I started dating about five years after my divorce. My ex-husband had met someone and fell in love, and my kids seemed well adjusted and encouraged me to date. I was hesitant, mostly because I was overwhelmed at the idea… but also because my kids were with me 70% of the time. This is their home, too. Plus, I didn’t feel like I have a lot of time or bandwidth to date. But with encouragement from my kids and my friends, I decided it was my turn to try again. My first step was letting my friends set me up on a dating app.
My kids were teenagers and tweens at the time. I was open about going out on dates on the nights when they were with their father; I didn’t want them to hear about it from anybody but me, and I didn’t want it to feel like I was keeping secrets.
At first, I never gave a lot of details about my dates; I’d say things like, “Oh, he was nice but I don’t think I’ll see him again,” or “We are going to go out again.” When I would tell them I’d gone out with someone I didn’t really like, they had lots of questions and demanded to know why. There were a few times they told me I was probably being too picky.
After one particularly bad date that ended in an even worse kiss — it was forced — my kids met me with questions the next day like usual. I went with: “I’m not going to see him again, I didn’t like him.” But they kept digging, wanting to know why. And I decided to let them know because I thought it would be a really good lesson on consent: I wasn’t interested in this man and he forced a kiss on me and I pulled away and told him I wasn’t interested. But I phrased it carefully. I told them, “Because I told him I wasn’t interested in seeing him again but he didn’t listen. He kept texting me last night and tried to talk me into seeing him again which isn’t okay. If someone tells you no, it’s not okay to bug them and try to change their mind.”
What I left out was that he texted me as soon as I got home saying, “I know you said you aren’t interested but I know I can do better. That kiss was horrible. Let me try again.”
I replied with “No, thank you,” and he proceeded to blow up my phone with more reasons why I needed to try again (apparently he’s amazing in the sack and I was missing out!) with a few GIFs of couples making out to show me exactly what I was missing. Then I blocked him because who does that?
I think it’s important to show my kids what consent looks like through my experiences; that way, they’re better to see why there are some things you should never do, even if they seem minor.
Like the time I told the man I was dating not to come over, but he did anyway. I had only been on a few dates with him and thought I liked him. He wanted to come over but my kids were home and I told him no. I only introduce my kids to someone if I am positive it’s going to be a long-term relationship. He came over anyway to “surprise me.” I ended things with him immediately because it wasn’t cute, charming, or endearing — it was really disrespectful. I don’t ever want my kids pulling something like that on another person, and I want them to know it’s not okay for somebody to do it to them, either.
I want my kids to know “no” means no, period. I don’t care if it’s in a sexual consent scenario or simply a friend who tells them to stop doing something. “No” isn’t a negotiable word, and I hope by sharing my dating experiences with them they will see it’s not okay to simply ignore someone’s wishes. I want my kids to grow up being able to handle the word “no” — and telling them about my dating life has been a big eye-opener for them.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.