Is it possible to just be not cut out for relationships?
July 15, 2020 3:16 AM   Subscribe

I’m a widowed parent and family members are pressuring me to get back in the game. I don’t want to. I’m not sure I ever will. Is this more common than I think?

Longer explanation: I dated here and there in my 20s but nothing serious. Met husband in early 30s, and he was my only serious relationship. He died unexpectedly when babe was small. Kiddo and I have been on our own for three years and family is starting to agitate for me to ‘get back out there.’ I am feeling a profound ‘meh’ on that.

I’m finding that while I enjoyed the intimacy and companionship when I had it, I’m not pining away for it now. Maybe I just don’t feel as much sexual desire as some people? I also really like having my autonomy. There were things husband and I disagreed on. Now I get to choose everything. We used to argue about time with extended family, and level of religious observance. It’s nice to make decisions like this without needing to negotiate that. Last summer, I bought a couch. I didn’t have to ask anyone or get their opinion or permission.

These might seem like petty things, but I see what my mom friends with partners fight about with their husbands, and I just don’t want to. I don’t want to fight with someone about leaving out the dirty dishes, or nag them to spend five minutes playing with their own kid. I’ve read about emotional labour and the presumption of the default parent. That’s me now. I do everything. And to be honest, it’s easier to just do it myself than deal with the stress and aggravation of nagging someone else to do it. I didn’t realize how much that ‘negotiation’ bothered me until I suddenly didn’t have to do it.

My marriage was a good one, overall, and I sincerely loved my husband and miss him. But I just genuinely feel like I’m not feeling a huge calling to get back into that sort of relationship again. If it comes my way, then I would explore it. But I don’t feel pulled to seek that out. And the family pressure to do so is unwelcome because of that.

So, there’s nothing wrong with me , right? Or is there?

(I see a therapist and have that resource available to me. We’ve mostly been dealing with my postpartum mental health and how that all got effed up when the baby’s daddy left us, so this hasn’t come up too much)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Nope, nothing wrong. There's no reason to do something you don't want to do. Relationships are tons of work, and anyone who says differently is lying to you. There's just some people in the world who other people decide are worth the effort of building long term relationships. You don't have actually do that or look for that if you don't want to. There are plenty ways to have a fulfilling life without dating or marrying.Take gentle care of you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:30 AM on July 15, 2020 [44 favorites]

Seconded. And speaking as someone who did use to enjoy dating back in my pre-married pre-kids days, the idea of trying to date with a young kid is exhausting to me and I would, in your situation of relative contentment, almost certainly not bother unless someone genuinely interesting presented themselves actively into my life.

If you change your mind at some point then fine, but this to me is like your relatives hassling you to like, buy a brand new car or move house? Not their business, I'm sure it's coming from a place of care however misguided, but please do your thing how you like and whenever you like.
posted by greenish at 3:50 AM on July 15, 2020 [13 favorites]

I don't see anything wrong with this. My situation is somewhat similar. I've never been married and I don't have kids, but I'm also a heterosexual woman not actively looking for a relationship. I have a fairly low libido, need quite a bit of alone-time, enjoy being able to make certain decisions without having to coordinate with someone else first and like being able to prioritize family and friends.

Sometimes I miss the excitement of romance - it does have a way of making you see the world in a completely different light and that can be a valueable experience; I like my life as it is a lot, but there's a temptation to become too settled in my ways, and romance can be a good way to shake things up a bit - and I guess I would be open to it, should Amor's arrow strike. But I'm not going to go out of my way to make it happen (so it probably won't; there are no eligible bachelors in my current circle of friends; I do sometimes do stuff to meet new people because new people are stimulating, but these new people are usually women, because my hobbies don't attract a lot of guys).

Sure, maybe part of my reluctance to put my self out there is fear of rejection/intimacy. I certainly have my issues. But they're not stopping me from having sufficiently fullfilling relationships with family and friends, so while certainly something worth working on, I just don't feel a great sense of urgency. I don't see a point in throwing myself at someone just to prove to myself that I'd dare.

I mean, one of the reasons I would not go bungee-jumping, is certainly my fear of heights, but that's not a sufficient motivation to go bungee-jumping, when I have countless other hobbies that give me more tangible pleasure.

I also doubt that fear of rejection/intimacy would be much of a factor in your case - you put yourself out there, got yourself a man, had a good marriage, you've been there, you've done that, you know what you're missing out and also what you're getting instead, you have all the information you need to make a well-considered choice. I would jump at anyone's throat who'd dare suggest there's anything wrong with that.
posted by sohalt at 3:53 AM on July 15, 2020 [16 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with you. There are many people in this world, including me, who envy your autonomy, and your ability to buy a couch without a long debate (years-long, in my case).

I would print out what you wrote above, and hand it out to the next family member who thinks they know what's best for you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:38 AM on July 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

Quite apart from the completely normal desire to be single, there’s an additional complication because it’s not like you chose to be single. I’m sure you still have quite a bit of emotion surrounding the loss of your husband, some of which is even subconscious. It’s really damn hard to date again while processing that, even if you want to. Tell your relatives to back off. You’ve been through an experience that would wreck most people, and you seem to still be a functioning adult. You deserve credit for that, not pressure to do even more.

But yeah, not wanting to date, especially when you have kids, is totally normal. My mom hasn’t dated in like 25 years. I doubt I’d date again if my wife and I split up. Not weird at all.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:48 AM on July 15, 2020 [26 favorites]

I'm in danger of becoming an AskMe one-trick-pony on this theme atm, but what the hell...

Nope, nothing wrong with you at all, but we do live in a society that puts massive cultural weight on being partnered as the One True Path to Happiness, especially for women. I'd be the first to admit that being long-term single wasn't how I saw my life panning out, but I'm now 45 and my last relationship is a way behind me, and it turns out my life is very pleasant, simple, peaceful and enjoyable. I think it's only now I've reached an age that's past the era of feeling like my life should be all about finding a partner and having children, that I notice what a huuuuge cultural trope it is, how many people dedicate their lives to it (or stay stuck in abusive relationships because they fear the stigma and horror of being single, as several recent threads on the green will atest). There are virtually no cultural models out there that suggest that singledom can be anything other than a lack, rather than a positive personal choice.

I know I probably am missing out on a lot of good things that come with relationships, but here I am in the situation I find myself, and it turns out it's not the vale of sorrow and anguish that the world promised me. I don't really feel like I should be wandering around like a wraith-like sad spinster just to please the world, or forcing myself to go on endless first dates so that other people feel like I'm doing life right.

I'm awaiting the delivery of this book, which sounds like an absolute hoot, and which you might enjoy. Since I don't have it yet, I can't vouch for it directly but maybe if you read it and like it you could get your family members a copy? In the meantime, a proper sit down with them to spell out "I know you think I should be dating, but it's a personal choice for me not to - I'm very happy with my life right now" might at least head off their fear that you're sad and lonely. I think sometimes people just want to tick you off their mental list of people they should be worrying about, and they think you having a partner who can help you deal with life would allow them to do that.
posted by penguin pie at 4:56 AM on July 15, 2020 [21 favorites]

I don't see anything in your situation that would benefit from the addition of a man for its own sake, and I am feeling prickly on your behalf at the idea of others agitating for you to do something you don't affirmatively want to do, especially something so personal and potentially life-changing. Your life is yours, and their discomfort with your situation is theirs.
posted by lampoil at 4:58 AM on July 15, 2020 [21 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with you! And trying to find a relationship before you want to will be a frustrating waste of time for you, and honestly it wouldn't be fair to the people you might go on dates with, or to yourself! And why waste your precious minutes on a project of the heart that's focused on pleasing other people's ideas of what your life should be?

It's okay if you never want another relationship, but life is long, and as you already know, is full of surprises, so you don't have to worry about "forever". If and when your feelings change, you can change what you're doing, but until then, you're the expert on what you want and need in your life, and let me be among the people waving big pompoms and cheerleading about you centering your voice as the guide to how you live your life.
posted by spindrifter at 5:04 AM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Good for you for not giving in to the expectation that you must be coupled to be complete, and that a child is necessarily better off with two parents than with one. There is overwhelming evidence to the contrary on both counts.

Plus it is so important for your kid to see you listening to and valuing yourself!
posted by headnsouth at 5:08 AM on July 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

Relationships really are a ton of effort and I’ve found myself really relishing not having to be up and front constantly with another human being. I miss certain elements of coupling and romance but when I think about all that comes with it once the honeymoon phase fades I similarly become “meh.” I may have also just had a run of bad relationships though, who knows. Either way, it’s best to go about in life not worrying about other people’s wants and expectations for us whether it is dating or careers or I dunno spin the wheel.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:30 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Absolutely nothing wrong with you.

...and your family needs to butt the fuck out.
posted by notsnot at 5:38 AM on July 15, 2020 [16 favorites]

Nthing what others have said above. Enjoy your agency. There is a history of women who could afford it choosing to remain single, but it is not exactly venerated. In Western Europe, for example, many women who were widows and could afford it became nuns in order to continue to live a single life. Many daughters who were in wealthy classes were dedicated to monasteries in order to live a life apart from the dangers of childbirth and abusive husbands. Unfortunately, a lot of marginalized women had much more oppressive outcomes. There is a lot of pressure on women to stay in that marital or coupled relationship. Enjoy your freedom and agency.
posted by effluvia at 5:59 AM on July 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with you!

I think it may be time for a script. You know your family best, so just pick something to say over and over and over again. If it were my family, it would be something like, "It's sweet of you to think of me. But I'm not there yet- let's talk about something else."
posted by Mouse Army at 6:12 AM on July 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

If you're on Facebook, there's a group set up by Bella DiPaulo who writes a lot about singles issues, the group name is "Community of Single People". Lots of chat and support there for those who choose to live the single life. One thing that comes up from time to time is that deciding to be single for the moment doesn't mean a lifetime commitment - if someone comes into your life who really knocks your socks off you can change your mind. But definitely lots of people are better off single than in a ho-hum relationship.
posted by AuroraSky at 6:18 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah man even when relationships are fun and beautiful and amazing they are also just so. much. work. There are people out there who find partners so perfect and sympatico that the whole endless negotiation thing isn't an issue, but wow that seems like huge luck of the draw and a factor of your baseline temperament, too. Woof.

If you'd come here saying you'd met someone who you just wanted to be around all the time and they were so fantastic and wonderful BUT you were comfortable and settled and didn't want to date on principle, the advice here would probably be a little different. But that's not the case, and look at the level of consensus you've gotten! Your family loves you but they're being jerkasses. Feel free to ignore them, they just don't know what the hell they're talking about.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yep. You're doing just fine.

I've been cheerfully single for 15 years now and I've found that often, family members will still bring this up not because anything I do or say indicates that I'd be happier with a partner, but simply because these family members have no idea what else to talk about.
posted by mochapickle at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

Completely normal. There are benefits to being single and it’s normal to enjoy them

Dating and romance are supposed to be fun. If they’re not fun for you, you have no obligation.

Also, it’s not like you have to choose whether or not to be single for the rest of your life. You can change your mind at any point, and give dating or a relationship another try. Or not

This really is an area of life where you should follow your heart. And if your heart is telling you to enjoy the life and relationships you have now, then that is not only valid, that is a very healthy and happy thing
posted by rue72 at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is nothing wrong with you for not being ready now. There will be nothing wrong with you if you’re never ready. There will be nothing wrong with you if your think you will never be ready and then you meet someone and change your mind. I would just caution you to make sure you have a good support system of friends and family and people you can rely on to give you a break when you need one. It would be especially nice if kiddo had another adult role model that could be counted on. But you are totally good for never seeking out another partner if you don’t want to.
posted by Night_owl at 6:33 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

what mochapickle said. Remember that you're the only one who has your own welfare as her main priority.

Everyone else might or might not have ideas about it, but mostly they're just making conversation.

Don't worry about it, you're fine, and as someone said above, dating while single-parenting is... often a minefield and very possibly more trouble than it's worth even for people who do want to do it. You're lucky, you don't feel conflicted about it. Concentrate on your little family and enjoy the privacy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hi Anon,

I’m in similar circumstances and feel the same way.

I have thrived - found myself, strength, and peace -in the toughest times on my own & I cannot imagine disturbing any of that for myself or for my children.

Inasmuch as one example can prove what is common or normal, I say it is common and normal to feel this way. Or more generally, you have this internet stranger’s permission to be confident in your life decisions. You are doing amazing work. Good luck out there!
posted by this-apoptosis at 6:53 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nothing wrong with you.

I'm engaged and in a happy relationship right now. Couldn't possibly have chosen a person more compatible and wonderful. That said, there are things I miss about being single from time to time but I prefer being partnered to this person over being single. It took a long, long, long time to find someone who I could say that about.

Being partnered can be great. Being single can be great. If you're happy, you feel fulfilled and don't feel like you're missing anything big by not having a partner then you're not missing anything big by not having a partner.

You can tell your well-meaning family & friends that if you ever need or want their input on dating again, you'll ask, but until then you don't need to revisit the topic. Ever. Feel free if they bring it up again to change the topic or simply refuse to address it.

Enjoy your life how you see fit. You only get the one, enjoy it.
posted by jzb at 7:11 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Nothing wrong with you.

Anecdotally, going by my mother's experience as a widow and that of a good number of her friends, it's pretty common to not want to get back in the game. Not that there's any regret for having been married, but they've done it, that part is over now, and they're enjoying reinventing themselves. In many cases, these widows are on their own really for the first time in their lives, getting to make their own uncompromised choices, and loving it.

You get to do what's right for you and your kiddo. Enjoy!
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:32 AM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Adding to the chorus of there's nothing wrong with you. What I do see wrong is the pressure that your family is putting on you, which results in you thinking that there's something wrong with you and that you're not cut out for relationships! No, just no. Just want to emphasize that YOU make the choices about your dating life and life in general, no one else gets to. Your family can buzz off in that regard (no disrespect to them!).

Here's a good Captain Awkward post that deals with a similar issue. The LW isn't in the exact same position as you, but the key takeaway is: boundaries. (which is the case with all Captain Awkward posts :)
posted by foxjacket at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

There is something wrong with your family putting pressure on you to do something you do not want to do. The issue is with your family members, not you.
posted by bedhead at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Some people literally can’t imagine a life path unlike their own; even if they’re not happy in theirs, it worries them when everyone isn’t fitting into their own idea of how things go. In the right mood I can view these people with light sympathy because their ideas are so narrow and they just want all the puzzle pieces to fit for you, bless their hearts.
posted by kapers at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Anecdotally, it’s usually the people in the worst marriages who insist everyone’s gotta pair off. Presumably that’s one reason they stay—they can’t imagine not pairing off so even a bad pair is better than a good single. Again, bless.
posted by kapers at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

You are fine, people are difficult.

You are allowed to set and insist on boundaries around this, you will have to choose the methodology and tone that you think will work with them. I personally would go with something like, "Okay, you've said it, I have registered your vote. It doesn't need to be said again." You can add, "I'm sure you worry because you care, but we're happy and it's okay." You also get to draw a very clear boundary around "If you ever say that in front of my child, you won't get a second opportunity to do so."

You know, this kind of question is fine for a close friend to say to you, or your therapist - a person in your life who already has the role of "person you process your own thoughts and feelings with" because they're offering you the idea to embrace or reject rather than telling you what to do.

People outside that confidant zone who ask these questions are either making assumptions of intimacy with you that they don't deserve OR they have an agenda, even if they don't realize it*. You can tell people you don't owe them that conversation or details about your feelings, and you can also tell them that they should spend less time figuring out your life for you (in part because this stuff very often comes out of other people gossiping about you and deciding without your input how you should live your life, and mistaking that conversation for one in which you need to be drawn in).

*I do think a lot of people walk around right on the edge of financial or emotional insolvency in a way that being unpartnered is or seems extremely precarious, and that is probably where some people's anxiety comes from, in which case this is more about them than you. You don't owe them a bank statement or anything, and you can't really talk them out of feeling that way for themselves. It may be that all you can say there is, "Hey, we're okay. We're safe, as much as anybody can be, even without another adult."
posted by Lyn Never at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Single parenting is HARD, YO and it is completely legit if that's where all of your energy and preferences go.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hey, just nth-ing that there's nothing wrong with you. I have followed a very similar path to you except that I don't have a kid and my husband is alive, but he has an illness with a 5% 5-year survival rate (we're 18 months in). I'm in my early 40s. I love my husband and I love being married to my husband but being married/in a relationship in a general kind of sense is not something I care for much or see myself seeking out again in the future.

Also sometimes we joke about me being able to get whatever couch I want when he dies. I guess a couch is a big honking symbol of compromise or autonomy that just sits right in the middle of your living room.
posted by mskyle at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

There's absolutely no reason why you should get into another relationship if you're happy on your own, and I would use the advice in this thread to set boundaries with the people in your life who are pushing you to find someone.

I will just comment though on something that stood out for me. In your post the reasons you give for not wanting to be in another relationship are all geared to marriage/living together. Maybe just dating and living apart could work for you -- you get companionship/intimacy, but still get to choose your own couch and otherwise run your household as you please. There's no need to even date if you don't want to, but I thought I'd just point out that a new relationship needn't involve the kind of commitment and interdependence that you had in your marriage.
posted by orange swan at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

You're fine. I promise. Reading all the other replies has been wonderful, so I wanted to add my voice to the chorus as another single-by-choice person. I'm not in your situation -- I don't have a child and have never been married -- but I haven't seriously dated in...years? About to turn into a decade? I am not very good at dating, and I am so happy and fulfilled and did I mention happy being single. I wouldn't turn down a romantic relationship, but I truly cannot imagine sharing a living space with another human being at this point, for example. Lots of people live in lots of different ways, and there's nothing at all wrong with you for wanting to be done with all that.

(You may also be asexual and/or aromantic. If you're interested in a community, or general talking about what it means to be aro or ace, that might be something worth dipping into. But, I mean, it's not exactly required.)
posted by kalimac at 9:26 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

After my first husband died and I was alone for a little while, I realized how much I loved being alone. It IS so nice to just buy the couch you want.

I realized that I was going to have to be more deliberate about getting back into dating if I wanted to pair off again, because it was just too easy and nice to stay on my own.

I'm married again now, but ugh it's harder now that I've had that greener grass of happy solitude. (It was very different than being single in my early 20s. Getting to do whatever you want when you've actually figured out what you want is ... addictive.) I suspect I'd be equally happy either way. I delight in my independence, but I also love having someone to cook dinner and watch Netflix with. I'll always have "what if"s on either side of that fence.

You don't want to be dating right now, so don't. I think this is worth talking about in therapy eventually to tease out whether there's anything here that you do want to change.
posted by katieinshoes at 10:29 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

So, there’s nothing wrong with me , right? Or is there?

You're fine! I mean, obviously, give yourself a bit of a reality check and make sure you're not pulling away from all human interactions because you're secretly depressed or otherwise avoidant (always a good idea and hey you have a therapist who could help with this if you became concerned) but yeah, you're good. I am in a long term, long distance, relationship. It's been a little stressful because of COVID and yet, it's the relationship that I want, even though we haven't been able to see each other at a closer distance than six feet for months. People, early on, kind of interfered "When are you moving in together? When are you getting married?" and I told them that I would let them know but neither were really in the cards right now.

Sometimes it helps people feel better about their own path to know that they're walking it with everyone else. Sometimes people are just really happy with their situation and have a hard time getting their head around the idea that others may derive pleasure from other things. Occasionally, rarely, people may see things in you that you don't, so it's good to listen (once or twice) but then kind of move on and encourage others to move on as well.

So yeah as other people say: "I'm pretty content now and busy with the kiddo. I'm not against a future relationship but it's not where I'm at right now" and if they push the point you may have to--gently at first but then more firmly--shut them down.
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I didn't read through all of the responses so apologies if someone already covered this, but your family doesn't need to know if/when you are out there dating. You are under no obligation to talk about it at all. You are entitled to a private personal life.
posted by stowaway at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, there’s nothing wrong with me , right?
Nope. Not a thing.
posted by fullerine at 10:57 AM on July 15, 2020

I'm a bit surprised that more people didn't chime in with sentiments similar to rock em sock em's , there is a middle path, right ? Not wanting to live with a partner really shouldn't mean no romance for you - certainly in circles I travel in there seem to be lots of folks angling for this middle way, and I'd bet that, should you decide to date, if you were really explicit about that domestic thing being NOT what you're looking for, say, in your profile (if online) you could probably attract/find others who feel exactly the same ..
posted by elgee at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Aside from this being a pretty clear cut case of "you should definitely do what you want"/"your life is for you" I will say that dating, as a glance at this website will confirm, is a lottery and a slog and often makes people unhappier, so if you're not inclined to do it, you're opting out of something that even people who really want a relationship would often rather somehow be able to skip.
posted by less of course at 11:06 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

But I just genuinely feel like I’m not feeling a huge calling to get back into that sort of relationship again.

I'm divorced, not widowed, but I felt that sentiment so powerfully when I first separated (and still do, a couple years on). Suddenly I had full control over how I managed my space, my time, my money, my schedule, my comings and goings, and it was BEYOND heady. No more negotiations about anything (well, except our kids but that feels very different). A peace and calmness in my physical space that had never existed previously. No more text threads tediously hashing out all the day-to-day task management with another person. Just me, doing entirely my own thing, for the first time in my life.

I'm also here to advocate for the "middle path" IF you want to at some point! (And you 100% don't have to want to!) Society will absolutely try to rush you onto the relationship escalator the instant you express so much as the tiniest interest in someone, and it takes a certain amount of presence and awareness to withstand that. To that end, a good friend of mine divorced when her daughter was an infant, and over the years she had several long-term (5-7 years on average) relationships with wonderful men she adored, but she had absolutely no intention of ever living together or marrying them, and so she didn't (this did cause the end of one of the relationships but she was firm). But she speaks of them all so fondly, and I'm always struck by how she describes them as loving relationships full of hot sex and fun adventure and happy companionship and largely without the trappings that often come along with cohabitation and/or marriage since they were committed but didn't have THAT kind of partnership. It sounds lovely to me, and that's the model I'm seeking.

I'm absolutely not here to convince you to try this but having her as a "proof of concept" really, really helped me see it as an extremely attractive and viable alternative to cohabitation and marriage since you really DON'T see it out in the world as much.
posted by anderjen at 11:41 AM on July 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

But she speaks of them all so fondly, and I'm always struck by how she describes them as loving relationships full of hot sex and fun adventure and happy companionship and largely without the trappings that often come along with cohabitation and/or marriage since they were committed but didn't have THAT kind of partnership.

I came in here to recommend this middle path also. I’m divorced, not widowed, but this is exactly what I have and it’s exactly as great as you might think. There is nothing I want from a man that I have to cohabitate to get and I never want to have to negotiate what I do in my own home ever again. The middle way lets you have all the good parts and, well, not none of the bad but very little. Imagine never again having to share a home with someone you’re angry at. Hallelujah. So, just keep the a la carte option in mind if you start feeling like you might be interested in sex and companionship but don’t have an appetite for the whole nine-course meal.
posted by HotToddy at 12:44 PM on July 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

I also think navigating the relationship between a new romantic partner and your child would be daunting and exhausting. I know that those things can go well but I’ve heard so many of the other kinds of stories.

I was listening to an interview of a son with his mom, it was awhile back and I think it was on Code Switch, but there was this side conversation about how he didn’t know until he was grown up that his mother had boyfriends after his father died/left. She said something along the lines of not wanting a new father for him and not being interested in compromising her parenting. It left an impression on me and it was amusing how floored he was to learn that “mom’s friend” was actually romantic. She just laughed.
posted by amanda at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

You sound a lot like my mom, who didn't pursue a relationship after she and my father split up, which happened when she was probably around the same age as you when your husband passed. She was allegedly good at dating and was a serial monogamist through her 20s, though. Now, if that were the extent of things, then it'd be easy to explain her situation as a matter of being aro and/or ace, or that being in a bad relationship with a bad co-parent simply burned her.

However, the big difference there is that postpartum, she became (and remains, decades later) someone who's generally disinclined towards maintaining any sort of relationship, be it romantic, platonic, or familial. Additionally, she's also generally critical of other peoples' socioemotional needs; during the pandemic, I've heard her harp very frequently about how ridiculous people are for being eager to spend time with others. It's difficult to raise a child if you really don't want to do your part in maintaining a support network, especially if you're a single parent. Wanting to opt out of the EL issues that are common to cishet relationships is one thing, as is being an introvert, but shaping your life so that you seldom have to take peers into consideration is a totally different ballgame.

Again, I know that the vast majority of single parents and other single-by-choice people don't exhibit these issues, and you probably don't either. If wanting to not be in a relationship is also tangled up with some of the other behaviours I'm describing, then maybe the people in your life are reacting to that? If it does sound a bit more like you than feels comfortable, then that's worth working out with your therapist - not at all for the sake of finding a relationship but instead to help you stay in touch with your and other people's needs.
posted by blerghamot at 2:58 PM on July 15, 2020

Nothing wrong with you.

I'm a recent divorcée who read any number of books about divorce (coping strategy, yo) and found myself really sideeyeing their blasé assumption that of course I would be dating and/or falling into bed with more-or-less random people again as soon as possible.

I didn't want to date. I still don't. I doubt I ever will, though life's endlessly weird and I won't swear it will never happen. And I've put on the black ring; not sure precisely what variety of asexual I am, not sure it really matters all that much, but saying a blanket "no thanks, Do Not Want" to partnered sex has honestly been a huge relief.

Best to you and your child. You're fine.
posted by humbug at 3:00 PM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nothing wrong with you at all.

I'm one year on from the separation (thirteen years together, fifteen leaving together, the whole of our adult lives), with an eleven year old daughter. My ex got a new gf quite quickly, and folk have suggested or pressured me about it here and there.

But as I lay on my couch after my coffee, with nothing but my own schedule in front of me, I have no desire to fill that emotional space with another person. I have flirtations online with a few friends - a few in open relationships, some single - secure in the knowledge that it isn't on the relationship escalator. There is no expectation that we will one day live together, that anyone would become a step-parent, or that we owe each other anything other than the already existing respect and love we already shared. We compliment each other, maybe a racy pic, alongside the pre-existing emotional support. It's enough for me - I feel connected and supported, occasionally desired, but without any of the deeply difficult elements of forming a romantic relationship. Or the risks.

A huge aspect of this, for me, is also that as a single mother* I am a target for a variety of folk who want that specifically. Ranging from lonely maladjusted people wanting an immediate pre-made family, to those for whom my daughter and I fit a victim profile. Navigating that is on a list of things I do not want to do at all. It is a facet of dating as a single parent that is rarely considered by others (and I think is the primary reason my parents have not pushed me about it tbh) (that and knowing me since I was a child and my obvious preference for solitude and silence). But it was something I knew would dictate a lot of my post-divorce life - I know the statistics and I know the tragedies far too well to imagine I'm somehow immune. And my child has no need for another parent, or adult figure, in her life. My parents have been married longer than I've been alive, and although my father was divorced prior to their marriage, they are an obnoxiously partnered happiness kind of people. But they know the issues as well, and they know me. So they don't give me any stick about it, and I think to a certain extent have redeveloped a kind of protectiveness about me and my daughter where a new relationship isn't proof of moving on or coping, or whatever, but a complication and possible risk factor. Which is mildly annoying on occasion, but they aren't about to try set me up with anyone.

I do know my tendency to isolate though - I will rarely instigate social connections and so on. Which is incredibly ill-suited for my child. So it's something I work on in a non-romantic context. I try and make sure I see my friends, that I still go out (according to the context now obviously).

(That all said, I am the woman whose brother in law assumed was asexual, and who then suggested I get on Grindr for social contacts, so...)

*Single mother always feels weird since I do not have primary custody, and I have an excellent co-parent. But I'm also single, and a mother.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:10 PM on July 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with you, at all. It's fine not to want to date. You might want to again someday, and that's fine too. You don't have to commit to anything. I heard you list so many reasons you don't want to date -- I wonder if you are trying to explain all this to your family and they just don't seem to get it? Like you feel like you need to justify not dating? Culturally we're so accustomed to the idea of two adults in a household that it can be hard for people to see beyond that--even though a stepfamily situation can add a lot of complications.

If I'm being extraordinarily generous with your family members, I might say that perhaps they are worried that you want to date but feel like you shouldn't, either out of respect for your husband or because you're worried it's too soon, or whatever. So (again, I'm being super generous) maybe they feel like they should nudge you to let you know it's okay. But it seems like maybe they are not hearing you, if you are telling them you aren't interested.

So then the question is, is this about your family not having great boundaries? In which case, the more you explain or tell them, the more they might try to argue with your reasons. If a family member pushes you on this, I think it's okay to say, "While I'll certainly consider dating if I want to, right now I'm content being single." And then don't feel like you have to say anything else. If they keep pushing, it's okay to draw a boundary: "I appreciate your concern, and I'd rather not discuss this anymore. Would you like some more potato salad?"
posted by bluedaisy at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've had a couple of long term cohabiting relationships lasting years, and no desire to do it again. I have the exact couch I want, my house is set up exactly for me, I use all the wardrobe space, and this suits me just fine. I have gone to CONSIDERABLE trouble to make sure I'm financially able to live on my own, and won't ever be tempted to move in with someone for reasons of financial convenience. Ahhhh peace and quiet!
posted by quacks like a duck at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

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