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Ode: A young mother of four enters weird world of online dating

Jenny Bullington
Ally Karsyn

I’d spent the last 11 years being a professional mothering machine.

I’d caught more vomit with my bare hands than you could believe and cleaned up poop from places that poop should never touch. My jokes were hilarious to 3-year-olds and “going potty” was a frequent topic of discussion.


When I left my abusive husband, I became a single mother of four with no clue about what was cool anymore. I just knew that I didn’t want to be alone forever. But dating and being sexy was not a part of my repertoire like diapering and learning the ABC’s had been.



I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew what I would never go back to. My friend, Katie, set me up on a date with a man who was several years older than me. Suddenly, I was like a teenager again, hoping he would like me and worrying about what to wear.


I met him at an Italianrestaurant and dove into a political discussion. After making a great point, I forgot about his age and shouted out, “Mic drop! Boom!” Then, I started laughing, uncontrollably, like to the point of snorting or possibly peeing my pants. He just stared at me.


Despite that first failure, dating again let me see my own worth. I started to think that perhaps I really was pretty and smart, and I started to tap into what being a woman was once again. It was fun! Until I got my first d— pic. That was followed by not one or two but 10 more!


I kept putting myself out there because, if women gave up on dating every time a man flashed his privates, we’d all be single.


Another friend, Amanda, set me up with a single dad who was figuring out this new dating world like I was. As per my rules for a first date, we met at the restaurant for dinner, and I tucked a small dagger into my belt like I always did when meeting a stranger, just in case.


The date started well enough. He showed me pictures of his kids and told me about his awful divorce. I was starting to feel sorry for him. Until he showed me his penis. Right in the middle of our conversation, in the middle of the restaurant, he unzipped his pants and whipped it out.


He went from talking about fatherhood to fetishes. He described his love of feet and started listing his favorite websites. My jaw dropped, and I couldn’t stop laughing. Surely, this wasn’t real. When he offered to pay for dinner, I didn’t put up a fight.


Determined not to die alone, I went on another date, set up by another friend. We had spent some time talking over the phone and FaceTiming, so I felt like I knew him a little better before meeting in person.


When we went out for dinner, everything seemed fine. Until he took out his phone. He’d gotten a message from his brother, and whatever it said, sent him over the edge. My date told me exactly how he was going to shoot his brother once he was back in their home state.


I excused myself to the bathroom and seriously considered disappearing through the back door of the restaurant. I got a hold of my brother instead. “Elliott,” I said into the phone, “remember all those times that I would pick on you when we were little kids? Yeah, I am really sorry for that… And can you please come get me?” And he did. He gave me an escape-plan by meeting me at another restaurant down the street. We lamented our love lives over college basketball and a couple Blue Moons.


It wasn’t all bad. In fact, I’d been on some good dates where there no murder plots or penises. But as soon as I’d mention my four kids, they got the heck out of Dodge. One guy had the audacity to tell me, “I really like you, and you look just like Lisa Loeb! You’re a perfect 10, but honey, I just don’t want four more kids.”


Motherhood, my area of expertise, was the dating kiss of death.


After that string of failed setups, I signed up for Match.com as the last stop before resigning myself to singledom, permanently. I uploaded a bunch of pictures of myself and filled out my dating profile, specifically stating I was James Franco looking for my Seth Rogen. I still had to wade through d— pics, offers for hookups, and even an invitation to join an androgynous relationship.


But then, something amazing happened. I met Branden.


I sent him a message saying, “Good morning,” on Match.com, and we talked non-stop until we met in person a few weeks later. We discussed every topic possible, ranging from our deepest secrets to what we were planning to have for dinner.


On our first time meeting in-person, he came right up to me and gave me a huge hug. I’d realized suddenly I’d never felt more at home in someone’s arms like I did in his. Over dinner, I warned him that I was ambitious and full of love for life. I had put my dreams on hold for too long, and now I had every intention of making them come true. I was going to be a novelist, and nothing was going to stand in my way.


I sat there, waiting for visible signs of flinching like I’d seen in other, lesser men. But Branden leaned in and said that he wanted to help me have the life I deserved. In that moment, I knew I wanted to do the same for him.


The more we talked, the more we discovered how much we had in common. We had both been missionaries overseas, and both left these uber-strict church organizations that were practically cults. We had both been hospitalized for blot clots, almost at the exact same time, just me in Sioux City and him in Omaha. And we had both survived abusive relationships. He hadn’t endured the physical attacks like I had, but just like me, for too long, he had been emotionally torn down and degraded, enduring the same years of verbal abuse. We instantly connected over our journeys of healing.


When it came to my kids—the one thing in my life that consistently sent my dates running for the door—once again, Branden leaned in. He wanted a big family, which clearly, with four kids already, I could provide.


I had found the Seth Rogan to my James Franco. And Branden thought so too.


We took a big risk on living and loving again. We eloped four months later, and welcomed our son in to the world on the one-year anniversary of our first time meeting in-person.


Our household is a constant whirlwind of sleepless nights with a fussy baby, helping with homework, and reading bedtime stories. But parenting five kids with my soulmate has been one of my greatest adventures, just as much as cheering each other on to achieve our dreams.


I risked it all on Branden, just as he did with me. Now, after being together for a couple years, I’m still so grateful for every day that I wake up to Branden’s bright blue eyes, to him saying, “Good morning, gorgeous,” and to him showing me his big… heart.


Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.

The next show is 7 p.m. Friday, April 6 at The Marquee, 1225 Fourth St. The theme is “Just Keep Going,” inspired by this year’s One Book One Siouxland selection, “Hidden Figures.”

Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.

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