Getting that Long-Distance thing to Work?
January 22, 2010 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Long-distance single parent dating filter: if we really, really like each other, why is there this problem?

I've posted about this relationship before and have a bit of a follow-up question. As briefly as possible, we're both single parents (I have teens, he has a 10yo) living a few hours apart, began dating several months ago and we both are very happy together and want this to continue.

Because I have responsible teens and a car (and we've discussed this), we decided it makes more sense for now that I do the traveling to his city to get together, and we've been getting together once a week for an overnight. When I visit, his daughter has always been with us (with one 2-hour exception and when she's asleep, we've had some mind-blowing adult time).

The problem? He feels unhappy that we can't get alone adult time and our dates involve his kid being around or fooling around with one eye on the door. And I completely understand this. I also completely understand that he's in love with me and wants this to work (he also wants his daughter to understand that I'm going to be around for a while, so he's not trying to hide me).

But I also get that if we try to work around the kids, we'll never see each other. He may not have come to terms with this yet.

Because of the nature of his job and limited childcare support (other than someone who watches his kid in the afternoons til 6, and he's desperately trying to find someone else), it's difficult for him to take a day off work to come to see me (but he has offered to) or leave her somewhere for an overnight. Again, I'm okay with this.

About a month ago we had a conversation about whether or not I should visit that weekend; he mentioned that he loves me and wants us to work but feels terrible about these dates that involve his kid and us having adult time while she's sleeping down the hall. He said he just wants us to have genuine grownup dates where there are no kids, we can drink, stay out all night and let loose.

I told him I understood but also was really just happy being together regardless of who was in the room with us; so he said as long as I was okay with it, to come visit. I did and it was fine.

But last night we had a replay of that same conversation: he wants adult time and is feeling frustrated by these dates where his kid is a stone's throw away. He said he would do whatever he could to come up and visit me this week and that's fine.

I do want this work, but I can't tell...what's going on in his head that I'm not getting?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total)
I think he wants adult time without kids and that it might be as really simple as that. Even non-single parents struggle to get adult time with each other.

And this may be out of line and it may be that you're not ready to have your kids meet each other yet, but if you were, could, say, once a month your responsible teens watch his daughter? Or might your responsible teens know of anyone who babysits and could watch his daughter in your home if he'd be comfortable with that while you guys were out?
posted by zizzle at 3:22 AM on January 22, 2010

fooling around with one eye on the door
Assuming that's literal, a little bolt on the door wouldn't hurt.

But more generally, he has a kid. You have kids. He needs to learn that having kids and having a grown-up relationship are not mutually exclusive. Adults with at-home children generally don't stay out all night drinking; they have plenty of other avenues for fun, some involving children and others involving time alone.

Perhaps his only previous experience of dating was going to bars and clubs. Or, more likely, perhaps it's the idea of having his daughter so close by when he's doing all those squicky adult things with you that's bothering him. I mean, what would she think if she knew what was going on just down the hallway?

Whatever the problem is, you need to sit down with him and discuss how you both feel about his hangups and what you plan to do about them. Avoidance is not really an option for adults.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:36 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think you should take this personally, because I think it's more about him than about you or your relationship. A small part of him regrets having the responsibilities that come with parenthood. I suspect this would be true if he were with another woman (so it's not you) or even if he were not dating.

It might be a red flag (how would he feel if you two married and so his parental responsibilities expanded?), but not a red flag on how he feels about you.
posted by Houstonian at 4:16 AM on January 22, 2010

It took me three reads through your post to understand what the heart of the problem is, which is that he doesn't just want "adult alone time, but that he defines that as the freedom to "stay out all night and let loose."

And well--that's a tough thing to do for any parent! I think it would be helpful to come to a more realistic expectation of what "date nights" look like for parents. He would be faced with this same difficulty if you two were in the same town, or married, or if he were married to the mother of his daughter. He's not going to be able to find some other, different relationship where miraculously he *is* going to be able to stay all night drinking!

More realistically, it should be all that difficult for you to simply visit him in his town and find a babysitter for a few hours so you can at least get out on a proper date by your lonesomes (then go back to his place, tuck princess into bed, and have quiet, non-monkey sex if that's your wont). That's certainly less complicated than trying to find an overnight babysitter, which seems to have been the focus of his sitter-procuring efforts, if I understand correctly.

If what he's really asking for is wild monkey sex without Monkey Jr. sleeping down the hall, there are a couple of options that occur to me: (1) would it be possible for you to come up early on a Friday afternoon and for him to get off work a couple hours early, before princess gets out of childcare? Alternatively, you could plan a "date night" as in the paragraph above and spend your $50 on a hotel room rather than dinner-anna-movie--even if you do have to be home by midnight lest the carriage turn back into a pumpkin.

As far as him visiting you at your place--you might point out to him that he'd simply be trading the princess sleeping down the hall, for three teens down the hall, probably *not* sleeping, and furthermore fully cognizant of exactly what you two are up to. That's way more awkward and inhibiting, IMHO.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 5:22 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am completely confused as to which part of this you're not understanding. He wants more sexy time with you. That's a good thing. He feels inhibited by his kid's presence. That's an understandable thing. If he can't find childcare and won't take a day off of work, he would have this exact same problem with a woman who lived down the street from him, so it has nothing to do with you.

So what's your question?
posted by desjardins at 5:22 AM on January 22, 2010

The whole dating thing probably makes him feel all young again, but there's this constant reminder that he's not that free-wheeling young gentleman anymore, and that dissonance is affecting his ability to just be happy with the relationship. The "stay out all night and let loose" is a key thing here -- that's how twenty-one-year-olds date, with no responsibilities or limitations; he may need to adjust his expectations of "dating", separate from the kid issue.

And, married or not, long-distance-relationship or not, you're two adults with kids who want to spend alone time together -- people have been figuring how to do that for centuries. Hire a babysitter, drop the kid off with grandma and grandpa, try and line up visitation weekends, it's not hard, but it takes a little work. I had a very similar long-distance relationship a few years back, me with a 7-year-old daughter, her with two kids, and we found plenty of time to be together by letting other people watch the kids once in a while. Now we're married, so it can work out.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:23 AM on January 22, 2010

His daughter's twelve. She's more than old enough to sleepover friends' houses. Maybe you and him could talk to some of her friends' parents about switching off on sleepovers every so often (it will be more likely to happen if you guys are willing to host, too). That way, you get to be dad's cool girlfriend who buys us pizza, or what not, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:37 AM on January 22, 2010

I don't think you should take this personally, because I think it's more about him than about you or your relationship

Spot on.

He said he just wants us to have genuine grownup dates where there are no kids, we can drink, stay out all night and let loose.

What parent doesn't long for this? But there is nothing genuine or grown-up or realistic about it. Grown-ups who have small children are lucky to have dinner together once and a while. He has a 10 year old for crying out loud. If he hasn't figured this out by now, when?

I mean if you can't get busy with the sound of Barney singing in the next room, you're not trying very hard.

he wants adult time and is feeling frustrated by these dates where his kid is a stone's throw away.

It seems he sees his relationship with you as an escape from his life as a parent - which is OK in small doses - but if you two have any future he has to see (and act as if) your relationship as an integral part of his life as a parent.
posted by three blind mice at 5:51 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds pretty simple to me: it's exactly what he's told you. It sounds like he could be bringing it up several times for any or all of the following reasons:

1. Frustration and the need to vent.

2. Worries that you're being very nice about it but are maybe irritated about the situation, so he wants to give you an opportunity where you feel safe to say so by bringing it up himself. (This made me think that: "he said as long as I was okay with it, to come visit.") It sounds like he feels that he's to blame, especially since you're the one having to travel to see him and whatnot, and he wants you to at least know that he's not some oblivious jerk and that he feels bad about it. Since it sounds like he's genuinely into you, he's probably worried you'll get annoyed with the lack of adults-only time and leave.

3. Probably the vain hope that if you talk about it enough, one of you will get some miraculous idea that will cure everything.

I would just be patient with him, keep reassuring him that you knew what dating another single parent would be like, and if you happen to think of any good ideas mention them. It might be helpful to come out and say, "You're not feeling regretful on my behalf, are you? Are you worried I'll leave you or something?"
posted by Nattie at 6:08 AM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wait, is the daughter 10 or 12? In the previous post you said she was 12. Either way, though, she's still old enough to spend the night with a friend every once in awhile.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:03 AM on January 22, 2010

Mod note: comment removed - smalltext "use birth control" comments have no place here, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:04 AM on January 22, 2010

And, looking back through your questions, it appears that you have a 10-year-old, too. Is it safe to assume that your 10 year old is being watched by his older sisters? While I agree that it might still feel early to introduce them, it seems to me like pooling childcare resources might be the best option (I'd also posit that it's a bit unfair to your ten year old to have you gone once a week while you're with his child, though with your older girls, being teenagers, I'm sure they don't mind so much).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:11 AM on January 22, 2010

Because of the nature of his job and limited childcare support (other than someone who watches his kid in the afternoons til 6, and he's desperately trying to find someone else), it's difficult for him to take a day off work to come to see me (but he has offered to) or leave her somewhere for an overnight.

Well, then, if he's in the process of trying to find someone else, then....he's doing everything right to solve the situation. It sounds more like he's just trying to figure this puzzle out, and he just makes noise while he's thinking.

About all I can see you can do here is remind him that really he just needs a couple of phone numbers for once-in-a-blue-moon-type babysitters as opposed to coming up with A Regularly Scheduled Game Plan, which is what it sounds like he's trying to do ("I need to find someone who can watch my daughter EVERY Friday night" vs. "I just need someone who can watch my daughter THIS ONE Friday night"). I have a hunch that even just one night away with you will do wonders, and he just needs to find an occasional babysitter for that rather than a regular one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2010

A friend's dad once gave the following pearl of wisdom about finding time for sexiness whilst having kids: "Thank you, god, for inventing Grandmas."

I don't know if his kid has grandmas who are available for babysitting, but at ten years old, the kid will start having sleepovers with friends, and other times when Dad doesn't need to be a few steps down the hall. This doesn't mean all the time, but once in a while, it's ok to indulge in imagined irresponsibility, as long as someone you trust has temporary charge of the kids.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:18 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should enlighten him to the fact that everyone who has younger siblings has probably been down the hall at home while their parents were having sex.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:21 AM on January 22, 2010

This could be way off base, but have you considered that maybe he could line up more childcare if he tried harder, but that there's some underlying guilt involved about cutting into the time he spends with her?

(Also, my house is on the smaller side, so whatever you're doing around here is pretty much a few steps down the hall from anyone else no matter what. I know everyone is going "OMG, he needs to get over it, your parents were having sex down the hall when you were a kid!" But I would feel pretty awkward about having some strange-ish person here and then getting busy with my daughter being on the other side of the wall. I mean, it's pretty much like 10 inches from her head. Some people are just more private like that. Sometimes I don't even like pooping in my own bathroom when I have guests over in case they can hear what's going on in there.)
posted by howrobotsaremade at 7:41 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It makes total sense that he wants more time without her to just focus on you. People in new relationships often withdraw even from their friends for awhile to focus on one another. The "honeymoon" is a well-established custom.

(If this was part of him constantly associating being with you with escaping reality or responsibilities, then I'd worry what it might be like when those return. But it's not, since he's continued to fulfill responsibilities while you've come to him.)

I think it's totally normal and if anything, I'm curious about why you're looking at this as a problem instead of as a good thing (he wants more time with you), a fun idea (ooh, a trip), or just a random desire of his that you want to be supportive of.
posted by salvia at 7:46 AM on January 22, 2010

I don't mean that last part in a bad way, and just realized that you're not actually saying it's a problem, just that it's something he keeps bringing up that you don't understand.
posted by salvia at 8:00 AM on January 22, 2010

Can you both take time off and have adult fun in the daytime?
posted by theora55 at 9:43 AM on January 22, 2010

Can you plan a weekend trip together, and have the kids do whatever they would normally do if you had to go away for a couple days on business, or some other errand? Who would his kid stay with if he was called out of town for some reason? Have the kids bunk up with friends or family for a couple days, and have a getaway where you can both feel truly footloose and fancy free. That doesn't solve his wistfulness problem of wanting to live large and be young again, but it would be a fun thing to look forward to and fun to do, and would demonstrate that adults can plan for and enjoy adult times without kids if they work it into their lifestyle with soem forethought.
posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on January 22, 2010

I find his reluctance to solve this issue puzzling.

It's really not all that difficult to find someone to take the kid - she's in school and has friends (sleep-overs?), I'm sure he must have some friends or support system, etc. - somehow he could have worked this out by now to accommodate "adult time."

Since he's the one bringing it up.... look there. Are there other areas of his life where he complains instead of just fixing the problem?

This is how it reads to me. It's just weird he keeps harping on it instead of solving it.
posted by jbenben at 11:33 AM on January 22, 2010

By jove i think I've got it!

Great news daughter! You are going to SUMMER CAMP!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by ian1977 at 11:37 AM on January 22, 2010

Okay, this makes sense...I'm looking for problems where there aren't any...
posted by dzaz at 11:50 AM on January 22, 2010

I don't know - it seems like there IS a problem; for him, in figuring out how to balance parenting with romance. And you're bearing the burden of his problem for him by doing all this driving. Are you OK with the inherent unfairness and all the anxiety in your relationship?
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on January 22, 2010

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