'What It's Like When Your Widowed Mum Joins Bumble'
By Hayley Thompson
In 2019 there are more single 'baby boomers' than ever before.
Globally it's been predicted the total is higher than 80 million over 50-year-olds currently looking for love. So it's unsurprising new dating apps like Lumen have been developed with our parent's generation in mind.
But what happens when one of the 80 million is your widowed mother?
I came of age during the great digital dating switchover. I'm part of the generation whose lives are almost entirely lived online. Chinese food and soul mates delivered in an almost identical way.
I vividly remember being single, sitting in bars with friends and those moments when they'd nip to the loo, leaving me alone to spot some tall, good looking, generic piece of stubble. But instead of smiling in their direction - and God forbid attempting to make eye contact - I'd immediately turn my attentions and thumbs to the nearest dating app. Subtly swivelling away to manically find him online.
I know, and I was single? Who'd have thought it?!
But as a side effect of the seemingly never-ending 'single gal cycle' of first, second and third dates, deleted apps, disappointment and the inevitable re-downloading of said apps, I developed a very specific set of skills.
My love life may have been DOA but I was an expert in the rules of online dating safety:
- Conduct your date in a brightly lit public place
- Tell a trusted (non-judgemental) friend where you're going for your date
- Establish a code word with aforementioned trusted (non-judgemental) friend in case things go a little 'Taken'
- Always buy and/or pour your own drinks
I'm not saying these four rules work every time, but in the five years I spent on the loveless conveyor belt, they'd served me pretty well.
I did eventually meet someone (on Bumble - duh!) for whom I've permanently deleted all the apps. But years before this I remember explaining the new age of dating to my mum, watching her mouth form a little 'o' shape, leaning in, as though she was straining to understand a foreign language.
So, when she told me she wanted to join an online dating app it took me a moment to digest the idea of her swiping through the virtual sea of online suitors. This was a woman who still struggled with appropriate use of emojis, caps lock and had only just discovered online banking.
But harder to comprehend was the full stop it seemed to put on my stepdad's life.
He'd died almost two years before. I was 26, they'd been together since I was four-years-old, the three of a us becoming a unit. His passing had undoubtedly felt like the worst thing to ever happen to our family. Now mum was calling to say she'd been thinking about dating.
I knew it hadn't been an easy decision, I could hear every moment of doubt, every thought that maybe she was doing the wrong thing catch in her throat, as she told me.
It felt like I was losing him all over again.
But because I knew it was harder for her than me, because I wanted her to be happy more than anything, because she'd welcomed my boyfriend into the family with so much warmth, I swallowed the pain and agreed to help. After all, this was something I actually knew about.
What happened next was possibly the most convincing re-enactment of Freaky Friday you've ever seen.
First, I rewrote her dating profile, convinced her to be truthful about her age (even though she could easily pass for 15 years younger - c'mon good genes!) and reselected her profile pictures; ditching the five or so gorgeous selfies she'd constructed in good lighting.
Instead I followed the 'tinder-age-old rules': Face shot, full length, arm around mates (showing you've got friends), interesting location and rounding off with one more face shot for good measure.
Now she was set up and ready to go, I should have stopped there. Her newly 'single status' and the removal of her wedding ring, in anticipation of unwanted questions on potential dates, jabbed at my own grief.
But this was high stakes stuff. Mum had been so unhappy for what felt like a long time. I took it upon myself to become a sort of relationship coach - but I ended up somewhere closer to helicopter parent.
I'd approve outfits over Whatsapp, rewrite replies to date invitations, encourage her to block men who sent the acronyms NSA and FWB and we almost always spoke before she left to meet someone and caught up again afterwards to dissect how the evening had gone.
I knew I was getting overly involved but I couldn't help myself.
But it got harder when on a couple of occasions she'd gone MIA, phone on silent, out for a date with a stranger past midnight without so much as a blue tick next to any of my anxious messages. I think I'd even left a voicemail once saying "It takes two seconds to reply to a text and tell me you're safe!"
I mean, what was I going to do, ground her?
A couple of months in and I reached breaking point. I'd worked up so much anxiety from the wild thoughts that she could be laying dead in a ditch somewhere, to the more realistic possibility that she would actually meet someone and that person could let her down. But more than anything each date served as a reminder that my stepdad was gone.
I knew I needed to set some boundaries.
One night when I'd not heard from her my anxiety had run headlong into my grief, leaving me in floods of tears. My boyfriend sat me down and told me to just stop.
He reminded me how capable my mum was. This was, after all, a woman who'd brought up three pretty decent humans, been married, divorced, self-employed, met my stepdad and created a beautiful relationship with him. And she'd lost him. She'd learnt to live with that loss and now, she'd picked herself up and was learning to move forward.
As my boyfriend pointed all this out, I saw the irony.
If I were to lose him I'm sure it would feel impossible to carry on in the way I'd been trying to coach my mum to do. I couldn't imagine ever being as strong as she was being.
The next time I saw mum I was honest. I told her how much it hurt to be so involved in her love life. I told her I thought she was far more capable than I was giving her credit and I needed to take a step back.
As soon as I did she met her boyfriend, and yes - it was online.
That was a whole other type of hard, but it was always going to be. The important part is she's really happy again.
Freaky Friday was over and I had my mum back.
Featured Image Credit: Hayley Thompson