Like you, I am also a writer and a single mother who is currently dating. As someone who writes about her life, what has your experience been dating people who may or may not end up in your work? Do you talk to them about it? I ask because I was recently ghosted by someone who I really liked after I disclosed my last name on our first date. He clearly googled me and then wanted nothing to do with me when he saw that I had a somewhat public profile. At least, I think that’s what happened. He… ghosted, so who really knows! But I figured you might have some experience with this so I would love to hear how you navigate it!
I feel like there should be a dating app specifically for essayists, memoirists, and really anyone who writes non-fiction because we are liability central. I say this with love, of course, because we’re also very great.
Anyone who marries, dates, or has an intimate relationship with a writer knows that they may end up in their work at some point, so I do believe you owe it to both of you to tell any potential future partners that you are a writer — specifically of the personal essay variety — at the beginning of the relationship. (Note: I never give anyone my last name until I have done a full background check on them first and feel like I can safely do so. This allows them to do their own sleuthing before they decide whether or not they want to proceed.) I think it’s important for potential partners to know early on that who you are and what you write about are intrinsically linked.
That is not to say that if they date you, they will have no privacy. Healthy relationships are built on mutual trust and respect. But anyone who dates a writer is going to need to be comfortable with you writing explicitly about your experiences, past and present, which a lot of people will not be comfortable with. (As you know!)
I have experienced all of the possible responses while in intimate partnerships and could write an entire book about what it has been like navigating love, sex, and romance for my entire life as a personal essayist. I started writing for the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series when I was 16, and every boy who broke my heart in high school ended up in one of those books.
I’m pretty sure everyone I have ever loved has ended up in my work in some way. Not by name in most cases. I wrote a piece about casual sex for Romper, for example, that was okayed for publication by the person I was dating at the time. As were the chapters in my book that explored two specific intimate partner relationships. (I would not have published them otherwise.)
I have protected the privacy and reputations of more men than I could even begin to count. Women, too. And, yes, that includes my late husband, who one could argue that I wrote about non-consensually after he died. It is also true that not a single post I wrote about him while he was alive was published without his ok. The number of posts I didn’t write because I knew he wouldn’t want me to far exceeded the number of posts I actually published.
I have since made it a priority to write honestly about my experiences and surround myself with people who support and love me in part because of my work, never in spite of it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to other people’s feelings.
The thing is, how people react to your being an essayist, a memoirist, a poet, etc. is a litmus test of whether or not you’re right for each other. You do not want to be with someone who feels uncomfortable with your work. You want to be with someone who is supportive of it.
Before I ditched the apps for the relationship I am currently in (see? I haven’t even written about him yet and I write a dating column. Privacy can exist for public-facing writers!) I met up with a handful of potential someones who were clearly uncomfortable with my work, which, by the way is just as valid as me being comfortable with it. And while it always sucks to be ghosted, it would suck far more for you to have developed feelings for someone who is turned off as opposed to turned on by your writing.
No one should be in a relationship where they feel they must convince the other person to love them. Nor should you feel the need to censor yourself to make sure everyone around you is comfortable.
Acknowledging another person’s boundaries while remaining true to your own is always going to be a dance. But so is everything, really. It’s going to take a special kind of person to want to be with you, which is great news because you should only ever be with a special kind of person.
I want to answer any and all questions you all have about the exhilarating, terrifying, and wonderful experience of dating and having sex with new people after becoming a parent. Send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.