The most enjoyable part of being single used to be a Friday night out with friends, followed by a Saturday of shopping, lunching, and napping. (Side note: Do you ever wonder what we did with all that free time before kids? Hours of unplanned time that, over a decade later, is basically unaccounted for. I spend an unhealthy amount of time pondering this.)
The worst part of being single? Dating. I loathed dating. The introductions, awkwardness, and small talk was so. much. work. With a Netflix DVD calling my name (yes, youngins, there was a time when Netflix was home-delivered DVDs) I would reluctantly put on my fake tanner and glitter eye shadow to meet the latest man described as the “perfect guy for you!”
Luckily for me, I eventually landed into the peace of a long-term relationship before having to swipe any direction, waving goodbye to that nasty little dating scene. Meanwhile, the universe was laughing at me.
Imagine my chagrin when dating reemerged, this time in the form of mom dating.
Yes, mom dating, defined as two human mothers meeting socially with the aim of assessing the other’s suitability as a prospective friend on the voyage of motherhood.
So, why is mom dating so hard? Why is it even more terrible than “regular” dating? Why does it make us want to lie on our couch and binge-watch three seasons of The Good Place or, if you really hate the mom dating deal, eight seasons of Game of Thrones?
Well, we sure didn’t plan on it. Most of us anticipated dating at some point in our lives. The seed was planted by Disney movies, grew by dreaming of our future celebrity husbands (I’m still a bit shocked I’m not Mrs. Jordan Knight), and solidified by helping Barbie and Ken through their courtship. We might’ve had a hazy idea of what long-term love looked like, but we certainly knew it involved dating.
Then we became mothers.
We looked around and realized it might be a bit easier to join forces with other moms in the struggle. We needed ladies to share the super-high highs of parenthood, plus the self-doubt, mommy guilt, and super-low lows of parenting our greatest gifts. Turns out our dating game was far from over.
I need mom friends. How do I get mom friends? Say it ain’t so. I have to friggin’ mom date. Ugh. So in the midst of diapers and sleepless nights, we’re enrolling in baby gym classes, striking up conversations with strangers at the park, and desperately trying to get the attention of the cool mom who seems to know what she’s doing when meeting her at a neighborhood party. Waaaaaa! I want to cry just thinking about all of that mom networking I was unprepared for.
The stakes are high and the chemistry can be lukewarm. Similar to regular dating, we begin to incorporate our mom friends into different aspects of our lives. We hope to find friends who like our husbands, can tolerate our children, and who have fun with our other friends.
Unlike our compartmentalized friends from other stages in life (work friends, neighbor friends, church friends, party friends), some of our mom friends will need top-security clearance for those certain areas of our minds that are reserved for our inner circle. It’s a high-stakes game to find a person to meet those criteria—we can’t be throwin’ around all-access passes.
Plus, grownups are self-righteous and opinionated. Unlike kids, who unless the situation is extreme roll with the punches in friendships, we adults have a standard for and opinion about ev-er-y-thing. We pay attention to your politics, socioeconomic class, exercise habits, number of marriages, shows you watch, and books you read (or don’t). We seem to care about whether or not you recycle, eat gluten, vote, sleep too much or too little, are on the PTA, vaccinate, attend charity events, and are active “enough” in your place of worship. We literally have an opinion about every aspect of other humans’ behaviors and lives.
So when we mom date, we’re faced with our own judgment of other people but also theirs of us.
If that doesn’t make a person feel super self-conscious, I don’t know what does. But, just be your authentic self, it’s way more appealing, right? (This is where the advice I’ve given to my kids comes back to haunt me.)
Also, we travel in packs. We meet a mom, we love her, we meet her friends . . . and they don’t love us. When we go into mom dating, we could potentially be dating a whole crew. And in a smaller community, we could be mom dating an entire coffee klatch that has been together since kindergarten. Feeling like a sorority pledge, we might find our way into a pack that has decades of history with inside jokes we may never find funny. Who knew we would be pledges of Mu Omicron Mu in our 30s? The kicker is the crew doesn’t need us. The potential mom friend doesn’t need us. We are expendable, and we feel it, all the way to our gluten-eating, napping, screen-time-giving toes (replace with your vice of choice).
Now that you mention it, finding time for an uninterrupted conversation is impossible. We hit it off with a mom at school. We do the “let’s go to the park with the kids” AKA “let’s feel out if we are a mommy match” thing. In 45 minutes, we get out three-and-a-half sentences with all of the interruptions. At that rate, it will take us at least the next eight years to really get to know one another. At that point, the kids will be driving, and we will rarely see each other anyway. Spoiler alert: It takes a long time to really get to know mom friends if you don’t put in a true effort. More on that later.
And, we were kidding ourselves thinking we’d outgrown all of our insecurities. Nothing like becoming a mom and mom dating to reveal the insecurities we hoped had died in our 20s. They surface like a bubbling geyser: “Am I overdressed for pizza bingo night? Did I need to request a certain teacher for my kid, like everyone else did? Oh, turns out all the kids wear themed shirts for all of the holidays and I didn’t know.” Cue the conclusion: “I’m the worst mom ever!”
Not only are we forced into the mom dating scene, we aren’t exactly on our A-game of self-confidence. (This isn’t an advice piece, but here’s your friendly reminder to take a breath. It is highly likely everyone in the room is thinking about themselves and what they are wearing. They haven’t even noticed you, or what you—or your kids—are wearing, or your 15-year-old-esque insecurity.)
And well, we never plan on friendships changing and having to start all over again.
If I could live next door to and raise my children with my best friends from high school and college, I would. But guess what, some didn’t have kids, and we live scattered all over the U.S. I also wanted to raise my kids in our last community, but then we moved. Across the country. Life happens. Friendships change. Kids graduate and there is a different season in friendship. Whatever the cause, we can unexpectedly find ourselves back in the mom dating scene, and it can take us by surprise.
Ultimately, we’re wasting time in search of the unicorn. We’re out there trying to find a friend who has kids the same ages, genders, and similar interests. We’re searching for the mom friend whose partner happens to think ours is hilarious and also likes rare craft beers. Spending all our mom dating energy trying to find the unicorn is about as good a use of time as trying to find the perfect guy. Truly. You will end up disappointed after every date.
But, it’s a necessary step, and we know it. As much we complain about the discomfort of having to put ourselves out there to meet other moms, there is nothing better than having someone with a shared understanding of your current state of life. Like exercise—we don’t love it and we will do just about anything to avoid it—we know the outcome of mom dating really is good for us.
Just like dating, we have to kiss some frogs and meet some Ms. Almosts to find true Ms. Rights. Because when we find that one friend who is truly our type of person, we will never regret the horrible discomfort of mom dating. Like finding a true love, we will breathe a sigh of relief when we pick up the phone and hear on the other end, “I just had the same thing happen!” or “I thought I was the only one,” or “You’re not a monster, this is hard!” or whatever it is you need to hear.
When we find the diamond moms in the rough, it’s important to put them in our pocket.
And, final note in this non-advice piece, please don’t mistakenly misplace them when you are cleaning out the emotional minivan of our endless routine mom lives.