Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a single mom. And, I think, a pretty great one. I work hard to be connected to my kiddo while also nurturing myself and my interests. I enjoy being a mom and I’ve also got a career, a nice apartment, all sorts of eye creams to keep wrinkles at bay—generally I’ve got my shit together.
My question is about dating. I’d like to find a great boyfriend who could some day turn into a great partner. But dating as a single mom…wow it’s hard. For one, my time is at a premium, so I’m not always out on the town sussing out dates. However, I do have a social life and I would say that I try to do interesting things in the hopes of meeting interesting people.
I’ve asked my friends to set me up, but everyone is busy and married and claims they’ve got no one. When I go to parties or events it seems like everyone is coupled up, or there’s one single guy at the party and he has no job. I’ve tried online dating with mixed results. I feel very conflicted about how much information I should reveal on my profile. Do I say I have a kid?
You’ve online dated, you know, there are so many creepy men out there, and I feel protective of my “real life.” I don’t want to bait and switch, but also I don’t want to pretend that having a kid doesn’t lead men to a myriad of assumptions, most of them negative. I resent that men think if you have a child that that automatically means you want them involved in your child’s life. I’ve spent the last six years keeping this kid alive, why would I want you, some guy I met on the Internet, to start picking him up from soccer practice? How can having this great and funny kid be a blight on my eligibility in the dating market?
My friends say “The right guy won’t mind!” but that seems simplistic. The same as like “It will come when you least expect it!” I worry my standards are too high and that I’m going to be alone forever. HELP!
Single Mom in the City
Dear Single Mom in the City,
Here’s rule I preach to all who ask me about online dating: Never lie in your dating profile. Ever. Update your pictures once every six months, include a full-body shot, describe your interests accurately, tell your real age, your actual height, and say exactly what it is that you want. Don’t describe the self that you think people will want—describe yourself as you actually are, here, today.
People are tempted to lie in online profiles because they want to attract as many potential mates as possible. And that rationale is understandable, but it’s also misguided. You don’t want to date every guy online, so why are you trying to attract every guy online?
Your online dating profile should act as a whistle that only those who are looking for someone like you will hear. Everyone who isn’t interested in you passes by, unaware, and everyone is saved a lot of wasted time and effort.
And for you, time is of the essence. You are a single mother and you’re trying to date. I would like to present you with this for your efforts as a human thusfar:
Raising a child is a herculean task, and you said yourself that time is at a premium. You want to narrow down the field and only go out with people who are fully interested in you and fully OK with, or even delighted by, the fact that you have a kid.
I don’t think you should set up a Tinder profile with a pic of you and your kid, but stating that you have a child on a dating website is 100% the right thing to do. It lets people know a very important and crucial piece of information about you, it weeds out those who don’t want to pursue a relationship with a child, and it ensures that everyone you go out with knows that you aren’t planning a future for just you: Your child will also be involved.
Most online dating sites aren’t built for people with skin in the game. Most dating websites are made for people who are young, unattached, uncomplicated, and unsure. Your challenge is to find a website that caters to people who have more experience and also have more at stake. Sites with pay walls can help in this regard, as can sites aimed at single parents.
You state that you’re annoyed by men assuming that they’re going to have a relationship with your child. Yet, any relationship with you will, eventually, involve your child. And, yes, it won’t involve him unless you progress to that level, but that level is there, in the distance, looming. Would you be mad at someone you’re dating for wanting to talk about his desire to one day live with a partner? Get married? Have a child? It makes complete sense that you don’t want a new partner to pick up your kid from soccer practice, but him expressing interest in doing that isn’t a no-go. It’s an indication that he’s interested in a future with you.
Are you being too picky? Probably. You’re not looking for just yourself, but also for your son. Parents are protective and some unsavory character aspects that you may be fine with will not fly when applied to your child. So be picky, but reasonably so. Make a list of must-haves, but limit it to only three items. Anything that isn’t on that list is negotiable. When I started online dating I was adamant that I didn’t want to date anyone who had been divorced because I thought that divorced men would have a lot of anger, resentment toward their exes, and general emotional messiness I didn’t want to deal with. But then a few years went by and I went on a date with a divorced man and now he’s my husband. Deal breakers should be carefully considered, unmovable, and rare.
I guarantee that you will not be alone forever. Those who want, and actively seek, relationships do find them. I know that it is incredibly frustrating to want something but you have no control over when or how you’ll get it. All you can do is calm yourself, acknowledge your fears, and then ask your fears to get the hell out because you have work to do. You need to create the possibility for a relationship. You need to set up an honest online dating profile. You need to open yourself up and make yourself available so when your partner comes along he’ll hear your whistle, turn his head, and smile.
The right guy won’t mind that you have a kid, and the right guy will not only be right for you, he’ll also be right for your kid.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.