Sunday, 26 October 2014

When to introduce the boyfriend to your children

Golly gosh and bugger me backwards. I've only gone a bagged myself a man. He's got all his own teeth, a full head of hair, takes his shoes off upon entering and brings flowers., he is still married (separated though) and no....o he doesn't have his own place and he probably is on the rebound from a horrendous split but NONETHELESS - he's mine.

I met him off the internetascope. First meeting: crowded bar, my town. Second meeting, crowded pub, my town. Third date: gig, his town.

Fourth: my house.

Fifth: my house.

You'll have noticed that he comes to me a lot. And that's because going to his town, an hour away, is almost impossible. In fact, when you've got children, dating is almost impossible full stop.

My kids, teen and tween, are on the cusp of being ok to be left for a couple of hours. Which I did for the first and second date. But the dates were on school nights, and so on both occasions, I pulled my Cinderella act at 9pm and skiddadled back to my offspring, making sure that they hadn't pulled each others' arms off or set the house on fire. I couldn't really relax on the date and what's worse - I couldn't drink.

You might ask why I didn't get a babysitter. Well, I did for date 3, which turned out to be a mammoth ask, as I was away from 7 til 12 (on a school night). I was so grateful to my friend that I practically offered to give her my soul in recompense for my dirty-stoppoutedness.

So here's the problem. I can't sensibly leave my children on their own. And yet I can't afford to pay for babysitters, and I don't have the ability to repay friends who babysit for me.

So how on earth are you supposed to date a man?

The practical answer is: bring him to your home. Which brings me to the extremely long-winded point of this post.

When should you introduce your boyfriend to your children?

I've done my research, and it backs up what my own common sense is saying: don't introduce him until you're sure. You're potentially setting a bomb off in your children's' lives; be sure first. Be sure.

And yet. How the eff are you supposed to keep leaving your children to go on dates in the first place? Unless, of course, you have extremely understanding parents living nearby, OR have a limitless wallet, AND are ok with leaving your children in the evenings on a fairly regular basis. (I, I've discovered, am not.)

The only solution is, once you've vetted him for possible axe-murderer tendencies, to bring him back home. Children and all.

Now. I know that red flashing lights have been set off. All the advice is to take months to decide that this is THE ONE - and then do the introductions. And I know that I may well be wrong, and this may come and bite me in the arse in ten years. I know all this. But my logic is thus:

1. My kids know I am dating. They are old enough to understand what this means - ie, that I am meeting men in order to 'try them out'. To see if he and I hit it off.
2. However, they are FULLY ASSURED that I love them first, they come first, I think of them first, that basically THEY WIN when it comes to my life.
3. My date doesn't sleep over when they're in the house.
4. Also, until the kids are in bed, the door where I am (with the date) and them (the kids) is always open. I want them to know that we are just talking.
5. I don't want them to feel uncomfortable in their own home, and am positioning this man as a 'friend' - at least for now.

And having said all of that, I have so far brought home only two men in two years. It is hard to find a man that seems to suit; it is hard to arrange to go out on a date. By the time these mountains have been climbed, you realise that the fact you've managed to meet anybody at all that you vaguely like is a bleedin miracle.

But as I'm writing this, I'm wondering if I'm just being selfish and actually, what I'm doing is putting my own needs above the needs of my children. Thing is, I know that I need to be careful. And I strongly feel that my personal life shouldn't be put on hold until my children have flown the nest. That a strategy of honesty, reassurance and love is actually ok.

Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The uphill struggle to parents' evening

There's this hill. It's over a mile long. I cycle down it to get to work (9 minutes). I cycle up it to get home (an awful lot longer).

Over the summer, I told myself that, now my youngest was no longer at Primary school and could walk to his new school, I didn't need to drive. What I needed to do was to get on my bike and tackle that effing hill.

And so, since the beginning of September, I've ping-ponged up and down said hill almost every day. Over the weeks, I've learned many things about the downhill run, including how to avoid the pot holes at speed; that skirts really can fly up in your face if you're going fast enough; and that, if you have your brakes on all the time, you will soon hear the shrieking of metal on metal, smell burning rubber and witness an occasional naked flame (which is not good).

It's the uphill part though, that has caused me most heartache. Literally. It's made my heart. Ache.

My first issue was: heat. September seemed to be full of blisteringly hot late afternoons, and as I laboured up the hill in my Granny cog gear, I would attempt to strip off everything I possibly could, without being arrested for Mum Nudity. I would go so slowly that sometimes, I would fall off. Literally. People walking - with sticks - would overtake me. My heart, which already has a hole in, would occasionally shout "WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?" and tell me to stop. Which I did. But after a short rest, I'd carry on with the hill torture and battle my way home, usually pushing the sodding bike for the remainder of the hideous journey.

And when I got home, I'd immediately (in this order): drink a pint of water, say hello to my children, take a paracetamol, have a cold shower and lie down. For an hour.

Six weeks later and things have got a bit better. I still hate the thought of the long journey home, but I can do the hill in one sitting now, and this week, I actually overtook a walker. Although, to be fair, he might have been walking the other way.

So this brings me to tonight's shenanigans. It was Parents' Evening, and I'd ridiculously booked my slots far too early, giving myself 30 minutes to not only cycle up the bleedin hill but to make sure I was in some sort of human form when presenting myself as a parent to my kids' tutors.

I had to put pressure on myself. Today was the day when I was going up a gear.

But about twenty seconds after I'd gone up one gear, three things happened: 1. my heart appeared to beating so hard that it filled my whole chest cavity, and my throat, and may have been popping out of my mouth, 2. my breathing became so loud that it smothered the clamour of all passing traffic, including a tour bus, and 3. someone had rushed in and fixed invisible lead weights to my thighs, which were burning like buggery.

By this point, it was raining hard. My eyes were swimming, and my nose was dripping. There were various other 'ing' words that I really don't want to talk about. Every car that passed me gave me an additional soaking and I started to scream, "THANK YOU!" at the top of my voice to each one. The final straw came as a Range Rover overtook me and then turned left in front of me, into the gates of a local private school. "THANK YOU, YOU FUCKER!" I screamed as I wobbled around the bulky boot of the car - then realised that the driver had heard me and so cycled off at top speed (2 mph).

I eventually made it to the top, and checked my watch. Eight minutes before my appointment; my house was a minute's cycle away, and the school five minutes from there. I couldn't go straight to the school because, to be honest, I looked like a banshee and smelt like a cowshed. I needed to get home, wash, brush and go.

The race was on.

My road is two-way but narrow. Normally I wait like a good girl for traffic coming towards me but today, I was in full 'chicken-playing' mode. I was stopping for no one. So precisely 56 seconds after reaching the top of the hill, I was home.

There is no easy way to say this, but essentially, I gave myself a good mopping. Impulse was used to cover any latent smells. My helmet was taken off, a brush pulled through my hair, and then my helmet was back on. A quick 'hello, goodbye' to my eldest and I was off again.

You know when you thought it was raining hard, and then it really starts to rain hard, and you suddenly think, "Oh....NOW it's wet." That.

The road was flooded. Water was getting in the top of my boots. I couldn't look up because it felt like God was sticking crochet hooks in my eyes.

So after five minutes of blind cycling, I arrived at the school. I locked up my bike, and took off my helmet.

And as I walked in, I caught sight of myself in a the window. I looked like a cross between a tramp, a bonfire Guy, and a parking attendant (high viz, see).

And with this knowledge, I strode into the school hall, dripping, hand outstretched towards my tween's apparently terrified tutor...

Sunday, 5 October 2014

10 (alternative) tips on internet dating

Well, I've had one fairly successful internet date and obviously this makes me the world-renowned guru on the subject (it doesn't). More to the point, I have had more unsuccessful, dismal, disappointing, crushing dates than you can shake a stick at - so I thought I'd draw some positivity from this ultimately extremely depressing experience to bring you 10 alternative tips on internet dating.

If you've signed up to a dating website, sure as eggs is eggs you'll have googled 'tips on internet dating', 'safe dating' or 'find me an arsing boyfriend and be bloody quick about it'. Everybody's jumped on the bandwagon, offering nuggets of wisdom - even the broadsheets (see this article from The Guardian back in March). The same spiel will appear and re-appear: 1. be safe, 2. have a strategy, 3. market yourself ... etc etc, bla bla bla.

If you're teetering on the edge of internet dating, you need advice from someone on the ground. That's me. And here it is.

1. Choose your website carefully

Oh my effinglordy-ness. There are literally hundreds of dating websites out there. My view: paid ones are best. The very fact that you have to pay (sometimes quite a lot) sorts the wheat from the chaff. There are far fewer people on them, but the quality is higher. And the website that you choose will reflect the 'type' of potential partner on there; for example, Guardian Soulmates is (generally) littered with left wing, cycling musicians who are great at writing. Muddy Matches is its antichrist, a sort of right wing dating site for young farmers, which rates you in terms of 'muddiness'. Best not to ask.

But the point is, choose the site that floats your boat. If you're looking for an arty, introverted, vaguely depressed hippy - Soulmates is for you. If you prefer the Hunter-wellied, Hooray Henry with beagles, pop along to Muddy Matches. And there are shedloads of sites for anything in between. (Uniform Dating, anyone?)

2. Don't spread yourself too thinly

After much angst, you've put up your profile. You've 'Liked' or 'Winked' or 'Hoofed' (I just made that one up) some people, and they've reciprocated. You're in touch with one, two, three people. Now five. Now seven. And the feeling of being wanted, of being liked, is immense.

BUT. Don't let everyone have a piece of you. Think of yourself like a big round cheese, segmented up into 'time and energy'. Now, I'm a working single mum so, already, 40% of my cheese is devoted to work, and 50% to my children. That leaves a measly 10% for everything else, including meeting new people.

Be picky. Don't just keep seeing someone because they like you. If you feel the spark, keep going. If they score anything below a '9', make your excuses and head onto the next.

3. If they're new to the website, jump on them

It's a cattle market, no doubt about it. There is old beef that's been hanging around for months (sometimes years - I kid you not), so when fresh meat appears, it's a feeding frenzy. I'm exaggerating a bit, but if someone's profile appears and you like the look of them - get your oar in, get in touch and meet. ASAP.

4. Be brave and meet face-to-face, soon as.

I'm scared of meeting people. If I could, I'd live in a virtual world where I'd fall in love with someone via email. Words are powerful to me, but a meeting has the potential for disaster; I could get lost, I could trip over, I could have cabbage in my teeth, I could spill my wine down my front, he might think I'm ugly, he might notice the width of my thighs.... see? It's a wonder I get dressed every day. (I don't.)

The point is, this guy might be the best wordsmith in the whole of christendom, and yet face-to-face, he might do nothing for you. So. Words are lovely, important, they set the scene - but they are not real. Wrong foot him by suggesting a date early on. He'll be impressed.

5. Stay local and split the bill

I'm going to say something a tiny bit controversial, and make huge, overwhelming generalisations. Here goes.

People dating at our age, more often than not, have children. Generally, the children spend more time at their mother's houses, than their fathers. Therefore it is potentially more difficult for women to physically get out of the house and date; the children effectively create a barrier to meeting new people.

I am finding it hard. I have spent 18 months not going out, but now I find that I need a raft of babysitters on hand. I can't afford it (number 1), and number 2, my kids aren't happy with the sudden change. And neither, if I'm honest, am I.

But I can't stay trapped in the house until my kids are 18, can I?

So some sort of compromise has to be negotiated. If the guy lives in another town, ask him to come to your town to meet. This will save on valuable time away from your kids. If and when the relationship gets going, you can talk about how to work it out to make sure everyone is happy (and not left with an empty wallet).

But when you're on the date, split the costs. Please don't expect him to pay for everything; you are not Lady Mary and he is probably paying his ex wife an arm and a leg and is living in a bedsit. So offer to buy him a drink, and watch his face light up.

6. If you're nervous - tell him

I've learnt that nerves are ok - as long as you admit to them. If you don't say anything, your date might assume that dribbling/stammering/falling over/spilling your drink/uncontrollably winking are just parts of your multicoloured personality.

Saying that you're nervous is cute. And articulating it immediately makes you feel more relaxed.

7. Have a drink - but only one

I need a drink when I'm on a date. I just do. I have a glass of red wine - I don't care what sort - and it helps. It's not just the warm, comforting feeling that the alcohol gives me; it's the glass itself. The stem gives me something to fiddle with (probably in some sort of semi-erotic way, now I come to think about it), in a way that a normal bog standard tumbler of Diet Coke just couldn't.

If you're not driving, have another drink. But stop there. Do not get legless; terrible things will happen. You will reveal too much, physically and verbally; you will fall over on your way to the toilets; you will spit; there will be mum-dancing. There will possibly be flirting with the waiters, and a revealing of the long, sorry story of your divorce.

Two drinks is your absolute limit.

8. Check your teeth

Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman was right. Dental hygiene is key to a successful date. Look at your teeth before you get to the date, and during when he's not looking. Take floss, or those teepee sticks, with you. Bits in teeth are just..horrible. It's making me have a tiny wretch even now. *shudder*

9. Have a deadline on the first date

Set yourself a two hour limit on the first date, and come up with a great excuse why. Mine is concrete; my kids are just old enough to be left on their own, but only for two hours. And then I have to be back. This has the double-win of:

- if the date is awful, you've got an escape route,
- if the date is wonderful, you leave him gasping for more. Sort of.

Caveat: If you're going to be the first one leaving the bar, make sure that your skirt isn't tucked into your knickers. He will watch you leaving. Showing your arse at this stage is probably not a great idea.

10. If it goes well, resist the temptation to get in touch too soon

This, for me, has been the hardest lesson to learn. If I like someone, I am all over them like a rash. If I haven't heard from them within ten minutes, I text them, showering them with compliments, sending them links to jewellers shops, asking them about baby names.

Unsurprisingly, they get a tiny bit put off by this, and quite often have disappeared into the ether.

So I have learnt to sit on my hands. Literally - sit on my hands. My thinking now is: if they like me, they'll get in touch. If they can't really be arsed, nothing I can say will change that. So I do nothing (except for daydream of our wedding day - there will be red roses and confetti in the shape of hearts) and wait.

Good luck with your dates - I'd love to hear about them.