Assuming Responsibility (of Someone Else's Kids)

Q: I met a girl recently who I like, we’ve been talking, and I think I’m going to ask her out. I say “think” because there is one hang-up. She has kids, two boys. They are both under the age of five and I haven’t met them. I would like to think I’m the guy who could take on an existing family if things were to work out between us. (Men’s desire to be the hero plays in here.) I think I am, but I’m not sure, and I don’t think it is fair to her to pursue her only to get to a point where I have to decide if I want to marry her and decide to break up because I can’t handle the thought of raising someone else’s kids.

 Is there any way to know if you can handle this sort of situation before pursuing the relationship? Unsure Possible Stepdad

A: Yes, my friend, there IS a way to see if you can handle this sort of situation before pursuing a relationship. It’s called dinner. Or drinks. Or coffee.

I know the whole single mom (or single dad, for that matter) scenario can send lots of people backpedaling from a prospective love connection. And while the comes-with-kids package deal can be a sticking point, is it really that different from dating someone who’s significantly older or younger than you, or from a different racial background, or has different religious or political views? Yes, there are impressionable young’uns at stake, and no doubt your gal is looking out for them, if she’s worth her salt as a momma. But deciding whether you want to get serious with someone happens the same way each time: by getting to know them. If you like this girl, ask her out, just like you would anybody else you’re interested in, and see where it goes.

In other words: Slow the hell down. Enough with all the thinking and the whole marriage/kids fretting so early on (we women do too much of that already). And assuming her offspring aren’t the byproducts of random one-night stands, my friend J. – whose boyfriend has two children, by the way – points out, “Does she even want to get married again? She’s gotten out of a relationship (possibly divorced) with two small children and I doubt marriage is at the top of her to-do list.”

J. and I both agree that honesty is critical when it comes to discussing the future of the relationship or meeting the kids. A single parent doesn’t have time for games – she’s got diapers to change and a household to run, and probably a career to manage. And don’t forget this gem from Rod Tidwell, the smooth-talking wide receiver from Jerry Maguire: “A real man wouldn’t shoplift the pootie from a single mother.” (Not that I suspect you of such prickery – unless, of course, you’re both cool with some no-strings-attached luvin.’ Again, see: Honesty, above.)

Finally, some personal insight from J. about “raising someone else’s kids”: “Part-time parenting has its perks, like sleeping in every other weekend, romantic getaways and date nights — all sans children. When you have your own – they’re all yours. The hospital won’t take them back and grandparents will only babysit if it doesn’t interfere with their bingo nights.”

So go ahead and ask this hot mama out. Just don’t take her to any place that has “Kid’s Menu” printed anywhere – and banish the word “stepdad” from your vocabulary for at least six months.

 

Q: What’s the difference between “let’s just be friends” when delivered by guy vs. gal, both in intent and in interpretation? – Just a Friend

 

A: If what you’re really asking is “What does ‘let’s be friends’ really mean when it’s delivered by each gender, and how it should be taken?”, then here’s my take.

 

When a guy says, “Let’s just be friends,” it can have several shades of distinction in its real meaning: 1) “I’m not interested in you as a girlfriend but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of me hitting on you when I’m drunk to see if I can score”; 2) “Though I don’t like like you, I like you, and I really would like to stay friends”; 3) “I don’t like you, period, and I couldn’t give a frog’s fat ass about being friends, but I can’t think of any other way to let you down easy”; 4) “By friends, I don’t mean that we’ll be in regular touch, but if I run into you at a bar and you’re with some of your hot friends, I’d love for you to introduce me.”

 

When a girl says, “Let’s just be friends,” it usually means 1) “I’m not interested in you as a boyfriend but if you want to take me to expensive dinners and shower attention on me, I’m cool with that”; 2-4) See above.

 

So, see, this is one area where our fair sexes might be more alike that different. Still, like so much else in dating, the whole “let’s be friends” thing is best figured out through context – and with a giant grain of salt (like the kind that rims a margarita, which is what I’m about to suck down as soon as I hit send. Hallelujah for happy hour.)

Text Message Break-Ups 101

Q: Man, this sucks hard that I am even writing in about this. My girlfriend and I recently broke up after more than two years. After we graduated college, I went on to grad school while she entered “the real world” in a nearby city. We were dating long-distance for a while and she had even thought marriage was in our future. After a recent weekend trip to visit her, she decides to break up with me OVER A TEXT. She claimed her feelings had petered out a long time ago but she just didn’t have the guts to end it. She’s insisting that the reason isn’t because of another guy but she just doesn’t know what she wants and doesn’t want to hold me back (what does THAT mean anyway?) This was a complete punch to the gut for me, out of nowhere. HOW could she do this? Over a TEXT? – Tore Up

A: HOW could anyone think that Crocs are an acceptable form of public footwear? HOW could “Flight of the Conchords” be finished after just two glorious seasons on the air? HOW could anyone truly believe the “my-lips-were-attacked-by-a-swarm-of-angry-bees” look is attractive? A close cousin of the exasperating “what if,” the “how could” line of thinking can gnaw at you like a termite on steroids and you’ll still be no closer to answering why your gal suddenly went cold.

First things first: She broke up with you over a text. I repeat: A TEXT. After TWO YEARS together. That, my friend, is a sign of a soulless chump who doesn’t deserve a second more of your agonizing. Try to turn your hurt into anger — a necessary phase of breakup recovery, and much more fun than moping, quite frankly. How about treating yourself to a new dartboard and slapping a photo of her face over the bullseye? Not pretty, but nobody has to know, so fire away. You’ll expel some of your anger, and bonus, when you head out to some dive bar on your meager student funds, you’ll have honed your dart prowess. (Which many women, myself included, find sexy as hell.)

And here’s what her comment about not wanting to hold you back really means: She doesn’t want you to hold her back. The transition from college into the “real world” is a supremely exciting one, so it’s not a big surprise she’s drifted away. (Though it sounds like Peewee Herman has a more adult approach to breaking up than she does.)

Finally, as I told another recent college dumpee, take the money you would have spent on your next trip to visit her and throw yourself a good old-fashioned kegger. No doubt free beer will rustle up plenty of cooing young co-eds. Not that I’m advocating any illicit behavior or taking advantage of anyone; just sayin’ there’s no better time to stroke the ego than after a breakup, so why the hell not indulge if you can?

Q: I’ve been seeing a guy for three months. We really like each other. When should we approach the exclusivity topic? – Dee

A: Wouldn’t it be so much easier if elementary school rules still applied, and you just check a box, and – bam! – your couple status is cemented! It’s a little trickier in adulthood, and everybody’s different – some people hate “The Talk,” while others are all for getting on the same page. Whatever your situation, here are a few little measuring sticks that might prove helpful:

  1. When you no longer feel the need to say you “have plans” to make it look like a night out with pals could be a date.
  2. When it’s implied that you’ll be spending at least one, and usually both, weekend nights together.
  3. When you no longer feel the need to leave his house to go No. 2.
  4. When he no longer feels the need to go to great lengths to hide his farts.
  5. When you don’t feel nervous about the other person’s answer to the question.
  6. When you use “it’s me” instead of your name more often than not in voicemails and phone conversations.
  7. When there’s talk of meeting Mom and Dad.
  8. When you make jokes about whom you picked up at the bar last night.
  9. When the roller coaster feeling in your stomach gives way to a nice, consistent glow.
  10. When you start having condom-free sex. (Wait, strike that – you definitely need to make sure you’re monogamous – and clean – BEFORE unwrapping the love stick.)

Valentine's Day Cheat Sheet

Valentine’s Day tends to divide people into two camps: those who have the urge to hug someone, and those who have the urge to dry heave. But whether you love the holiday or just love to hate it, getting through it in one piece can sometimes be more stressful than a junior high Valentine’s Day dance. Whatever camp you fall in, though, take heart: Here’s a handy cheat sheet that will arm you with everything from its interesting origins to a much better flower choice than those boring old roses.

A History Lesson

For the lovers: So, who was this Saint Valentine guy, anyway? One legend says Valentine was a priest in 3rd-century Rome who performed secret marriages for young lovers, even after Emperor Claudius II outlawed them because he believed single men were better soldiers. Claudius discovered what Valentine was up to and sentenced him to death, and he supposedly fell in love with a young girl while he was imprisoned. He wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine” before he met his tragic end.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been offed for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Whatever the case, this dude was a rebel and a romantic. Awww.

For the haters: Red might symbolize love, but on Feb. 14, 1929 in Chicago, it was also the color of cold-blooded murder during a mob hit known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A group of Al Capone’s cronies, dressed up as policemen, used Tommy guns to mow down seven members of a rival gang. So next time some sappy romantic starts waxing poetic about the day, you can say “Fuhggeddaboudit” and share this gory story.

Hanging at Home

For the lovers: Put on the Victoria’s Secret lingerie/heart-covered boxers you bought each other and play a sexy game of strip poker.

For the haters: Buy a Ouija board and summon the spirit of Saint Valentine. If you succeed, offer a sarcastic thanks for morphing a perfectly good day into an overblown waste of money. If Val doesn’t want to play, then rent Paranormal Activity to see what can happen when an annoying couple pisses off the wrong demon – and be glad you didn’t have any luck on the board.

Get Your Chocolate Fix

For the lovers: You don’t have to fork over half a week’s paycheck on gourmet chocolate for your sweet-toothed sweetie, but you can get a little more creative than a Whitman’s Sampler. If you’re after some lovin,’ organize a scavenger hunt with Hershey’s Kisses and naughty clues leading to the bedroom. Bonus for the extra-brave: Slather your naked self with Nutella and tell your honey to get lickin.’

For the haters: Two words: pot brownies.

Heading Out on the Town

For the lovers: Since Feb. 14 falls on a Sunday this year, dinner resos should be a bit easier. But instead of an overpriced pre-fixe meal, why not pick up a nice bottle of wine (don’t forget to buy it beforehand) and some sushi and roll over to the Starlight Drive-In (www.starlightdrivein.com)? You’ll get huge creativity points and maybe even some backseat lovin.’

For the haters: Stick to dives, where you’re sure to find fellow anti-Cupid types throwing darts and shooting pool. If you want to channel your inner “Jersey Shore” drama queen/king, belly up to the bar at a romantic restaurant and flirt outrageously with the nearest hottie in front of his/her date while they’re waiting for a table.

Fretting Over Flowers

For the lovers: A dozen roses: snore. A lovely potted plant: genius. It’s a gift that: 1) lasts much longer than a few days; 2) is original; 3) is perfect for either sex at any point of the relationship. Some winning picks: an amaryllis (you’re almost guaranteed a giant, spectacular flower), an orchid (sexy as hell) or a begonia (sweet, heart-shaped leaves).

For the haters: Ok, so you’re not getting or sending any bouquets. Fine. But take solace in knowing that a disturbing number of cut stems are sprayed with toxic pesticides. And is there a more vile smell than rotting flowers?

Long-distance Pining vs. Driving Him Nuts

Q: My boyfriend and I met in college and he’s about to graduate in the spring. I have one year left after that while he’s headed off to a once-in-a-lifetime internship in Denmark. I’m proud and excited for him but also very worried about what this does for our shared future. You see, my guy is a real catch, smart, fun-loving and just a total cutey-pie. An all-American type I’m sure the European girls will go gaga over. He’s told me more than once that we’ll make it through, e-mailing and having web cam conversations and all, but I’m not fully convinced. He’s my first serious boyfriend and I don’t want to lose him. But I’m already having jealousy issues thinking about all the fun he’ll be having while I’ll be finishing up school. I’m sure this will be the best year of his life; mine will probably involve a lot of studying and pining over him. What should I do? Should I just save myself the heartache and cut him loose now? I guess my main question is, do long-distance relationships ever work? – Denmark Doubter

 

A: The short answers to your questions: 1) Try to stop freaking the hell out. 2) If you can’t stop freaking the hell out, then maybe. 3) If “work” means that the long-distance relationship survives the distance and the couple eventually gets married or stays together long-term, then the answer is rarely. But then again, by the same criteria, the majority of relationships in general don’t last either.

 

The longer answers: No doubt your boyfriend is in for a life milestone. But while he’s reassuring you that the relationship at least stands a chance, you’re already chipping away at it with this ridiculous omg-what-am-I-gonna-do-without-him schtick. Keep up with this, and I guarantee he’ll be developing a taste for hot Danish in the non-pastry sense faster than you can say “plane ticket.”   

 

One significant variable is how long he’ll be gone: three months? Six months? A year? Indefinitely? Obviously, a shorter time frame is easier to work with. Whatever the case, though, you two need to have a nice, long talk about expectations, like how often you’ll chat and whether they’ll be visits. (Also keep in mind that the time difference can make for some scheduling frustrations.)

 

Then stop talking about it – and focus on the time you have with him now. He’s either going to be true to you or he’s not, and again, neediness is definitely not the way to nail the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” effect you should be striving for. Buy a couple of web cams, download Skype and get juiced up for some cross-continental cybersex. And never underestimate the power of a heartfelt, handwritten letter when you’re feeling especially lonely.

 

If it doesn’t work out, you’ll know you gave it your best shot. And if that’s the case – which it very well could be – you’re headed into your senior year of college, for God’s sake, not an Iraqi jail. This can be one of the most delicious times of your life – with or without your boyfriend – if you let it.

 

 

Q: Recently, I went on several dates with a guy who is probably the nicest one on the market. He brought me a small gift on our first date, frequently complimented me and always agreed with whatever I had to say. After just breaking free of a tumultuous three-year relationship, you’d think I’d be overcome with gratitude. He began wanting to see me daily – he thought I was his girlfriend. I broke it off and told him I wasn’t comfortable with the momentum of the relationship. Before ending the uncomfortable conversation, he told me he had a gift for me that he still wanted to give to me. I thought it was odd, but felt even stranger when he said it was for Valentine’s Day. He’s still calling regularly in hopes of getting together. How do I break it off entirely without hurting his feelings? I feel like such a jerk! — Cowardly Dater

 

A: Nah, you’re not a jerk. A jerk would do something like, I don’t know, telling him that while there’s no future for the two of you, she was flattered by the gift and that he can drop it by while she’s at work. If he pressed for a time when she’d be home, a jerk would say that her new job – talent scout for a male modeling agency – is so erratic she could never predict her hours. Then, a jerk would recruit the biggest, beefiest dude she could find – bonus points if he had lots of tattoos and piercings – and have him answer the door with lots of grunting and fist-in-his-palm slapping.

Not that I’d, ahem, know anyone like that. And not that I’d necessarily use the word jerk. If she’d firmly told him she wasn’t interested and to kindly stop calling (you’ve done that, right?) I’d say she was a creative, assertive type who’d finally had it with someone who can’t take a hint.