Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Benefits of Wine (Uh, I Meant Friendship!)

Do a Google search on the health benefits of marriage and you’ll find countless articles on the topic. WebMD seems to have the most objective report, however. You’ll find statistics about how singles are more apt to be smokers, and are more prone to have psychological and social stress. Ok, that’s fair. They also reported, though, that married people are more prone to be overweight.

I’d like to see a different kind of report, because I think that single people can simulate some “married-like” benefits through close friendships and community. For single parents this is especially important. My most life-saving relationship since becoming a single mother is with my co-blogger, Missi. I was certainly lucky to find someone who lives a near parallel life. We are both single parents, we both work and we’re both graduate students in the same discipline. I know that might be hard for some single parents to find, but I would encourage that one make the effort to seek that out if at all possible.

Married people have the psychological benefit of having a partner, and in many ways I have the same. The following scenario is not uncommon:

Missi calls me: “Hey, I have to work this afternoon from 3 to 7. Can you pick the kids up today?”

Me: “Sure. I’ll make dinner and give Morgan a bath with Maddie. I’ll see if Raine has any homework.”

Missi: “Ok. If you bring them home, Maddie can just stay the night here. I’ll stop and get us a movie. I’ll get a bottle of wine. You can come over in the morning and pick Maddie up for school.”


Me: “I’m really stressed out. I have to finish this paper and clean my whole house tonight because I’m having company tomorrow. I have to start work at 5 a.m.”

Missi: “I’ll order pizza for the kids and come over and help you clean. I’ll bring a bottle of wine.”

The obvious difference between our friendship and a marriage is that we don’t cohabitate (yet) nor share incomes (outside of the occasional borrowing from each other), and naturally, we can’t meet all of each other’s needs (ahem!).

So no, it’s not the same, and a friendship isn’t going to have all of the satisfying elements of a love relationship. But the same can be said vice versa. I think that sometimes married couples get so immersed in “togetherness” that they neglect to build those important and valuable friendships that sustain us in ways that romantic relationships cannot.

When you have this kind of friendship, there can be formed a bond that affords a person the ability to be thoroughly her authentic self. It’s a pretty profound thing to find that person with whom you can share all of your deepest secrets, questions, doubts and judgments that sometimes feel threatening to a significant other. Oh, and someone with whom you can share a lot of wine.

Posted by: Jennifer

10 Things Never to Say to Your Single Parent Friends

1. “I know someone for you.” The variations are endless. Especially don’t say this if you are a) a family member (they should know you well, but they never know you well enough to know “your type”) b) a stranger. Ever met someone, as in literally just met someone, and you’re talking, and as soon as they find out you’re single, they jump right in with “my brother/father/cousin/best friend/therapist is single! You should meet him! You would really like him!” No, we shouldn’t meet him, and no, we won’t like him. Please don’t insinuate that you have all life’s dating answers. I know you think you’re just being a good friend or trying to help, or something, but when you introduce me to your friend/brother/father/cousin, etc. and he has a tattoo of a topless woman and thinks his idea of a great date is taking me to a sports bar and watching the UFC fights and wants to share a plate of buffalo wings and then wants to spit tobacco into a little cup which he places next to said plate of food and then wants to buy some PBR to take back to his place where he insists his Rottweiler share the couch with us as we watch a Steven Segal movie…I will probably not only never talk to him again, but I will probably never talk to you again, either.

2. “Wanna go to happy hour?” Don’t ask us this. Because the answer is yes. Yes, we really, really, really want to go to happy hour. When is happy hour anyway? 4:00? 5:00? 6:00? See, I don’t even know when it is, because I don’t think I’ve ever been to a happy hour. This is the time during which “second shift” begins. Single parents know what I’m talking about. The time of the day when you have already been to work and/or school and would really like to have a moment to relax a bit, but it’s time to pick up your kids from school. Second shift. Sometimes, we are watching the clock waiting for 5:00 to roll around so we can pour ourselves a glass of wine and not feel so weird about it. That’s happy hour for us. Either that or midnight to six when we’re asleep. And when they’re asleep.

3. “Want to go on a trip?” Basically, see above, but increase the frustration of not being able to go by about…a lot. Unless you want our fussy baby, temperamental toddler, or moody tween along for the ride, don’t ask us to accompany you on any trip, ever. Unless it’s a kid-friendly trip, like Disneyland. But even then, being single parents, it’s doubtful we could skip out on our lives for that long a period of time anyway.

4. “I love my hubby.” Don’t say this for two reasons. 1) You’re not special because you love your hubby. What’s your point, anyway? And 2) the word “hubby” is stupid. Stop that.

5. Any type of parenting advice. Especially if you’re not a parent. I know zero people whose unsolicited parenting advice is welcome. This means you aren’t one of them.

6. “He’s single.” This is usually preceded by a wink or nudge. Usually this comment is made because some guy somewhere has mentioned his ugly divorce or bragged about the size of his…bank account, or has mentioned that his wife just died, or has snuck the fact that he’s single into a conversation somehow. We’re not cats in heat wanting to lift our tails to anything willing to answer to our meow. I wonder how long I can continue with a cat metaphor.

7. “You need to find yourself a man/husband.” Honestly, if you say some variation of this to a single mother, she will most likely walk away immediately in an effort to keep herself from either spitting in your eye or interrogating you about what other antiquated ideals you may have meandering about in your fortune cookie wisdom-filled head.

8. “He/she looks like his/her father.” Don’t say this. Because we know this. Especially don’t say this if the parent to which you are referring is absent. If our child looks like his/her father, believe us, we are well aware of it. Every time she smiles like him, every time he grinds his teeth like him, every time. Ok?

9. “I’m so tired.” The only permission granted for this one is if you yourself are a single parent. Otherwise, knock it off. Ok, so you’ve had a bad day, are tired, didn’t get everything done, etc. Single parents are tired by noon. And the kids aren’t even home from school yet. Sometimes we’re tired by 9 am, and the day just started. Seriously, mornings are the worst.

10. “Give me a call any time you need a sitter.” If you say this to us, we WILL call you. And we’ll keep calling you. You can’t hide. And don’t say something like “Oh, I can’t right now, but any other time” because we’ll get out our calendars and date books and keep throwing out dates till you commit. Any single parent has, at any given moment, about five to ten days for which he/she needs a sitter. We’ll fit you in somewhere. And you brought this on yourself. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Feel free to help continue the list.
Posted by: Missi

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Games We Play

Remember the games we used to play as kids? The Dating Game? Girl Talk? What was that one with the door that you opened up? It seems as though they morphed into the games we play as adults…or so I’m told.

I grew up in a card-playing family. So, when my daughter brought me a deck of Go Fish cards, I thought at three years old it was time she learned. So the game began, and it got me thinking: isn’t “Go Fish” what we basically tell people when they don’t have the match you’re looking for? I thought maybe there should be an adult version of the game. It would look like this:

Missi: Do you have…the mid-life attorney with the condo in midtown, the six-figure income, and the problem with commitment?

Jen: Go fish.

(I take a card)

Jen: Do you have…the unemployed twenty-four-year-old with the washboard abs who lives in his parents’ basement and refers to your breasts as “titties”?

Missi: Go fish.

(Jen takes a card. She giggles.)

Missi: What?

Jen: I got the hopelessly romantic Italian with the frequent flyer miles who speaks five languages and loves you unconditionally!

(She starts bouncing with glee, for you are both playing on your bed in your pajama pants and worn-out college t-shirts. She spills your margarita. You tell her you’re done playing and are going outside to smoke.)

Then my daughter brings me Old Maid cards. Really? Old Maid? Isn’t this un-p.c. or something? And why are Old Maid cards always human professionals? Where’s the animal version? You match the bear with the bear, and the Old Maid’s a pigeon or something. And there’s always that weird profession shoved in with all the more common professions, like the angler or the crossing guard. So, I teach her how to play, and I actually catch myself saying these phrases to my impressionable 3-year-old daughter, constantly correcting myself, yet painfully aware that there’s no comfortable way to explain this to her while avoiding these phrases.

“You don’t want the Old Maid.”

“You match everything together except the Old Maid.”

“The Old Maid is the only one without a match.”

“If it’s the end, and you have the Old Maid…you lose.”

We play, and guess who gets the Old Maid? Right. I do. In an effort to congratulate her on winning, with one card left in my hand and her hands empty, I say to my daughter: “Look who’s stuck with the Old Maid!”

“You are,” she replies.

I look down at my card. She has gray hair and is wearing a pink floral dress. She has a handbag. But she’s smiling. She’s smiling!

Posted by: Missi

Friday, March 26, 2010

You Had Me at “Pootie” or, How "Jerry Maguire" Ruined Dating for Single Mothers

Name one man who didn’t love the 1996 film "Jerry Maguire," I challenge you. Hell, women loved it , too. It had a little something for everyone, didn’t it? It was the quintessential American movie. It was about football, unlikely professional success (based on a moral premise) and naturally, it was a love story. And it was our favorite kind, too. The story of the commitment-phobe who eventually falls for the woman who shows him undying devotion, yet is the kind he would’ve never pursued in his pre-rock-bottom days. In the end, the protagonist, Jerry Maguire, mans up, sees the good woman before his eyes and does right by her. Oh yeah…and he realizes he can’t live without her.

Hey, that’s all fine and good, but I want to talk about why the movie Jerry Maguire ruined dating for single mothers. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the captivating Rod Tidwell, the stubborn, cocky, wide receiver and sole client of the gone-solo sports agent, Maguire. We love him for being a pain in the ass but also for the way he is a major catalyst for the development of Maguire’s fledgling character. Tidwell is just the challenge Maguire needs professionally and personally, and he surprises us with the wisdom he bestows in his unique way, always at the right time.

But…at one point in the movie, he imparts a piece of said wisdom to Maguire that I’m afraid that the millions of male viewers took in and took to heart… in fact, all I have to do is say “shoplift the pootie,” and countless men could name the film, the scene, and probably recite the lines. Let’s just say I’m sure this has permeated the consciousness of the audience, and has subsequently influenced them to believe that they now have the dating single mother FIGURED OUT.

Oh, you know the scene! Rod and Jerry (we’re on a first-name basis now) are walking along outside after Rod quit a commercial. Because Rod is a happily married man (and presumably experienced with women – HOT!) Jerry decides to ask him for dating advice. It goes something like this:

Jerry- Can I ask you a personal question?

Rod- Are we gonna be friends now?

Jerry - Have you dated any single mothers?

Rod - I was raised by a single mother.

Jerry- -I think, after this, she's gonna have to take that job in San Diego.

Rod --First of all, single mothers don't date. They've been to the puppet show and they've seen the strings. Do you love her...? Don't tell me you don't know.

Jerry --I don't want her to go. We've been hanging out a lot.

Rod --That's bullshit! You've got to be fair to her. Single mothers are a sacred thing. You've got to have the talk. She loves you. If you don't love her, you've got to tell her.

Jerry -- The kid's amazing. He...

Rod --I feel you... But a real man wouldn't shoplift the pootie from a single mother.

Jerry --I didn't shoplift the pootie.

(Rob gives him the look).

Jerry --All right, I shoplifted the pootie.

Here’s the video – I could only find this short clip:

Shoplifting the Pootie

How many of you said, “awww!” or were genuinely touched by Tidwell’s speech? Yeah, me too, many years before I became a single mother.
Do you realize what this has done to us?
This translates into every man thinking that the only noble thing to do is to avoid us if he doesn’t want to fill the husband/father role. Now, that’s not to say that many of us don’t eventually want to find that. But I’ll tell you a little something that no longer should be a secret in the single mother enclave! We don’t want that from any or all men that we want to date! There, I said it!
Yes, it’s true. Sometimes we are attracted to, and genuinely interested in men that we either know don’t want to or won’t fit into that role, or that we don’t want for that role. Sometimes, we still want a man’s attention, a sexual relationship, or an authentic emotional connection with a man. It isn’t as though we immediately want to exclude or discard any man who isn’t going to join our happy family.

And if you are said man, this presumption on your part – as moral or ethical as you might see it – is in fact a smidge arrogant. Why must you assume that we are trying to find any old body to take that on (or that we want to take you on for that)? Yes, you know you better than I know you, but a single mother has pretty good radar for “the marrying type.” But I will say this – if you’re involved with a single mother and you don’t want to go for the home stretch, don’t expect her to commit or be exclusive with you, either. You get what you give.
A little piece of advice before I part…if there is any confusion on your part as to what her intentions or desires are... dare I suggest that you simply ask her…instead of just buying into another “Hollywood Truth?”

Posted by: Jennifer

Single and Fabulous?

Note to the Reader: This blog post appeared on a previous blog by the same writer in a slightly different form. Enjoy. Again.

I watched the movie Singles today. It was on cable. I was excited because I turned it on right when it started; I love it when that happens. I hadn't seen this movie in years. It was made in 1992 - I was thirteen - but I remember watching it a lot during my teen years. This movie made me think of many things. One was, well, the nineties and growing up in them. I grew up watching this movie and listening to the music in this movie; the music made me very nostalgic. Remember grunge? The Seattle sound. I grew up listening to all these bands, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Temple of the Dog, etc. Makes me feel old, because I still like to listen to these bands. Maybe not old, I guess, but grown up. I remember being a kid and my dad would listen to a lot of freedom rock, you know, Forest Gump soundtrack stuff. That's because that's the music he listened to when he was growing up. I guess at some point, we stop caring about what's new and just keep listening to what we liked growing up. That darn nostalgia gets us every time.

Another thing that was cool about watching Singles again was seeing all the stuff in the movie from that era. Remember the guys who would wear long underwear pants under their shorts? And then they'd wear Converse and, of course, the plaid flannel shirt. At first when I saw Matt Dillon's character Cliff wearing that, I thought to myself, "Is he wearing tights under his shorts?" But then I remembered that long underwear thing that went along with being "grunge." And there's a scene where Cliff is using one of those big, bulky cordless phones with the long silver antenna on it that you had to pull out before he made a call. Remember those? They looked like Chinese yo-yos. Remember Chinese yo-yos? And another character had a watch that could hold phone numbers in it. How funny. No cell phones. Weird. And the scene with the big, huge garage door opener. And then there's the bizarre concoction that the couple had to make in order to find out if they were pregnant. Now we just pee on a stick. Believe me: I know.

That brings me to the next thing this movie made me think of. The couples in this movie. Why are there so many couples yet the movie's titled "Singles"? There's Cliff and Janet. Steve and what's-her-name. Even the annoying neighbor who made the dating video meets that man at the airport. Why is it that whenever a movie (or a book or story, etc) is seemingly about single people attempting to find comfort, satisfaction, or even happiness in their singleness (I almost typed "singlemess" just then. Freudian slip) it turns out that they always find "the one" by the end of the story? What message is this sending to single people who may be watching the movie, reading the story, etc. in order to find exactly what they thought the movie, story, etc. would help them obtain? “Sex and the City” kind of did this too. The entire series was largely about being "Single and Fabulous!" But then they end the series with every single main character having found the one they want to be with, they all live happily ever after, some of them married, some of them with kids, all of them in fabulous houses. Then they go and make a movie, as if the happy ending in the series just weren't shoving single people's faces in it just quite enough.

And don't get me started on "He's Just Not That Into You." Ok, I'm started. This lovely little catch phrase began as a quote from an episode of "Sex and the City" wherein Miranda is among her girlfriends and one of their boyfriends wondering out loud why this guy with whom she went out on a date hasn't called her. They all sit around doing the typical maybes: Maybe he's been out of town. Maybe he hasn't checked his messages. Maybe he's stranded in an underground somewhere with no cell reception. Maybe he's lying in a hospital bed somewhere. And then the boyfriend pipes in (he's the only man at the table) and states boldly, "Maybe he's just not that into you." Miranda finds this very liberating and vows to share this information with all the women she encounters with the "maybes." It worked for her. And let's face works for many of us, too. He's just not that into us. Sounds better than many other things we can conjure up in out post-first date-clouded minds. So, then they write a book by the same title. It's an ok book. Just basically gives women scenarios why you should automatically think a man is just not that into you: if he's not dating you, if he's not having sex with you, if he's not calling you, etc. And it's liberating, too. So, then they go and make a movie, and that's when the rant begins. The movie sucks. Really, really, really, really, really bad. To sum it up, the book and the SATC episode was about realizing that he's just not that into you and you should go on with your life. But the movie is about realizing that he's just not that into you and what are ya gonna do about it? It sucks. It's not liberating at all. It's an annoying albiet cute young woman trying to find out WHY the guy just isn't that into her. A far cry from what the phrase meant to women in the first place. Die HJNTIY movie. Die!

I read a book this last week (Little Children by Tom Perotta) that does end this way, however. The book is about (spoiler alert) two married people having an affair. They are both, obviously, unhappy in their marriages, and by the end of the book decide they will leave their respective spouses and be together. But, they both have these epiphanies about how they don't really want to have each other in a new life; they wanted each other in their old lives. They liked the escape the affairs gave them from their mundane married existences. It just wouldn't be the same if they were together. Then, the woman has this neat soliloquy where she states she's looking forward to being single, raising her daughter alone, on her own terms, without the ridiculous illusion that someone will save her from her life. More specifically, a man. Reading that was great. I considered that a happy ending.

Where are all the happy endings?

Posted by: Missi