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January 18, 2018

Dating for the first time as a single parent: Five helpful do’s and don’ts

When you're ready to open the door to another significant other in your life, remember the bigger picture

Dating Advice
Stock_Carroll - Valentine's Day Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

So, you are single. You are a parent. And you’re thinking of dating for the first time since becoming a single parent. Be ready.

Why?

Many family members and friends may offer up advice – some helpful, some not.

At times, advice given constitutes basic common sense. For example, it is important to take the time to do background checks on individuals you meet via online dating sites. And it should go without saying that one should avoid dating, or seeking to become intimately involved with, an individual who is currently married or committed to another.

Other times, advice given may feel confusing. How many of us, after the ending of a marriage or long-term relationship, have been encouraged to have a one-night stand as a means of “moving on?” How many well-meaning friends have encouraged us to set up a Tinder profile even before we’ve come to peace with the ending of our prior relationship – no matter how difficult or toxic it was?

How best to sort through the array of advice given as you consider what it means to date as a single parent?

First of all, I hope you are in no rush. Waiting at least a year post-divorce, or post-dissolution, of your previous relationship is very wise counsel. Those who find themselves moving from the arms of one person seamlessly into the arms of another too often don’t take the time to benefit from the possibility of true healing post-break-up. Furthermore, your children need you to be able to walk consciously through the painful adjustment of a divorce (or ending) without putting them through an immediate introduction to a new significant other. They are grieving after all, too. And ask yourself, do you really want to be remembered that way?

As a single mom, it hasn’t been easy to navigate all of the advice offered as I contemplate what it means to date again following the end of a long-term relationship. Personally, I’ve chosen to ignore advice that encouraged me to casually or prematurely engage intimately with another. For example, it’s been a year-and-a-half since the ending of a nearly 20-year marriage, and I’ve needed every single day sans dating. I’ve needed to be alone. I’ve needed to stand on my own again. While, at times, this aloneness has been difficult, there’s also sweetness to it. I’ve come to know myself on a deeper level and really enjoy my own space. Hard things happen in life and one can face heartache courageously and honestly without throwing a rebound relationship into the mix.

Even now, as I begin to consider dating, I draw upon the wisdom of another single mother who surmised: “I only want to be with someone who is an improvement upon my solitude.” Yes, seek to be with someone who is an improvement upon solitude rather than a bandage over a feared aloneness.

Carolynn Aristone, founder and director of the Center for Intimate Relationships, agrees. Based in Haddenfield, N.J., Aristone serves both the New Jersey and the Philadelphia region. She is a wife, mother of two boys, and an entrepreneur who maintains a busy practice offering individuals and couples quality, research-based, and heart-felt counsel as they navigate the joy and complexities of intimate relationships.

Seek to be with someone who is an improvement upon solitude rather than a bandage over a feared aloneness."

Recently, I contacted Aristone to see what advice she would offer single parents who are considering dating again for the first time. She shared five key insights, presented in italics below.

Don’t put all of your dating prospects in a cyber basket. In other words, don’t rely on dating sites alone to find your mate. Join groups that are within your interests. If you love to hike, join a hiking group. If you love yoga, join a yoga studio. Your chances of meeting someone who shares your interests are greater when you get out into the world and engage, as opposed to just swiping left and right.

Do not introduce your dating partners to your children until you become seriously involved. Children may become attached to the partners that you bring home. If those relationships do not work out, children will have to grieve the loss of a potential parent figure each time it occurs.

Be selective about who gets the honor of dating you and getting to know you. Single parents tend to wonder: “Who will want to date me? I have kids.” Dating you and potentially getting to know your children one day is a privilege, not a sentence. This is an important mindset and it will help you maintain healthy boundaries with regard to your children.

Stay connected to friends and family that sing your praises. Dating sites can be ruthless. Stay connected to living humans who demonstrate care, appreciation and love for you. This serves as the ground from which you date others. The responses or lack of that you receive from dating site may begin to influence your self-concept -- so it’s important to stay grounded in what’s real.

Trust your gut. As a single parent, time is precious, limited and valuable. When you are out on dates, perform a gut check. Literally notice what sensations show up in the stomach and gut area. Our bodies hold tremendous wisdom. If you note any uncomfortable sensations, trust this information and move on.

Note there’s nothing here about diving into a one-night-stand to “move on” or setting up online profiles on Match.com or Elite Singles before one is ready. Rather, Aristone asks single parents to nourish a healthy self concept and stay wisely connected to our real versus virtual world. For example, Aristone encourages single parents to pursue revivifying interests wherein the possibility of meeting an individual who shares such interests face-to-face (rather than swipe-to-swipe) is increased.

I resonate with Aristone’s words. As a single parent, my dating choices don’t impact me alone. Hence, I’m committed to engaging the dating world with mindfulness. 

“Our bodies hold tremendous wisdom,” Aristone states. 

As single parents, we need to be clear enough to listen to the “gut check” felt when dating again. Giving ourselves ample time to heal, post-break, up is key. I’ll wait years, if needed, before even holding another man’s hand to help ensure that I attract and nourish a healthy relationship both for my self and my son.

“Be selective,” Aristone advises. We deserve it. Our children are counting on it.


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