A few years ago, I was pitching ideas for the Coupling column in the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, and one of them was about what my kids are looking for in a guy for me. That was long enough ago that when I think about what that column was going to look like then and what it would look like now, it gives me a sense of the way my kids have grown up—and how very long it’s been that I’ve been single.
It’s closing in on ten years since my marriage broke up. My kids were 2, 8, and 10 back then; now two of them are essentially adults, and the third is entering adolescence. A lot has changed.
In the early days, my little one could barely speak, let alone come up with an opinion on the men in my life. My older boys had very definite ideas, particularly Matthew, my middle son. When my friend Rick came over—at 28 to my 39, he really was just a friend—Matthew was immediately crazy for him…because he built a great fire in the fireplace. Even after Rick cancelled plans with us at the last minute for the second time—the pizza had already been delivered when he called from his cell phone saying he was too tired to come over—Matthew was completely forgiving. This is a kid who never forgave my one serious boyfriend for kissing me on the cheek when I greeted him at the door. But for years he asked why I wouldn’t go out with Rick, and he continually held him up as the gold standard of what a boyfriend should be: young, enthusiastic, and capable of collecting wood.
As the years went by and it became clear to the older boys that I likely wouldn’t settle down with any of the guys I was dating, they became less and less concerned about them. As long as the guy had a pleasant presence for as long as he was around, that was good enough for them. My little one, on the other hand, perhaps reeling from a step-parenting situation gone awry at his father’s house, or perhaps reaching the Oedipal stage, vehemently insisted that I not marry any of them, that a husband for me would be disadvantageous for him. Maybe he thought the guy would, say, allow him to eat only certain foods at certain times of the day. Stranger things have happened.
But now—especially given that it’s been over a year since I last had a boyfriend, or a date for that matter—I think none of them cares who I bring home, perhaps because the threat of my actually dating anyone at all seems pretty lame. But I also think the older boys are at the point where their wish for my happiness is beginning to approach their wish for their own. Developmentally, they were bound to move out of the me-me-me phase, and anyhow, they’re not around so much that they’d be apt to sit by the fire with any of my friends, so who really cares, as long as the guy is good to me.
Even Alex, approaching his twelfth birthday, is beginning to see that I’m entitled to some happiness. Perhaps he’s still in the selfish stage, but he realizes that my happiness would have a positive impact on him. Or maybe he trusts me when I say that I would only marry someone who would make his life better and who I was sure would be good to him. But for now, he has me pretty much all to himself, and that’s really his ideal.
The point about what my kids want is pretty much moot, since I now see myself alone indefinitely. But maybe my kids were on to something back in those early days: finding someone who can light a fire seems like a very good idea indeed.