After divorcing a man who’d been a lot of fun but not a lot of depth, I decided to date only men who were previously married, ambitiously employed, and had children.
I wanted men who were stable, knew their priorities, and had thought about values, being a role model, and their needs, wants and goals in life.
Men with kids seemed to fit the bill.
If they were intelligent, conscientious men to begin with, then after divorce, they’d thought carefully about the effects divorce and subsequent dating might have on their children. They prioritized not only time with their kids, but thought through and planned out the best ways to care for their children’s physical, social, and emotional needs.
They’d thought through on both a surface and deeper level, every need a female teen might have, and this gave them greater insight, understanding, and compassion for my needs, quirks, and crises of confidence. The longer we dated, they showed continual insight for my physical, emotional, and communication needs.
One man stopped me on our way to the car to pick up a hair tie. “I’m never going to be without a dozen of these in my car again,” he said, waving it at me. After a tearful, emotional breakdown by his 12 year old on the way to school one day, he stocked his car (and briefcase and bathroom) with hair ties, bobby pins, and an extra baseball hat to avoid any future bad hair meltdowns.
He may not have agreed that the hair looked bad, or that tears were warranted, but he had witnessed the (albeit exaggerated) teen angst of a bad hair day, and had empathy and patience for me the next time I could not get an up do to sit just so before going to dinner. He even offered to braid my hair instead, another skill he learned from being dad to a daughter.
Another man, when his daughter got her first period, took her to lunch and then went with her to buy several types of pads, created a special box in the bathroom for her supplies, and made sure one of them was quick to spot treat any embarrassing panty or bed sheet stains. This guy was not going to be disgusted if we had sex during my period, or if my running shorts had a few spots on them. He knew what to expect.
When trying on dresses before a big work engagement, another Dad turned off the TV to give me his full attention and a detailed critique of each look. “Can you tell I have a daughter?” he said. “I know getting just the right outfit is important, and puts her in a much better mood!” He proceeded to help me analyze out the pros and cons of different ensembles—which boots were too tall, which dress cut off my waist (sent it back), and if I needed a bold statement piece, or simple, classic jewelry. While he might not have personally felt the need to consider each angle, layer, and contrasting color, he did realize it was important for my confidence, and he certainly appreciated the finished product.
On the emotional side of things, maybe it was a combination of being divorced and having learned from that experience, and from raising daughters, but they were much more in tune with how woman communicate, relate, and interpret male actions.
The same hair-tie man told me once that I could talk and vent all I wanted and he would not offer solutions or suggestions until asked for. He’d had one too many skirmishes with his daughters when he offered advice for their teen dramas. “No Dad! You don’t get it,” they’d say. He realized that, aside from being a very uncool, old dad who would never say anything right, they actually didn’t need or want his advice; they simply wanted to vent. If he could just nod, listen, and empathize, the girls would talk through their trauma, arrive at a solution on their own, and walk away happy. He memorized a few key phrases; “That sounds awful, honey,” or “oh no, what happened next?” and supported all their stories without starting another battle.
When I called him to vent about a co-worker, he used the same tactics. He didn’t demand more info or push solutions on me, he just listened and let me blow up for a few minutes. “Feel better?” he asked afterwards. And we both hung up happy.
The outfit selection dad showed real insight when he asked me to always give both my first and second reactions to things, and we could work about halfway between the two. He’d learned the difference between emotional (first) and rational (second) reactions after his daughter had blown up several times in the car on the way to school. He’d share an opinion he thought was totally reasonable and she’d react immediately with harsh words expressing an opinion the polar opposite of his. He’d patiently explain his thinking, and then they’d sit in angry silence.
But often by the end of their commute, or via text later that morning, she’d apologize for snapping, and share a more rational and thought-out reaction. She may have still disagreed with him, but her emotions were tempered by time to think, and she could level a logical (for the developing teen brain) opinion.
With women he dated, he wanted a direct, no guessing-games approach to communication, asking always for their first reaction to things. But realizing that truly first, gut-level, raw thoughts are often based on emotion, he learned to ask for both first and second, and go from there. He learned that some people (men and women) worked from an emotional side first, then brought in logic and reason, to create a full understanding of the situation. Basing a longer conversation on emotional reactions wasn’t fair to either person.
He realized that with time, patience, and empathy on both sides, a true compromise and greater understanding of the other person could come out.
Perhaps in the sense of true equality, I should try raising a son and see what that teaches me about the male psyche. But since that isn’t possible, I’ll do what I can to understand men, and continue to appreciate those who’ve learned from experience, what might be important to me.