Apparently, I have a presence on your local dating app.
I’m not saying I haven’t created most of the profiles. But if any of them say I’ve been active in the past 36 months, I’m sorry to inform you they’re the work of whatever foreign royalty has hacked my email and sold, or illegally purchased, my login information on the dark web.
I’m not kidding. Someone recently reached out to me on social media saying that he’d seen my profile on “the dating site,” and was trying to get to know me better.
I’m not sure what that means. I’ve been writing about my life professionally for over five years. I’ve been podcasting for going on a full year now. I’m active on social media. I have a sasquatch-sized digital footprint. I’m not hard to get to know. Because despite my best efforts I cannot stop being entirely too open about myself.
I also live in the same town where I grew up. And I was the kid being taken to the principal’s office and appearing in court more than once throughout my later teens and early adulthood. If you don’t know some version of me pretty well (said version depending entirely upon whether you’re filling your cup at the fount of my columns, irreverent social media posts, and podcasts or from the turbid trough of public opinion), you clearly haven’t done anything but stumbled across my either ancient and decrepit or wildly fallacious dating profile.
I’m not saying I’m famous. I’m saying I’m kind of infamous and not that hard to get a feel for, if you invest even the slightest amount of effort in a brief Google stalking before sending me a message.
My family either speaks to me or doesn’t, but the ones who don’t have all sorts of drama-steeped tales of horror that they’re more than willing to spread around like verbal herpes if you simply show even the slightest hint of interest. It’s not hard to find someone willing to tell you all about me, through the lens of their own perspectives, biases, and issues. And if by some odd twist of fate you can’t find someone to tell you something about me, I’m more than happy to tell you all about myself, through the very same distorted prisms.
If you don’t know what I’m all about, then here’s a brief character sketch: single mom; likes to say the F-word, a lot; as abysmal at practical tasks and basic adulting as I am exceptional at abstraction and circuitous rationalizations; incapable of not being anxious; intolerant of small talk or general social acrobatics; kind of like a crusty old man angry with you for being on my lawn and, at the same time, a perpetual 12-year-old boy who finds poop and fart jokes hilarious.
Also, does not date.
I was married for several years. Then I was divorced for several more. I fell for the nonsense of an attractive clown for a few months two years ago, was swiftly disabused of the notion that there was any substance to the entanglement whatsoever, and have remained single ever since.
It’s not that I don’t want to date.
Okay, wait. It is. It’s exactly like I don’t want to date because what I want most is not to date, at all, ever ever again.
It’s so much work. Another thing about me is that I’m so introverted I’m just this side of full hermit status. I like fictional characters way more than most actual people. I find fictional universes far superior to our shared current reality. I need lots of time before and after planned interactions to both prepare and restore myself. And aside from all the intangible hassle of it all, I simply do not have time.
As a single mom to twin school-aged daughters, I have a system. It may appear to be chaos from the outside, but there is an actual pattern of thought and strategy in the life choices I have made, and continue to make, for at least the past seven years. And it looks like madness from the outside because it basically is. Every single day I live as the sole responsible party for three whole lives. Two of which I created, and are not yet able to see to their own mental or physical well-being in any significant way.
I’m responsible if I’m broke. I’m responsible if our bills are not paid. It’s on me if I can’t afford the gas I need to get to work in the morning. If my daughters don’t have something suitable to shove in their faces when their bellies start to rumble. I am responsible if they struggle. I’m responsible if they’re injured in some major physical or emotional way. Ultimately, it all falls on me. And somewhere in between all that I’m expected to see to my own mental and physical well-being to boot.
We may look like a trio of rodeo clowns as we bumble our way through the supermarket trying to gather a week’s worth of groceries for under $80 dollars. My kids may look like they dressed themselves most of the time, and have not been taught how to use a hairbrush.
To be fair, they likely have dressed themselves because one of the few expectations I don’t acknowledge is that I don’t leave the house without my children looking like tiny Baby Gap models and I’d much rather they get used to gearing themselves up to go do battle in this wide, wicked world on their own. But they have been taught to use a hairbrush. It’s just that you can lead a horse to water, if you catch my meaning.
So much depends on me, and I have somehow pieced together enough randomly-sourced skills and inexplicable strength of will to meet every expectation I face as an employee, as a woman, and as a mother. I don’t do it gracefully, but so far it would appear that I get it done, even when I lay my aching head down at the end of the day and wonder how the heck I managed to pull it all off again.
I do not have time to train someone in this system. My kids may challenge me at every turn, but they know when I mean business and they know when, and how, to course-correct if the water’s getting choppy. That has taken an endless repetition of interactions to achieve. I can’t have some dude just clamoring into our lives being confronted with requests for permission and challenges to authority without having been through an orientation of some kind. Some sort of competence evaluation. A credentialing process of one form or another. Maybe that’s what I need to do: go back through all those dating profiles and update them to accurately reflect the fact that anyone trying to infiltrate this three-ring-circus of doom will be given a syllabus and three weeks to read up on the material before having their request for coffee considered by the board.
I think about my perception of my maternal grandparents as a kid and now, as an adult, with an aching understanding of what it is to be a parent. The two of them were an unlikely match, likely drawn close enough together to go through with a marriage by their family’s insistence that neither one was right for the other. The two of them were masters of their co-created domain. And while the Greatest Generation may have had some parenting styles and philosophies on child development that I feel are questionable at best, when exposed to the harsh fluorescent lights under which parents are examined and judged by today’s standards, my grandma and grandpa were loved by their children. And by their grandchildren.
I watched their marriage in contrast to the marriages I saw around me as I grew, and aged, and I am struck today, at the wizened physical age of 37 (emotional age of 8,326), by the fact that its impenetrable strength was so obviously something that grew over time. Out of the “ongoing drama of shared experience,” as the brilliant and delightful Tim Minchin – another semi-fictional character with whom I am positively smitten – puts it.
Unlike my grandparents, I don’t have the luxury of another person external to myself upon whom I can rely as I stammer through all the same seasons of growth and change, rites of passage and archetypal struggles, as they did. I could run out and try to change that through flailing and contriving awkward first dates that never turn into anything but uncomfortable recollections, but the fact is that, ultimately, I only have myself. I am married to myself. I take myself out, occasionally. I buy myself things that I like or, more often, that I don’t really want but kinda-sorta need. Like gasoline and groceries and subscriptions to streaming media services into which I can army crawl away and hide away at the ends of the endless, endless days.
I am the provider and the homemaker, the man and the woman, the mother and the father, the strength and the softness. And, once again, whatever is lacking in my relationship with myself falls directly upon my own aching shoulders. I’ve grown used to this solitude. I’ve become comfortable with the experience of spreading myself thinner than a slice of depression-era bologna. For better or worse, I find myself uncomfortable with relationships that require me to allow others to share in the burden of this life I’ve crafted for myself. I’m not sure I could even take on the needs and desires of another person, because I’m not even certain I’m capable of unburdening myself of enough of my own to accommodate theirs.
I recently spoke with a woman, for my podcast, who left home at the age of 19 and moved across the world to escape the dysfunction and trauma of a physically abusive father and a mother too unsure of herself to lift a finger in her child’s defense. This woman, Michelle, put so perfectly into words her feelings about living without a true relationship with her parents that I have about living what’s shaping up to be a life of utter, utter spinsterhood; devoid of a lasting connection with another person who chooses to be bound to me rather than being so based on biology or legality.
“I don’t feel the loss of it,” Michelle said of being a woman without a meaningful connection to her own parents. “I feel the absence of it.”
And while that absence caused me, several years ago, to give in to the notion that I ought to do something about it, I no longer feel compelled to curate dating profiles or even seek out opportunities to meet eligible partners in an effort to fill the perceived void. Our lives are not the same, but like Michelle, I’ve become strong enough on my own to be free of the need for such a connection in order to be functional.
Barely functional, as anyone watching me attempt to coordinate a trip through any self-checkout line or execute any grocery reconnaissance mission alongside my children will attest.
But functional all the same.