Tinder, Biker Jackets And Plastic Surgery: How I Coped With My Mum's Post-Divorce Renaissance
The Debrief: What's it like to suddenly find yourself on Tinder at the same time as your mum? This year one writer found out...
Illustration by Marja De Sanctis
I was 23 and pretending (unconvincingly) that I knew how to be a real, adult person when it happened. It was at the beginning of December, just before Christmas, when my dad moved out of our family home.
I’m an ACOD. That’s an Adult Child of Divorce (well, technically my parents are separated and on OK terms but they’re never getting back together and there isn’t one neat word that describes the situation). I’m not alone. Divorce is up amongst our parents’ generation: the latest data shows that 42% of marriages in this country end in divorce.
It was one of those things that just didn’t work out, for a multitude of incredibly complex reasons which grew into the cracks of our family over years – not days or weeks – kind of like Japanese knotweed. You can’t see it until things start falling apart. In the end it was nobody’s fault, just one of those things.
Although I felt like I should have been fine with it, there were so many occasions when I just wasn’t. We expect perfection from our parents but what does that mean for us when we don’t get it? One of the hardest things was re-evaluating and readjusting to a new kind of relationship with my mum. She’s no longer simply Mum. She’s a single woman in her 50s who, as I approach 30, I also relate to as a (kind of) grown-up woman myself.
Mum being on Tinder was a fairly major headfuck. I expect her to behave like a grown-up because that’s the only way I identify with her
The first time it dawned on me how much her newly single status had changed our relationship was when she got catfished by one of the first guys she got chatting to on a dating site. I’d thought he was too good to be true, but she seemed excited and I didn’t want to rain on her parade.
They’d been talking for a couple of weeks when he started asking her to send him money, with wild reasons and justifications like ‘I’m stuck on a business trip in Texas and I’ve lost my credit card.’ I used my investigative skills to ascertain that the company he said he worked for was not actually listed and that the office address listed on their website was fake. I then made sure she reported him.
Dating among the over-50s is the fastest growing sector in the online dating world. There are roughly 5.8 million people over 45 living alone in the UK, so Mum’s not the only person trying to navigate the complicated dating world in later life.
Mum being on Tinder was a fairly major headfuck. I expect her to behave like a grown-up, whatever that means, because that’s the only way I identify with her – as her child. I don’t want anybody to treat her badly. The boot’s on the other foot, and now I’m the one worrying about her, who she’s with and what she’s doing.
Recently, I even found myself saying something that she said to me when I wanted to learn to drive, ‘It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s other people that can’t be trusted.’
She assures me she can look after herself and says most of the men she meets have lost all of their hair, which is her only worry. Mum calls online dating and dating apps ‘the human Argos catalogue’. She points out that it’s a bit like shopping, gone is the stigma of a lonely hearts ad and now we look for partners in the same way that we pick up a new frying pan or search for jobs online.
Im her first-born – her eldest child, as I like to jokingly announce myself when I call her office and ask to speak to her because I know she’s screening my calls on her mobile. So it’s my prerogative to worry, but, as her eldest child, there are times when I also want to know nothing about it because she’s my mum!
She, for her part, is very secretive about who she’s seeing and what she’s up to. I imagine this is what it’s like to be a parent when your teenager’s hormones kick in and you know they’re sneaking out and snogging people on the sly. You’d be worried if they weren’t doing it, but it’s still not something you want to think about.
When a friend goes through a break-up, you give them bottomless support, compassion and understanding until they’re back up and running. You encourage them to get back out there and you never ever tell them it was all their fault (even if it was). You give them free reign to get blind drunk and hold their hair back while they throw up. You go up to people in clubs and say, ‘My mate fancies you’.
I found it difficult to extend the same compassion to my mum because, well, she’s my mum. We’re bound up in that messy mother daughter web of her remembering every stupid thing I’ve ever said or done, like when I moved in with a boy I’d only been dating for four months, and me having been annoyed by everything she said and did for about a decade as a teenager, like when she used to tell me to stop being so ‘grungey’ and wear a nice dress (sorry, you’re still not wining that one, mum).
Just as I’m getting a handle on this whole life thing she’s essentially starting hers again
Mum’s life at 27 was very different to mine. She was married to my dad, for one. She owned her own house, with him, and she was putting up with the three-year-old version of me. By circumstances rather than design, I’m single, renting and very definitely without child, with no immediate plans to change any of that.
But today, we’re in a weird situation because I find myself trying to guide her through an uncertain period – just as I’m getting a handle on this whole life thing she’s essentially starting hers again.
It’s not just the dating. I’m trying to resist the temptation to police every element of her life. I find myself saying things like, ‘Are you really going to do another shot of tequila, Mum?’, ‘Don’t you think the fact that he hasn’t been texting you back in the last two weeks means that he’s a bit shady?!’, ‘Do you really need another biker jacket, you’ve got three!’
It’s also weird because, as she herself points out, ‘We are, in many ways, facing some of the same problems’. When I call her up, hyperbolically, as late 20 year olds are wont to do, and tell her that ‘I’m going to die alone’, she’s points out in a tongue-in-cheek way that this isn’t something I’m ‘allowed to complain about’.
She might go on a date with someone, it might go well and she might never hear from them again. Now, those of us who grew up online, in chat rooms we weren’t supposed to be in, or on MSN messenger before we graduated to Facebook and iPhones are au fait with how it all works. We’re pretty used to people being in our lives one minute, three dots loaded with potential which never turn into a message and gone the next. But if you got married in the ’80s, this really is a brave new world.
There are so many positives to be had: she’s reinvigorated, she does seem to have a found renewed lust for life and I’m finding a new way to understand her. It has been difficult, though.
About a year ago she announced that she was having fairly drastic plastic surgery, in a very casual way. I didn’t want her to have it because I didn’t think she needed it. It hurt me that she felt she did.
I told her she was being pressured, having found herself single in an ageist society, by the lack of older women on our screens and billboards (aside from Helen Mirren, occasionally, or that time Celine enlisted Joan Didion tokenistically to help them flog sunglasses).
I pointed out that youth is worshipped on every corner and ageing is seen as a terrible thing, nobody’s pro and everyone’s anti, that getting older as a woman is presented as a battleground by people trying to sell you stuff: there are creams to ‘prevent’ it, serums to ‘combat’ it and gels to ‘fight’ it.
She was not a human being with a past, flaws, imperfections, insecurities or hopes and dreams of her own – she was mum
On the other hand, though, I knew what it was like to be in your 20s and feel insecure about your body sometimes even though you know you’re totally fine, so I did kind of get it even if I didn’t agree with it.
I’d never really thought about my mum like that. She was not a human being with a past, flaws, imperfections, insecurities or hopes and dreams of her own – she was Mum, of Mum and Dad Ltd. Despite all my own values, outside of my family unit I didn’t really invest the time and effort into understanding her beyond it.
There has been an important lesson to learn in watching and listening as my mum has redefined herself, navigating her womanhood all over again in a world that has changed a hell of a lot during her 26 years of marriage: parents aren’t perfect, they’re just people.
And deep down, I know she’s OK, better actually. Mum’s a Renaissance Woman now, by which I mean that she’s having a renaissance. She’s made new friends, her circle has expanded and is now vast. Her phone goes off more than mine. She’s overhauled ‘her look’, which is a phrase I wouldn’t normally use because it sounds like a Gok Wanism, but, I’ve watched her enjoy going shopping again, pick things out that she would never have done before, including multiple leather jackets.
She’s started drinking cocktails and going out for dinner, which she never did before. She does Jaegerbombs, which I’ve given up. I taught her what a selfie is, somewhat regrettably and now she’s on Instagram and has developed a real thing for motivational aphorisms – which more than anything proves that she’s not perfect and that parents will find a way to embarrass you on any given platform – but I try to remember that she’s not just my mum, she’s another woman, in the world, trying to figure it all out as things change for her, yet again.
‘All women become their mothers; that is their tragedy,’ said Oscar Wilde. And, courtesy of Bridget Jones and turkey curry, becoming your mum is seen as the negative, tragic and inevitable fate of all women.
One of the hardest things you face as an adult child is the realisation that your parents are not a) superhuman or b) immortal. But understanding that has actually brought us closer and, knowing Mum as I do now, I think there are far worse things that could happen to me than turning into her.
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