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Coupling

Desperately seeking sitter

Looking for child care, I feel as if I'm online dating all over again

By Alison Lobron
January 9, 2011

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Moments after I enter my credit card information, profiles fill my in box. Fifteen messages arrive within the first hour. I stare at the screen in giddy disbelief. Who knew it would be so easy to find that special someone? Then I open the first note and it’s riddled with spelling errors. The second writer appears not to have read my ad. But the third person sounds perfect – perfect! I write back immediately and spend the evening anticipating our first meeting. One day later, I get word that my dream match has fallen for someone else.

I’m crushed, and what’s more, I’m mad. After all, I already suffered through the ups and downs of Internet dating. After finding love (offline, as it turns out), I assumed I was done reducing myself to a series of checklists and boxes – and seeing other human beings in that light. But two short years later, I’m back in the hunt. Only this time, it’s for a baby sitter.

I need someone to help care for my infant son while I ease my way back into the workforce this winter. I’ll be writing at home when the sitter is there, but like most new mothers I’m still anxious about the prospect of a stranger caring for my child. So I start the search with a mixture of hope and dread, uncertain that I should be relying on computer and credit card to forge such an intimate bond – in other words, all the feelings I had trying Match.com.

From there, the parallels multiply. There’s the newcomer’s flood of messages, which dries up within 48 hours. There’s the creeping suspicion that despite the appearance of millions of profiles, only 12 live people are on a site at a given time and the rest are industry plants. You know the poetry-loving investment banker who wants to meet older women? And how nobody has ever heard back from him? His nanny-equivalent is the beaming valedictorian who double-majored in early childhood education and emergency medicine. She’s not available either.

And then there’s the tension between finding someone as similar to you as possible and finding someone complementary. I’m drawn to a 21-year-old English major who seems like a younger, perkier version of myself, but I also like the idea of a sitter who can offer my son things his dad and I can’t, like, say, fluency in Mandarin.

As in dating, I began the process thinking I could have it all, because the site suggested I could. Just as it’s possible to limit your search to blondes half your age, it’s possible to search only for college-educated trilingual nannies who have a decade of experience and think seven dollars an hour is a perfectly reasonable rate. And because it’s possible, it’s easy to feel entitled to our desired combination of characteristics – to feel as if settling for anything less means, well, settling.

As in dating, seeing all the options forced me into a useful exercise of figuring out which qualities I really want and which I can forgo. The more I looked at the list, the more I realized that, once again, most of the nonnegotiables for me were intangible: trustworthiness, a sense of humor, communication skills.

Searching for a sitter feels, at once, easier and harder than searching for a mate. My sitter ad doesn’t put my personal traits or my son’s out for public judgment. Any rejections will probably have more to do with pay or distance from a T stop. In addition, I’m not looking for a permanent commitment – just the first of what will likely be a number of caretakers over the years.

But I am trying to find someone I can trust with my baby, and that makes the sitter hunt feel scary in a whole new way. A first date with someone who misrepresented himself online was a nuisance. The thought of my son spending even five minutes with someone incompetent is – well, to borrow from Emily Dickinson, it’s a zero at the bone.

Here’s one other difference: I never got over feeling a little weird about advertising for love. I have no such sheepishness in my new quest.

Yes, that’s right, I’m advertising. Know any nice sitters available two to three afternoons a week in Arlington?

Mandarin is optional.

Alison Lobron is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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  • January 9, 2011 cover
  • Jan. 9, 2011 Magazine cover