Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
You’re Having an Attack

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When I first started to write this column -- about what it's like to date as a single mom -- I was thrilled when my discourse took a dramatic turn: from single-mom-seeking to that of single-mom-finds-Mr. Right. I wanted to stand up and proclaim my new life adage: "See, you can live happily ever after!"

But my single parent readers saw right through me. And they were not very happy with me; maybe "outraged" is a better word. Ever since my daughter and I moved in last summer with the man I affectionately referred to as "the Israeli," readers from across the country have emailed me to shake their fingers.

"I hope I'm not being too personal, but I was very surprised to read that you and Mae moved in with your boyfriend," wrote one single mom in Chicago. "I realize you had her when you weren't married, but aren't you at all worried about Mae's perception of this type of living arrangement, particularly as she gets older and starts thinking about male-female relationships of her own?"

She went on to tell me that she'd never move in with her guy unless they were married: "I owe it to my daughter to raise her in a totally respectful environment, and I won't risk having her see another relationship fail unless it's truly her stepfather and we've done everything possible to make it work."

"How smart is it to move in with some guy to try it out?" wrote another single mom. "What if it doesn't work out? The child in-between is going to be the most hurt if that happens. Put your child first and don't move in until you marry."

If you think that I'm going to stand up now and defend myself, you're wrong.

Because things are not going well, and I have a terrible feeling that my readers might be right.

It's like he's getting all the perks of being married -- home-cooked meals, his underwear cleaned and folded, a warm body in bed -- and I get scraps of security and commitment. Sure, he's a great playmate for my kid -- they fart together and sing in Hebrew -- but that makes me feel like I have two children. Our daily conversations sound like this:

Me: "I want this to work."

Him: "I'm sorry, but it's not working."

Me: "But, honey, you've got to work on it, too--"

Him: "I gave up a long time ago. If it weren't for Mae, I would've called it quits way back when."

Me: "What do you mean 'way back when?' We've only been living together for four months."

And this is precisely when I stop breathing and have what Yossi calls "an attack," as in, "Rachel, you're having an attack."

He can see it coming, when my jaw goes tight and my eyes narrow, like a two-year-old before a tantrum. I huff and stomp out of the room.

"It's not fair!" I scream. I've already been through this abandonment-hell one time -- with Mae's biological father seven years ago -- and he can't give up on me -- and us -- this easily.

I'm the kind of woman who loves fiercely to the end, holding onto the rope so tightly that my palms turn raw. I pound back into the room and ask if he can turn off the TV.

"Nothing I do is right," he says. "You're always angry at me."

"I'm not attacking you," I say. "I'm just asking if you'd give me a sign -- just a little sign -- that you want to work on our relationship."

"I gave up a long time ago," he says, again.

"How long ago?"

"The first time that you got mad at me."

"But, Yossi, anger is a feeling, just like love. It's a part of any relationship."

"Stop attacking me," he says.

To make matters worse, soon after we shacked up together, Yossi's contracting business slowed down. I mean, really slowed down. As in, he was getting out-bid on all of his projects. Usually, work comes to a standstill in the winter, when it's raining in the Bay Area and you can't build. But it hasn't picked up during the dry spells.

So, if you take a manly-man like Yossi -- who, at age 45, is struggling with this new living situation since he has never been married or even lived with a woman -- and now you take his paycheck away... Well, you end up with a guy who sits in front of the TV all day, watching the military channel, and goes outside only to smoke (Marlboros, of course.)

I still think that I can fix our relationship. But I sure can't fix his self-esteem.

My single dad friend Peter Ehlrich in Toronto, Canada, who founded the site www.singleparentlovelife.com, wrote to me recently: "When you tell someone you love them, you're actually giving them permission to hurt you. And if you're a single parent, you're giving that person permission to hurt you and your kid. But so what? Love takes courage. Living and breathing a courageous life is the only way to succeed in love and most anything else."

But right now I don't exactly feel very courageous. Crappy is more like it.

Some of you might be wondering what Yossi thinks about being the "subject" of this column; or if he reads it. He's not much of a reader. I've left print-outs of the column on the kitchen table, but they soon get pushed under a pile of Mae's artwork. When I've asked him if he's curious, he says, "I just hope it's all good."

All good.

You're probably also wondering how Mae is doing. After all, our mother-daughter bond is like a firmly knotted string bracelet. "You're always my Number One," I tell her every night. No matter what, she has to know this and feel this as long as our world is spinning. We climb into her princess bed on the top floor of the Tower, and I kiss the top of her head.

But even though Yossi and I aren't arguing in loud voices, Mae senses the tension. Yes, she's resilient, but I notice that she's moodier lately. She's having tantrums, too. Dare I say, like her mother?

"Sweetheart," I told her recently, "you know how sometimes when you and a friend at school are having a hard time, and you need to find a better way to talk?"

She nodded her head.

Well, that's what's going on with Yossi and me," I said. "And we're trying to find a better way to communicate."

"But why can't you two just get along?" she asked.

And it's a good question. But not one I know how to answer.


Rachel Sarah lives and writes in the Bay Area. Her first book, Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World (Avalon/Seal Press) was published in 2007. She is also the author of the Literary Mama column, Single Mom Seeking. Rachel has written for Family Circle, Parenting, Tango, Bay Area Parent, Ms., Hip Mama, and American Baby. A journalist for the past decade, Rachel is also the single mom columnist for LifetimeTV.com. For more information, please contact Rachel through her website.


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Geez, I am really sorry for you. If it helps at all, you have my best wishes -- and, I am sure, those of hundreds of readers.
Oh, Bill, thanks for the wishes, but please don't feel sorry for me! If my kid is going to learn anything from me, it's that you've got to keep your head high and your heart balanced. Good to hear from you.
Rachel, I am so sorry to read about the issues in your relationship, it can be hard. Wishing you the best! With Empowering Regards, Tonya Ramsey
Count me as one of those many readers who is also sending you best wishes for happiness & healing. You sound like a wonderful mom and you'll find your way - wherever it may lead.
I wish you nothing but happiness and peace. If this is meant to work out, then you will find a better way to communicate. Lord knows you have a gift with your words. I have been following your story since I saw you on KRON one morning and it inspired me to get back in the dating world, even though I have a two year old. Regardless of what happens, know that you have inspired many of us who thought we should give up looking for happiness with someone beyond our child. And you are doing the best you can with your daughter and she will be resilient as a result of it.
Wow, Michelle, thank you thank you. Yes, the Kid is certainly resilient. And she knows that she's my Number 1. Please stay in touch and let me know how you're doing out there. Go mama! Rachel
Rachel, I commend you on your honesty (to yourself and to your readers!) and on your resilience in what sounds like a very difficult situation. I don't agree that you can necessarily "fix" your relationship with the Israeli, particulary when he has told you more than once that he has given up! Remember, it takes two to tango. And from your accounts, it sounds like the classic, "Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free." Who has time to waste with someone who tells you he's basically still there because of your child? (Or from the sounds of it, for financial reasons!) In retrospect you probably now see that it would have been best to give your romance time before diving into a living arrangement, but what's most important is what you get out of the trials and tribulations. Like the relationship with Mae's father and however many more relationships you may enter into before you find "the one", hopefully as you get older, you also get wiser. It's easy for me, or anyone for that matter, on the outside looking in to point fingers, judge you, and tell you what you should do, but only you know how you feel, how Mae feels, and what would be best for both of you. We, as single moms, have to believe that there are good men out there, and not give up hope. At the same time, we also have to stand our ground and not settle for less than we truly deserve! For me personally, after what I went through with my daughter's father, I'd rather be alone the rest of my life than be miserable (or even unhappy) with another man, just to be in a relationship. And while I do at times miss male companionship, couplehood, and the semblance of a traditional family, my most satisfying relationship is that with my child. You've said time and time again that Mae is your #1 priority. So what's the rush to find a man? or to be in a relationship? You are a strong woman and you will find your way. Don't give up, but don't try too hard, either! Again, I commend you. I love your writing and I wish you well!
Rachel, I'm another single mom -- and my man ran off to Ireland too! I just found your story online tonight and I am both inspired by your humor and courage and yet discouraged and disheartened by your latest trials and tribulations. My heart is with you and I look forward to your triumphing over the current period of difficulties. With just what little I have read tonight, I already have confidence in you and know that you will find your way through this. Thank you for sharing yourself with us -- it means so much! I haven't had the courage myself to get out into the dating scene, but your writings strike home in so very many ways. I'm wishing you all the best and I'm off to buy your book right now! I'm sending you lots of good wishes!
It can be hard to know when to call it quits in a relationship. But this Yanay guy has called it quits already. Do you still have fun with him? Is it all pain and hurt with him now? You are not writing much of anything positive about him anymore, except that he is a manly man, which does not seem all that favorable in the circumstances. It's certainly no excuse for his behavior. Are you thinking that if his business picks up, he'll be more loving? "If it weren't for Mae," ... ?? He is staying in the relationship for a daughter not his own? That seems odd. I enjoy your columns and cheered for you when you first introduced Yanay, but I hope for you that you should find someone you can at least talk to about your hurts and needs, not someone who would brush you off and tell you he'd given up after the first fight. That is not asking too much. A man would say, "Talk to him about this." It seems you've already tried to do this. Don't count on his reading your notes lying around. He will likely resent that, that is not how to broach a sensitive topic with a manly man. Couples counseling might be an option, if he were willing. If he is not, and if he does not give you more than the manly man single sentence response to your openings, then you might ask yourself, What's in this relationship for me and my daughter? What does it teach my daughter if I accept this kind of behavior in my man?
Dear Rachel, The longer you stay in a bad relationship...the worse you will feel about yourself. And, of course, you're showing your daughter that she should cling to Mr. Wrong no matter what. That is bad. Really bad. I've been there. I've tried to love someone enough to strap him to the homestead. It never works, because we can never own another person. Have the courage to step away from what you've created with what's left of your dignity and with the respect of your daughter in tact. It's not your job to raise Yanay. He's 45. Already baked. He'll survive. Take care of yourself and your daughter. I wish you peace.
Thank you. Thank you Lexi's mom, Leslie, Dave, Vanessa... Your words hold me. Please stay tuned for the next column to hear about our next transition. It's all good, okay?
Rachel, I read your story for the first time today. I was happy to realize that I am not the only one with issues.... I am 26 years old with 4 kids,8-3-2and a baby 7 months old. My kids are the most important thing in my life and for a while I let them down because of the father. And a year ago I finally left him and realized that with God by my side my kids and I were better off. I wish you best in your life and hope things work out for the best.
Hi Rachel I'm not a single mom, but I do live in Israel and I actually have a family member who married a much older Israeli man when she was in her twenties. It's nearly impossible to change any man in any relationship. But a 45 year old never married Israeli? That's beyond impossible. This guy is hardwired for relationship dysfunction. You are really not doing yourself or your daughters any favors keeping this guy around. You're not being courageous. You're getting sucked into inertia and probably a little bit of cowardice. If this guy gets turned off by a little expression of anger, nothing except maybe a few years of very good therapy will change that. You and your daughter deserve much better than that. I'm looking forward to reading of your next transition, as you've promised! Abbi
Oh Rachel that makes me so sad to hear that. I thought when I first started reading that maybe there was an engagement announcement or something of that sort. I've recently gotten into my first serious relationship since having Molly, and it is looking a little bleak too after 4 months (although I know you and Yanay have been together for much longer). But whereas you say you love and hang on until your palms turn raw, I hold back and refuse to let go to protect myself from hurt. This quote struck quite close to home: "When you tell someone you love them, you're actually giving them permission to hurt you. And if you're a single parent, you're giving that person permission to hurt you and your kid. But so what? Love takes courage. Living and breathing a courageous life is the only way to succeed in love and most anything else." I wonder if me refusing to let myself love someone is a sign of cowardice because I'm scared half to death of getting hurt. I give up too easily once things start to get uncomfortable. I'm so sorry that Yanay is turning out to be not the man you thought he was. I think I'm feeling a little of that in my relationship too. Dammit! I've so enjoyed having someone around lately. Oh well, guess it's time to move on. Good luck to you and Mae! And buon cumpleanno birthday girl!!!
Thanks Julia! Please stay in touch... Let me know how your love life is, okay? You know that you can always write to me at rachel@singlemomseeking.com. xo, Rachel
Rachel I'm sorry things aren't going well but what did you expect? You are giving this guy all the goodies and what do you get? No marriage, no committment, no stability for your daughter. It's cute and good now when she's young and loving and you can do no wrong in her eyes. As a mother of 2, one 22, one 15, believe me, it will not stay as it is and she will blame you for whatever is wrong. If she is your number 1 as you write, you will get out of this relationship. What does he need to do, hit you in the head? He's there for your daugher? What are you doing w/ this situation? Get out now. Nothing against him, it's in your court. He's got it made. You are letting yourself be used. I'm sorry if I sound like Dr. Laura but this is not good for your daughter. If it weren't for her I would say do what you want, you're an adult. But a child is involved. Get out now.
Thanks Susan for keeping it real.... I couldn't ask for more straightforward advice. And I'm out! We moved out in April. Thanks, Rachel Sarah
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