The Surprising Upside of Divorce

dating helped teach sons dating helped teach sons
courtesy Katie Bingham-Smith

I never imagined I’d be thrown into the dating pool for the second time but here I am. At first, I tried to keep my dating life private from my three teenagers, but after awhile I decided to just be open about it; sooner or later they notice everything, anyway (except the overflowing trash can, conveniently).

But there was another reason, too, for my coming clean. Something unexpected happened as I began dating more: I saw certain behaviors from men, and all I could think was I never want my two sons acting this way, ever.

One of my sons is dating already, the other will be in a few short years. And even though they think they know everything, I realized there was so much I had to impart to them.

1. Offer to pay on the first date.

I’m just going to say it: If a man asks you out to dinner on a first date, he should pay. He should insist on it. If this makes me a bad feminist, so be it.

I’m not saying it should be on the man to pay every single time, but the first date is imperative, especially if he’s done the inviting. I had a first dinner date where the check came and my date proceeded to throw down $30 in cash for the $60 dinner bill and watched me put in the extra $15 to cover the tip. No, thanks.

When my date doesn’t pay, I judge his manners and am concerned about his financial health. I’ve talked to many women who feel this way so I know I’m not alone in this.

2. Listen to the word “no.”

I’ve already drilled into my kids’ heads that as a default, touching of all kinds is off-limits. That goes for invading someone’s personal space (talking to you, close-standers), resting your hand on someone’s lower back, or oh-so-innocent forearm-touching while talking. And for the love of God, no tickling, ever. Laughing while saying no still means no.

But now I’m reminding my sons to listen to the word no in all ways, not just when it comes to touching. For example, there will be times when they like someone, and that someone won’t feel the same way back. I want my boys to handle that with grace, accept the rejection, and move on.

Once, at the end of an evening, I explained to my date that I’d had a great time but didn’t think we were a match. In the days following, the guy proceeded to blow up my phone with a dozen reasons why I might not have felt a spark and how it would be different if I agreed to go out with him a second time. It wasn’t sweet or endearing, it was obnoxious. No one wants to be mansplained about how they would probably actually feel differently about someone if they “went to naughty town” instead of talking about family dynamics over a drink. Especially in 10 different texts.

No doesn’t mean “maybe” and it doesn’t mean “I might change my mind so please, keep trying.”

3. Don’t depend on your partner to make you feel like a man.

I’ve seen and heard of men getting irritated when women don’t take them up on favors or eat up their chivalrous gestures of whatever kind. There’s no way in hell I want my sons to grow up letting their sense of manhood ride on the shoulders of a woman and her willingness to let him do things for her.

The last time I checked, we were all responsible for the way we feel. I’ve reminded my sons that if they’re counting on a woman to make them feel “manly” through sex or by taking someone’s damn coat even if she’s shivering, they need to check themselves.

Listening to your partner in all ways — and not trying to force something on them just to validate aspects of your identity — is what I want my sons to do. And they’ll be able to do that if they’re already pretty damn confident.

4. Show your vulnerable side.

There is nothing wrong with being sad or talking about your hurt feelings–I teach this to my sons and my daughter. But we all know a lot of men grow up not feeling comfortable about sharing their emotions or risking rejection.

I recently had a date with a man I met online that started kinda eh but ended up being one of the best dates I’ve had. As our date came to an end, he said, “I really enjoyed that and I want to see you again if you feel the same way.” Vulnerable. Open. Direct. Honest.

There is nothing more attractive a man who isn’t afraid to put himself out there by telling a potential partner how he really feels about them, even at the risk of rejection. When it comes to love, it’s not better to be safe than sorry. I say put it all out on the table, and if they run, they aren’t your person.

So, in between lacrosse practice, reminding my boys to pick up their damn socks, and trying to find the love of my life, I will be busy standing on my soapbox with these lessons for my boys. I know it will benefit them — and their future partners.

And I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the men I’ve dated along the way. For the insight.

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids, wears faux leather pants, and is addicted to Diet Coke. See more of her work on Scary Mommy, AARP, & Family Circle -- or bug her on Facebook or Instagram.