves a loving, romantic relationship, even if it didn’t work out with the mother(s)/father(s) of their children. However, this situation comes with some inherent issues that should not be ignored.

The first thing to realize is that in order to be a good parent, they must put their child(ren) before you. If they don’t, you are dating a bad parent, which brings their character into question. You will never be first in their lives, although they are most likely first in yours, which means there is an imbalance in the relationship right from the start.

You’ll most likely be pressed into service, especially if the kids are young. There is very little chance you will not be expected to help out with the kids, at least on the weeks that your partner has them in his/her care. The younger they are, the more dependent and helpless, the likelier it is you will be called upon. Whether it’s to pick them up from school or watch them until your partner gets home from work, it is bound to happen. You will also often be expected to engage in activities that include taking the kids along, so dates might be at Chuck E. Cheese instead of a nice steakhouse.

Spontaneity will be difficult, if not impossible. No more spur-of-the-moment trips out of town or changing of plans. Child care plans, exact itineraries, and tight schedules will need to be adhered to always. Consistency and stability are important for children, and, like previously stated, their needs and wellbeing must be prioritized.

The younger the kid, the redder the flag the parents are not still together. The most serious thing you can do with someone is to bring a child into the world. If they made this decision with someone and then within a year or two there was a breakdown in the relationship, it probably means something very serious and sudden happened to end the relationship (like infidelity being uncovered or abuse beginning) or that they got scared of the commitment they had made. This could mean far-reaching implications for your relationship with them. It could mean there are some less-than-ideal character or personality traits lying dormant within them that could prove problematic for you down the line.

If you become close with the children, a break-up will be that much more painful. It’s one thing to break up with a person, another to break up with an entire family. If you have become close to the children, maybe even taken a parental role in their lives, and then you break up with their parent, you have no legal rights to any further contact with the children. The sudden and complete severing can be traumatic, not only for you, but for the children, as well.

If the other parent is still in the picture and the relationship between both parents is not amicable, it could spell trouble for your relationship. Regardless of how much the other parent is disliked, making a baby with someone means you will always be linked to them. Even after the children are adults, there will continue to be weddings, birthday parties, funerals, family reunions, other get-togethers, and grandchildren. Even just the added stress from drama with the other parent could mean a lost relationship for you.

For those in a monogamous relationship, there is always the chance your partner will end up getting back into a relationship with the other parent or starting up a sexual relationship with them again. After all, regardless of how they might feel about them now, at one point they had a sexual relationship with them and even felt close enough to bring a child into the world. That creates a special, spiritual connection between the two that shouldn’t be downplayed.

I personally do not date men with children. However, this is a personal choice and is not meant to be prescriptive. I think, especially for those who cannot have kids or do not want to add to the human population but want kids, it can be wonderful to meet a built-in, ready-made family. Keeping the above considerations in mind can help in deciding whether you are comfortable dating a single parent and, if so, help you traverse the most common pitfalls that can jeopardize your relationship.

Mental Illness Masks Personality

Does anybody else struggling with mental illness feel like they don’t know themselves? Like they know the minds of other people more intimately than their own? With obsessive-compulsive traits, past trauma, severe depression, and anxiety, I am finding it nearly impossible to know myself, although I’ve reached my late 30’s. I attempt to reach way back in time to childhood in order to grasp the essence of myself, before I was changed by my world, by the version of the world that was shown to me, the only world I knew, before it had time to make its mark. Then I realize even as a young child my mental health issues had already started to present, as the daughter of one parent diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder with histrionic traits and another codependent, weak parent and severe depression, as well. I consider the possibility I have never been me, but instead always a character crafted by my circumstances, experiences, and genetics. Does that take away my humanity? Aren’t animals simply results of their instincts and past owners? Am I really shy and introverted? Or is that the anxiety and depression masking a confident, extraverted personality? Am I pensive and contemplative, nerdy and “book smart”, or is that the obsession with my thoughts? Would I be more flaky and carefree? Am I a “born leader” or is that me desperately attempting to control my own life as well as those around me? Am I a committed advocate for social change, a good progressive, or simply addiction to the negativity I have come to know and expect, similar to my current addiction to food which has caused me to blow up to over 300 pounds?

Anyway, just some thoughts.

What it Means to Be an Adult

I’ve been thinking lately about what exactly it means to be an adult anymore. I don’t mean physically, either. It wasn’t that long ago that soon after reaching legal adulthood, people would marry, move out of their parents’ house, get their own place, and start having babies. However, for someone like me who has gone back to school in her 30’s, doesn’t want marriage or kids, and is currently living with her mother, what does it mean to be an adult and how should that look in my life?

I’m hardly alone. More people now than ever are going back to school later in life, choosing against marriage and kids (or doing those things later), and moving back in with family. I think it can be chalked up to more jobs requiring education past high school, inflation, stagnant wages, globalization, women enjoying more rights, and people having more freedom to travel and gain experiences before settling down.

Beyond this question, though, I ask myself why I feel I need to know these markers of adulthood. Am I uncomfortable there’s no measuring stick? Am I insecure in my lack of knowledge as to whether I meet some arbitrary (and currently unknown to me) societal standard? Am I judging myself? Is anybody else feeling this specific type of floatiness and drift and trying to feel the metaphorical bottom with their feet right now?

Using a Waterpik Changed My Life

I started using a Waterpik waterflosser a little over a year ago. I wanted to help ensure my gums were strong and not solely rely on flossing after going to the dentist and having it recommended to me. For the past 12 years or so I have had some gum recession on my upper gums along each side (like where vampire fangs would be), presumably from brushing too hard. It was especially bad on the right side. It was ugly, the exposed root was yellow, it was sensitive, and food would caught every time I ate. But I did not expect the Waterpik to fix that. To my shock, after 6-12 months of using it every day, I saw that my gum recession had all but disappeared. I wasn’t getting food stuck, and I wasn’t embarrassed of my appearance. Hardly any recession remained. Thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone wants to try this. I honestly had thought that at some point I’d have to pay for expensive skin grafting If I ever wanted to fix it. However, a $35 cordless Waterpik did the trick. Hope this helps someone!

The Internet is Radicalizing Us

As a kid of the 90’s, I often heard the adults around me (especially relatives) discussing politics and often not agreeing with each other on every single point. They were still able to respect each other and be together without hard feelings. Thanksgiving was tense. Attitude polarization, where group members’ attitudes tend to become more radical after speaking with likeminded people about the issue, and group polarization, where groups tend to become more radical in response to the specific inclinations of their members, are two related effects that can often be seen today. The ultimate goal, whether conscious or not, is groupthink, where the group thinks as a whole in order not to allow for any critical or skeptical voices. Logic and facts are often discarded if they do not line up with the group’s belief systems. Belief in conspiracy theories are common.

One example are incels. Men have always chased women and seen it as a boon or bruise to their ego depending upon women’s responses to them. There is nothing new about this, and a much lighter attitude used to be taken about the matter, with many romcoms being made about the subject. However, the incel movement, begun and strengthened online, is something much more sinister. Men who feel they have not gotten the attention from women they deserve claim they are “involuntarily celibate” and as a result, resentment towards women has grown. Where in the past, a man might have sought to improve himself in order to appeal to the opposite sex, the narrative has been changed to one that bashes and dehumanizes women. There have even been violent attacks carried out by those who proudly wear the “incel” title.

Another example are my parents, lifelong conservative Republicans. They have never been anti-vax. I got all of my vaccines growing up. And vaccines were not considered controversial (other than by a very few on the fringes), or even as political in nature. Vaccines save lives. We got vaccinated. No more thought than that was put into the issue. However, with the rise of Trump and anti-science rhetoric in general, my parents (my dad being a physician) have both decried the Covid shot. My mom, who already is in ill health, has decided to forgo getting it at all. She spends a lot of time on Facebook and follows many conservative pages and has many conservative “friends” posting anti-vax propaganda for her to read. In a different, earlier life she would have rejected all of it and chalked them up to being crazies. In this new world, where even adults are now subject to peer pressure via the internet and where anything in typed form is inherently imbued with legitimacy, the lines are much blurrier. Facts have been reduced to opinions, which can be rejected by will, and opinions have risen to the position facts used to hold.

Although I realize the two-party system is not ideal, I remember a time when there were only small differences between Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, those days are long past. Now each seems to have more radicalized fringes, and those fringes seem to be much more heavily populated. Bipartisanship is never the goal anymore, with those who even mention it being seen as soft and vacillatory.

Even I have been the victim (participant?) of radicalization. I find it harder and more uncomfortable than ever to teeter between two extremes or even to recognize extremes. I have to constantly question myself. Does this make sense? Is it backed by facts and logic, or simply emotion? Do I really believe this, or do I just want to feel completely aligned with those who do? If I stop believing this or start believing something different, am I scared I will lose something or somebody?

Your Life Purpose Might Not Be a Paying One

Something I try to remember is that my life purpose/calling might not be a paying venture. And when I say life purpose, I don’t mean the societally-created purpose you’re supposed to find for yourself, the hidden reason you’re on the earth (that coincidentally is always financially profitable), the one you’re supposed to spend your teenage years/ young adulthood searching for if you ever want fulfillment or satisfaction (or a consistent roof over your head). No, I’m talking the purpose you create for yourself based on your intimate self-knowledge, self-love, and self-understanding. I’m learning what excites, motivates, and stirs me might not pay me. What I’m the best at, where my strengths and abilities lie, might not be considered marketable, and therefore won’t pay me. I’m learning the millennia-old spark that magnifies purpose and belonging in each person’s heart is completely separate from the few-hundred-years’ old concept of capitalism. So if what I do for pay doesn’t necessarily speak to who I am, it’s all right. It’s not meant to speak to who I am or reflect who I am. Its purpose is much more humble.

Books I Read and Loved in 2021

Here are my favorite books I read in 2021, in no specific order. Please let me know if you’ve read any from my list and if you read any good books in 2021!

Fiction:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Don’t Look For Me by Wendy Walker

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Nonfiction:

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Humans by Brandon Stanton

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales

Think Again by Adam Grant

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing by Olga Mecking

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

On the Concept of Virginity

I realized recently that I can’t remember when I lost my virginity. I would have thought that realization would have a much bigger effect on me and feel like a real loss. However, it doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t remember exactly when I lost it (although I do remember with whom). It got me thinking about the significance we place on the loss of a girl’s/woman’s virginity. I was in my friend’s wedding a few years ago, and her sister made her maid-of-honor speech all about how lucky the husband-to-be was because he would be marrying a virgin and how wonderful her sister was for waiting. I felt incredibly uncomfortable about my friend’s lack of a “body count” being discussed for several minutes in front of all her family and friends. However, she was very religious, so I’m sure was viewing it from a different perspective, and she seemed to love the speech, which was really all that mattered in that moment.

Why do we say someone loses their virginity instead of gaining something? To me, this makes it sound as though it’s a rite of passage, chore, or duty a woman must go through, not something she enthusiastically chooses. Is it painted in a negative light to deter women from partaking, to shame them once they decide to “give in?” Granted, men are also said to “lose their virginity,” but the act is not perceived in the same serious, negative light nor loaded with the same often damning connotations. For these reasons, I try to remember to say “started having sex” instead of “lost my virginity,” which is more empowering — a decision I made instead of something that happened to me.

Virginity is not a physical or medical concept. There’s no medical test for virginity, although these are given to women, even young girls, in certain countries. One of these countries is the U.S., where it is legal for a physician to do an exam on a woman or even a girl for the primary purpose of checking her hymen. When you break it down, it is legalized sexual assault and quackery, considering those underage cannot give consent and the exam tells nothing of whether she is a virgin or not. These exams attempt to determine whether the hymen, the skin that often covers the vaginal opening, is still intact. However, the hymen can break in other ways, such as tampon usage, horseback riding, bicycling, or gymnastics. Boys’ sexual history is not nearly as discussed or worried over. Neither is it used as a basis of valuing a boy. Women’s sexuality is always being politicized.

Virginity is a religious concept designed to control women and their sexuality. In Abrahamic religions, a daughter is her father’s property until he finds an interested mate of whom he approves for marriage to his daughter. Traditionally, the woman has had little to no say concerning who she marries. Purity balls are father/daughter dances held by some Christians in which a girl (who in some cases hasn’t even hit her teens) makes a promise to her father she will not lose her virginity until marriage. Similar mother/son purity balls or any other formal ceremony in which boys pledge their chastity to their mothers, to my knowledge, do not exist.

Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, posits that men see women as either pure and virginal or slutty. This can be seen in the way a teenage girl who has had sex is often seen as “fast” or “loose”, while a woman who has entered her 20’s (and certainly her 30’s) without having sex is often considered frigid or a “bitch,” someone who is holding out on giving men the pleasure they deserve. This dichotomy has created generations of women who experience anxiety about losing their virginity, about seeming to come on too strongly, not coming on strongly enough, or passing their “expiration date” by losing it “too late.” By having sex with too many men and coming off “trashy” or by having sex with too few and coming off “weird”, “stuck-up”, “inexperienced”, or “difficult.” It seems, regardless of the timeline a woman feels is right for her regarding when to start having sex, and regardless of her best intentions, she cannot win and is destined to be marked inadequate and perhaps even conniving. I experienced this at 24 when I decided to have intercourse for the first time ever, in the first serious romantic relationship of my life. During that year-long relationship, I was accused of all of the following by my partner: being “frigid”, being (conversely) “a nymphomaniac”, and (by contrast, yet again) of not initiating sex as much as I should.

The concept of virginity seems to be loosely defined, putting a woman’s sexual status up for personal interpretation. Some consider a woman to have lost her virginity only after her vagina has been penetrated by a penis (an overtly heteronormative stance). Some consider any sexual activity, such as giving or receiving oral or being fingered, or the use of a dildo, as a loss of her virginity. Additionally, there are girls and women who have sexual activity forced on them against their wills. Some would still consider them to be virgins until they choose to have sex, some wouldn’t. For many young girls or women who have been forced to lose their virginity and taught it is a gift from God that can never be gotten back once lost, the trauma they face after their assaults is often much worse.

I would challenge anyone reading this to question the way in which we talk to girls about virginity and sex. Although losing your virginity to someone with whom you are in a committed relationship (if not marriage) is often considered the “gold standard,” this is often impossible for girls to reach. The average age of first sexual experiences in the U.S. is 17. Only a small portion of people stay for life with the same person to whom they lost their virginity. This is too high a burden to bear, and girls should not be taught that their virginity status in any way determines their worth as a human being. Boys are not seen as dirtied by sex, and by framing the act as dirtying women, we treat women as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and that loses value as she becomes “used.” It is up to each one of us to change the dialogue and thinking behind these concepts. One way I challenge the concept that a woman’s worth and character should be judged based on whether or not she has had sex (and if yes, how many partners she’s had) is by refusing to answer the question from a dating partner or potential dating partner: “How many partners have you had?” There is no upside to answering this, and the downsides are multitudinous. If your answer is more than they want to hear, you’re a whore. If it’s fewer, you’re a prude or stuck-up. In either case, you have legitimized the question and its underlying misogyny just by answering it.

What do you think? Have you considered this topic? As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the matter!

Ego Depletion

Ego depletion occurs when stress causes a lack of self-restraint. For example, when I am working a stressful job, it is harder for me to choose healthful food over food I like better, but that might not be good for me. I might have had customers yelling at me all day, coworkers or bosses mistreating or belittling me, or a workload that didn’t allow me to take adequate breaks to recharge. The allure of something comforting after a day like that is a lot stronger in this context than the allure of giving my body what it needs, such as healthful food. Hence, the stressors in your life can have a very real and very negative effect on other seemingly-unrelated parts of your life. You might be more prone to yell at your partner or kids. Instant gratification becomes an urge too strong to fight due to ego depletion. One way I have found helpful in combatting this is to prepare. For instance, knowing how you are likely to feel after a hard day, you might have a healthy dinner already prepared for yourself so that you’re less likely to eat junk food.

In what ways have you experienced ego depletion in your life, and how do you combat it?

On Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Emotions

A painful lesson I’m trying to learn is that I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions. I’m trying not only to learn and understand, but also to believe, that as long as I do right by people — by not violating their rights or acting unnecessarily cruel — that I am fulfilling my end of the social contract with my fellow human beings. It is just really hard when faced with close relatives who harbor unreasonable expectations about what a relationship with me should look like. I have always felt a need to be a solution-finder and peacekeeper, and the mental and emotional toll of needing to keep people happy and trying to stabilize their extreme reactions can be overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Anybody else going through the same thing?