Dating is hard. But believe me, dating as a single parent is even harder. I should know, it's something I happen to have a lot of experience in (I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.) However, for whatever reason, it has been my life for the last 18 months and to say it's been an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. A massive one.
Dating can be time consuming, a bit embarrassing, ever-so awkward and invariably it's rarely what you thought you were signing up for. On the flip side, it can also be exciting, a great way to feel like you're not 'just' a parent ... and so much fun!
But it's a balancing act. Obviously, there isn't just you to consider and managing everyone's expectations is difficult. But as parents I think we're used to that. However, there is more than just one heart involved so navigating the dating minefield just needs a little preparation.
So you find yourself single ... now what? The first thing you need to do is ask yourself one important question: are you really ready to date?
If the answer is 'No' ... or 'I don't think so,' then just be patient. You'll know when the time is right. It's best to be as emotionally ready as you can be before you get back on the dating scene because honestly, putting yourself back 'out there' takes a lot of courage.
If the answer is a tentative 'Maybe' or a 'HELL YES!' then you have absolutely nothing to lose. If you dip your toes into the dating pond and realise that maybe it's just too cold for you right now, trust your instincts and wait a little longer. (As an aside, I think men get back into the dating game a whole lot quicker than women.)
I remember my first date after my nine year relationship ended and trust me, it wasn't a pretty sight ... or rather I wasn't. Trying on clothes for hours, doubting myself, would my children be OK, what the hell was my hair doing, how did I put a stone on overnight, would he see me and walk out ... endless questions and doubts. Here are a few more questions that I can guarantee you'll ask yourself:
Dating questions you'll find yourself asking:
• When should I tell a potential date I'm a parent?
• Should I even tell a potential date I'm a parent?
• Are there men out there who target women with children because they're weird? (Or am I weird for even thinking that?)
• How will I cope with the guilt about having my 'own life'?
• What if a potential date doesn't want or like children?
• Will I ever feel sexy again?
• I'm so out of practice, how will I even know what to do on a date?
• What on earth do you wear on dates?
• Where do I find potential (normal) dates?
• Am I allowed to talk about my children on a date?
• Is showing a date a photo of my children 'normal?'
• How will I know if they are sensible with money?
• What if he doesn't turn up?
• Will I even remember how to have sex?
Believe me, I've asked myself every one of those questions and know (most) of the answers, but it's perfectly normal to constantly have that inner monologue with yourself. At least I hope it is.
As single parents, time is at a premium and very precious so I'd recommend having a lunchtime date at first – maybe a quick coffee? If you're anything like me, you'll know instantly if you want to see that person again. Making such a quick judgement about someone may seem harsh, but I just don't have time to waste.
I'll leave you with this final thought: when you're a single parent, it's easy to forget who you are ... you know, the pre-children 'you'. Dating gives you an opportunity to remind yourself (and others) that you have a lot to offer in your own right so don't let anyone make you feel bad for wanting that. Your children might take time getting used to the idea that Mum (or Dad) want to move on but in my experience, as long as you're honest, they'll get used to it and come around eventually.
You will meet interesting, charming, funny, eccentric, quirky and downright wonderful people whilst dating and even if it doesn't lead to love, you'll certainly have some great stories to tell!
More on Parentdish: What being a single parent is really like - scary!