A huge disparity exists in how they newly divorced feel about dating. Some of my friends wanted to steer clear of men for a while, others couldn’t wait to find a new love. From dating apps to blind dates, jumping into the single life is particularly challenging when you’re a parent.
One of the first things I realized is that you’re back in high school. “I hate these dating apps” a friend declared. “They are so superficial and all these guys want is sex.” Another friend within earshot replied, “What’s wrong with that? That’s what I want too!” Most of us aren’t sure what we want after a divorce. If you do want a love life and children are in the mix, you have to tread lightly. Your kids don’t want to hear about it. Worse, they really don’t want to witness your blooming relationships. They expect to be the center of your world. To them, you’re not a woman…you’re just “Mom”.
I had the dubious distinction of being legally and emotionally separated yet still sharing the house with my ex. We couldn’t afford to live apart without selling our family home, so we kept to separate bedrooms. I certainly wasn’t interested in dating under those circumstances. The tension became unbearable, so most of us stayed out of the house as much as possible. My kids largely went about their lives, going to school and doing their activities. I escaped through longer hours at work and occasional after work drinks. My kids hated seeing me leave. Transitioning from full time mom to working single mother, I longed for a work-life balance that worked for all of us.
In lieu of dating, most of my socializing occurred during morning workouts. I was comfortable with the gym crowd, some of whom knew about my impending divorce and my desire for normalcy. Ultimately a group of women took me under their wing. They celebrated everything. Holidays and birthdays were lavishly feted and happy hours were compulsory. They provided the distraction I wanted and the support I needed. They made introductions to a few of their single friends, who often asked me out. I wasn’t ready. I accepted a couple of dinners which proved to be awkward and largely dull. I decided I’d be just fine on my own for a while.
If you think you can hide a relationship from your kids, think again. Eventually, I met someone…we were quickly smitten and clandestinely spent as much time together as we could. I always told my kids I was “going out with friends”. One night I arrived home to find my three youngest huddled around a computer. “Mom!” my 12 year old daughter called out, “Come here…who is John Smith?” Uh oh…busted! She gleefully informed me that a little 5th grader had heard from her friend that I was his Dad’s “new girlfriend”. Yikes…another flashback to high school, but the now gossips are your children!
My kids didn’t meet my “boyfriend” for almost a year. I waited largely because my kids needed time and I wanted to have my own place before making any official introductions. It’s been an interesting and upredictable learning experience for all of us. Here are a few lessons I learned about navigating the delicate balance between your social life and your life as a mom:
1. Keep your “dating” life to yourself as much as possible. Once I had my own home, I tried to limit social visits to when my kids were at their Dad’s place.
2. Be careful. Your kids need you. Though we may be older than our 20 something counterparts, when it comes to dating, we may not be wiser. If you use a dating app, let someone know who you’re meeting and where you’ll be. Check in and let them know you’re ok and let them know when you’re home. Offer to do this for your friends too!
3. Be conscious of your kids’ need for your time. You may think that your teenager is thrilled you’re out of their hair some evenings. You may find however, that they want you around more than they let on. Even if it’s just being under the same roof without actually being with them, they like you to be “home”. I didn’t always do a good job with this. I had to learn along the way.
4. Your kids don’t need to meet everyone you date. Wait until someone becomes significant enough in your life that you think it could be a longer term relationship. It’s tough enough to meet mom’s “boyfriend”. It’s awful to meet too many of them.
5. Check in with your kids on how they’re feeling about your dating. You don’t need their permission, but you should make sure they feel that you are emotionally present to them and focused on their well-being.
6. Don’t make dating a mission. If you are relentlessly “looking” for that special someone, chances are you won’t find them. Most often happen upon someone while we’re at the gym, walking the dog or just living our lives. Get out there and live, but don’t be that desperate divorcee. It’s not a good look and it sends a terrible message to our daughters.
7. Don’t settle. First, you deserve someone who is wonderful for you in your life. Second, and more importantly, your kids don’t need to live through yet another failed relationship. Divorce already challenges their belief that love can last. Don’t reinforce that by being with someone you’re not excited about just to turn around and end it.
8. Have fun! Dating when you’re older can be stressful, but it can also be an opportunity to discover more about yourself and the kind of person you want to spend time with. It’s no coincidence that we typically get together with people far different than our ex-spouses. Explore and enjoy!