As my daughter successfully navigated her way through her sophomore year of high school, my husband and I navigated our way through what I can only think of as Pre-K. Remember pre-k? Your child spends more time away from you. They make new friends, learn new things- it’s the beginning of independence. This is basically what my husband and I experienced this past year.
For the better part of 15 years, I’ve cringed at the sound of “MOM”. OK- not really cringed, but how many times can you hear a word before you start to dread it? It was a Pavlovian response- I hear Mom and I stop what I’m doing and follow the sound. But that changed this year. I began to hear the word less and less. I was no longer asked to help with homework-( To be fair, I no longer understand the questions she’s being asked. When she showed me a question she had on Dante, I just laughed) Armed with a metrocard and an Uber app, she no longer asked me to pick her up or meet her when she was returning home. A part time tutoring job gave her a little financial independence. Things that I had previously done for her she began doing herself. I was proud of her confidence and her ability to get things done, yet….it was a little weird. I now had more time to spend with the husband.
The husband? Oh yeah- that guy I share the house with. We had more time together. What now?
I have friends who have already experienced empty nest, but now my husband and I got to preview it for free. The daughter is obviously still around- we feed her and all, but she’s got her own life. Now we had to recreate our own life.
But how to start dating your husband after fifteen year?
I tried to think back to what we did when we were dating. Remembering anything can be a challenge, and I really wished my old palm pilot still worked so I could look back at my social calendar. But this shouldn’t be too hard. I mean- I talked to this guy every day….So I came up with a plan and made a list.
We’re both foodies, so I started researching restaurants. My goal wasn’t to try the top 50 dining establishments in my city- I wanted it to be fun. We love ethnic street food, so I picked a staple (hand cut and knife pulled noodles) and began visiting establishments that served them. We compared our favorites, discussed why we didn’t like certain dishes. We tried new places and explored neighborhoods we didn’t know much about. We created new memories of just the two of us.
I read up on things to do in the city (OK- I live in NYC- there is literally something happening all the time) Pinball, shuffleboard, indoor driving ranges. Galleries, lectures, outdoor concerts. Instead of planning activities that we thought the daughter might like, we concentrated on things we might like. When we were home during the week we played backgammon or darts. I’m guessing we’ll eventually take up bridge. (My friends Mother in law said that you can’t survive empty nesthood without learning how to play cards) It really didn’t matter the activity- it was being able to connect with one another.
We also upped our double dating game. I made a conscious effort to plan outings with our friends. When the kids were younger, I didn’t like socializing with friends because the outings often included children. ( I know. I’m horrible. But I don’t love hanging out with other peoples children. Everyone is allowed to parent their child any way they see fit. I just don’t need to see it) But an “R” rated evening- maybe PG13- is always welcome. And the husband got to see how great a wife I am. Sometimes side by side comparison is your friend.
There is also some compromising involved. I watch Ranger games with the husband. (This is especially hard as I grew up in the shadow of Nassau Coliseum as an Islander fan) He goes to video installation art with me (I’m obsessed with any sort of edited footage of different events to create a story- him- not even close).
The biggest challenge is learning to communicate without your child as buffer. Conversing for an hour or so without mentioning the kids is often difficult. You know how acquaintances will start discussing the weather? Parents just automatically talk about the kids- and it’s a hard habit to break. Each partner needs to make a conscious effort to talk about other things. Remember when you were dating? Remember the conversations? You didn’t talk about kids back then- don’t do it now.
Preparing for the nest to be empty is a work in progress. There will be bumps in the road, but we just have to figure out how to handle them. Baby steps- a little more each day.