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 of a 3-year-old girl. She’s been my entire world since her birth, but now I’m ready to be in a relationship and have entered the world of online dating.
I took a glamorous new profile picture and included all my likes, dislikes, and everything I’m looking for in a partner. There’s only one thing I left out of my online dating profile: my kid. I’m not looking for a father for my daughter (she’s got one of those already), I’m just looking for a partner for me. So I left that detail out, and now I think I made a mistake.
I recently met a man I really like. We’ve been on three dates so far, and each one has been better than the last. We have fun, we laugh, and our conversation flows easily, except I know I’m holding something back. I’d like to keep seeing this guy, but I’m afraid I’ll scare him away once I tell him that I’m a mom. I also realize that by not telling him, I’m basically lying to him.
So when should I break the news? And is it possible to do it without destroying the good thing we’ve got going so far?
Dear Mommy Problems,
Back in 2010 I was on this second date with a guy. We, of course, met online. Our first date had some good conversation, ended with a solid make out, and he made sure to set up the second date the next day.
Second date was in an Irish pub. I was late because that’s a piece of information about myself I’m always up front about: I will be 10 minutes late to all things. He was sitting at the bar, drinking a whiskey, and occupying himself with his sketchbook. We hugged, sat, ordered burgers and beers, and talked. I was excited to reconfirm what I had thought during our first date: This guy is smart. This guy is hot. This guy is funny. This guy is nice. This guy is a good guy. And then he stopped talking, paused one of those pauses that collapses your complete focus onto that person because what they’re about to say is going to change things. “I have to tell you something,” he said. I could tell he was nervous. “I’m divorced.”
I was not looking for a divorced man. I had specifically set my online dating profile metrics so as to exclude all men who had previously been married. He had gotten through because he hadn’t mentioned his divorce on his profile. It was important to me to have someone free of the hurt, agony, and exhaustion I was sure a divorce brought on. I wanted someone in the same stage of life as me, who had never been married. Ironically, I was a-OK with men who had children, which, now that I’m sitting in the present where I have a child and understand what that means, was completely ridiculous. Why have an issue with divorce but not kids? Whatever, Dana in 2010.
I didn’t want to date a divorced man, but here I was on a date with a divorced man, and I liked him and I still had a lot of beer left. I asked my date questions about his marriage, his divorce, his ex-wife. I scanned his responses for flags—bitterness, insulting his ex-wife, blaming her for his unhappiness. But he didn’t do any of those things. He talked about his marriage and its end like a reasonable adult—they had both been wrong, they were both better off not married to each other, and he had done some work on himself since to understand the part he had played and to take steps to become a better partner.
We ended that date making out in a gazebo while teenagers on bikes rode past and called “Bom-chicka-bow-bow!” That divorced man is now my husband, who I would not have ever met had he not withheld the fact of his divorce from his dating profile.
A divorce is in the past, but a kid is in the present and your future. A kid also means that the other parent is likely in your present, and future. A kid means that someone dating you is also going to need to forge a relationship with your kid, and likely your ex, before they will truly be incorporated into your life. And that’s a lot of work, a lot of people to meet and connect with and intertwine into your life.
If you want to have an actual relationship with this man, the kind that leads to potential long-term coupling, then of course you have to tell him. You have to tell him the very next time you see him. Will he be angry when you tell him? Upset? Will he not want to see you anymore? I dunno. But by having kept a key piece of information about your life out of your dating profile, you put yourself in a position where you have to reveal the truth.
Before you change your dating profile, ask yourself what do you want? Do you want a serious long-term relationship? Or do you want to date men for fun and keep the serious long-term relationship between just you and your daughter? It’s OK if you prefer the later, there’s nothing wrong with only wanting to date men casually and have a good time, sex that ranges from acceptable to great, and to keep them out of your daughter’s life. Do you want a serious long-term relationship that is one day incorporated into your daughter’s life? Do you want to attract men who also have children, or want to have children? Do you want to have the “So…I have a kid” conversation during every second date?
If you are dating with an eye on a long-term relationship, then add the fact of your child into your profile immediately. It doesn’t matter if the men will only get to meet your child after one year of courtship and after they sign a non-disclosure agreement—having this information up front will prevent you from having to worry about when/where/how to disclose it going forward. The fact of your child will affect your entire future, which is why it should be stated on your dating profile. This may reduce the number of men who reach out to you, or who respond to your advances. You may move outside of some men’s metrics. But that’s fine. You don’t want to date people who for sure hate children and, while you can hope against hope, it’s unlikely that the surprise fact of a child will turn a firmly anti-child man around.
Make your profile honest in regards to your present and your future. Say who you are and say exactly what you want.
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.