“Dating as a Single Parent … If You Dare” originally appeared on Asbury Park Press and was reprinted with permission.
I may be single, but I got up the nerve to date — again — when Jack was around 2 and haven’t really stopped. There were a few long term-ish guys (Mr. Suit and Mr. Old Friend from high school) and then some fleeting guys.
Jack is pretty oblivious to my dating life. My motto is he should be concerned with LEGO bricks, reading, and basketball, not my love — or lack of love — life. I offer this up as advice to single parents reading this: don’t get your kids so involved or go “dad hunting.”
Dating is for you, if it evolves, wonderful (see below on easing the intro between your child and special someone.) One thing I know for sure as a single mom? Taking the step to put yourself back out there has the potential to wake you up and in a really good way. Whenever I hear the song “Feel Again” by OneRepublic, I think of Mr. Suit because even though it didn’t end happily-ever-after, he really lit a fire under me. He reminded me about being a woman and not just a mom. He made me realize, YES! I want to connect with people!
I’m not suggesting you’re going to meet the man of your dreams 1-2-3, but consider every date practice, fun, and exciting. I haven’t found my puzzle piece — yet — but I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are tips from dating experts and me, because I’m in the trenches … or waves … I mean, this is the Jersey Shore.
Rule 1: Always go on a date
I went on a first date at Amendment 21 in Point Pleasant last week. I had no expectations or butterflies in my stomach. As a single parent, I’ve learned to always give someone a chance. It’s nice to escape the land of Minecraft and talk about politics, traveling, and books. It was a fun date, too. Who knows where it might go — there’s some texting action happening, so that’s cool. Bonus: He’s a single dad, so there is common ground — someone who gets the demands and time constraints.
Rule 2: Be creative about sitters
New to Point Pleasant, I trust two, maybe three families to watch my son alone. So, I arranged for him to have a playdate while I was out. As a solo single mom, there’s no dad swapping weekends or dinners with me. However, some single parents are co-parenting — great.
“Try to plan dates when your kids are with dad for an overnight or weekend,” says Leah Klungness, psychologist and co-author of The Complete Single Mother.
“You’ll save money on a babysitter, get out without having to explain to the kids where you’re going, and won’t run the risk of them seeing you drive off with someone who isn’t Dad.”
Solo single mom, like me? Arrange a sleepover at the grandparents, or ask a friend to watch your kiddo in exchange for your sitter services another night. Everyone wins.
Rule 3: Where to meet potential dates (because, really, we have zero time)
Amy Spencer, relationship expert and author of Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match says to rethink that afternoon of fun with your mini me. “It’s hard to meet your match when everyone you’re hanging out with is under three feet tall.” This means ditch Chuck E. Cheese or glow-in-the-dark golf — and hit up places that are equally adult-kid friendly.
“A museum (Monmouth Museum), bookstore (Book Towne), sidewalk fair (just take a walk down Cookman in Asbury Park), farmer’s market (Atlantic Farms), or a park/beach, where your kid can run on the grass and play catch are all places where adults hang out too,” advises Spencer. A dog park, even if you don’t have a dog, is a winning spot too (that is if your kid likes dogs … and if you actually have a dog — all the better).
Rule 4: Go out alone
I’m notorious for grabbing lunch alone (love Taka in Asbury) and seeing films solo. I enjoy the peace and quiet, but it also allows me to scope out the scene and make new friends. I’m a pretty outgoing person, so starting a convo at a sushi place, bookstore, or beer garden isn’t hard for me. Plus, I think putting yourself out there solo gives off this air of confidence … freedom … power. It’s attractive. Try it!
Rule 5: Pay attention to your surroundings
“Keep your eyes open at the grocery store and the gym,” says Rachel Russo, MS, MFT, relationship coach, matchmaker and New Jersey native. Pay attention to who’s around you when you’re doing something you love, whatever you’re doing — chat up the guy ahead of you in line at the deli counter, or the one ordering a green juice (noting you’re a green juicer too). “This is a great way to get more comfortable talking to the opposite sex again,” says Russo.
Rule 6: Get online
Don’t be scared to, er, swipe right, or browse Match.com as you’re falling asleep. There’s also tons of free dating sites like Plenty of Fish and How About We (a great site for single parents because you make plans, skipping the back and forth neverending Internet chatting and just go for it).
But rule of thumb: Be honest, but not overly telling in your profile. “Don’t hesitate to check ‘yes’ for the kid question,” says Spencer. “There’s no point lying because you might end up meeting a bunch of really nice guys … who don’t want kids.” Do resist the urge to talk about your prima ballerina daughter or how your son is a LEGO master — this is the time for you to sparkle. Instead talk about your love of binge-watching Netflix on snowy days and passion for cupcake baking.
Photos are important too. Opt for recent: one headshot-ish photo, one full body shot and one where you’re doing something you enjoy, like painting or hanging with your pup. Don’t include kid photos (see above).
Rule 7: Don’t go overboard on the first date
Keep a first date casual — and short. (See rule number 1.) This will help if you’re nervous, and if there isn’t chemistry between you, you haven’t wasted an entire (kid-free) night.
Suggest a bar or a tea house where you’ll be comfortable. Keep the talk light with a getting-to-know-you vibe. Plan some questions in advance to avoid awkward silences, like asking where he’s traveled or what his favorite restaurant is … and you guessed it — bring up your kiddo then change the subject. This person is there to get to know you!
Rule 8: Telling the kids … you moved on
You don’t need your kids’ permission to date — OK? Got it? Good. “It is important to not introduce your kids to every person you go on two or three dates with,” warns licensed psychologist Deborah Roth Ledley, founder of the website TheCalmMom.com and author of Becoming a Calm Mom: How to Manage Stress and Enjoy the First Year of Motherhood.
“Many kids form attachments very easily. When kids are introduced to someone ‘special,’ they assume it actually means something and then if the person disappears, this shifts their whole belief system,” says Ledley.
She advises to wait until it really seems as if the relationship is serious and stable. Then, it can be nice to introduce your child to a new person in their own environment. Have the new boyfriend/girlfriend over for a casual pizza party. The kids will feel more comfortable in their own home and might enjoy bonding by showing the new person their stuff, like a favorite toy or backyard space, advises Ledley.
Rule 9: The look
Wear what feels comfy. I’m a jeans, T-shirt, boots, and cool jacket girl on a first date. Minimal makeup and some funky jewelry. I like to feel like myself and in my day-to-day, I’ll pick Converse over heels any day. That’s not to say I don’t like getting dolled up — I do. I just like to present me, at first glance. So, ask yourself what you’re most relaxed in, then get ready.
Rule 10: Consult your friends that are actually in relationships
My best friend Nicole and I thought we’d never get married. Well, she did — in Spain. So, she’s the perfect person to talk to about dating, what to do and what to avoid.
She reminds me not to interrogate men (even though I’m a trained reporter). She’s a big believer in the six-date rule before getting, errrr, frisky. Keep alcohol consumption at a minimum. Text or call him after the date — this is 2015, we don’t need to wait for a man to tell us they had fun, but if they beat you to it, even better.
And speaking of your friends, encourage them to come out with you — friends night is great because you have wing people steering you right.
More from Asbury Park Press:
- Should you take a vacation without your kid?
- I’m glad my kid knows every family is different
- Honoring dads in The Age Against Kids