I’m no Carrie Bradshaw, but I’ve learned a thing or two about dating after a 10-year hiatus. I know I eventually want to be married again, to have a partner to share in all the joys, the craziness, and even the monotony of everyday life. In the meantime, learning how to dip my toes back in and find a date, maybe even companionship, would be lovely. So, how is a single mama of four to go about finding this? Well, let me share what I would with any single mama friend reentering the dating world.
I first got married fairly young, at 22, and dating was much different back in those days. Fast forward ten years and you’re inundated with everything from monthly membership sites like eHarmony or Match.com, to free mobile apps like Tinder, OK Cupid, Bumble, and Hinge—let alone all the strange rules of etiquette around virtual dating. Rarely do people meet in person anymore—at least it hasn’t proved so simple for this working mother. Maybe it’s that I don’t know how to make enough eye contact to signal interest (I can be real shy, y’all), or the difficulty in vetting out whether someone is actually single (a surprising number of married men don’t wear rings these days). Or maybe it’s the very existence of online dating that has made people less likely to take a chance on face-to-face rejection. We live in a world of convenience: frankly, meeting people online is often much more efficient.
The first time I set up an online dating profile, I matched with someone within 30 minutes. My profile wasn’t really fleshed out, so after telling him that I’d updated it to include my status as a mother, he politely asked how many kids I had. When I typed out four, he immediately said he couldn’t handle dating someone with that many kids and unmatched me seconds later. I felt stunned and angry and embarrassed at the situation. I was mad at life, and threw myself a little pity party, then wiped my tears and took my kids to swim practice. And that was just the initiation into this whole rigamarole. I actually met the same guy through a group of friends months later, and I like to think I sensed some surprise and interest in his eyes. Oh, well.
The first connection I did eventually meet in person didn’t turn out quite as expected. His photos were a bit obscure—artistic, you might say. The conversation flowed easily and we even talked on the phone for an hour the night before we planned to meet for lunch the first time. He kept expressing concern over whether or not my photos were current, but as a blogger and fairly decent photographer, I was a bit confused by his insistent questioning. (I later learned that many guys get matched with robot women—fake profiles meant to get them to visit spam websites.)
When I saw him walking up for lunch the next day, my heart sank. He didn’t look at all like I thought he did from his photos. I immediately knew that I wasn’t attracted to him at all, and felt guilty for it. He even asked if he was what I had expected! Too flummoxed to respond candidly, I smiled weakly, and we spent an amicable hour over lunch. But when it came to the first-date postmortem, I had to let go of that guilt and just be upfront—I enjoyed his company, but didn’t feel any chemistry there. We parted ways and wished each other the best.
That is probably one of the milder, less heart-twisting farewells throughout my experience. There have been a number of others that left a sour taste in my mouth. From ghosting, to bizarre pick-up lines, to back-to-back dates that fill you with hope only to end when someone realizes they’re not quite ready, there’s a plethora of ways that connections get lost. Single mama dating is an experience—as it is for anyone. But as a divorced mama I think it’s even more challenging when you’re hoping to find a new partner to share life with. Here are some of my thoughts on how to handle dating (particularly online dating) as a single mama.
Setting Up Your Online Profile
Before you get to swiping or winking, you’ve got to put some thought into what you’re sharing about yourself. Of course pictures are the main thing people are basing connections on. Maybe it sounds shallow, but we do it unconsciously in person all the time. So go ahead and put some cute pictures of yourself up there. A good rule of thumb is to include at least one close up, one full body, some with friends, and maybe one of you doing an activity you love. I absolutely do not post photos of my kids on my dating profiles. I didn’t always adhere to this policy (I think I had one of me and my oldest son towards the beginning), but when I came across my ex’s dating profile with pictures of our girls on there, I was completely uncomfortable. There are all sorts of people on these sites, and there’s no need for them to see what my kids look like before we’ve even met. My ex and I agreed on no photos of the kids on our profiles. And be mindful that people you know will likely see your profile on these sites at some point as well, so don’t share anything you don’t want publicly known.
Two other things I avoid doing on my profiles are linking to my Instagram and disclosing where I work. As a blogger, sharing my Instagram account would basically be giving them an open book to my entire life, including pictures of my kids and places I frequent. No bueno. Same with my work. I work for a very small company and I don’t need anyone showing up unexpectedly—stalking is real, people.
As far as what you should write in your description, at the very least don’t leave it blank. It doesn’t have to be a monologue, but something basic enough to share a little insight into your personality. Depending on which dating app I’m on, my profile varies from simple descriptive words (Mama. Swing dancer. Yoga lover. Creative.) to a more conversational, insightful paragraph. It doesn’t hurt to write down what it is that you’re looking for, either. New friends? Casual dating? A relationship? It’s easier to be clear up front than to find out later you weren’t on the same page.
On the flip side, when you do start looking through the guys’ profiles, there are definitely a number of things that I look out for as well.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly attracts me to a guy based on his profile. It varies, really. If they don’t say anything about themselves in their description though, don’t swipe right, unless you’re really into the silent type. Either they’re not capable of expressing themselves verbally, they have something to hide, or they’re a possible ax murderer. (Luckily I haven’t met any of those—I think!) Here are a few snippets of descriptions I have swiped right on:
“Looking for something meaningful with someone mindful.”
“Old souls and kind hearts swipe right.”
“I will totally build your IKEA furniture for a beer . . . .”
“Clean ears and good grammar are important . . . too, two, to; your, you’re; their, they’re, there, etc.”
Sincerity, depth, and humor get me every time.
And then sometimes it just comes down to the photos. I don’t mean to be shallow, but in order for there to be chemistry, there has to be some level of attraction. Avoid obscure profile photos. (Remember my first date story?) Then again, not everyone—even you—is going to look exactly like their profile photos. Everyone looks somewhat different in person, so don’t write them off right away if their photos don’t leave you 100% sure about your level of attraction from the screen. A person’s energy and personality can add a whole different level of attractiveness that photos don’t always convey. And sometimes people just aren’t good at taking photos of themselves.
Know what you’re looking for, but don’t make a checklist: you may be surprised if you leave room to meet people you might not normally think yourself attracted to. Your “type” didn’t work in your previous relationship, so be willing to date outside of the norm—you just might find a new type better suited to you, or even a new friend.
One last note on swiping through those profiles. A number of apps will tell you how many Facebook friends you have in common. Trust me when I say it’s probably not a good idea to date anyone you have too many common connections with; it gets awkward if things don’t work out and you inevitably run into each other. On the other hand, if you just have a few connections in common, totally scope them out online.
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!
So you’ve made the match, someone has winked at you, or made the first contact. It feels pretty darn great when someone officially “likes” you, doesn’t it? More often than not, most connections won’t end up going anywhere. But if there’s a guy you’re really interested in, don’t be afraid to say hi first! But do say something more than just hello. Start a conversation. It drives me crazy when all a guy says is hello. Ask a question, give a compliment. Anything but “Hello.” And gentlemen, I don’t need you calling me princess, either.
The First Spark
So, you’ve breached the gap of starting conversation, you’ve shared a few laughs together, and you’ve connected on something beyond the surface. What to do next?
I highly recommend meeting sooner rather than later. I get that it’s not always possible when babysitting is something to consider, but you don’t want to become too attached to a guy before you’ve met and discovered whether there’s a connection beyond messaging back and forth.
Before you make that first date though, you should probably ask them a number of questions. I don’t have a checklist, but anything that’s a deal breaker for you personally would be good to know in advance. Also, don’t be shy to ask about their relationship history. Have they ever been married? What is their relationship like with their kids, if they have any? Are they separated or divorced? I’ve learned it’s best to stay away from anyone who’s freshly single—they’re just not ready for dating, let alone a relationship.
If you’re comfortable, don’t be too shy to ask him out on a date. And as nervous as you might be, I see first dates more as meeting a potential new friend. It’s a good idea to play it safe with coffee or lunch first. You don’t want to invite them to a three-hour concert only to find you really feel uncomfortable around each other. If the date’s a hit and you have more time, you can always make it longer.
After the First Date
If your first date didn’t go well, don’t take it personally. Something didn’t click and that’s okay. If he’s still interested and you’re not, don’t feel guilty about being honest.
And if the date did go well, chances are you’re going to be on a bit of a high. It’s natural to feel giddy and excited, and maybe even to fantasize about your distant future together. But hold your horses; getting too excited, too fast, can lead to some definite heartache. We’ve all heard the phrases Love is Blind (I think infatuation is a better word here), or You’ve Got Stars in Your Eyes.
Your foresight is definitely going to be affected if you fall too quickly. Some might find it cynical, but I’ve learned it’s just realistic. I’m definitely the girl to get stars in my eyes, but I’m learning how to put my shades on and keep my cool. Trust and affection are something to be earned—by both men and women. The first dates are not a contract or promise of more dates to come; think of them as meeting new, interesting people. If more comes from it, wonderful. If not, no hard feelings.
You will feel giddy and excited and heartbroken and disappointed, sometimes all in the same week—or even the same day. Men will ghost on you (mysteriously disappear and lose contact after dating). Bachelors won’t relate to the life of parenthood. Busy schedules or long distances won’t allow you to see each other often. Men will magically reappear after months of no contact, realizing there really was something special about you—long after you’ve moved on. And sometimes you’ll just be too dang tired to put much effort into dressing up for another coffee or dinner.
As thrilling as it can be making a connection with someone—online or off—dating is a marathon. There’s no shortcut to finding the right partner. It takes kissing toads, and dusting yourself off when you’ve fallen on your butt. But most of all, it takes knowing yourself.
Finding your center, what matters to you, is what’s going to lead you to where you want to go. Don’t make it about the men. Focus on your children, your work, and making your life yours again.
Find what makes your heart sing for you. Let things fall into place naturally.
Continue rocking it as a single mom. You’ve got this. You don’t need a man there beside you, although a partner might be nice—just all in good time.