It was play-doh.
A can of play-doh is why I didn’t marry the millionaire.
The millionaire was a tall, dark and handsome Italian straight outta the Bronx in New York City. A former Golden Gloves Boxer who won the Toughman contest several years in a row once he moved to Oklahoma. Completely self-made businessman that built a successful company from nothing. No high school diploma, no college education, a stint of being homeless in downtown OKC. He was raised by a single mother who loved him immensely, but would often leave him alone as a teenager for days without food or money. Yet despite his troubled childhood, he cared for his dying mother until her last day, in his home. It was the fight and heart in this man that had me head over heels.
But it was more than that, if I’m being honest. Which I’m going to be, though parts of this story paint me as a shallow, materialistic, greedy, needy and pathetic little girl.
I was barely a year removed from a painful divorce when I made a sales call on the millionaire’s business. I knew little about him, except that he was an Italian from New York, and that alone piqued my interest enough to insist I speak with him, not his secretary. We became fast friends, even though my constant barrage of curious questions about New York and being homeless and everything in between made him uneasy. I couldn’t help it. His life was literally fascinating.
“I’m just not that guy,” he used to tell me. “I don’t psychoanalyze my past or dwell on how my faulty upbringing affects me as an adult. I wanted to be successful so I did it.”
Within three months, I was sure he was “the one”. The actual one. I pinched myself daily to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, because practically overnight, my life became something I hadn’t even imagined. This stuff just doesn’t happen to a lower middle class girl from Yukon. I was driving his BMW, swimming in the resort he called a backyard. Cooking in a beautiful kitchen situated within his 7,000 square-foot house. There were shopping sprees, expensive designer sunglasses, a trip to Maui that I’ll never afford in my lifetime. He put a down payment on the car I really wanted, and paid an attorney when it became necessary to modify my divorce. Financially, I didn’t have a care on this earth. If I needed or wanted it, he took care of it.
When he brought up marriage in conversation one night, it seemed surreal. I wouldn’t have to work anymore. The girls would go to private school. I could help manage his business, but I didn’t have to. He would take care of me, he said. You deserve that.
But in all this bliss, I forgot about my role as a mother. The Adorables met him a few times, casually, but most of the time I spent with him was sans children. He didn’t have children and didn’t want any, and while I was rolling around in money I seemed to have overlooked the massive issue this might be.
We were cooking out in the backyard one day, swimming with the Adorables, and they wanted to play with play-doh. As my fellow moms know, toddlers cannot, I repeat, cannot keep play-doh ON the table so it spilled onto the floor. As his dogs were eating the floor scraps he looked at me and said, “They can’t play with that. It might kill the dogs. What were you thinking letting them play with it on an expensive table, anyway? Billie, they just need more discipline, they’re spilling it all over the floor.”
Here – my friends – is the fork in the road where I believe myself and many single mothers take the wrong turn.
I KNOW, in this moment, something is wrong. I hear brakes squealing. Something is terribly wrong. I am suddenly so uncomfortable in my body, because my gut instinct has kicked into overdrive, and that dude is BEGGING me to listen.
So I did what no woman should ever, ever do. I ignore it. No relationship is perfect, I tell myself. He’s going to take care of you, I reassure myself. You can’t make it on your own. This is your chance to create an amazing life for the Adorables, I say. He’ll come around. He’s just scared. He will grow to love them and think play-doh mashed into the carpet is cute, like you do. It’s fine that he has admitted he doesn’t love children, he will definitely love your children. Eventually, he’ll let them finger paint the kitchen floor like you do.
Because I know people think they have experienced fear, but real bonafide fear is the idea that two human beings have all their chips on you. There is no co-parent, no rich relative to bail you out, no one is coming to save you. I could barely keep a plant alive in my early twenties and now I have two children? By myself? That’s fear.
After a few weeks of feeling unhappy and making every excuse under the sun EXCEPT that I was forcing a relationship out of need, I handed over the BMW keys. It wasn’t just the one incident, but that can of play-doh pulled me out of euphoria long enough to realize there were many issues. I thanked him many times for the incredible experiences his generosity allowed me, and we never spoke again. I didn’t want it to be that way, but I respected his fight and heart that refused to be friends.
I tried the “this relationship will save me so I’ll stay with the wrong person” a few more times over the years. Then I went to college, learned how to operate a grill, started a 401K and in many ways, became the man I hoped would save me. And contrary to what one might think, I am raising my daughters to believe in love, because romantic love with the right person is an unmatched experience. But being independent and self-reliant makes choosing a partner a thought-out choice rather than a need-based decision. And like me, I’m sure many of you can tell in a short time which choice many couples are living.
A few years ago, I learned that the millionaire lost everything. All of it. My heart broke for him. Why? Because he was an awesome human being, just not the human being for us. I thanked my gut instinct for that time I actually listened, and we started a serious relationship. I’m grateful for that tiny bit of pride that wouldn’t allow me to depend solely on someone else. But mostly? I decided then and after, that someone else’s happiness would never outweigh or compromise the fun-loving, open relationship I have with my children.
I’m almost 11 years into the single mom gig now, and I absolutely do not have it figured out. That element of fear still creeps in and causes bouts of temporary insanity, but it’s much easier to shut it down after years of practice. I am confident in my ability to care for my girls on my own, and I’m confident that if and when the timing is right, Mr. Wonderful will find us and when he does, he will be one lucky dude.
For my fellow single moms.
You CAN do it.
You CAN do it.
You CAN do it.