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Is mom-ance as hard as romance – why is it tough to befriend other moms?

“I’ve sent emails, called and left two messages,” my friend Ally confessed, her voice betraying hurt. “Not a word from her. I don’t get it.”

“Give her time,” I said. “She works, right? Two kids? She’s probably swamped. Or maybe your emails are getting spammed out.”

“I thought we totally clicked,” Ally sighed. I hesitated before suggesting a bracing possibility, “It could be that she just doesn’t like you – or your kids”

Ally is a married mother of two boys, ages 5 and 3. She’s not looking to expand her horizons with a same-sex tryst; she’s merely navigating the turbulent waters of modern mom-ance: mothers trying to forge meaningful connections with other moms.

It’s not all that different than what we did when we were single: spotting, critiquing, approaching (and sometimes stalking) male prospects.

Ally admitted that when she didn’t hear from her current “lady crush,” she popped open a bottle of chardonnay, turned on the TV, and obsessively checked her phone for messages. “Just like I did ten years ago, when I fretted over elusive guys,” she said.

My first stab at momance occurred when my older son, Jesse, was 6 months old, and I formed a Mom’s Club in our urban neighborhood to try to drum up some adult company in the lonely first months of having an infant. I met two moms via a community parenting listserv, both with babies around Jesse’s age, and invited them over one afternoon. At the first – and last – meeting of the Moms’ Club, it became evident in my cluttered living room that these women and I had little in common. We struggled to make conversation while tending to our infants. There were long, uncomfortable silences. I was relieved when Jesse had an explosive poopy diaper, requiring me to leave the room.

When I returned, I brought two bottles of wine. Just like awkward first dates, maybe alcohol would fuel mutual affection. By the time they left, I was just drunk and depressed.

After the mom’s club disaster, I started courting momance at the playground, a veritable singles bar for moms. I would notice another mom – attractive, but not unattainably hot – with a kid the same age as mine. Bingo! I would debate how to initiate conversation; would I use the standard pick-up line: “How old is he?” Sometimes I took a more assertive approach: “Don’t I know you from Gymboree?” At one playground I frequented, there seemed to be an “in” clique of moms who all knew each other. I tried to break in when I spotted a woman from the post-partum yoga class I took with Jesse. Our brief conversation fizzled when I admitted to “never really getting yoga,” which turned out to be a great passion of hers.

At the end of a long day at the playground, I’ve often lamented to my husband that I didn’t have the nerve to ask another mom for her number or that I provided mine and was nervous I wouldn’t hear from her. But even if you manage to secure a date, the anxiety doesn’t necessarily go away. What to wear? Where to meet? Will suggesting a Bloody Mary at a morning play date send the wrong message? What if my kid bites hers (as actually happened when Jesse was about a year old, leaving a visible teeth marks on the thigh of a playmate)?

Fortunately, our children seem largely oblivious to the pitfalls of momance. Once I took my kids to the swimming pool and stumbled upon a birthday party of Jesse’s peers to which he hadn’t been invited. I was wounded, but Jesse happily and obliviously accepted the mother’s impromptu invitation, crashed the party without shame and even walked away with a goody bag.

Over the past years, I’ve “dated” moms outside my socioeconomic group as well as mothers who have radically different political views. For a while, an African-American woman whom I met at Mommy-and-Me swim classes invited me to several “Mocha Moms” gatherings, even though I’m indisputably vanilla. The other women were welcoming, and I enjoyed getting together, but they all lived on the outskirts of the city, 45 minutes away even without traffic. Continuing our relationship became inconvenient. Just like men, prospective moms must be geographically desirable.

I’ve even pursued moms that were out of my league. Once we moved to the suburbs, my second son Shep was invited to a birthday party at a kids’ gym. As soon as I arrived and saw the birthday boy’s mother – statuesque and stunning, in a color-coordinated ensemble – I felt pangs of regret. Why didn’t I put on make-up? Why was I wearing sweats? And for goodness sake, why did I buy a gift from Five & Below?

The woman was icy that day, but I’ve since run into her at the gym and the grocery store enough times to see that she’s not always perfectly put-together. We’ve struck up conversation on more than one occasion, and with the prospect of our sons being in preschool together for another two years, there’s room for our relationship to grow.

Joining an established moms’ group is a bit like attending a church mixer. In our town near Annapolis, there’s an active “Mom’s Club,” which I joined, hoping to meet other like-minded women. The first function – a kids’ karate class – took place at a country club; those attending were repeatedly reminded of its “no jeans policy.” This wardrobe dilemma caused me more anxiety than senior prom. When I arrived in a gypsy skirt and black sweater (I don’t own country-clubbish attire), I was nearly paralyzed by self-consciousness. Do we walk in the front door or should we sneak around back? What if Shep pees on the floor?

Inside the stately banquet room, three Lily Pulitzer-clad moms with frosty blond bobs and ginormous diamond rings sat around a table gossiping about other club (country, not moms’) members, while their sons raced around knocking over chairs.

I ushered the boys to an empty table where I sat down feeling small and Semitic. Soon, another woman, looking similarly out-of-place, arrived with her two daughters. She sat at my table, and we made fleeting eye contact, before she ventured, “How old are yours?” Following the karate demo, I gave her my number. I never heard from her, but I didn’t feel slighted. Sometimes, the timing’s just off.

I recently had a falling out with the woman I consider my “main mom squeeze.” Suffice it to say, I did something inconsiderate – asked her to watch Shep and then arrived much later than promised to retrieve him – that resulted in her unbridled rage. Even after I apologized profusely, my friend gave me a tongue-lashing that reduced me to tears.

“She’ll get over it,” my husband reassured me. “If not, then it wasn’t meant to be.”

He was right. Before I was married, I always maintained hope that I would meet The One. No matter how many awful dates I endured, no matter how badly I got burned, I always maintained hope that I would meet someone new and special. My kids are young. The world is still full of momantic possibilities.

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