The Great Mate Hunt

The Great Mate Hunt

From Chicken Soup for the Single Parent's Soul

The Great Mate Hunt

If love is the answer, could you rephrase the question?

Lily Tomlin

“You know what?” my friend Sandra confessed to me. “I hate Valentine’s Day. I absolutely hate it! If I see another lovey-dovey couple, I think I’m going to lose it!”

I knew what she meant. Valentine’s Day can be a lonely time for a single parent. We are bombarded with signs of love and romance everywhere we go. Even in the toilet paper aisle of the grocery store, for goodness sake!

I used to let Valentine’s Day turn my life into one giant pity party. I was overwhelmed with being a young single parent, being back in college and being several states away from other family members. Finally, after letting my annual Valentine’s Day pity party linger for several months, I decided that the logical solution was to get married again. This is a typical decision for a single parent, but a potentially dangerous one because it leads to the “Great Mate Hunt.”

When we were younger, my single-mom friends and I were proficient Great Mate Hunters, skilled in all three phases of the hunt.

Phase One was “Ex-Spouse Bashing”: We reminded ourselves of all the qualities that we would never again stand for in a mate. Couldn’t a grown man, who was able to take apart a car, put his own dirty underwear in the hamper?

Phase Two was the “Ideal Mate List”: After careful thought, we committed to paper the things we wanted in a mate. One of my friends had a list of fifty-five things she wanted in a mate. In addition to the usual character qualities and basic physical traits, she listed things like, “dimples—not too deep” and “sculpted abdominal muscles” and “must like my favorite song.” The rest of us secretly scoffed at her naïveté—until she married a guy that had fifty-four of the fifty-five things on her list. As she walked down the aisle, the rest of us were busy revising our own lists. (In case you are wondering about the one thing on her list her Ideal Mate didn’t have: he was only five feet, eleven inches tall, and she had listed someone who was six feet tall. She decided she could live without that extra inch!)

Phase Three was “The Hunt”: Armed with a mental picture of our Ideal Mate and our lists, we went wherever we thought we might find, meet and capture an unsuspecting Ideal Mate. PTA meetings, Little League games and school activities were typical hunting grounds.

After her declaration of disdain for Valentine’s Day, Sandra decided to scour the personal ads for Ideal Mate candidates. I read them a few times myself, but couldn’t take them seriously. Most of the men were looking for a young Barbie doll. (Although I’m fairly confident that they did not look like Ken.) Most of them also mentioned liking to take long walks and having long talks and romantic dinners in front of a fireplace. What planet were these men from? In a moment of daring, Sandra set up a meeting with a self-described “handsome, blond outdoorsman.” The “blond” part turned out to be an ill-fitting toupee that shifted every time he scratched his head.

Some of us refined our lists during the week and waited for Sunday. One hunting ground we all had in common was church. It seemed the logical place to hunt for the Ideal Mate. Especially at the singles’ groups.

After enlisting my sister to watch my kids, I ventured out with Sandra to our very first singles’ group meeting at our church. When we arrived, we noticed that there was a very small turnout. In fact, my friend and I were the only women there. We sat on one side of the room. Three men sat on the other side of the room. (I think that they were the models for the photographs of the geeky guys on greeting cards.) I don’t remember what the meeting was about, but I do remember those guys eyeing us like they had never seen women before. As soon as the meeting was over, my friend and I hightailed it out the back door and vowed we would never go to another singles’ meeting again.

But then we had a great idea. We would try the singles’ groups at other churches and expand our hunting ground. We decided to try the singles’ Sunday school class at a large church in a neighboring suburb. The class was huge! The mother lode! From the back of the room we scouted out some possible Ideal Mate candidates. I skillfully maneuvered for a seat across the aisle from one of them. Just as I got there, one of my earrings broke off, rolled across the floor and came to a stop right under the chair of the unsuspecting Ideal Mate candidate I had in my sights.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I smiled sweetly at him and told him that my earring was under his chair. All he did was move his legs so that I could get it myself. Still the optimist, I bent down to get it, looking up at him and flashing him what I thought was my most dazzling smile. Unfortunately, I ended up flashing him more than a smile when two buttons popped off of my dress and went flying. I never went back there again.

The Great Mate Hunt can have its hilarious moments, but there is also a serious side. I watched some of my friends continue The Hunt and marry men that they knew were not a good fit for them, or for their children. But they had convinced themselves that they could not survive unless they were married.

After watching some of them suffer through unhealthy marriages, I made a decision to stay single and raise my children alone. Being married to someone who is not right for you can be worse than the loneliness you might experience as a single parent. I also saw what it did to the kids. I decided that if I were to get married again I would need a few signs, visions and an angelic visitation!

Now, having said that, wouldn’t you expect that the next part of this story would be about the signs, the visions and the angelic visitation that heralded the appearance of my Ideal Mate? The perfect happy ending?

Actually, there is a happy ending. But not what you would expect. I did raise my children alone, and with God’s help, they have grown up to be confident, happy, emotionally healthy, successful young adults. That’s a very happy ending!

(But I must confess to you that, occasionally on Valentine’s Day, in the privacy of my own home, I do take a peek at those personal ads! And, as long as I am confessing, I still have my list, which, by the way, needs updating . . . but that’s another story.)

Sara Henderson

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