On Chemistry and Forced Friendships: Navigating the social awkwardness of the playdate

I thought I left the dating world a long, long (long) time ago. But now I find myself in a whole other dating dimension, one in which there is no alcohol and the only things I’m kissing are skinned knees and other boo-boos. In short, it’s worse than dating. It’s playdating.

The playdate is a phenomenon that must have been invented sometime after my own childhood, because I don’t remember my mother ever scheduling visits with very small people she told me were my friends. Then again, from what she says I was so shy I didn’t want to play with ANYONE when I was a tiny tot, let alone some random 2-year-old whose mommy met mine at the grocery store. So maybe I was just smart enough to hole myself up in my bedroom until the “playdate” stage of life had passed.

These days stay-at-home moms are all into playdates. We’re nuts with the playdates. And I’ve heard so many moms of toddlers talking about their kids’ playdates, and what they’re doing on their playdates, and the value of socialization at this young age, that I admit I’ve gotten sucked into the madness. Now I’m always half-searching for a playdate for Kostyn, scanning the other moms and tots at the library’s Storytime ... sizing up the toddlers at my monthly Moms Group meeting to judge who might make a good mate for my little guy. It’s not sane behavior, I know this.

When I started looking for playdates for Kostyn, I told myself I was just hunting for him. It didn’t matter what the mom was like or whether she and I clicked because the point was for him to socialize, not me. But when I found him a playdate, a funny thing happened -- I started to want more than a date for my son. I started to wish I could have a date, too.

Every week I sit with this woman for an hour and a half, smiling and nodding and answering my 2-year-old’s questions about cars and trucks and “a-planes in the sky” ... I pretend it’s all about him, and spend the time blathering on about my kids and listening to her blather on about hers ... but all the while I pine for good adult conversation, the kind that might not even include talks of birthday parties and Brownies and potty training. (Oh my!)

I’m tempted to ask this mother sitting across from me what she truly thinks about Obama’s healthcare reform, or whether she’s worried about how North Korea convicting those two journalists might affect its already tense relationship with the U.S. Or whether, first and foremost, she’s watching “The Bachelorette.”

But I don’t. Instead I ask about her son’s preschool or listen to her talk about her daughter’s new bike. Because I know in the grand scheme of things, we don’t really click. I mean, she’s perfectly nice and sincere and easy to talk to, and her kid’s cute as a button, but ... there are just no sparks. There’s no easy laughter between us, no finishing each other’s sentences, no witty sarcastic jabs exchanged. And trust me, it’s not something that could grow with time. She’s just not my type. She doesn’t even like football. She doesn’t even like sports! (Check, please!)

It’s not her, it’s me.

And I’m in a quandary, knowing this. Knowing that I am destined to “date” this woman indefinitely, because our sons are playdating. Some weeks this mom is literally the only adult besides my husband with whom I have face-to-face interaction (not counting checkout clerks and librarians). The worst part is I’m beginning to think she sorta digs me, and looks forward to our playdates in a way I simply don’t. (Not that way, jeez!)

So at the risk of overscheduling my 2-year-old, I’ve started to consider setting up another playdate. Sort of an on-the-side, “keep this on the down-low” type of thing. (wink, nudge) Kostyn doesn’t meet with the first little boy every week anyway. And two weeks ago at the local library’s Storytime session, there was this mom who I think was totally hitting on me, playdate-style. She remembered me from the last Storytime session, which I suppose wasn’t hard to do because back then I was as big as a hot-air balloon, ready to pop at any moment (and did ... I went into labor the morning of the last Storytime and missed the program’s finale).

She struck up a conversation with me before Storytime started, and sort of lingered afterwards, glancing over at Kostyn and I as we read more books while the rest of the moms and kids dispersed. I think she finally left with her little girl in tow when it became apparent that the librarian was going to talk my ear off for awhile, and it wasn’t until later on that I realized she might have been wanting to chat with me again or set up a playdate for ... ahem ... our kids. (I always was clueless when a potential date was trying to get my attention.)

In the 3-minute exchange we did have, I could tell we might click. We talked about our kids in a way that we were really talking about ourselves. She was self-deprecating, casual, slightly frazzled. She was exactly my type.

Admittedly, I was a little excited for last week’s Storytime. (Um, it should be said that I have no recollection of how old her little girl was, or even if she might make a good playmate for Kostyn.) I figured I’d position us close to my Potential Playdate and her daughter in the semi-circle, and wait for her to make the first move. (I was never good at making the first move.) But then Kostyn and Evan and I were late and had to sit way on the other side of the room. Plus, Kostyn’s Original Playdate was there. They’d come to MY library even though they were signed up for a different branch’s Storytime. (The nerve!)

So after the session, Original Playdate ambled over with her brood to chat me up and there was just no good time to catch Potential Playdate’s attention. Even though we weren’t technically on a date with Original Playdate, I just didn’t have the heart to go ask someone else out right in front of her, ya know? Instead I had to watch helplessly as Potential and her daughter drifted off, talking to another mom who, can I just say totally didn't look like the type who'd ever even seen one episode of "The Bachelorette"?

So this Friday is the last Storytime session, and I’m already planning my move. We’ll definitely get there early; with toddlers toddling all over tarnation in there, scoring the right spot in the semicircle is key. Hopefully Potential Playdate is there too, and maybe, just maybe, I can work up the nerve to ask her out.

I mean, to ask her daughter to come play with my son.

I wonder what I should wear on Friday.......?


Sheila said...

I'm so glad you recognize the parallels between your former dating life and your current playdating one. I can imagine that just as every guy was into you in high school, so is every mom into you now. Why do I get the feeling they are all going to start passing me notes in the middle of biology about how wonderful and awesome and mysterious and intriguing you are.......:)

Lyn said...

Robyn this stuff is just too good for a blog that only a few lucky people read! You've GOT to get it published!

Since Leah has friends that she knows from the babysitter (aka at-home daycare) I haven't had the "pleasure" of the playdating experience.

I'm glad...The most I could ever muster was a long, hopeful stare at the cute boy across the room (who no doubt assumed I was crazed and would probably hunt him down and attack him at some point before graduation!)

Good Luck, I'm sure you'll charm the pants off of her (well...you know what I mean...)

Anonymous said...

Okay, now I don't feel so weird about trying so hard to run into the other writer mom at yoga in the hopes of scoring a playdate. Aiden doesn't need a play date, he's in love with the 2.5 yr old pretty blond girl next door. But mommy does! Heck, her husband's even a muscian, so maybe David and I could double date them.

Bridget J.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Just wait until Kostyn starts pre-school - then the fun will really begin! We have certainly had our ups and downs learning which kids *and moms* we don't click with.

Also, every time I have to get one of those damn truck shopping carts at Wegman's, I think of you. :)


Robyn said...

Sheil - I'm always amazed at how wildly different our memories are of my high school experience. I like your version much better.

Lyn - Feel free to become my agent and shop my stuff around. :)

Bridge - You're totally scheming on that yoga chick (and her husband!). I love it.

Tina - You rock that truck cart, girl. Actually, I'm surprised they have truck carts at Wegman's. Isn't that a pretty upscale place? I would have thought maybe Hummer carts or something.... ;)