"I'm going to my first singles' event," my mom tells me as we walk into the Chinese buffet for Easter dinner. We're finally doing the holidays my style—by completely ignoring them.
I guess her statement is true. The last time she was truly single was when she was in her late thirties with braces on her teeth and two small children on her hip. After she divorced her second husband, she dated a family friend very casually for about a year. Now she's in her early sixties and starting over yet again.
She's always said she's done with dating, that she's giving up. She says she'll never marry again. I suspect otherwise. I think she has the same eternal hope that I do. Maybe next time will be better...
"I don't have anything to talk to men about," she complained as she dipped her shrimp in tartar sauce. "I don't want to talk about work."
"Tell them about your landscaping," I offered.
"I don't want to sound masculine," she countered.
"Tell them about your wildly successful children," I winked.
She said nothing. My mother wants to be something other than a mother. She doesn't want to talk about family and how ours got broken.
I shuffled my lo mein around my plate. I was running out of ideas. Me, the professional dater. I made a mental list of things I ask when I meet someone:
- Are you a local? This question probably doesn't fit the more established, older generation.
- Where did you go to college? See above.
- What do you do for a living? My mom doesn't want to talk about her job.
- What do you do for fun? My mom goes to dinner with a few girlfriends in what is, in my opinion, a Bitter Betty Club. She likes to shop. She also spends an inordinate amount of time working in her yard, which she also doesn't want to talk about.
"Get drunk and be funny," I finally shrugged. That's my backup plan.
My mother laughed for the first time. "There's probably only going to be one man there anyway, and he'll talk about his grandmother's china."
"Then just hang out and talk and make friends. Next time you'll know them and be more relaxed. You'll have a rapport to build upon."
My mother nodded.
Being in this situation with my mother is unusual. She's supposed to be the wise advice giver. She's supposed to have the stable relationship from which I learn. We're not supposed to figure this stuff out together.
I think about the mistakes my mother has made that ended with two failed marriages. Two. Both ending the same way: with the husband cheating. My mother always had a soft spot for my father and took him back time and time again until my father finally admitted “A leopard doesn’t change his spots.” The second one was just an all-around bad person.
I picked up a lot of bad habits watching that relationship. Forgiving men who lie probably being the foremost. Thinking it’s the woman’s job to stand idly by while the man does whatever he wants coming in a close second. I thought we as women were supposed to be silent sufferers. Stoic.
My mother and her brother got into a fight the other week. As she’s describing the fight to me, the hair stood on the back of my neck and I became agitated. The fight sounded exactly like one she would have with my step-father, exactly like one I would have with S. She could have changed the name of my uncle with the name of either of those men and I would have been none the wiser.
I think I’ve broken the cycle from the environment in which I grew up. I did. I went to therapy and dumped the newest loser boyfriend and spent the next year completing my 30 before 30 list. A list of everything I’ve ever said I wanted to do but hadn’t. I met Valdosta and learned how a good man feels. Looking back, it was the happiest year of my life.
My mom never went to therapy, and no doubt the damage done to her was greater than the damage done to me, despite the fact that my damage was in the form of bruises and scratches. In the same way my mom is not quite ready to give up hope and give up the singles’ groups, I’m not ready to give up on her either. I’m not ready to tell her she gave it a good run. That she should lay down and die.
There’s a popular story about when I was an infant. I was a newborn and screaming and wailing and thrashing as my mother tried to change my diaper. I was angry at the world and let everyone know, just as I do today. My father looked over her shoulder and muttered, “She’s got the [family] gene. She’s a fighter.”
The family gene my father specified was my mother’s side. We’re fighters. Because of that I know she’ll never give up. And neither will I.