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Dating in a Family Way

Avoid going out just because they're single and pregnant? Not a chance.

May 07, 2002|LISA ROSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some men like the idea. They see the opportunity for an instant family or love the perceived taboo of dating a pregnant woman. But not all. Take the guy caught so off-guard when he got the news of his date's pregnancy that he ruined a tablecloth:

"Somehow 'Hi, I'm using a sperm bank' didn't seem like first-date conversation, and our second date was a dinner party with several of his friends," she said. Then her suitor went away on a business trip for a few weeks. When he returned, he invited her out to a fancy French restaurant and ordered a glass of wine. "I had a seltzer and told him why I wasn't drinking--that I'd just found out I was pregnant. He spit his merlot all over the table." When he recovered, he gallantly wished her luck, paid for dinner and was never heard from again.

Not everyone spits up--or splits--when confronted with a pregnant date, or the idea of dating while pregnant. In fact, as more single women are making the express decision to have a child without a permanent partner, the subject is increasingly in the open, which is to say it's a topic on Web sites and a plot point on sitcoms.

"If you're dating while you're pregnant, you have to have a sense of humor about it," said Ariel Gore, single mother, creator of the zine Hip Mama and author of "Hip Mama's Survival Guide." "People will have interesting, intimate reactions to you as a mother. If you think it's funny, that's great. If you freak out, it will make things difficult."

Dating, and all it implies--from dinner and a movie to companionship and sexual intimacy--is certainly more complex for the unattached pregnant woman. Safe sex concerns take on additional significance even as worries about getting pregnant fly out the window. Emotional attachments have deeper resonance for dater and datee, and behavioral codes haven't yet been covered by Miss Manners.

Television recently addressed the subject on two popular shows. This season, developments with the characters of Miranda on "Sex and the City" and Rachel on "Friends" (Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Aniston, respectively), led to both single women choosing to have babies.

Recent episodes further showed both characters overwhelmed by heightened libidos--which is a side effect of pregnancy that many women report experiencing. Miranda turned to a casual date and later to the father-to-be, whom she was no longer seeing romantically, to fulfill her sexual urges; Rachel was left to suffer it out alone.

There is an underlying dilemma: In addition to the societal pressures attending single motherhood (remember the flap 10 years ago between then-veep Dan Quayle and fictional character Murphy Brown for choosing to bear a child on her own?), there is the not-always acknowledged reality that a pregnant woman and a sexual woman can exist in the same person. In fact, those who work with pregnant women, single and otherwise, estimate that half or more report experiencing heightened libido during at least part of their pregnancy.

"There's no question the hormones affect one's sexual feelings," said Jane Mattes, a psychotherapist who founded Single Mothers by Choice after the birth of her son in 1981. It has grown from a small networking organization into an international group with more than 2,000 members. (Her son, Eric, now 21, designed the Web site singlemothersbychoice.com.) The organization features e-mail lists where members can turn to each other with their concerns about pregnancy and motherhood. Mattes said that in the middle trimester, after the months of morning sickness and before the discomfort of late pregnancy, many women say they are the most sexual they've ever felt in their lives.

The single pregnant woman who wants to date, said Anne Semans--who is single, pregnant and dating--ends up having to be "publicly and aggressively out there about [her] singlehood, because most people assume you have a partner somewhere." Semans, who is co-author with Cathy Winks of "The Mother's Guide to Sex," (Random House, 2000), said pregnant women date for all different kinds of reasons. "A lot of them just want to be held, touched, they want to have sex, they want someone to pamper them," she said. "When you're not partnered, it's very hard to do that."

Many of the women interviewed for this story have used online dating services as a way to meet men who weren't put off by their mother-to-be status. It was easier, they said, to let potential dates know of their pregnancy via e-mail before meeting.

One New York woman who belongs to Single Mothers by Choice said she waited to tell her date about her pregnancy after they met. "It was awkward all along, but he seemed to roll with it." As the relationship progressed, however, he made it clear he could not see himself in a long-term relationship with a woman with a child. "This started to bother me the more intimate we got sexually, and the more confident I grew about the pregnancy," she said. They recently agreed to stop dating.

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