A family affair
I resisted it for a long time, told myself that it wasn’t my thing, that I’d be better off sticking to traditional methods, the time-tested tactics that had served me well in the past. But the more I heard about it, the more my friends enthused about it, the more I wondered if I shouldn’t just give it a try, see what all the fuss was about.
And so finally, after much encouragement, I relented. I uploaded my very best pictures, inserted a witty, self-deprecating bio and waited for love to come find me. Yes, I signed up for a dating site, two in fact. Tired of the pub scene, of the clubs, and of being alone, I put my poor, delicate little heart out there, casting the net in the hope of landing a good one.
Suffice to say, I was left disappointed. Yes, there is plenty of fish in the sea, loads in fact, but instead of the succulent salmon and heavenly halibut I’d expected, I mostly encountered mouldy old kippers and tinned sardines past their sell-by-date. Okay, I’m being a bit harsh, there were a few tasty trout, but with every fisherman within a 50-mile radius after them these proved as slippery as the proverbial eel.
So, after a few unsatisfactory catches, small fry which were thrown back in the water after flopping about with their mouth open for a few seconds, I retired from the online dating scene. It just wasn’t my thing. It had been mildly stimulating, momentarily exciting, but mostly underwhelming. But where to next? Having tried what I’d considered to be the last resort, I was left pondering my options. As a moderately eligible bachelor in his thirties I had the same hopes and dreams as my peers, to settle down, own my own home and start a family. Yes, a family, one with children, my children.
Of course, there’s an abundance of people on dating sites who want the exact same thing. People who, like me, have decided that the time for messing around, for acting the eejit, has long since passed, people who have realised they’re not getting any younger and don’t fancy being one of those middle-aged parents who gets mistaken for their offspring’s grandparent. But sharing a desire to have children does not necessarily equate to being compatible with someone, believe me, I should know.
What’s a man to do then? Head to the nearest sperm bank and hope there’s a market for wisecracking columnists with a penchant for naughty jokes? Return to the bars and clubs and frantically rut anything and everything in sight? Or option three; join a co-parenting site? A co-parenting site, what the hell is that? Well, it’s a place where two people, or sometimes three, can contact one another to discuss the possibility of having a child together. Although similar in structure to your average dating site, these apps are solely for the broody; romance is not part of the deal.
To ensure men, and it would only ever be men, don’t exploit the system, most of the ‘transactions’ are done artificially, with parents not so much as kissing before the pregnancy is confirmed. Obviously, there are a multitude of further, potential complications, but these are signposted clearly beforehand, with strict vetting processes ensuring the safety and integrity of the site. Issues such as financial support and guardianship are, however, left to the discretion of the couples.
I can’t help but be profoundly saddened by these websites’ existence. Is this where we’re at now? I know that thousands of women choose to have babies on their own every year, and that just as many lesbian couples get pregnant without any male interaction, but there’s a level of independence in those decisions, and, most importantly, an agreement that the father won’t be involved. In this new scenario, both mother and father are involved from the start, and, provided they come to an arrangement, will have equal access and guardianship. But while both will be committed to their child’s happiness, their relationship with one another will be, at best, cordial, at worst distant and officious.
Advocates of co-parenting describe it as a skipping straight to the divorce without the, often ugly, fallout, suggesting that the child can rest easy without the spectre of their parents splitting up weighing on their mind. How thoroughly depressing. Maybe that’s why they’ve ended up on these sites, because their outlook on life is so miserable, so doom-laden, that no right-minded person would ever dream of shacking up with them. Again, harsh. I’m sure that some of the people using these sites are doing so for genuine reasons, that they have simply run out of patience and want to share parenting responsibilities with a like-minded individual.
But then you read some of the eulogies, the experiences of those who have become staunch supporters of co-parenting. You read about the woman who has already had two children with co-parents, men who, although part of her life, she has no emotional attachment to. And that same woman who, having used the co-parenting technique to bring two children into the world, is about to do the same for a third. Then there’s the suggestion by one of the site’s founders that potential co-partners visit a lawyer and a therapist together before committing to a life of nappy-changing and late-night feeds.
It all feels a bit remote, a bit cold and clinical, like something from a dystopian novel where intimacy and attachment are outlawed, and procreation is merely a means of prolonging our survival. And yet people continue to sign up for these sites in their droves, Irish people too. There are no figures available, no way of knowing how many of us are on there, but clearly this is a global issue and not one solely affecting unlovable cranks in the outer regions of society.
So again, the question must be asked; just how did we get here? How did we, a race of seven billion people, reach the point where we’re happy to forego love and romance in favour of safety and security, to deny our primal instincts and bring a life into this world based on nothing more than a signed contract and a sense of helpless desperation?
And then you look around. You spend a night out in any town or city in the western world. You observe the cattle-mart which is an Irish nightclub on a Saturday night. You spend a month or two on a dating app. You talk to members of the opposite sex, meet them, date them, mate with them, and never hear from them again. You look back over your life, over your successes and failures, the ones that got away, the ones you threw away and the ones you never had, and it all makes sense.
And you realise that it’s only blind faith and a hopeless sense of optimism that keeps any of us, all of us, from joining these sites and putting an end to this romance craic once and for all.
It’s okay, Mammy’s just having a bad dream
I bet I can make you cringe. I bet I can make your toes curl and your teeth ache. And I bet I can do it with one simple question. Have you ever heard your parents having sex? There you go, you’re cringing like feck, grimacing in pain, hating me for evoking one of your most painful childhood memories.
But at least you’ve been able to repress those memories, been able to shove them deep down, beside those nightmares about bacon and cabbage, and butter vouchers. Dahiana Valerio, a 31-year-old New Yorker, isn’t so lucky. She lives at home with her 49-year-old mother, Olga. And Olga, minx that she is, has a 26-year-old boyfriend. Can you see where this is going?
Olga and her boyfriend, Byron, like to get down, and sometimes dirty, and sure why not? Sexy older woman and all that. Only problem is, Olga likes it a bit too much. So much so that the neighbours have called the cops six times in the past three months to complain about the noise. And worst of all, it’s poor Dahiana, the innocent party in this whole torrid affair, who’s been getting the blame.
Wrongly presuming that it’s the younger member of the family responsible for all the racket, horny locals have begun pestering Dahiana for sex. So, like any good parent, Olga has leapt to her child’s defence, ‘fessing up and admitting that it was she, and not Dahiana, screaming like a lunatic every night of the week. Isn’t that lovely? Olga has yet to confirm whether she’ll pay for the extensive counselling sessions her daughter will require in the coming months however.