A date?

I have been through a pretty hellish period in the last couple of years and now in the thick of breaking up and initiating a divorce, but in none of this time have I really thought about dating, or men, or jumping into a new relationship. None of this was about that, it truly wasn’t and the fact that over the past couple of years my ex has said really insulting things to me implying that I am, deep down, some kind of slut and suggesting that he didn’t trust me around other men was actually quite weird because I haven’t so much as looked at, or fantasised about another man in the entire ten years we were together, and that despite the fact that by the end I was feeling a lot of contempt for him.

No, I have always had it in my mind that actually, I need to change the script – not let my life be dominated by the need for a man at all – after all, they only seem to bring trouble, abuse and heartache.

I have really wanted to be that woman – you know the one – the super-single-mum who’s handy with a spanner, provides for her children, enjoys doing every single thing her heart really desires – whether that be travelling far and wide or wading through mud at Glastonbury festival – completely free from the *negotiation process* that you might go through in a relationship unless you are both on exactly the same page.

However… a guy I’m friends with on Facebook – somewhat awkwardly, the friend of one of my husband’s good childhood friends who I kind of vaguely knew way back when we first got together – sent me a DM the other night which was really supportive and kind. He is a single dad himself and so he’s been down the road of breaking up with a co-parent and he told me that he was there if I wanted to vent or get a guy’s point of view.

So I did. We ended up chatting on Messenger on and off for about 24 hours (!!) and kind of got to know each other a little bit and I began to remember that he is quite a nice looking guy – albeit that was only vaguely on my radar ten years ago when I was actually quite into my husband.

There was a bit of winky flirting towards the end – god I miss that! And I decided to throw caution to the wind (life’s too short and all that) and ask him if he wanted to meet up some time. He seemed pretty keen and we’ve now got a ‘date’ of sorts tomorrow morning.

Well, as you can imagine, this whole scenario has played out in my head – everything from a standard first date – a kiss – to an entire life together (!) I mean a really fucking happy life, where he happily plays dad to my children, loves me, supports me, defends me against the wrath of my ex-husband, finds me ridiculously attractive despite my ever increasing years (I think he’s about the same age as me), does thoughtful little things – is basically everything my husband was not.

I know this is a stupid little fantasy because life doesn’t have a fairytale ending and we’re maybe just not quite right for each other, and besides which what the fuck am I doing even considering throwing myself headlong into a relationship when what I wanted (and probably really need) is to just be single at least for a while; find my feet, find a fucking house for Christ’s sake! Priorities woman – someone slap me round the face right now!

Anyway he seems like a nice person, I could use as many friends and allies as I can get right now so why do I feel so scared that he might turn out to be a dick – I’ve been through that before in the dating game and getting rejected when you got your hopes up is a really shitty thing to experience. I don’t want to be feeling like a hurt, humiliated, heartbroken 16 year old at my age, particularly not during this stressful time and the point at which I am feeling so insecure about anyone ever finding me attractive again.

So I’m going along tomorrow to meet him as a friend and nothing more. If something more happens then I’ll go with the flow, if it doesn’t look like what I thought it was – actually hoped it was – then I’ll console myself that this was just a week long blip and attempt to carry on as before – it came out of the blue, it can go back into the blue.

Warnings for my husband’s new girlfriend

Last week, just under four months into our separation, a new ‘relationship announcement’ went up on Facebook letting the world know that my husband is now in a relationship with another woman. We are still ‘friends’ on Facebook so we can see any post the other is tagged in and some of the information from ‘friends of friends’. I knew of the relationship although he has not had the courtesy to mention it to me.

Under the announcement and photos she had written a sentence describing him as a wonderful man who has found the manual to what makes her tick.

I am unaffected emotionally – in fact I am happy that someone else is willing to take him off my hands – but I do feel a bit concerned that he has (almost entirely) pulled the wool over her eyes. However, in light of the fact that there is no chance of me trying to talk her down from the ledge she has unwittingly found herself on, instead I shall anonymously list a series of warnings for her never to read.

These things may, of course, not matter one jot to her – or to you if you’re reading – but they did matter to me which is why they’ve made the cut:

1 Don’t ever expect a posh/expensive meal or even a trip to Pizza Express or other mid-range high street restaurant chain – you will be taken out to Wetherspoons, Mcdonalds, Costco or, if you’re lucky (to ring the changes), a different chain pub.

2 Don’t expect to ever be cooked for or to share a bottle of wine – he only drinks beer.

3 Kiss goodbye to the idea of a cultural or active holiday abroad – he will take you on package holidays to Spanish islands where you probably won’t ever leave the poolside, restaurant and room

4 Be prepared to act as his social secretary and perform familial duties for him like buying his parents birthday/Christmas cards/presents and performing the caring and nurturing role to his children when they are with him.

5 Don’t give him any details about past relationships or any recreational drug use you may have experienced in your youth – he will judge you for it and it will incite feelings of irrational jealousy. He will use certain information against you if you ever fall out.

6 Don’t expect to go to any festivals or cultural events, particularly if they cost money or are likely to be popular or crowded. The more liberal-minded the other attendees, the more venomous his attitude towards the whole thing.

7 Expect him to have an issue/be judgemental about at least some of your friends and family members

8 Don’t get your hopes up about the idea of having a ‘man about the house’ to do DIY or other practical tasks – he will mow the lawn and slash your garden foliage back all day long but that’s about it.

9 Get used to the sight of him poking his pants up his arse and prepare yourself to wash the shit-stained grundies that result.

10 If you ever get a spot he will ask if he can squeeze it.

11 Get used to the sound of him screaming at his elderly parents in the most disrespectful way imaginable. It will shock you at first – try and grasp the concept that this is, indeed, a red flag.

12 You will become accustomed to his habit of keeping bottles of beer in the freezer. Sometimes he will forget about them and they will shatter so you might like to imagine that ice-cream which tastes of Spitfire ale is actually some weird and wonderful Heston Blumenthal concoction created just for you.

13 Don’t ever expect to be bought flowers – he doesn’t ‘do’ flowers. In fact he doesn’t do romance (or even thoughtfulness) full stop.

14 I hope you like football ‘chat’ and sports commentary in general – you will be listening to an awful lot of Radio 5 Live from now on.

I guess I could go on but I think that’ll do for the time being. Bon chance mon amie.

 

Giving up on co-parenting

When you have kids and you get divorced you tend to read a lot of advice about co-parenting. Essentially what that means is that you and your ex will come to a contact arrangement, the most common being a 50:50 residence agreement, dad having kid/s every other weekend and some week-nights or slight variations on those themes. Then of course there is the possibility of being jointly invested in the children’s education and their extra-curricular lives – maybe jointly attending parents evenings at school or taking it in turns to attend swimming classes for example.

I knew that it wasn’t going to be that simple in my situation – my ex is, after all, a shift worker and that brings a considerably more complicated contact arrangement into the equation. I also knew that my ex was not particularly invested in our children’s extra-curricular lives – I had been the one to source and book Little Kickers football sessions for our eldest three years ago. I had been the one to take him to those sessions and watch on, happily immersed in a part of parenthood that was genuinely meaningful to me.

I was also the one who sourced and booked swimming lessons and looked into Beaver scouting, attended nativities and school sports days. All on my own or occasionally with one of the grandmas. And it wasn’t that my ex simply couldn’t make those events due to work pressures, there were times when he could have come but he had no interest in those things.

It’s fascinating that he used to sometimes rail over the fact that his own father had never made the time or effort to attend his own extra-curricular activities – even as a teenager at competitive events which meant a lot to him. Strange that he has almost subconsciously repeated a cycle of sorts. But I digress.

I had it in my head that, despite all of those things, we would somehow end up with a co-parenting relationship that meant that, to some extent, our parenting lives would off-set each other. I would have some down-time, we would share responsibility and both be equally accessible to our children.

It’s only been three months since I split up from him but I have already come to the conclusion that I might just as well give up on that particular fantasy. He has had the children to stay overnight 9 nights in the last 15 weeks (and two of those involved only one of our two children).

On several occasions when he was not working and could have chosen to ask for the kids to stay over with him he has instead chosen to pursue his new relationship, travelling 50 miles in the opposite direction to spend the night with his new (supposedly secret) girlfriend.

At the same time he is still maintaining his bitter and accusatory tone with me, playing the victim true to type, sighing dejectedly to our six year old over the phone on nights when he finds himself home alone, unashamedly telling our little boy “I miss you, I’m lonely” as the subtext, (Mummy has done this to me, Mummy is cruel) floats alarmingly close to the surface.

But I am the one who will be there for a sick child; I am the one who is called out at 3am to comfort our three year old and sing him back to sleep; I am the one who encourages and monitors homework assignments; I am the one who ensures that the children eat some vegetables (OK baked beans count right?), breaks up the sibling fights and arranges the ad hoc childcare; I am the one who has to mould their manners and their moral compass, pick them up when they fall and instil their self-belief and confidence.

I am almost solely responsible for their happiness and there is no-one out there (other than my Mum who is helping me bridge this gulf – lessened by the fact that I was almost single-parenting already) to reduce that exhausting and all-encompassing burden of responsibility.

So it’s time I dumped the expectation of a co-parent and began to accept that this decision I’ve taken, to cut free of a toxic relationship and become a single parent, isn’t going to re-dress the parenting balance and allow my ex to become the dad he never was when we were together (and to be quite frank I should have know as I’ve witnessed the increasingly non-existent relationship between him and his daughter (my step-daughter) for the last six years).

No, from this point forward I need to get to grips with the fact that my ex now intends to play nothing more than the role of an indulgent uncle who occasionally shows up to take the kids out for an ice cream or a slice of pizza (whilst simultaneously professing to the rest of the world that he is being given a raw deal and might just don that super-hero outfit and scale Big Ben with Fathers 4 Justice) and maybe once in a while peruse a school report and take the credit for any positive performance (“he gets that from my side of the family”).

Under these circumstances you make a new life for yourself despite the presence of the other parent and not because of it, fitting his sporadic requests, demands, appointments and cancellations in as you would fit in a series of medical appointments – annoying but necessary – or the children’s after-school clubs – a little bit of downtime but not enough to bring you back to a sense of self as an individual, to discover new passions or make new friends. More like an occasion for a quiet cup of tea and a once round with the duster.

Now I have figured out this crucial distinction between a co-parent and an intermittent, token, paternal presence, maybe I should feel depressed but I actually feel free – because I’ve always known the truth – you can’t rely on anyone but yourself.