Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
I am a 20-something solo mother with a young child. It has been five years since I separated from the father of my child and I just got my annulment.
My annulment made me realize that I am finally free… free from the bad marriage and yes, finally free to start dating again.
I have started going out with some guys, but many times I get annoyed with their stereotype of the single mom: easy, desperate for a man, among other things.
But that’s actually the easier part of dating again. That part I can handle. It’s actually the reaction of my parents that affects me the most. They keep asking why I’m dating again: my child should be enough to fulfill me; they think I’ll just fail and get hurt again. I understand their concern, and sometimes I worry about them being right. But they don’t know how guilty it makes me feel and well – I hate to say it – how it makes me feel like a bad woman. How should I handle this?
Single. Mother. Hopeful.
Dear Single Mother Hopeful (SMH),
Thank you for your email which cogently explains a predicament common for many single mothers.
The three most common issues that seem to arise in these cases all have something to do with attitude: the attitude of men they date, the attitude of their parents and, last but not least, the attitude of their children.
You say that you can handle the men, your child is probably still too young to be a factor so that leaves your parents as the problem. Unfortunately you have told us nothing about the circumstances surrounding your separation and subsequent annulment. Is there anything you may have done in the past that gives them justification for this? While past behavior doesn’t condemn you for the rest of your life, it is often a good idea to analyze it if only to avoid repeating mistakes.
Parents are normally against further romantic involvement if 1) they have very conservative religious views and/or 2) consider that their daughters bear significant responsibility for the failure of the marriage and/or 3) worry about their daughters’ choice of future partners. In the first case, even a church annulment seems insufficient to assuage their opposition, regardless of any beliefs that their daughters may have. In the second and third, they may think that their daughters, and any grandchildren, should simply be protected from further bad choices.
But what about you? Your parents do not want you to risk another failed marriage and you worry that they may be right. Your parents’ opposition makes you feel guilty. You have not told us the circumstances leading up to your annulment, but if you think your parents may be right and you feel this way, it seems likely that you had a significant role in the failure of your marriage.
I shall leave it to Dr. Holmes to consider where you go from here.
Best of luck,
Thanks you very much for your letter. What Mr. Baer wrote is absolutely right when he said that dating again after one’s separation/divorce brings up issues that focus mainly on attitude – in particular, the attitude of men they date, the attitude of their parents and, last but not least, the attitude of their children.
And there is a converse to that. It is your attitude to them. Your attitude towards the men you date, the parents who raised you, and the children you care for. Since you are most affected by your parents’ concerns, let us focus on them.
Their attitudes are not as important as yours… at least, I sure hope not. But whether you feel your attitudes and feelings are more important than other people’s, including those of your parents, is equally important.
In a culture such as ours, where our parents and other older people are revered, my last statement above might incite near rebellion. However, it is time we questioned our knee jerk response to beliefs like: “Anak, maniwala ka sa akin. Papunta ka pa eh, nakabalik na ako dyan. Nadaanan ko na yan at alam ko ang tama at mali.”
To be sure, sometimes such statements are accurate. But in my clinical experience, as far as objective and logical thinking clients are concerned, no one knows them better than themselves. Another variant of that is: no one will know them better than they themselves will, once they stop listening to all the chatter of other peoples’ voices and start questioning the myths we’ve been exposed to.
So, what’s a gal like you (and me) to do? Actually, quite a lot.
Like not to presume anything based simply on age. When you think about it, the one thing you can be sure of when it comes to age is that they were conceived earlier than you.
Thus, they are not necessarily wiser, more forward looking, better at making decisions. They well could be, but it isn’t simply because they are older. After all, who is a better expert on you than you yourself? And if you’re not sure of the answer to that one, then it is time to make sure you are.
Listen to yourself. What sort of people are you drawn to? When do you like yourself most? What are you capable of? What do you need to do to stand on your own two feet? Whose support can you not live without?
In answer to that last question, I sure hope it is not someone who will stoop to emotional blackmail. Especially if he’s/they’re capable of rationalizing withdrawing his/their withdrawal of love towards you as helping you “come to your senses.”
A lot depends on your attitude towards yourself.
Ideally, your self-concept is positive, based on the realization that you are not only intelligent and rational, but also kind and responsive to others’ needs. Ideally, you know you are capable of taking care of yourselves.
Studies consistently show that the most important factor determining what we think of ourselves is our upbringing.
So… when analyzing why you’re incapable of doing what your peers seem to be doing so easily (like dating someone else after a marriage ends and not feeling guilty about it), be ruthlessly honest and see whether this is based on fact or merely a repeat of what others told you while you were growing up.
It is your self-concept that determines whether you can accept yourself as you are: acknowledge your needs (and not what your parents insist you need — i.e., being a good mother and “repenting” for your mistakes forever)
The good news is, your self-concept is not writ in stone. It can change. Yes, yes, even if you have to learn to ignore voices you have listened to the first twenty-something years of your life. Yes, yes, even if you have to disagree with negative judgments of yourself. This is particularly difficult if you absorbed these judgments when still too young to analyze their veracity and fairness.
Thus, be gentle — but ruthlessly honest — when answering the following questions: Do you deserve a second chance? If you tend to be harsh towards yourself, then put it another way: If someone makes a mistake, is he doomed forever? If he will sincerely try to be better next time, does he not deserve a second chance? If you think this person deserves this, why not you?
Finally, remember one of the best lines in Desiderata: “You are a child of the universe: no less than the trees and the stars. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Part of that unfolding universe is meeting men, big and small, short and tall, suave and nerdy. Yet another part is dating a few, making some mistakes, but getting up and then dating some more!
All the best,