Saturday 27 December 2014

Sex & the single mother {not an oxymoron}

Forget those feelings of guilt. As a woman, you're allowed to have a good time -- a stonking, bonking good time, says Suzanne Harrington

Suzanne Harrington

So, you're a single parent and you'd quite like to have sex, please. Specifically, you're a single mother -- because the rules for single fathers are, like the rules for men in general, different and more advantageous. But this is not about men -- it's about you, the single mother. Where do you exist on the socio-sexual spectrum? Perhaps somewhere between nun, eunuch and self-pollinating flower?

It's not that single mothers are not sexually alluring -- you're a woman, after all, and therefore desirable; it's just that the logistics are not in your favour.

As well as taking a village to raise a child, it is also far easier to do it with two incomes, so as a single mother, already paid less than your male colleagues at the best of times, you'll be both cash-poor AND time-poor. That means skint AND running ragged. Add to this the scapegoating of single mothers by the patriarchy -- because everything from male crime figures to the recession is your fault -- and you may not be feeling too sexy, even if you had any energy or cash left over from working and parenting unaided, seven days a week.

But, hey -- you're a woman, right? And women, despite what you've read, like sex as much as the next man. Plus, it was women who invented multi-tasking, so maybe it's time to get back in the pool.

You and your kids' dad are no longer together. Rumour has it that there are lots of available people out there also looking for sex, love and relationships -- all you have to do is connect with one you like who likes you back. What could be easier? Apart from maybe finding a needle in a haystack during a power cut?

Welcome to the psychological warfare that is online dating. If you're 23, hot and like to par-tay all night long, you'll be inundated. If you're 43 and more Ikea than Ibiza, perhaps not so much, except by people who wear golf jumpers and enjoy bridge and a bit of light opera.

This is not to put anyone off online dating -- it's the best way to meet people unless you're a 23-year-old clubber; but gird your loins in preparation, single mother. You will encounter a bewildering cross-section of dating humanity, from the ones who are dead keen then vanish as though abducted by aliens to the ones who seem to need a psychiatrist rather than an online subscription, via all the fantasists who turn up 10 years older, three stone wider and a foot shorter than advertised.

Take none of it personally -- it's all par for the course.

But having waded through the slug-infested dating pool, you may finally encounter someone you like who also likes you (the ratio seems to be that the older you are, and the more kids you have, the longer this process takes).

You've hit it off and start dating exclusively. You have dinner, see a film, go for walks, visit galleries, all the usual datey stuff. And as you're both adults, you'll sooner or later want to be adults together. Nakedly. And here begins the minefield. Even if he doesn't have kids himself, it's still complicated.

Where do you go to become intimate, to get to know each other in privacy and have some uninterrupted adult time? His place? Fine if you can get childcare, which is usually pricey and means you have to schedule in your intimacy time the way you schedule in the dentist. Not very sexy. And as a single parent, rather than a co-parent, can you ever truly turn your phone off?

So. Your place? Even if the kids are with their other parent (if they have one, that is) or with friends or family, the psychological clang of bringing a lover home for the first time can feel a bit weird. Even if your house is empty, it's still the house where you live with your kids (and possibly your pets/lodger/au pair/granny/foreign students). Can you navigate the overlap between family life and your re-emerging private life?

Here's some free advice -- have a tidy-up beforehand. You don't want to be getting cosy on the sofa with your five-year-old's toy trucks in your peripheral vision. Really, you don't.

Coitus interruptus takes on a whole new perspective when it comes to single mothers and sex. From getting a call from the babysitter to tell you little Johnny has a fever just as things are also heating up at your new chap's place, to having your kids bang on the bedroom door because they are psychic and know that right now you are desperate for some privacy, be prepared for a plethora of interruptions.

"Most of the women I spoke with wanted to re-partner and got into internet dating," she says. "But it turned out to be more complicated for all kinds of reasons -- men who didn't want commitment, who didn't want to make room in their lives for children, or some who even thought women were after their money.

"Other women who had been in long-term relationships found their new single status an opportunity to have fun, to experiment, to try different ways of being with other people.

"Some had f***-buddy relationships because it was easier -- there were no strings attached and it removed complication. Some tried same-sex relationships and one woman realised after 20 years of marriage that she was gay. And other women loved the opportunity of pursuing sexual pleasure and getting away from the motherhood identity, while others struggled and felt guilty."

Irish Independent

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