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by Don Partridge

We compare all the problems of being a single parent to life on a mountaintop—meaning living on a cold, lonely, windswept mountain crest. On this mountain your children sometimes live with you and sometimes without you. You take care of everything single-handedly. If there is any work to do at home, it is you who will do it. You are responsible for working and paying the bills, you handle all your own finances, and you do all the cleaning, shopping, cooking and laundry. If there is any yard-work to be done, it will have to be done by you. If a problem happens with the car, or an appliance breaks down, or a hall light stops working, it will be fixed because you fix it. Add to this your ongoing emotional heaviness and sorrow and the ever-present issues that arise when raising children alone, a former spouse to deal with, and kids going back and forth—and you will get the idea of why we compare single-parenting to living on a cold, lonely mountain.

So imagine moving suddenly from life on this icy mountaintop into a lush, green meadow….

Picture this: Thomas and Karen are at a nice restaurant, eating together and enjoying each other’s company. For the first time in years, Karen is with someone special, someone she likes and who likes her. And now, here she sits, at this quiet restaurant, in this peaceful atmosphere, with a person who treats her with respect and dignity, a person who appreciates her opinions and who wants to be with her.

For the first time in years, for just a couple of hours in this restaurant, something has happened to Karen. Without realizing it, she has suddenly come off her mountain—out of her extreme environment, out of her anxieties and discontent, out of her fatigue, out of her sorrow. Karen is now in a meadow—a quiet, warm, green meadow of relief and hope.

What Karen is experiencing during these moments in the restaurant with Thomas is remarkable. She is feeling wonderful relief—relief at having the chance to engage in pleasant adult conversation, relief from the constant pressures of child care, relief that someone is being so kind to her, relief that she is still attractive to someone—and the revival of hope and the renewal of energy. To experience affection for someone and be cared for in return is like a dream come true for Karen—and wonderfully intoxicating.

Do Karen and Thomas want to finish their dinner and leave the restaurant? They most certainly do not. Staying together, lingering at the restaurant, absorbed deeply in the delight of being with each other is all they want right now. They want this magic evening never to end.

In the days following their date, Karen finds herself dreaming about Thomas and longing to be with him. She counts the days before they can see each other again and can hardly wait to renew the feelings she experienced in that restaurant, to absorb the meadow of relief in his company, to bask in the attention of her new close friend.

To a single parent suddenly down from the stark, lonely mountain of solitude and stress, the meadow of pleasure and warmth and kindness can be incredibly compelling, even overwhelming. After so long a time of troubles and solitude, suddenly to experience adult kindness and companionship opens wide the desire and need for personal warmth and physical touch. Emotions that have been crushed down for so long suddenly awake, demanding recognition and fulfillment.

The euphoric feelings are hard to keep within bounds. The problem is who wants to curb them? Who wants to stop being swept up in the meadow’s enchantment? The sudden contrast between the harsh, rugged mountaintop and the gentle, warm, lush meadow below can become very difficult for Karen and Thomas to handle. It is the abrupt transformation from unhappiness and loneliness to intense comfort and caring and the almost irresistible emotional rush that can catch single parents off guard.

For non-parents, dating is more of an evolving process, it takes time. And over time non-parents grow into loving and caring for each other. But heck, single parents can accomplish all this over a good meal. Single parents don’t date slowly and allow their relationship to mature.

I know of two single parents, responsible professionals, who belonged to a cycling club. They met one morning before a scheduled trip and returned a few hours later deeply in love. In fact, the two married within a couple of weeks!

Take a look at what happened in a 12-week divorce recovery group consisting of 21 people. Two couples came out of that group engaged to be married. The two couples, freshly divorced, met, dated, and became engaged within the 12-week period.

It’s the sudden change from isolation to loving companionship, from bleak, cheerless cold to comforting warmth—the sudden leap from off the mountaintop into a beautiful meadow—that compels single parents to embrace each other without reserve. It’s common for couples to respond fully to the soothing call of the meadow, and to revel in its relief.

Karen finds it difficult to remain on the fringe of the meadow when she is with Thomas. She wants to date responsibly and is working hard against her own feelings and desires. In past years Karen has participated in singles groups at her church and has been advised to be cautious when dating and be careful not to become too involved too quickly. Yet, with Thomas, she just knows things are different. Their relationship is not like that of other dating parents—they are special. So moving quickly into a deeper relationship, for Karen, seems like the natural thing to do.

Adults without children are drawn into relationships. Single parents are rammed into relationships. They can go from, “Hi, how are you?” to, “This is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,” all on the first date. Remaining on the fringe of the meadow seems ludicrous. Many women have told me that after the third date they’re picking out their wedding dress. I will also add that after the third date men are busy making reservations for a weekend getaway. Sudden relief and sudden warmth can captivate both partners in a matter of minutes.

Indeed, after two hours in the restaurant with Thomas, Karen thinks that her intense feelings of relief, closeness, warmth, and passion for Thomas mean that she loves him. All the beautiful characteristics of the meadow are mistakenly attributed to Thomas, as if he alone were the reason for her new-found happiness. Karen is not aware that the intensity of her emotions is due mostly to being swept suddenly off the mountain, out of her extreme environment and into the meadow.

But it’s the contrast between the extreme environment of the mountain and the sudden relief, and not necessarily the individual, that make the relationship seem so loving, so perfect, so good, and so wonderfully romantic. The overwhelming attraction and love between Karen and Thomas become accepted as solid and substantial fact—the real thing. Neither person realizes that the feelings of sudden, intense happiness are largely the result of deep sadness colliding headlong with enormous relief. The cocktail of this mixture of emotions becomes an intoxicant that is very difficult to manage.

Next: What Happens in the Meadow

Copyright, Dr. Donald Partridge, 2009. Used with permission.