This subject is something I haven’t written much about, although it is paramount to my life. It is at the very core of my existence, in fact. It always is, once a person becomes a parent. But becoming a single parent makes it exponentially so, as children are impressionable and the things parents do in their personal lives have a lasting impact on their children’s growth and maturity. When parents divorce and find themselves suddenly single and back in pursuit of a personal life, the waters are easily muddied. It can be extremely difficult to balance dating, socializing and parenting.
Perhaps this has been on my mind this week because someone very dear to me is going through a breakup that mirrors the ending of my last relationship nearly four years ago. Like me, she is the mother of two sons. Also as I experienced, an event occurred in her relationship that led to its abrupt and unexpected end, and she has found herself suddenly in limbo at her parents’ house while scrambling to find a home for herself and her kids. She was forced into a major life change and the uncertainty that comes with it, a circumstance of which I know all too well.
In the summer of 2013, four years after my divorce, I met the perfect man. He was kind, caring, educated, financially responsible, had no qualms with me having children…he was everything a single mother could ask for. Looking back now, I can see how blinded I was by this façade of perfection he presented me with, and the extreme error in judgment I made when deciding to move in with him only four months into our relationship. At the time, though, visions of a traditional family with a stable future were dancing in my head, and I was far too eager to bring this dream to fruition to be bothered with a healthy dose of caution.
Immediately upon moving in with him, those proverbial skeletons began spilling from his closet. He developed a pattern of finding perceived slights in things that I said and lashing out at me with a barrage of insults. It would escalate into a freeze-out, and when that didn’t win him his desired response, he would wait until I went to bed and flip on the lights and begin the attack again, because how dare I go to sleep when he’s mad at me. He would deprive me of sleep and lay into me until I gave in and apologized for something he created in the depths of his convoluted mind.
Then there was the need for control. I couldn’t buy things for our house without his permission, even though it was my own money I was spending. When my kids were gone for the weekend my time belonged to him and I was not allowed to go out with friends without him. One Saturday my friend Kate wanted to do a girls’ day at the winery, but I was only allowed to join her for lunch, because since it was girls only that meant he couldn’t go and I wasn’t allowed to spend my free Saturday without him. My time was no longer my own, but belonged to him. My entire existence belonged to him.
He had mastered the concept of manipulation, and was so adept at it that I was almost convinced that something was wrong with me. But my strong sense of intuition kept nagging at my mind…something was wrong with him. His behavior isn’t normal. Grown men don’t act like this. He has the emotional maturity of a pre-pubescent child. He can’t control himself, he gets upset over nothing, I’m constantly tip-toeing around my words for fear of setting him off, and I always feel afraid in my own house.
I struggled to make it work, and after one particularly brutal night where I refused to give in to his pressure and manipulations, I was ready to walk away. This was only two months after I’d moved in with him. When he realized I was really leaving, the bottom dropped out and he was resolute with apology. He realized what he had done and he knew he couldn’t continue as he’d been. He promised that it was just him adjusting to having a girlfriend and two children in the house and that he would be better. It made sense to me that a bachelor would have a tough time adjusting to the new situation that he was in, and I’d uprooted my children from their home and routine to move in with this man, so I decided to give it another chance and try my hardest to make things work, more for the sake of my children than the sake of me or my boyfriend.
He vastly improved over the next couple of weeks, and when those couple of weeks turned into a month, I began to breathe easier again. But by the end of the second month, he had declined back into his old patterns. My anxiety was through the roof and I began having problems with my blood pressure, at only 28 years old. I developed a relentless pain in my left side and was terrified that I was having trouble with my kidney. After a doctor visit and some x-rays, it was determined that it was a muscle spasm brought on by stress, for which I was prescribed muscle relaxers. I knew immediately the reason for the spasm and the elevated blood pressure, and there was only one way to get it back in check.
Two months later my opportunity came. We went to Florida for my birthday, and on the morning of my birthday he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. He barely spoke a word to me, didn’t even tell me happy birthday, and then snapped at me when I stopped on the beach to take a picture of a sand dune. He didn’t want to be in my pictures, so when he stepped in front of the camera I let him know I was taking a picture so he could step out of the way, and he blew up at me and stormed off down the beach.
When we were both back in the room, I told him that was it, I wasn’t going to put up with one more angry outburst like that one, that I’d had enough of it. This enraged him and the situation ended with him putting his hand around my throat and pushing me backwards into the room from the doorway to the patio so he could shut the door between us. But I kept my word, and the next fight he picked over something so trivial that I can’t even remember now what it was, I left him.
He certainly didn’t make it easy. He did what he always did…started sending me a string of harassing text messages. But unlike before, this time I deleted them without reading them. Every single one he sent I immediately erased. This seemed to just enrage him more, as the texts started flooding in with accelerated momentum. By morning break, I finally sent him a text and told him to stop, that I was working and I’m not reading any of his messages. He responded back that he already had a date with a woman from work for that Friday night. This, he admitted later, was a blatant lie intended to get under my skin and make me jealous, in hopes that I would cave in to his wishes. It didn’t work.
Instead, I emailed a lender about applying for a mortgage. Shortly after that, my now-ex-boyfriend deleted our relationship status on Facebook and unfriended me. It took only 10 minutes before he added me back and the apologies began. He begged and pleaded for my forgiveness. But I wasn’t going back. I moved into my grandparents’ house until I closed on my own home six weeks later, and I never looked back. He has made attempts since then to contact me, including one just a couple of weeks ago, the first time in two years, but I have always left them unanswered.
I just took a brief intermission and poured myself a glass of wine to wash down those words. Reliving that nightmare definitely calls for a little grape therapy before moving on! When I sat down to write this, I had no intentions of sharing this story. This brief synopsis of the eight months of hell I spent living with that man plays a major role in the decisions I’ve made for myself since, so once I touched on it the words started spilling out of me. My entire purpose in writing is to tell the truth, and an uncomfortable truth isn’t any less important to tell.
As difficult as that year was for me, two other people were adversely affected. I had moved my children out of a home where they were happy and comfortable and safe, into a home with a man, then abruptly uprooted them again out of that home one summer evening while they were away at their dad’s, and had them in limbo at my grandparents’ house for the start of the school year, before finally moving into our new home.
Once we were moved and settled into our new home, I made a promise to them. I told them that from that point on, it was me and them. I told them that never again would I bring a man into our home so cavalierly, or put them in a position where they would have to worry or be unsure about what was happening. Because the number one, most important thing to a child’s welfare (besides feeling loved, of course) is stability. They need to know that they have a safe and comfortable place to go home to. They need to have an established routine. They need predictability and order. And they need to have parents they can depend on.
I’ve tested the waters of dating a couple of times since then, but I’ve backed away from it. Aside from the fact that I’ve grown comfortable in my solitude, I’m cautious about uprooting my children’s lives. They are my focus. They are my priority. I want to make sure that they have the best possible upbringing, the best possible education, and the best possible foundation on which to build their lives.
That cannot and will not come from a life with a mother who puts herself first. Who has a constant rotation of men coming in and out of their lives. Who is so desperate for a relationship and love from a man that she is willing to jeopardize her children’s stability to have it. If I feel a relationship could negatively impact them, then it isn’t worth the risk. At least to me, it isn’t. That’s why I choose carefully.
Perhaps my opinion is skewed from that relationship gone bad. But at my age, in a small town, the dating pool is tiny and the number of single men in it who are untrustworthy or immature, or otherwise unsuitable for a stable future, is high. I don’t intend to paint all men with a negative broad brush. I know that there are good ones out there. It’s just that there are an awful lot of rotten ones too, and after what happened the last time I took a shot, walking blindly into the dating world with nothing more than crossed fingers that a man might turn out to be a good one instead of another nightmare makes me proceed with caution. Especially when the two most important people in my world are involved.
Truth be told, I feel like I already let them down once. Because if I’d taken my time, not rushed the relationship, given him the time necessary to show his true colors, that entire situation wouldn’t have happened. I know this. And I know that if I were to date again, I would do it so much differently. I would take my time and build a strong and lasting relationship before taking a major step like living together. No more will these decisions about my personal life be taken lightly.
Now I can say with 100% certainty that my children have stable lives. I can say with 100% certainty that they’re content; that they know what to expect from one day to the next; that their wellbeing is at the forefront of my decisions. My children know all of this to be true, and that means everything.