If at First You Don’t Succeed, Go Home and Call Your Girlfriends
When you’re young, dating is all about who you want to make out with, but when you are a single parent, you’re older and wiser. You’ve fallen in and out of love. You’ve watched your romance deteriorate into divorce lawyers and alimony negotiations, so you know better than to choose a mate based solely on their height, eye color or how cute they look in a baseball cap. The question is, with all that you’ve got going on – including a full-time job, children, an ex-spouse, and financial obligations – do you have the time and energy to invest in finding someone who can be your best friend for the second half of your life?
When you first emerge from divorce, dating sounds like fun. You’ve been with one person for so long, and you dislike that person so much, that you can’t wait to get out there and meet the person that you should have married in the first place. You’re excited about the possibility that this time, you will get what you want. You will find someone tall, or blond, or supportive, or who loves to read, or whatever your former spouse lacked that you missed the most. And you’ll never date anyone who (fill in the blank with your ex-spouse’s most annoying trait) again.
At first, dating is fun. It is incredible to experience the sensations of falling in love again when you thought you had settled into a comfortable rut with the only person you’d be kissing for the rest of your life: butterflies in the stomach, the complete inability to concentrate on anything but the countdown until the next time you see them, the first time they reach for your hand. If you’ve spent the last fifteen years thinking you’ll never have a first kiss again, you savor it when it happens. This is the upside of post-divorce dating: the things that we took for granted when we were young we don’t take for granted anymore, because now we realize how rare they are.
Advantages of dating include meeting new people, trying new things and, if you’re lucky, falling in love. But dating isn’t all bliss, and sometimes you don’t make a love connection. Sometimes you meet someone who is not a romantic match but that stays in your life as a friend. Sometimes you meet someone who you think might be the someone you’ve been waiting for, but then they vanish like Houdini, and you’re left to overanalyze, doubt yourself, change their name in your phone to DO NOT CONTACT and cry in your Ben and Jerry’s until you finally realize that the problem was never you, it was them. At this point, you also realize that you’re too old for a week-long post-breakup crying hangover, and maybe dating isn’t so much fun after all.
Just as there are lovely moments that will make you feel like you’re twenty again, there are agonizing moments that will make you feel like you’re twenty again. Waiting for a phone call that never comes; falling for someone who doesn’t fall for you or who can’t be trusted with your heart; seeing what you want to see instead of what is there, and finding out that the truth is much uglier than the lies you should have known better than to believe.
If you’re an extrovert who loves to meet new people and have somewhere to go every night, perhaps you will love post-divorce dating. But for most of us, the novelty quickly wears off as we realize that what we are hoping to find may not exist, or the amount of time and effort it will take us to find it can’t be sustained while we’re also juggling full-time jobs and children. I have several divorced friends, and we’ve all had similar experiences. We began post-divorce dating with high hopes, but after years of stressful first dates, forced conversations, awkward silences, and heart-wrenching disappointments, most of us stopped dating. We decided that our time is too valuable to waste sitting across the table from someone we have no future with, daydreaming about how we can politely excuse ourselves, go home, and commiserate with our girlfriends on the phone about yet another dating disaster.
Single parent dating is complicated and frustrating, but it is also a great adventure, albeit one that is not without risks. There is the possibility of finding someone who will hold your hand through the setbacks, celebrations, funerals, and parties that will encompass the rest of your life – someone you can look forward to coming home to, and to cuddling with at night. There is also the possibility of becoming entangled with someone who will take your love and use it as a weapon to destroy you. Each person must ask themselves which is worse: the risk of getting your heart broken, or the risk of growing old alone? What do you want more, a partner, or self-preservation? The answer is not the same for everyone.
Dear readers, if you’re a single parent dating, my sincerest condolences. Be safe, and may the odds ever be in your favor.
If you’re a single parent dating, what have your experiences been? Do you think dating is worth the effort or have you given up?