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An Uneasy Player in the Dating Game

<i> Durant is a producer for KCBS-TV</i>

I looked at the reflection in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. The makeup was fine, the body was so-so and the clothes, well I had at least 20 more outfits to try on. But there staring back at me through familiar eyes was something I wasn’t used to seeing. Panic. And panic is not very attractive in a woman my age.

As a young woman looking forward to what life had in store, I saw my late 30s as a time when I would be settled, happily married and raising a fashionable number of children. At the same time, I would be making great strides in my chosen career. It was the kind of daydream that danced in the heads of most women who came of age in the ‘60s. But a happy marriage was not in the offing and now I find myself a mature career woman with a young child. This condition would not be so bad if it did not put me back on the dating circuit.

In exactly one hour I will be on a date--a first date. And as with all the dates I’ve had since becoming a single mother, I can honestly say I’m not looking forward to it. The man who will soon be knocking on my front door is very nice and once seated in a pleasant restaurant I will probably have a wonderful time, but dating at this stage of my life is somehow unseemly and it feels wrong. It is an activity better suited to the young and unencumbered. I speak from experience. I have been dating on and off for more than 20 years.

What don’t I like about it? Almost everything. The mental scrambling to come up with small talk. The waves of adolescent insecurity. And the endless doubts. Does he like me? Do I like him? Will he make a pass? Will I make a pass? Is he someone I could introduce to my friends? And last but not least, is he someone I could take home to my son?

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Add to this a dash of self-pity--"Why me, God? Why am I not getting ready for a cozy evening at home with a nice, comfortable husband?” This last disgusting ingredient is a by-product of overextension. Dating for a single parent is just one more dollop of potatoes on a very full plate. And lurking behind the panic I see in the mirror was an even more familiar sight--fatigue.

From the moment I hang up the phone after making a date, second thoughts begin to eat away at me. It doesn’t matter whether I called him or he called me, the first thought in my head is, “Do I really have the energy for this?” Then, like the Florida Keys in the hurricane season, I brace myself for the blistering winds of arrangements. Which baby sitter? Is she available? Where does she live? Will I drop my son off at her house or take her to mine? Will I have to make the return trip or does my date live near the sitter? I launch into a flurry of phone calls and negotiations and through it all I ask myself, “Will my stamina hold out?” If the answer is yes, I trudge on to stage two.

I run around the house, checking each room to see if it’s clean enough for company. If not, I devise some plan to make time to clean it. Then I dash to the refrigerator to see if there is wine; if not I go to the store. Finally, there is the confrontation with my closet. “Is there anything clean and appropriate to wear?” This can take hours.

With those minor details taken care of all that’s left is to be attractive, amusing, attentive and open to new experiences. Piece of cake, right? Well, that’s the reason for my panic . . . I just don’t think I have it in me tonight.

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If all this sounds like a convincing argument against dating by single parents, it’s not meant to be. But the next time you’re preparing for a date and looking in the mirror, make friends with the panic and fatigue. In the short run dating seems like just another ball on your ever-growing chain, and it is. The question is, what do you want in the long run?

So I look in the mirror, decide the dress I have on will do and wish myself bon appetit.


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