Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dating a father

In honor of Father's Day, I'm finally getting around to a question that Zandria posed a month or so ago: would you date someone who has a kid? Her answer is 'probably not', and I think that might have been my answer as well when I was in my 20's. As I got older, my view started to change. It's partly that I think how a man approaches his responsibilities as a father can tell you a lot about him as a person (and potential partner). But it's also that as I became more and more sure that I don't want kids of my own, the idea of dating someone with kids actually became more appealing. That might sound odd but the way I see it, dating someone who already has kids means a) it's less likely to be a big deal that I don't want kids myself and b) I get some of the perks of having kids around without any of the responsibility. Still, if you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that, all else equal, I'd probably prefer to date someone without kids because it just seems like kids make things more complicated.

Well, now I'm dating someone who has joint custody of his 15-year-old daughter, meaning that she lives with him half the week (the mother lives across town and they are very good friends). I have to admit, when we first met, this freaked me out for numerous reasons. A teenager? Half the week when I basically don't get to see him (and that includes Friday and Saturday nights)? An ex who not only is very much around but who is a good friend and whose extended family is basically HIS family? Let's just say that this has not been the smoothest ride. But he's an amazing father and to me, his dedication to his daughter speaks volumes about him. It's also reflected in the fact that his daughter is a really great kid so there's been no drama - as far as I can tell, she's completely secure in her dad's love for her so I think she knows there's no reason to resent me. I haven't met the ex-wife yet but we've had many conversations about her and he's always so honest and upfront about their relationship that I'm feeling OK about that too.

But the main point I wanted to make is that, as someone who had a pretty full life before I met this guy, I've found that dating a dad (at least one who has joint custody) has one huge benefit that I never considered before: I get a lot of space. As one of my friends put it, it's kind of like having a long-distance relationship without the expense of plane tickets! It's not that I never see him during the time he has his daughter, but I'm definitely not spending 24-7 with him. I realize that for a lot of women, this would be a cost but for me, it's definitely a benefit. The thing is, I know that if a guy actually wanted to spend 24-7 with me, I'd probably be turned off by that; at the same time, if a guy didn't want to spend 24-7 with me, I would probably feel insecure and rejected (hey, I have never said I'm not neurotic!). But with this relationship, I get to feel like he wants to spend more time with me but can't, for reasons that have nothing to do with how he feels about me, so I get the space I need without feeling insecure about it (admittedly, it also helps that he is awesome about checking in with me on the days that I don't see him).

What I find particularly interesting is that if it were up to me, I'd spend more time with him than I currently do even though I know that would be bad for me in the long run. In past relationships, I've tended to 'lose myself' a bit; in this relationship, I'm basically forced not to, and I'm glad. I wish I could say I was strong enough not to need the forcing, that even if he were available, I would make sure to carve out time for myself and to maintain all my other important friendships, but I'm honestly not sure what I would do. So it will be interesting to see what happens as his daughter grows up - she is starting to be more independent (she'll have her driver's license by the end of the year) and he'll have more time to spend with me. Hopefully, I'll be smart enough not to lose this balance...


Anonymous said...

This post really resonated with me--not because I've ever dated a guy with a kid, but because of all the parallels to long-distance relationships. The reasons you give for liking the situation (not losing yourself, thinking he wants to spend more time with you but simply can't, etc) are what I liked about being in a long distance relationship. Good luck with the balance! = )


The Singlutionary said...

Thank you for writing this! Right now it is appallingly clear to me that I do not want to be in a relationship. But when I do, I think a single father would fit the bill. My last relationship had a lot of trauma because I didn't want to have kids. I was 27 and he was 37 and he felt his biological clock ticking in ways I've never experienced. I've never felt a strong urge to have kids biologically although I respect those who do. And I'm also good at adopting people. There are many many people to whom I am not genetically related but whom I consider closer family than my actual relatives. Its easy for me to love someone and care for and cherish a child that isn't mine.

I think a lot of this has to do with age, like you say. In the past I would have enjoyed the whole 24/7 thing but now I am confident in myself that I don't need that. And as I date guys who are further and further into their 30s the ones without kids seem to be desperate to have some. This isn't to say that there isn't a childless guy out there who would be a good mate for me (one day) but a single father is more and more attractive as time goes on.

Clever Elsie said...

My first thought when I started reading this was "I hope she's not in for a rude awakening" because step-parents often end up taking on a lot of parenting responsibilities whether they intended to or not! But this one is already 15--almost grown--so that probably won't be an issue.

I also have that frustrating tendency to lose myself in relationships (I'm starting to think we all do!), which is one of the reasons why I'm so committed to staying out of them for now. But this really does sound like an ideal arrangement! I'm glad it's been working out so well. :)

Anonymous said...

Jenn -- this is SO well put: "The thing is, I know that if a guy actually wanted to spend 24-7 with me, I'd probably be turned off by that; at the same time, if a guy didn't want to spend 24-7 with me, I would probably feel insecure and rejected" -- you may think you're neurotic, but apparently neither Clever Elsie or I think you are. Right now, I'm in a terrific situation with the "casual" relationship that I wrote about on Onely about a month ago, and most of the time I'm thrilled to have space and etc., but at other times I freak out b/c I want more more more! It's awful. At any rate, finding that balance -- or being forced to -- is def. important to me, so I'm glad you're finding it for now. :)


Lauri said...

This is a really good point you make! In my 20s, I ruled out dating anyone who had ever been married or had kids, but now I think that I'd almost be more likely to date someone who had kids but had never been married! The marriage part seems like more of an issue to me! I think many people who have been married are just really different from me in the way they see the world. A guy who has been married (and has kids I guess) seems much, much older to me. I'd worry that they'd want to get married again or they'd be into things like living in the suburbs. I have to say though, once you hit 30, if you do want to date, it's very limiting to subtract all the guys who mistakenly got married at 24.

Jenn said...

@Christina: Thanks! It's definitely similar to a long-distance relationship, though I think I like it better because there's also more flexibility.
@Singlutionary: I definitely think it's an age thing. As you get older, there's generally a realization that you do or don't want kids and that affects who you will want to date. There ARE childless guys out there who don't want kids, I just found them getting scarcer.
@Clever Else: I have to say that the fact that the daughter is 15 is sort of a relief (once I realized that she isn't one of those stereotypical angst-y Teenagers); a younger child would be so much harder!
@Lisa: Thanks - it's so nice to hear that I'm not alone! Keeping the balance is definitely not easy and some days are better than others. But even on the harder days, it's WAY better than previous relationships!
@Lauri: I think you're right that some people who have been married are probably more likely to want to be married again, especially if they are the type who are great parents. I've also met divorced men who never want to marry again so it isn't everyone.

Simone Grant said...

Great post. I've been dating dads for years and they frequently make the best boyfriends for many of the reasons you mentioned.

AuntyHelen said...

I'd just like to say thank you for posting about the positives in dating a father. I am dating the most amazing man whom I am really serious about. I have recently met his 9 year old daughter, they are very close and his is a fantastic father.

I have no children and have never been married so worried how this would impact on our relationship, more so in the future as we have already talked about co-habitation. All the other opinion pieces I have found are about the problems with dating dads and divorcees etc. I was sure there had to be something in it for me!

I am a bit of a loner and my new man also needs his space but meeting him with his daughter left me feeling rather distanced from him and the relationship in general. In my previous relationship my ex pretty much thrust me into the mother role, which I never wanted, he was not the greatest (or worst) father and certainly not the man for me.

Thank you for your insight, such a positive point of view and attitude adjustment, one I will return to, of the benefits of the father daughter relationship for me and the time it will let me take for myself. Time as echoed by other comments we often don't take as we tend to loose ourselves in relationships.