There she is America, Emily Maynard, the first single mom chosen as the Bachelorette. Each week she's glammed up and sipping cocktails with her array of camera-hungry, well-muscled suitors. Traveling the globe on fantasy dates with her man harem AND her six year-old daughter in tow. The men seem genuinely into her (as they always do) and she seems to be doing a good job of weeding out men who aren't "there for the right reasons".
But that's reality TV. In actual reality, single mom dating looks drastically different. Yes, there are cocktails, and there are suitors. But there also are babysitters. Exes. Rejections. And not a helicopter ride or cliff diving date in sight.
Throngs of eligible men, willing to step into a step-father role are not lining up to date single moms. In fact, in reading online dating profiles, you could venture a guess that 50% of the men on there won't even see a single mom's profile because of their preference to date women without kids. So what is it like out there, really?
When I divorced I had been out of the dating game for ten years. Dating as a single mom was one of the single scariest prospects post-divorce. I had no idea what I was in for, and it's been a mix of fantastic laugh-out-loud stories, fun and total confusion. In the interest of helping other single moms navigate dating waters without their own reality shows, here are the phases I've gone through in getting back out there.
1. Dating for Sport
This stage can be REALLY fun. This phase is all about dusting the cobwebs off your, vag…er, game and building some confidence. Post-divorce male attention is like a drug, so enjoy it, but use this stage to enjoy yourself and the company of new people without pressure. Dating may have changed since last you tried it, and this is a great time to learn how it works in the digital age (deciphering text messages is another post entirely). This is dating for sport, not "the one". Get your bearings and take a temperature of what's out there. How's the water? It's fine! Jump on in. Remember, the key to this stage is no expectations and no attachment, and no one meets your children. Clean and simple.
Fun all the time can be exhausting. The last thing any mom needs is another job, and getting dressed up, doing your hair and dating sometimes feels like an awful lot of work. You may develop a longing for the familiar comfort of curling up on the couch with someone in your favorite sweatpants. Maybe marriage and kids aren't on the immediate agenda, but you are starting to crave connection. You just don't want to wake up next to them every morning or pick up their socks, but you are no longer averse to snuggling. This is casual plus. You may try out a transitional relationship, or develop feelings for a friend, but this stage is about testing the waters of what you do and don't want in a relationship. Exploring what it feels like to incorporate a man into more of your life, setting boundaries, maybe even introducing him to your child in a limited way, all the while knowing it need not be the forever match.
3. Dating for a relationship:
Inevitably, you might want to move on to a serious relationship again. Three years after separating from my marriage, I finally feel ready to let someone into my life in a significant, real way. But it's different this time around. I have the experience and confidence to know that I have a lot of love in my life, and I'm already complete. My son is such a grounding force in my life, and I'm fine being just the two of us, but I'm clearer about what I want in a partner. Casual dating is unappealing. I want to find a partner to share my life with and who loves my son, but I'm in no rush. What's a single mom to do now? Well, I haven't quite figured out this stage yet, but I do know one thing: he won't be found on a reality TV show.
To be continued…
How did being a single mom change your dating life? Did you find love again?
-Diane Mizota, Host of This Week in M.O.M