Back in 2003, I was 42 years old, recently divorced, childless and still wanted kids. I was working in New York City at the time, and, thinking I could find a mate the old-fashioned way, I called a dating service. But they wouldn't take me as a client; they made it clear that I was too old.
So I signed up for Match.com. With my reproductive system running out of time, I had a decision to make: Find a husband to have children with or become a single mother using an anonymous sperm donor.
Fifty-plus dates later, I chose the latter. Getting remarried wasn't so important, but, I thought, When I'm old and gray, will I look back on my life and regret not having a child? My answer was a resounding yes.
Two weeks after my 44th birthday, I gave birth to a healthy set of twins, beautiful baby girls.
Eight months later, I moved to Vermont, where I had grown up. I preferred life in the big city, but once I had kids, I was ready to leave.
By 2010, I had settled into my new identity as a mom. The girls had started school, and although there were — and still are — plenty of challenges in raising two children alone, life was pretty good.
Still, I was nearing 50 and had been single for close to a decade. I needed a break and some adult company. Plus, I wanted my daughters to be exposed to a healthy adult relationship. They'd never seen what a partnership looks like. I thought I was ready to start dating again.
So I called Nicole Leclerc, a Vermont matchmaker. We met for coffee, she asked thoughtful questions, wrote me a profile and set me up with half a dozen men. It didn't take me long to realize that being an older mom with younger kids added a new twist to the dating game.
At my age, there aren't as many single men available. And here in Vermont, they sometimes live far away. Since I'm the sole parent, every date I go on requires me to hire a babysitter. At $10 an hour, that adds up quickly.
Then there's the age factor. I dated several men who were much older than me, sometimes by 10 or 15 years. A decade from now, my kids will be grown up. I'm not sure I want to be a caretaker to my partner just as my kids are leaving the nest.
Many men my age have grown children, and some even have grandchildren. That's not a deal breaker for me, but it usually is for them. Once I mention that I have younger kids, they tend to disappear.
That wasn't the case with Dan. He knew I was mom to a pair of 6-year-olds, and he was still interested. For the first couple of months, we'd meet in the parking lot at the local Starbucks, then drive off to our date. I didn't want my kids seeing him yet because I didn't know what to tell them.
The girls are fine with not having a dad. I've been telling them the story of how they came to be since they were born. "We don't have a dad in our family; we have a donor," I've overheard them explain to curious classmates.
But since our family is dad-less, they'd never seen me being affectionate with a guy. They'd never been exposed to mom and dad kissing. I wasn't sure they'd understand what I meant if I told them I had a boyfriend. I wanted their lives to be stable, so I took it all slowly.
One summer evening, Dan and I wanted to go to the beach but couldn't find a babysitter. He suggested bringing the girls with us. When I told them of the plan, a look of alarm passed over their little faces.
I'd told them we'd all be going together, but still, they asked, "Are you going to leave us?" I could tell they were worried about this new person coming into our lives. I made sure they understood that I wasn't going anywhere without them, and took the opportunity to explain that Dan was simply my "friend who is a boy." That was a concept they understood.
We had a nice evening at the beach together, but my relationship with Dan eventually fizzled. I had wanted someone steady in my life so that the girls would have a relationship role model; he was hesitant to commit.
I could still find someone, but the truth is, I love the companions I already have. These days, my girls, now 10, are capable of holding thoughtful, intelligent conversations and making meaningful contributions to family life.
"Don't forget we need to buy a present for Clara," one reminded me recently.
"Where is the party again?" I asked, too many things on my mind to remember exactly where we were heading later that day.
"Don't worry, Mom, I know how to get there," said the other.
Maybe dating isn't so important right now. We're having plenty of fun being a family — just the three of us.