I sat across the table from him and stared incredulously. He listed from side to side like a boat that was about to sink. His eyes were glassy and his pupils dilated. We had been having a delightful conversation, before he excused himself to the restroom and came back high as a kite. I was surprised not only by the audacity of using drugs on a first date, but that he did so with someone who works in the criminal justice field–as if I might not notice he was “in a condition other than normal.” “Beam me up, Scotty!” I prayed in vain.
That wasn’t the only date-night prayer I uttered that went unanswered. There was the gregarious fellow who loudly mocked racial minorities from our booth on our first (and last) date. Then there was the chap who regaled me with the tale of the “unwarranted” restraining order and assault charges he was facing, recounting with glee how much his children despise their own mother. “Calgon, take me away,” I thought, to no avail.
For those terrible first dates, a bubble bath was sufficient to send their memories down the drain. I walked away from those guys and never looked back. The decisions I make about whom I date have a lot to do with the fact that I’m a mom. I’m raising a sensitive little boy, and I want him to learn the right lessons from the people I surround myself with. I want him to accept others no matter what their skin color. I want him to say no to drugs. I needed someone who was going to be a good role model for my son.
Becoming a role model comes long after introductions, the timing of which can be tricky to plan. Finding the balance between protecting my child from becoming attached to someone who may not stick around, and ensuring the person I’m considering seeing gets along with him was difficult. One day my son was dropped off to me while I was on a coffee date which, believe me, was not my original plan. It was fine, not too awkward, but definitely very early for our “meet the kid” moment. It did give the fellow a chance to meet him and understand both of us better. I want my son to feel emotionally safe with the person I choose to date.
Emotional safety isn’t the only consideration. There was a point where I had to ask myself if a person I was dating was safe to be around my child period. I had met a fellow who was charming and kind. On the surface, he was just a hardworking construction worker. But eventually, things started to look like they didn’t add up. A Western Union request for money when he was out of town to cover lunch after he “lost his debit card” was followed by a Facebook post in which he exclaimed he was excited to have found some beer money.
We had been dating for a few months. I’d met his family and friends and hosted his children at my home for extended visits. This was not a stranger. But a Google search revealed his image was just a mirage. He had been a car thief! I was sucked in (temporarily) by a scammer. The implications for me–and for my son–were scary to think about. It could have been worse, but it was startling enough to give me serious pause.
“Pausing” became a recurring theme. It was difficult logistically to date, particularly when I dated another single parent with his own schedules to juggle. The Venn diagram of overlap between his free time and my free time was often small, when work, gym, parenting, friends and family were considered. Dating took on a start-stop, lurching pattern as calendars were navigated. The in-between time, and there was plenty of that, gave me time to reflect on what I wanted.
It wasn’t just my wishes I had to consider, but my son’s, too. So one day I asked him what he was looking for in our “forever person.” He made a list of adjectives, and added: “must have his own Legos.” (I negotiated him down to the point where he was willing to share Legos anyone who met the other criteria.) It turned out my son and I were looking for the same thing in a person. That’s why I said no to the guy who said I couldn’t call myself a blogger because I had only penned three posts. I need someone who, when my kid declared himself an astronaut, would offer him a juice box because you need to stay hydrated in space. After meeting a parade of men who aren’t right for us, I’m always grateful to remember that there are plenty of Goldfish Crackers in the sea.
Alison Tedford is a single mom from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. She’s a data analyst, pole dance instructor and an eating disorder support group facilitator. She documents her journeys in fitness, parenting and feminism on www.sparklyshoesandsweatdrops.com.