Sex and the Single Mom: What a Mom Wants
By Emily Listfield
One passionate weekend showed me what a true partnership could be.
Emily Listfield found herself suddenly single when her husband unexpectedly died after 10 years of marriage. She was completely unprepared for the adventures (and misadventures) that awaited her on the dating scene. In this final episode of our series "Sex and the Single Mom," Emily discovers what she's really looking for in a man.
A friend of mine once told me that to a single working mom, the sexiest words in the English language are "I'll take care of it."
When my husband died eight years ago, one of the hardest things I had to adjust to was having to make every decision alone, from the simplest (What should we have for dinner?) to the fraught (What school should I choose for my daughter?). I have plenty of friends and family to turn to for advice, but at the end of the day, the responsibility rests solely with me. There are times when it's easier not to have to take someone else's opinion into account (Let's skip the rollerblading and just go to a movie, thank you very much!?), but the constant need to be in charge can be draining. In fact, I couldn't even remember what it felt like to be able to let go of the reins — until one brief romantic interlude reminded me.
Daniel, a fellow writer, and I worked at the same place, but it was weeks before we actually spoke. In a way, that added to the anticipation — there was all that eye contact and flirty smiling, all that giddiness at just the thought of running into each other. When we finally talked (and talked and talked!) at an office party, we ended up laughing about our previous junior high school-style behavior (I admitted that I had even thought of passing him a note). Daniel was over 6 feet tall, with dark hair, deep-set eyes, a killer English accent, and a great sense of humor. From our very first conversation, we found we could discuss anything: our family backgrounds, books, relationships, dreams. Unfortunately, he was only here on sabbatical and was about to return to London. Before he left, we went out for drinks a couple of times and I made him dinner once, but that was it. (Okay, there was some very hot kissing — but nothing more.) He was quite a bit younger than me, in the middle of a divorce, and leaving town for good; I was just getting over a relationship with yet another unattainable man and was trying to break that pattern. The timing was, to say the least, not ideal. The night we said good-bye, it felt like a bittersweet missed opportunity.
Within days of Daniel moving back to London, though, we began a series of increasingly intense emails. A month later, when Sasha was due to go on a four-day class trip, Daniel asked if I would come to London to visit him. At first, I was racked with indecision. On the plus side: London, a totally hot guy, an unconsummated affair that would finally be, well, consummated. On the con side: What if we didn't get along — or worse, I fell in love with him, despite knowing our lives would never mesh? In the end, I came to the conclusion that I would probably regret not going more than I would regret going — and so I said yes.
Once I got my plane ticket, I began to get excited (there was lots of gym-going and lingerie shopping) as well as extremely nervous — we barely knew each other, after all. I hardly slept on the overnight flight. As soon as I got through customs, though, I saw Daniel waiting for me and I began to breathe more easily. Just the fact that he was standing exactly where he said he'd be was reassuring. We kissed hello and a sense of familiarity returned. Daniel was staying with a friend until the apartment he had bought was ready, so he'd made reservations at a hotel for us — which added to the slightly illicit air of the whole escapade. It was still quite early and the room wasn't ready yet, so we walked around Bloomsbury and got reacquainted.
Over coffee and pastries, Daniel began to thoroughly seduce me. It wasn't his touch or his kiss. No, what really did it for me was his words: He started to tell me of our plans. He'd made dinner reservations at a different type of restaurant each night so that I could experience various parts of London; he had gotten theater tickets; there was a museum show he thought I might like; there were walks he wanted to take me on. He presented all this in the sweetest, least overbearing way, and I was deeply impressed — and touched — that he had put so much thought and effort into it. It was instantly clear that I would not have to make a single decision other than what to wear — which, I realized an hour later when we checked in to our hotel, would be very little.
The long buildup to our relationship didn't exactly hurt, but what really allowed me to let go (in all ways!) was the way that Daniel had taken responsibility for all the niggling logistics I was so used to dealing with, freeing me to think of other things. Or better yet, not to think at all. Imagine crazy honeymoon sex. (I could talk about the fortitude of younger men, but that's another story.) Daniel and I did not leave that room for eight delicious hours. When we finally went out to a late dinner, I was practically skipping down the cobblestoned street: I had forgotten what it was like to feel so carefree.
For the next few days, Daniel continued to arrange everything: the visit to his favorite bookstore, the train ride to the country, the wine with lunch (followed by a "siesta" after), the shopping. He always checked with me first, but it was evident that his only real goal was making sure I had a good time, and I was more than happy to go along. It was, in the truest sense of the word, a vacation — not just from a place but from the weight of being constantly on duty.
One night, as we were having a glass of wine, I looked over at Daniel and tried to explain how much this meant to me. I wasn't sure he would understand; he had no children and his life was so different from mine. But he understood exactly what he was doing, perhaps even better than I did. "If you were 22 and helpless, I would hate this," he said. "I wouldn't want to be with a woman who didn't participate in making decisions. But I know what your life is like, how much responsibility you have — and I love doing this for you." It was, he said, his gift to me. I smiled and kissed him with more gratitude than I could express (though I certainly gave it a good try when we got back to the hotel).
Four days later, when Daniel took me to the airport, we kissed good-bye passionately, but there was no real sadness or regret. Our relationship wasn't meant to last — not only was there an ocean between us but we were at completely different stages in our lives. But those days (and nights) with him taught me something I was in danger of forgetting: that true romance blossoms with the ability to fully depend on another person, knowing you don't have to do everything alone. In the most unexpected way, this younger man in another country taught me to trust again. He not only gave me a glimpse of what a real partnership is — he also left me with the faith that I will find it.
Emily Listfield is the author of the autobiographical novel Waiting to Surface. Find her at emilylistfield.com.