POSTED ON MARCH 4, 2009:
The Advice Goddess
Here Comes the Gloom
I'm a single father and grad student in my mid-20s. Lately, I've been feeling very lonely, and even jealous of married friends who are happily enjoying family life while I'm missing out. My son's mother split four years ago, but I've been reluctant to date because she lied and cheated so much, and I'm afraid of ending up with another like her. I have trouble finding girlfriends anyway because women my age usually aren't interested in stepping into a family situation. Even finding dates is a problem because I don't want to meet a chick at a bar, and there aren't many girls in my profession (forestry). But, say I do meet somebody. I don't know how to keep myself from wanting to get serious quickly because I have this romantic notion that I'll find that true love.
- Really Single Dad
Miserable single father seeks partner. Undercapitalized, lonely, angry, self-pitying and desperate. Oh yeah, and enjoys long walks on the beach.
It's understandable that you feel life kicked you in the teeth, but you need to acknowledge your part in the deal: closing your eyes while standing in front of a giant swinging shoe. Your son's mother "lied and cheated so much" because she's a liar and a cheater, not because you brought some nice, honest woman home from the factory, and one morning in the kitchen her nose started smoking and she began burping up big black lies. Your desperation - "I'll wither and die if I don't find true love in the next 20 minutes!" - is what's setting you up for a repeat. You avoid that the same way you could've avoided ending up with your ex: by forcing yourself to slow down and pay attention to whether a woman's the wife and mommy type (or even the nice type) - and way before you let the sperm roam free in eggland.
"True love" is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny for grownups. Supposedly, you just sit down next to the right person at the bar, and from then on, all you'll have to do is lie around basking in the happily ever after. People in their 20s who haven't had much relationship experience are particularly prone to buying into sappythink like "love cures everything." Actually, love doesn't cure anything, but Erythromycin will get rid of any number of ugly bugs.
While the only chicks you're likely to meet on the job are those with beaks, presumably you're in a field you love. You've also got a kid who needs you. Focus on having happy days with him, and try to expand your definition of family to people you treat like family who act like family to you. Put your energy into making friends and creating a social network; ideally, with other single parents. Start or join a babysitting co-op, and you can ask women on dates that don't involve coming by your place to watch your kid put a bean up his nose. Make your life happy, and women will be more likely to want to join you in it. At the same time, you really need to be realistic. This isn't to say there's zero chance of you finding somebody now, but ironically, your best chance takes making peace with the fact that "Hi, I have lots of student loans and a kid, wanna go out with me?" is likely to be met with "Thanks, but I've got my eye on that guy over there with the raging herpes."
Asleep On the Sob
I just broke up with my boyfriend. He was self-centered, and we had our share of problems. Still, we dated almost six months, and I feel nothing - no sadness, no anxiety; just a little relief. What's with me? I've always been so depressed when I've broken up with somebody (mainly guys I cared for who cheated on me).
- Comfortably Numb
No, it never plays out this way in movies and songs. As Elton John put it, "Love lies bleeding," not "Apathy sits around yawning, then contemplates turning off the lights, crawling under the covers, and hoping the gloom will descend." It is pretty unglamorous to go through a breakup and be all ho-hum about it. But, it isn't like you can't cry; you just don't feel like it this time, probably because the guy never did anything more egregious than being self-centered and tiresome. While feeling nothing probably makes you worry that the relationship didn't mean much of anything, it could become very meaningful if you use it as a reminder to choose better and get out of bad relationships faster. And, if you can do that, you shouldn't be feeling nothing; in fact, it's cause to do as they did in a famous movie: Make a dress out of the drapes and skip through the Alps singing.
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