Disclaimer: No chancletas were thrown in the making of this. In many Latinx households, mothers are the glue that holds families together. From master chefs to emergency nurses, their roles as matriarchs of the family have many facets, but at its core, it’s to raise their children. For better and worse, everything else becomes secondary, including her own needs.
My mother was no exception. Shortly after her divorce from my father, the sole breadwinner of the family, my mother, a first-generation immigrant, found herself raising two young girls, working a full-time job, and also pursuing a Bachelor's degree. Her entire 20s and 30s — what we now consider the decades of self-discovery and romance — were spent attending night classes, and heating up dinner in a cafeteria microwave for her daughters. My mother, along with the 3.9 million other Latinx single mothers in the U.S., rarely dated. She didn’t have the time.
Fast forward nearly two decades: the kids are grown, work is steady, and her degree is framed and hung. My mother, the Super Mom, now has more free time than she’s ever had, and — understandably — she’s reluctant to hang up her cape. Weirdly enough, I never imagined that I’d ever had conversations with my mother about our mutual existential crises: her with her post-kids life, and me with my post-grad anxiety. Yet, here we were, curious and intimidated by what the next steps of our adult lives would entail. The solution to my problems is still...unfolding, shall we say (don’t you just love being a twenty-something-year-old in a pandemic), but my mom’s was clear…. sis needed a man.
Just 38% of adults aged 30 to 49, and only 16% of adults aged 50+ have never used a dating app. My mother was one of them, but after a family friend in her 40s found love on an app, her curiosity was piqued. And so, my millennial self helped my mom embark on her quest to find love (or at least whatever a three-month dating app subscription could get her).
I spent hours agonizing over how to describe her, what cute pics to pull, and how best to present her. Through it all, I could barely comprehend all the ways this could go left. As I pulled up her profile to show her, I thought of all the Dominican mom curses she could throw my way: mira muchacha de mierda! But to my surprise, her face lit up, turning into an eighteen-year-old in front of my eyes. She was giddy about exploring what twenty-first-century love had to offer, and I was the proud parent egging her on. Holding her hand along the way, my Latina mother began her online dating journey.
Part social experiment and part tech education, teaching my mother the ins and outs of online dating using her smartphone was entertaining, to say the least. Our curriculum was vast, covering everything from emojis to translating lengthy messages in Spanish and English. My mother and I spent weeks hunched over her phone flirting with eligible bachelors. On the dating app, my mom had her first ghosting experience, went through the pre-date jitters of a Facetime call, and even went on a couple of real dates, pre-Rona. My mother peeled layers off of herself, indulging in the person she had been before she had children. My Latina mother had finally allowed herself to explore her desires in love, but more than that, she was finally prioritizing her desires in life.
There’s no fairy-tale ending I can tell you — at least not yet. But the transformation that’s already happened is a happy one. My mother, along with many Latina mothers, was conditioned to constantly think about life as survival. Now, she’s exploring what life means outside of being a mother, and part of that is feeling optimistic about finding a lifelong companion. My mother has given me so much of herself. In turn, the least I could do was this, to help my Latinx mother take her first steps back to rediscovering all of her selves as a Latinx woman, a conversation and journey I’m excited to continue having about both of us.
Everyone's path to self-discovery looks different — and I may not advise online dating for every single mother. But, if the two of you embark on this, you both may be surprised by the woman you meet on the other side.