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I’m glad I didn’t get a husband—

GASP! I have a boyfriend. But this coupling is not some sort of instant qualifying measurement that lessens the burden of parenting. For all intents and purposes I still refer to myself as a single mom.

 A significant other changes components of the game but having a boyfriend does not mean the relationship operates like a salve mending the wounds of parenting alone. Actually committing to a relationship creates a whole new set of complications. Total single parenting does have perks: no one else to account for, no pants parties on hot summer days, and sandwiches for dinner all week. Choosing a relationship sometimes feels just as hard as not having one. 

I operate with rules. For instance, I won’t pass off my child to my boyfriend--- it’s not his job. His role lays in forging a positive relationship of trust and care. That’s a tough job…. I am not asking him to be a replacement for the poor parenting of someone else.  I want him to maintain his focus on developing a meaningful relationship with my son and me.

When I scroll through social media the women I encounter offering elements of advice and hope for the future for moms like me are all MARRIED. They try to console the lamenting mother telling her everything will be fine: she will meet a man worthy of her love who will instantly resolve her hurts. “Look at me. I had nothing. Two kids and a mortgage I couldn’t afford. I met Gary and life drastically changed. I have a car, a home, nice hair, a new baby and I don’t have to work. Your time is coming sweetheart.” Ummmm…no.

In total sincerity, ladies good for you, but seriously please stop impressing upon women already reeling from rejection her saving grace lies in the promise of a new marriage. Please know she is delicate right now and she may need you to grant her grace when she copes with rejection by “getting under a man to get over a man.” And when that tactic fails terribly (it will) she will need you to not shame her nor fuel her quest for the next knight named Gary in a Ford truck. She might rush everything to meet an imaginary timeline for moving on. Don’t feed that monster. Her brain is stuck in crisis mode. She needs someone willing to listen and patiently wait for her healthy brain to return. Be that friend.

I stand behind this advice with incredibly strong feelings of grit. Five years after my messy divorce I still face shamers.  I lack “married” as my Facebook status (oh no she's living in sin) and since I partake in a relationship I tackle constant questioning: “How could you be so selfish.” Yes, I selfishly dated. I absolutely did. I yearned for companionship and believed if I Iooked the part, prepared a mean meatloaf, and produced incredible laundry and awesome sex someone surely would scoop me up. I mean… that’s what men want right?

It didn’t matter to me as long as they wanted me. (Cringe.Shiver.Shudder.).

Extreme guilt sets in here. I violated the core values of sacred womanhood in hopes to find someone who may want to save me from circumstance. I knew the right things to say to show my independent spirit whilst secretly hoping for love. I remember the day I abandoned these beliefs--- this obligation to making someone want me. UGH. Such a terrible day. A person I did actually love and loved me back questioned my motives. I created a brief pattern to give cause for such suspicions. I blame no one here.

I had to sit with that truth. It’s like a perpetual trial of morals and ethics with no rulings or clear punishment for the crime. You must accept retribution comes in shifts, without warning, and isn’t operating on a deadline. You wait every- God- awful- second- out.

People think, the person I love more than anything believed, I only formed a relationship out of necessity. I didn’t. I gave up a significant portion of my former life to prove I wanted to sacrifice for him for the love we shared.  And that was f’ing hard. Sacrifices do not assure anything. No one actually owes you when you choose to sacrifice--- you just hope they plan to reciprocate when the time comes.

Why write this confession? It outs me a possible garbage person to some. Simple.  I can’t allow other women to believe marriage is the way out of the pain of divorce. It’s not the next step despite the Facebook encouragement. The paradigm needs to shift. Love doesn’t come with a certificate signed by the state and sparkler on your finger. For some, those outward projections serves as signs love exists and others a ruse of false commitments.

I don't need to feel selfish anymore about dating. Now I live with a loving man, who confuses me a lot sometimes, but is ultimately my best friend. When shit has hit the fan, even though he may have hemmed and hawed, he showed up. When I cry at night in my sleep from PTSD nightmares he wraps his arms around me, holds me, and doesn’t ask me to tell him about it the next morning. He kisses me every day before he leaves and is heartbroken if I forget. He takes out trash from the bathroom. I wash the dishes. He puts them away. He’ll never cook but he’s known to bring home pizza when I need a break. He offers to bring me medicine when my stomach hurts and he tells me goodnight as we lull off to sleep. He lets me sleep on the couch without a fuss.

Yes we have roles. Many relationships do.  Some boundaries we adhere to at my insistence: I pay my bills and my portion of the costs. My debt and my money belongs solely to me. We redirect and discipline our own children (some sharing happens but no one does the big stuff without permission). It is important to me no one ever accuse me of looking for a “free ride."

If I work I arrange for care for my child. My partner is not my babysitter. This ruffles some feathers for some but it makes sense to us and it works for us. He helps when he chooses.

We don’t search phones. Not today. Not tomorrow. No digging for crap. Why? Because this fosters mistrust.  Totes not my jam. Behaviors provide all the proof a person needs. Trust Dr. Phil and I on this one.

We don’t share bills or combine documentation. Why? Because that’s not what love is.  Love isn’t sharing the burden of paperwork--- love is looking at the paperwork and saying will you help me explore a solution?

That’s what I decided I wanted—what health looks like for me. A partner that loves me senses my fears and loves me through them. I’m not hiding in a delusion here. We’ve had our share of “is this what we want” moments. Those moments challenged our ability to show fairness and forgiveness. 

I realize I want a relationship willing to look at the imperfections and not see them as a barrier. As a  single mother, as a human, I can never be a vision of perfection with a situation that is easy. I have a son, a court battle, bills, and a fondness for raising chickens. I want someone who gets that my PTSD isn’t going away anytime soon. A person who lets me cry on a kid free Friday night since I’ve been holding an emotional time bomb for weeks. And maybe that night we don’t go out on a date because the mascara trails on my cheeks have stained my skin. And there’s no way I can face the world looking like hell.

Love is knowing your partner takes forever and a day to choose a movie but you wait anyway. It’s driving the long way to Estes Park for a piece of the best cherry pie. It’s knowing I need to be asked 12 times if I have to pee as we make our way up the mountain—we know if I don’t take advantage of a restroom I’ll hold it I until I cry and/or pee my pants.

It’s the comfort knowing that if your car slides into a snow bank he will show up with a shovel and a truck to get your car out. That’s the kind of love I want and craved for a long time.  And I stood no chance getting it by swiping through Tinder or taking suggestive profile pics.

I want someone who shows up like I do for my child.

I forge ahead in my quest for self-sufficiency—it makes me a better partner. I don’t ask my partner to pretend to be my husband or to take on my problems as his. That’s not what I am in this for. I value he respects my need to have my burdens be mine--- I need to hold them. I must conquer them. I must spin the wheels to break patterns and shed the skin that doesn’t fit me. It’s my journey.

What I need from him--- the confidence he can watch this transformation happen and patiently wait. To know he supports my voyage of self-discovery and the power of the payoff for our relationship when I can finally see the other side of a court battle and career shift. Someone who can stand to hear me ask every day if I am still worth loving and always answers in the affirmative. My heart still assumes rejection and I need someone willing to help break that mythology with me.

No woman on Facebook taught me this realization. I learned by losing. I took the hard way. I wish I regretted that but I don’t. I love that I lost, that I cried, that I didn’t get a husband. My sheer determination to one day celebrate rather than loathe my single status has led me down incredible paths. I’ve met inspiring women and men, I work with families seeking a chance at stability, and I cherish the fortitude cultivated over the years.  

If I’ve learned anything reading posts after posts it’s that good relationships require work. I want one I am willing to put the work into.  They demand humility, putting your phone in a timeout, and an incredible amount of understanding. I spent years cycling in unhealthy patterns. If I marry someone it’s not for that piece of paper or ring or a home. It’s for those hugs, kisses, and drives for pie with my best friend.

Hugs,  Jess

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