When you’re married and have young children, you figure your dating life is pretty much over.
Wrong. In fact, it’s just the time to start dating. Dating other families, that is.
Remember when you were single and had tons of friends? Friendships came easily. Then you became married or partnered. Suddenly, most of your friends were also couples. Remember how the dynamics changed? Like when you couldn’t stand your husband’s best friend’s girlfriend—the one whose every utterance sounded like it came directly out of Cosmo? You and your partner sifted through friends, old and new, to find other couples with whom you both enjoyed spending time.
Then you went and procreated. At first there’s no time for anyone or anything else. You cocoon. Your friends who don’t have babies fade away. You forget what the inside of a restaurant looks like. Hell, you forget how to communicate with other adults.
But as your kids get older and less time-consuming, you venture back out into the world of friendships, this time as a family.
You find yourself checking out other families at parks, the pool, church, even the grocery store. You’ve got a checklist in your head. It probably goes something like this (if you’re anything like me): Dad who seems to like kids. Check. Cute mom, but not too cute, who doesn’t seem stressed out. Check. Kids seem healthy, about the same ages as our kids, and aren’t exhibiting psychopathic tendencies. Check.
In a town the size of Asheville, you might see potential families to date several times before you make the first move. When you’re ready, you saunter up, kids in tow, and throw out a pickup line. Luckily, kids can offer you great ones. “Does your little girl want this swing next?” “Bobby, share your ball with that nice little boy.” “Hey, my kid has that same jacket.” Sometimes, your kids make the connection for you, and you find yourself hooking up with your kid’s new best friend’s family.
But if you’re out in public, checking out another family, and your kids actually start playing with their kids, then you can hint at a date. “Since the kids are having so much fun together, maybe we could meet here tomorrow?” Use that line only at the park or the pool, though. It sounds pathetic at the grocery store.
We initially met one family in infant-massage class who we’ve dated long term. They’d just moved to town and must’ve been desperate for friends with a kid the same age as theirs, because our baby screamed through every class as their infant giggled and cooed while they rubbed his chubby leggies with oil. Luckily, I could throw our baby into the car and drive her home while Enviro-spouse practiced massaging a baby doll. Despite the bad beginning, this family has stuck with us, and those differently tempered babies are now the tightest of friends.
If the easy getaway date — a meeting in the park or a family-friendly restaurant or maybe a quick beer after infant-massage class — goes well, you can take a deep breath and ask the prospective family over for dinner. This is diving in, though. You’re giving them the chance to see how you really interact with your kids and each other in your home. At this point, you should just be yourself. Don’t super-clean the house if it isn’t normally that way. Don’t make beef bourguignon if you normally eat hamburgers. There’s not time in family dating to make the mistakes you had time for when you were young, single and not sleep-deprived.
Of course, family dating can be much more complex than one-on-one dating. You’re dealing with six or more different personalities instead of two.
Like all relationships, it’s not going to be perfect. There will be fighting (particularly among the kids) and you’ll get irritated with one other. Kind of like being married. Except it’s easier to break up. Sometimes.
You might discover, later than you hoped, that you’re not as compatible with another family as you’d thought. Or a family you’re dating moves away or goes through a divorce. Sometimes, you find families that you’re more compatible with, and your time with the family you used to practically live with becomes just an occasional date. Sometimes, your family gets dumped. It can hurt.
But it’s worth looking for new families to date. Because, while some families might be able to survive in a self-contained, self-sufficient world, mine can’t. We’re tribal. Plus, while it might not provide quite the adrenaline rush of meeting a potential lover, family dating provides some excitement, companionship and an external-support system. Sometimes it does take a village, both to raise children and to get the parents through the experience.