Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.
When I was 13, about three years after my parents divorced, I came home to find my mother kissing another man on our living room couch. I bolted to the nearest bathroom and started dry heaving. The man made an excuse and slunk out of the house. My mother, mortified beyond belief, got me a glass of water. After the retching subsided, I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t the sight of her necking with a stranger that had sent me running for the toilet — I had just gotten carsick on the ride home.
And here’s the thing: I was telling the truth. Almost two decades later, I still can’t sit backward on a train. Even so, I’m sure my mother didn’t believe me (would you have?). We never spoke about that incident again, and she never again brought a man home.
My parents’ divorce was amicable, and I know they still care for each other. A high school friend once remarked about how odd it was to see a divorced couple holding hands as we all walked, like one big, happy family, into a movie theater together. But I also know how much the divorce weighed on them. They’re deeply religious people, and I am sure they have struggled with the idea that ending their marriage was a sin, an admission of defeat, or some combination thereof.
That made talking about the divorce hard, especially when I was younger. I remember my father pouring out his soul to me over an empty whiskey glass, while I awkwardly shoveled a bowl of ice cream, coconut, and hot fudge into my mouth. I remember my mother — this was before the couch canoodling — asking me why I seemed to have such a problem with one of her particularly sanctimonious suitors. At all of 12, I couldn’t find the words to explain to her that I wasn’t opposed to the idea of her dating, per se; it was just that this guy was a prig.
And it didn’t get easier as I got older, either. My father found a new partner, and I absolutely adore her. But my mother never met anyone. That isn’t to say her life was empty — far from it. She raised three children. She worked for more than 20 years as a social worker and began volunteering almost immediately after she retired. She had friends, faith, and an uncanny ability to hum “Que Sera Sera” no matter what came to be.
But despite all of that, a question gnawed at me — a question I could never quite screw up the courage to ask. Because as terrible as not knowing was, knowing might have broken my heart.
Are you lonely, Mom?
And then, during a phone call a few weeks ago, she finally broached the subject. After 20 years of radio silence, my mom matter-of-factly informed me that she had started online dating. The conversation had its awkward moments, sure. We both knew what the much younger men who messaged her were looking for, even if we each played dumb for the other’s benefit. And I did have to cut her off as she told the story of one date (yes, Mother, I know what “having tea on the patio” leads to . . . ).
But still, the relief is palpable. I couldn’t be happier that she took the leap back into the dating world. Maybe even more important, I’m glad she told me. I needed her to take that first step. Because even after all this time, I still didn’t quite know how to say that what I want for her is the same thing she’s always wanted for me — to be happy. So, Mom, now that you’ve put your cards on the table, all I have to say is: go, swipe right, and be merry.
Just, please, spare me the details.Nate Hinchey is a writer in Brookline. Send comments to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.