I don’t think my behavior that one night was the sole cause, but some time after that my mother really stopped having a life outside the home. She stayed in and conducted no romances of significance. Judging from her diaries and letters, the few men she engaged in even a passing interest were not all that good to her. As a single mother, helping to take care of her parents and her son, she wasn’t in a position to make men be courtly with her. So she stopped trying. That was the sexual revolution for her. Men willing to sleep with her, but not willing to build a family.

By financial and emotional necessity, she became wrapped in a co-dependent relationship with her parents, who relied on her in their last years. And after they died and I became a teenager, our relationship in turn became more co-dependent as well. She tried being my friend as a teenager. But as I went on to college and beyond I was her entire immediate family. And as I was trying to fly the nest, she needed my presence more than I could give it. I thought she might die when I told her I was moving to Washington D.C. and she would have to make do without me, at least during the work-week…

Not having a father around meant I took on more student debt than I would have otherwise. It meant I would be recalled from college to do things around the house on the weekend, or I would come home just to make sure she was alright and make sure she spent time with someone. Instead of her helping me start life financially, I was helping her manage her mortgage payment, or paying for a new water-heater. I was happy to do so when I could. Though I often wondered where her actual inabilities were real, or when they were manufactured (even unconsciously) to bond me with her, even in hardships. In other single-mother households I knew, things functioned much less smoothly…

Writing checks, delivering take-out dinners, and trying to fit in 20 minutes of quality time with my empty-nester mom shook those fantasies out of me. We told ourselves all sorts of things while I was growing up, but my mother would have been happier, healthier, and more secure with a man to love, and with one who loved her. She would have had more of that if she had more children too.

So do I wish there were more social stigma, the “retrograde and ugly moral judgements” that surround decisions about sex and family? Absolutely.