Some things in the world scare me. Whether this is a terror at the prospect of dying or worrying about the loss of one of the most significant relationships in my life, I have things which concern me greatly. But when it came to the series the Guide has partnered with Brandi Kennedy of Brandi Kennedy: Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman, I didn’t count on having anything particular to fear. I try to be as open as I can on here about myself, my struggles and the things I do daily to overcome them. And I hope to be a beacon to other fathers trying to do the same thing. So when Brandi talked about putting together a post on the differences between being a single and being a couple, I didn’t have any initial trepidation.
And then I started to think about what I was going to write this post. The words didn’t seem to want to come out. I would begin to tear up when I thought about certain aspects of my life. As I tried to put “pen to paper,” metaphorically speaking, I realized I felt loss all over again. I did not feel the loss of something I wanted to retain. And I was not feeling bad my marriage ended. Instead, I felt something very different. I felt the weight of 40 years of expectations of who I should be, and not feeling I was living up to those expectations.
Couple Life Vs. Single Life (For The Single Parent)
And then I started thinking about how I would put all of this together. Because as I began to think about what I was going to write, there were three different aspects of couple life versus single life. As easy as it might have seemed from the writing prompt, for the divorced parent, couple life has two distinct meanings. And single life does not quite hold the same allure for the man the way it did prior to marriage or a serious relationship which produced a child or children. Let me try to explain.
Couple Life – Part One
First, let’s examine couple life for the single parent. On the one hand, there was the couple life which existed when you were in a serious relationship with your child’s parent. You certainly miss some things from here. You had intimacy, which I am guessing may be much more difficult now. And you had a partner to share the duties and responsibilities as well as the dreams and aspirations with.
When the single parent looks back on this couple life, they see it from a perspective of loss. They look back and see the things they no longer have. Whether it’s time with their child, or the freedom to do things, or the financial security to afford that little mini-vacation you wanted to take, it’s all about what you no longer have.
Ironically, sometimes the things you lost, are net positives. For instance, I may have had more time with my daughter before if you consider literal time in the same room with her. But as far as quality time and the ability to talk to my child, I had absolutely none. It’s addition through subtraction. And I will not complain about the loss of the fighting and acrimony which went along with it. For those of you who have been in a toxic relationship, you know what it feels like. You need out of some situations even if the cost is sky high.
The one strange part of divorce which I expected and did not happen was I never lost concern over my ex-wife’s well being. I don’t love her. And I certainly wish for myself to have to deal with her as little as possible. But for my child’s sake, I hope she finds happiness and can provide a positive environment for my child, no matter how skeptical I am of it happening.
Couple Life – Part 2
Trying to become a couple when you have a child and you are no longer with your child’s parent is an entirely different experience. It’s not exactly easy to explain the difference, but let’s begin with the desire of the single parent. Because it is this desire which confuses and mixes everything up when you attempt to be a couple post uncoupling.
Step One – Depression
It begins where the last relationship ended. As the single parent, you start from the position of profound loss. You may be like me and well rid of your former spouse, but you still sense this disconnection from your former life which usually accompanies a fair bit of depression on your part. For a while, you just try to pick up the pieces and try to reconstruct this former identity you had prior to marriage or a relationship.
But you cannot. First, you are not the person you were before you got married. You cannot be. Years of connection and development have transformed you into a new being. Whether this being might be better or worse than your former self is irrelevant. You have changed. And second, you now have a living being or beings you now must be responsible for. This second issue transformed you in amazing ways. It still transforms you. Because you cannot change this fact, the loss of “self” feels more profound.
Step 2 – Rebuilding / Rebranding
As you begin to reconstruct some sense of who you are, you begin to accept some new things about yourself while reincorporating older aspects of yourself. You transform yourself from the married or coupled parent to the single parent. It’s a blend of the single self and the more responsible married self. And this process begins to take hold, you begin to disconnect from the negative feelings about relationships and start realizing those things which you missed.
All of a sudden, you remember what it felt like to be up til 2 am laughing about the way your daughter tried to crawl across the floor to the Christmas tree and buried herself in among the presents. It’s the contented sigh of laughter at the shared moment you long for. And, oh yeah, there is always that physical intimacy you miss as well.
But you don’t have time for that just yet, so you continue testing and trying different things. You ask yourself whether things you believed before were true. Or were they merely reflections of the things in your relationship you had to maintain as truth or the whole relationship would fall apart? Each answer to every question solves one piece of the puzzle of who you are. And with each piece put together comes confidence and ultimately a sense of purpose.
Step 3 – New Connections
Here is the part where you decide you are ready to add a new person to your life. Some friend of yours may have convinced you it was a good time to try out OK Cupid or eHarmony. You aren’t ready to talk to anyone necessarily but you get on to see who messages you and maybe to get a slight ego boost from the attention. A whole new dating world rose up around you since you were last on the market and you need to get your feet wet.
But here is where Couple Life 2 takes a sharp contrast from before. You have this other being which is your priority. You want to take someone else on and have them in your life. It’s important. But this child suffered enough through loss and pain. And in some cases, the child has internalized blame for the falling apart of the relationship. Bringing in another person to your world adds chaos to your fragile state of single parent life you developed. And yet the need for intimacy never recedes.
Step 4 – Transformation into “Duel Life Danny”
So then (at least from my perspective as a single father), you become “Duel Life Danny.” You have the one world of parenting which includes, school projects, karate, dancing, home cooked meals for two and bed by nine. And then you have the second world of late night dates, worrying about “red flags”, kisses stolen between scenes at a movie theater or in a darkened corner of a restaurant, and early morning text messages letting the other person know you think about them.
You do your best to maintain these worlds apart from each other. Not because you feel like you can keep this up forever. And not because you don’t want your child to see you have a happy and healthy relationship with someone else. The thing you dread when you finally start to take your separate lives and converge them into one manageable life is that your children feel like they are being replaced. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have all of the excellent reasons all drawn up in your head why this new relationship will be a blessing to your child. They can see real love. They can see real happiness. Their whole vision of relationships will not be clouded by what happened in the past.
But then you remember the damage done by you and your ex-partner to your child’s stability and well-being. You feel keenly their sense of loss and hurt by everything. And sometimes you recognize their attempt to blame themselves for what happened before. You don’t want this to happen again. And you certainly don’t want them to feel like they are being replaced in the process. So this step goes on way longer than you would like it to, or maybe even healthy for you and your child. And eventually comes the day you must move on to the 5th and final step.
Step 5 – Integration
The day comes you need to integrate the two parts of your life into one solid part. And while the worry is still there, the 4 a.m. wake-up times two nights a week and the lack of energy on your part when you are with your child convince you, now is the time to introduce your two loves and bring them into one family.
But here is where everything changed. You can see how being a single parent affects the honeymoon phases and the normal aspects of a developing relationship. And then you also can tell the single parent is well past their “taste-test” phase of dating. They immediately jump into serious seeking and commitment. Because it’s the only kind of relationship which will be worth it to them in the long run. They need to protect both the child and their heart and trying out everything out there will not lead to success.
In the integration process, everything goes haywire. What time do you spend with whom and when? How will the child respond to the new person? If positive great, but if negative, what will your response be to this predicament? Do you immediately ditch the new person assuming your child has some ESP about the person and so they need to go, all the while allowing your child to be the arbiter of what a good and a bad relationship looks like? (And deep in the recesses of your mind you realize they may think no relationship is good for you.) Do you tell the child they have to be the one to accommodate this new person, ostracizing them and distancing them from you further? And if you keep trying to get them to connect with your partner so your child will ultimately respond better, what will that look like?
Then comes the expectations of your new partner. Do they think they will be a whole other parent? Will some part of them feel the need to be a whole new mother? Or will they only try to be a friend? And how will you handle what their expectations are? How will they handle when the child needs something and you are not around? Can they develop the bond you want them to have?
And then you have the issues of punishment and reward. How should this other parent handle this? Will they have a direct roll in doling out rewards and handing down punishments? Or will they be expected to let you handle everything? What if you are not around? And what will you do when your child and your new partner have a difference of opinion about what transpired? Will you take a side and have one person be upset, or will you take no sides and have everyone be upset? All of these difficult decisions frequently end up with the single parent deciding single parent life is better. And they might just have to wait till they have grown kids before dating again.
Single Life (For The Single Parent)
All of this thinking about Couple Life leads us back to what life is like for the Single Parent and how it differs. And all of this feels complicated because when a single parent thinks about handling an issue they frequently evaluate what happens from three different perspectives. Which when you understand it all, makes the single parents viewpoint of the world seem off kilter. But when you get the background of what the single parent thinks about when they think about what it was like to be a couple, and what the prospect of being a couple again means, you begin to understand why they have multiple emotions about every issue.
Let’s begin with a thought experiment. Imagine you have a child at school and you receive a phone call from them your child has a 99.3 fever and says she wants to go home. Schools do not automatically send you home unless you have a 99.4 fever so she is only a tenth of a degree before they would automatically send her home.
Also, imagine you are at work and you cannot easily get out of what you are doing. You have a major project to finish in order to meet a deadline and you cannot be sure you will finish if you have to interrupt your day. Finally, imagine you know your daughter has been feeling bad for days but hasn’t had enough of a fever to keep her home, but 99.3 is the highest it’s been. And you remember what it was like being forced to be in school when you were feeling ill. Sometimes things got worse.
So what would be running through my mind at this moment? Gosh, it would be nice to have a partner at this moment. They could help run and get your child and take them home while you finished up this major project. And how nice was it when you could count on another person to do the little things. But then again, you remember your ex-wife and what they were like. You probably would have gotten into a little mini argument about whether she was sick enough to come home. And then she would probably have a panic attack and insist she felt like she needed to go to the hospital so you would have to run home and take care of two sick people instead of just dealing with one. How would it be with a new person? I couldn’t be sure.
If I really had another partner, how would my daughter respond if she picked her up instead of me? Would she merely be disappointed? Or would she be upset and feel like I had abandoned her? And if the latter, what kinds of things would she tell her mother, and what kind of trouble would it cause me? And would a series of these types of events lead her to tell a judge she didn’t want to live with me anymore and only wanted to be with her mother? There are just so many questions marks I have. At the same time, I really miss having the partnership with someone else I could count on.
Couple Life Vs. Single Life
As a single parent, ultimately, I have a list of things I miss about being a couple, and things I like about being a single parent. While not exhaustive, this gives you my basic feelings about my state.
Things I Miss Or Would Want Being A Couple
- Physical Intimacy
- Social Intimacy
- Spiritual Intimacy
- Partnership With Someone
- Care And Concern For The Health And Wellbeing of My Daughter And I
Things I Like Being A Single Parent
- Having My Own Relationship With My Daughter
- Being Responsible For My Own Decisions
- Being Able To Make Decisions For My Daughter Without Always Consulting Someone
- Knowing My Daughter Doesn’t Have To Experience Fighting In The Home
Couple Life Vs. Single Life – Wrapping Everything Up (Not So Neatly)
Honestly, I feel the pain every day of missing loving someone so much. I miss it on the days I have my daughter, although she helps. But I especially miss it on the days I do not have my daughter when I am alone with my thoughts. I would love to create a list and tell you things about couple versus single life with grace coupled with a large dollop of humor on top. But my feelings about this topic are messy.
It comes down to this. I believe to love and be loved in return is the closest thing we have to heaven on earth. It’s messy and complicated, and completely worth it. So while I appreciate being single, I do hope one day to go through the messy transition of bringing someone else into my life. And I want my daughter ultimately to see how amazing love can truly be when you find someone who loves you and desires to put energy and effort into a relationship.
Continue The Conversation
So what did you think of this post? How do you handle couple life vs. single life? I know for me, it’s hard to write about. I think I felt about it the same way I felt about writing about Death. Nevertheless, I think it’s such an important topic. And we shouldn’t ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, especially for single parents. And if this resonates with even one person, it will be worth it. So what do you like about single life? And what do you like about couple life? If you are a single parent, which do you think is easier and why? And if you have decided to stay single, what helped you make that decision?
Like / Follow Me
If you liked this post, please continue following the Guide for the month of January as we continue on with the perspectives series. Also, like this post at the end, and follow me here at the Guide. Email subscribers will be given access to the Dad Rules. These are ten rules every father should know about and follow. Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life