Single Mum Dating: The Elephant In The Room

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Dating is so hard at this age, with this much baggage. Most 28 year olds are just getting into their careers, travelling, enjoying time with their friends; not juggling full-time single parenting of two small people with a demanding full-time job and an ex-husband. The online dating profile does not exactly write itself, am I right?

There is a reason you are usually part of a couple when you have kids. There’s someone else to share the pure torture of the lack of sleep, a partner who will bask in the warmth of your children’s teeny tiny accomplishments with you in a way that only a parent can. Plus you know there is someone who will love you for all your motherhood imperfections; your pregnancy stretchmarks, your wobbly belly, your eye bags and hair that hasn’t seen a brush in days. They’re 50% responsible for them so they’re kind of obliged to.

But when you’re on a first date with someone you can’t explain away your greasy mop with a sickly toddler, or your yawning with your baby who isn’t a great sleeper. Your date doesn’t want to be reminded of the fact that you were once in a relationship with someone that was serious enough to produce two children: it’s not exactly sexy.

This is why I always feel that when I’m dating the pressure is on. There’s pressure to not look like a mum – so no turning up with banana on your top and felt tip pen on your jeans. No talking about the magical things your children have done that day or lamenting your current schooling concerns. The fact I’m a mother as well as a woman feels like the elephant in the room.

In the past I’ve felt like maybe I need to compromise what I’m looking for in a date, just because I’m a mum. I’ve met men in bars who, once they found out I have children, have taken off so quickly they left skidmarks. This does not do much for a gal’s confidence, let me tell you. When I sit down and think about it, in my opinion I have quite a lot to offer in a relationship: I (think I) am intelligent, I (think I) am funny, I like to have fun, keep fit and look after myself. I love conversation, trying new things, travelling, music, debating. I’m self-sufficient, hard-working and ambitious. I’m a total catch! But I have two kids, and no matter how much I dress that up there will be men that I’d love to date who won’t look at me twice because of them.

I try to tell myself that I don’t want to go out with a man who isn’t open-minded enough to date a single mother, but that’s like telling yourself that calories don’t count past 9pm. I.e. complete bollocks you make up to feel better.

It must be tough to date me, as much as I feel it’s tough for me to date. I was in a relationship with someone I believed was the love of my life for 9 years and very happy for 8 of these. I know how it feels to be very much in love with someone who is also your best friend and I still wonder how it was possible that such a great relationship went down the pan. It’s a tough act to follow.

I find my marriage baggage difficult, too. I don’t know if I was lucky to experience such a serious and long-lasting relationship that ended in marriage at such a young age, but because I know how good a relationship can be I’m hesitant to accept anything less. The relationship with my ex was a whirlwind of love at first sight, moving in together after six weeks, getting engaged after 9 months and thinking we’d live happy ever after. Which we kind of did, if ‘happily ever after’ roughly translates to ’8 or 9 years’.

Aside from boyfriends when I was at school this is the only relationship I’ve ever known. Is this how relationships always happen? Is there always a thunderbolt of recognition that this is the person you’re meant to be with or are some relationships a slow-burner?

This past, my marriage, makes dating a tough business. I don’t want to be with anyone who isn’t perfect and I keep finding myself at a crossroad. I really want to push my career forward but that won’t happen if I’m spending all my child-free evenings on dates. I haven’t ruled out giving up on men and becoming a businesswoman recluse but I think then I’d have to homeschool the kids and that is never going to happen.

I don’t need a man in my life to be happy but boy it is nice to have someone for a bit of banter and the occasional dinner.

What to do?

A Week Of Reluctant Freedom

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I know my friends give me a lot of kudos for being a single parent, and yeah it can be hard work. The relentlessness of it all can really get to me at times (how long are these pre-school holidays?!), and  if you throw in two concurrent illnesses that render you all housebound for a week and therefore full of cabin fever, well that’s a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

But there is one fact of single parenting that people don’t often take into consideration when they’re feeling sorry for me. And that is the fact that every other weekend I get two whole days and two whole nights to myself. As in, the children go away for that time and I am left to my own devices, to leave the house on a whim if I want to, to go to the gym, to catch up on work, to do anything I like. It’s madness, liberating, and so unlike anything I’ve been used to as a full-time stay-at-home mother.

It’s usually just the ticket after two weeks of full-on work, kids and running the house. Last weekend I went to London for a lovely Friday night at Hoxley and Porter followed by a long Saturday gym session, a grocery shop and a lie-in. Two days and two nights seems to be the perfect amount of time to have a bit of fun and re-charge batteries ready for the next fortnight of full-on life.

But this coming Monday, for the first time ever, the children are leaving me for a whole week. A WHOLE WEEK. Their dad is taking advantage of a quiet January at work to come up here from Monday to Sunday, take the little ‘uns off my hands and spend some quality time with them. Let me reiterate, because I still can’t believe it, they won’t be with me for A WEEK. That means a week of no Weetabix cemented to the kitchen table, no wailing tantrums in Waitrose, no need to wake up pre-6am.

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Aside from being absolutely terrified at the hole in my heart that is going to emerge in their absence I’m completely stumped in terms of how on earth I will fill my time. So far I have a hot stone massage booked, drinks with a local friend and drinks with London friends. I want to do a bit of work and write at least three chapters of my book. I have a couple of mystery stains on my rug that I want to get rid of and some dry cleaning to tend to: but what else can I be doing?

I had the thought of taking myself away to a lovely hotel for a night but as I appear to be physically unable to relax on my own I thought it might be a bit of a waste of money. Plus all the smooching in love couples would do my head in (sorry to all the smooching in love couples out there). I’m planning on getting to the gym a couple of times, trying a spinning and yoga class, but it looks like I could be in serious danger of going every single day out of boredom. I’ve spent so long with two little people permanently attached to me that when it comes to working out things to do alone, I’m completely stuck.

It feels like I’m going to be going from 100 mph to a snail’s pace in one week and though I’m looking forward to re-discovering what ‘me’ time is like again I’m also terrified of feeling so lonely without my (shouty, messy) babies that I will just take lots of naps and mope around the house. I need some perspective and some ideas; Internet, what would you do? How would you spend a whole week of alone time?

The Truth About Divorce

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All the things I’ve written about my separation so far have mostly been positive. Divorce isn’t easy, of course it isn’t, but for the most part for Will and I it seemed the right thing for us and we were able to remain mostly happy. This doesn’t mean I don’t have some bad times.

When we first separated my initial feeling was relief and peace. The decision removed so much stress, pressure and unhappiness for the both of us and the feeling of freedom was something I hadn’t experienced since I was a teenager. But now four months down the line reality has set in.

I’m so sad that my children don’t get to wake up with their daddy every day. And I’m sad that on the days they do wake up with him, their mummy isn’t there. I miss the family breakfasts and cuddles in bed, even those 5am wakeups when it’s still dark outside and everyone’s rubbing their eyes (well, not the kids). I miss the coffee machine which I gave Will custody of when he moved out (stupid idea). I miss someone else having responsibility of buying the milk for the mornings, something I seem to keep forgetting.

I miss having someone around to bounce ideas off, especially when it comes to discipline. Someone to chat to when you’ve had a hell of a day and want to talk to a person who knows exactly how infuriating your gorgeous, beautiful children can be, and they know this because they are 50% them. Someone who will take over bath and bedtime for you because you just can’t take any more and need to sit in the garden with a glass of wine.

I miss having someone who knows me better than I know myself in the way that only your partner of 10 years can. I miss the camaraderie and companionship of sharing a life, two children and a home. I miss wearing my wedding ring and being able to refer to ‘my husband’. Most of all I miss my children having their daddy at home.

In the week that we have been filling out our divorce papers – I had to go through our ‘wedding box’ in the hunt for the marriage certificate which was particularly gruelling – I’ve been pondering what my wedding meant to me. You vow to be with someone for the rest of your life, in sickness and in health, til death do us part. It’s a bit embarrassing that I haven’t kept those vows. Not that I didn’t mean them at the time, of course I did. But does this mean I feel marriage is disposable? That it’s OK to renege on promises I made? I feel guilty that the sanctity of marraige, something I still believe in, has been tainted.

I’ve been finding it a minefield to read my old favourite blogs. I used to devour them like books, saving my favourites for nap times and bedtimes so I could sit down with a cup of tea and treat, reading them all in one go. But now each blogger’s account of a lovely family day out is a kick in the face. The smiley happy photos stab me in the heart. Because I won’t have that nuclear family anymore; mine is fragmented and separate.

Relationships with my old friends are difficult, too. Pretty much all our friends were – are – part of a couple. How do we navigate this situation? Do we both still get to be friends with the couple? Does he get the blokes and I get the ladies? Do we split the couples 50/50? As he lives in London now he naturally sees some friends more than I am logistically able to: will they forget me?

It’s shit, it really is. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions which isn’t helped by the early mornings and the full-on days at the coalface of parenting. But as bad as it gets, as tired as I feel, as much as I struggle to fit in work, housework, budgeting, a new social life… it’s the right thing to do. And it will get easier.

Single Mum Dating: The Beginning

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Dating as a single parent is a weird experience. Before I was ‘back on the market’ (a phrase that makes me feel like a house. Or a cow) I hadn’t been on a date in ten years, and even then all my dating was as a teen to the cinema or a bowling alley. I kind of expected it to be just like it is in Sex and The City (spoiler: it isn’t. Thanks SJP for shattering my dreams).

I made the conscious decision to get back out there quite soon after my relationship was over. I know that not everyone agreed with this but to me it seemed pointless to sit in my house alone night after night mourning the demise of my marriage; after a long period of attachment I was excited at the prospect of conversations with men I was not related or married to and wanted to experience a social life again. I didn’t go into dating wanting a boyfriend, just interesting conversation with people who weren’t weirdos and maybe a glass or two of wine.

So where to start?

As a single parent who works from home the opportunities to meet new people aren’t endless. For a start, at the toddler groups I attend the eldest men I come across are three years old. There’s the whole ‘get chatting to a bloke in the coffee shop’ thing but how do you ask if they are single without coming across as desperate? Ditto the gym. If you don’t watch it you can come across as a bit of a keeno (and I say this as one who’s probably come across as a bit of a keeno in the coffee shop).

You can meet blokes through friends but there’s only so often you can bother them for introductions before they start getting pissed off with you. I met a man in the pub who seemed nice but he was 23 and living with his mum and I felt like putting him on the naughty step every time he said a bad word.

And so I turned to online dating.

Really, it’s the perfect solution. You flop on the sofa, watch a romantic comedy to re-affirm your faith in everlasting love, have a couple of glasses of wine for dutch courage and open up the laptop. The wine means you will be exceedingly witty in your online profile and you can spend the rest of the evening browsing potential suitors (and car crashes) on the site.

The magic thing about online dating is the minute detail you can go into when you’re searching for dates. I would liken it to trying to find a particular item on ASOS; it’s the human equivalent of trying to find a Black Maxi Dress in a size 10. It’s literally that specific, you can search by age, hair colour, height, location… you can even search by salary. Shallow, yes, but you’d better believe that everyone clicks on the £80k+ box out of curiosity at least once. And the choices are endless! You’re literally presented with thousands of results: old men, young men, tall men, short men, funny men, not so funny men… SO MANY MEN.

One of the hardest things I found with online dating was filling out the profile. How do you describe yourself in a little white box? How do you make it clear that you don’t want any weirdos? At what point do you mention that you have children? How do you make yourself sound hilarious yet alluring? It’s not easy, and trying to channel Carrie Bradshaw again didn’t help. But I did it, and the photos I submitted that (hopefully) didn’t make me look like a troll were accepted.

NewlySingleMama2013 (not my real username but quite catchy, right?!) was online. Dating was GO.

Onwards and Upwards (or, Screw You PND)

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One of the things I’ve been most worried about through my desertion of you lovely people is the complete lack of updates I’ve given you on my PND journey. I felt like I shared so much through a time in my life that was probably the hardest for me; the realisation that something was wrong, the awful visit to the GP, the phone calls to the Health Visitor, the Prozac. Looking back on it now I can see what a fucking (sorry mum) rocky road it was. ‘Scuse the M word, but it was mental. I felt mental.

It went on and on and on. From November through to, I dunno, March? I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I was trying to work my arse off and be a good mum but I did neither of these things well because all I ever wanted to do was go to bed and sleep until it was over. I don’t know what I was waiting for – anything? Nothing? I needed something to happen and in the meantime sleep was the only thing I wanted to do.

Then Will left and I was destroyed. I didn’t know how to carry on. I begged him to come back but he was rightly adamant that we saw out the trial separation we’d decided on.

But a week later, as if by magic, the fog lifted. I literally woke up one morning and found myself looking forward rather than looking backwards for the first day in years. I enjoyed the feeling gingerly, wondering if it was going to go away. But it stayed and I got more empowered: I took the bins out, mowed the lawn. Did DIY, booked and went on a solo holiday to New York. Somewhere above the Atlantic I became the person I was about five years ago and re-discovered that feeling of joy I’d been missing.

New York was obviously amazing and rather than feeling scared or worried about being alone in a strange city on my own I felt excited and confident. I chatted to strangers in parks, went for dinner with interesting new acquaintances, struck up conversations with people in bars. I did things I’ve never done before and I felt like I re-discovered who I was out there. I came back happy, excited for a future as a single person and above all confident that I would be able to handle anything on my own.

And that is how I’ve remained. There have been wobbles, mostly because holy moly I am not a good budgeter, but I’m doing it. The kids are so much happier because the mum they are getting is 100% engaged with life and not looking for the next opportunity to mentally check out. We do fun things each and every day:  toddler groups, trips to the park, shopping centre excursions. Daily kitchen dance parties. They get quality time with their dad too, which everyone benefits from, and I have a new found freedom that I use to spend time with friends. We’re all exceedingly content. I don’t get a lot of time for work but that’s OK, I will change the world when they’re at school and I have a bit more time on my hands.

The Prozac got left behind when I went to New York and I haven’t taken it since. I am this happy on my own, in a situation I always hoped and prayed I would never end up in. Isn’t life strange?

I’ve been dating and there has been one person who has helped me feel particularly happy lately, but I think the last few years have taught me a few harsh lessons in taking care of my own mental health. I will never ever take it for granted again and will prioritise it. If I’m not feeling good, something needs to be done. And I will never rely on anyone else for my happiness; that lies with me, and me only.

So that’s where I am. Screw you right in the face, Post-Natal Depression. You’re an arsehole.

Who Run The World? Girls! (And Sometimes Their Dads)

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One of the scariest things for me when making the decision to go it alone was the fear that I simply would not be able to do it. When you live with the same person for 9 years you fall into your roles, your routines, and I was petrified I wouldn’t be able to pick up the slack of the missing husband when I was living alone.

It was a massive surprise (and confidence boost) to discover that, actually, it’s not all that hard. Yes there are jobs I have very reluctantly taken on but they aren’t as tough as I thought they were. And actually, living alone is sometimes easier as there is one less person to clean up after and cook for.

(Though nothing quite makes up for those evenings when the kids have driven you mad all day and you would give your right arm for some grown-up company to talk grown-up things with. Or when you just want a big manly cuddle)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Things I Thought I Would Never Be Able To Do On My Own But Actually Can:

1. Mowing the lawn
I think this is our husbands’ best kept secret and I am going to BLOW IT. Listen up: mowing the lawn is just like hoovering but on a slightly bigger scale. You are welcome. (disclaimer: it may take you a while to work out how to switch the bloody thing on but once you’ve done that you’re golden)

2. Taking the bins out
The bins don’t smell as much as you might anticipate. And doing the recycling will make you feel like you’ve done a really really good thing for the world.

3. DIY
So I’m not particularly skilled or precise at hammering nails into the wall at the best of times which is why I am really good at calling my dad and asking him to do it. This weekend he fixed my garage door. Next weekend I will be asking him to hang my bedroom mirror. No shame.

4. BBQs
I had a real hankering for a BBQ yesterday but had never ever lit one or cooked food on one. No problemo, I dusted the gas off the cannister, connected it to the BBQ (this was the hardest part and may or may not have took 10 minutes before I found the instructions) and created the fire! My burgers fell apart and my chicken was burnt (Elfie: “I not like this mummy. Why is it black?”) but I bloody did it. And I will do it again – and probably quite soon because white rolls were 12 for £1 in Tescos so we have 9 left to eat.

5. Washing the car/putting petrol in the car/anything to do with the car
Firstly, car wash. If your kids will stand it, that is. Elfie doesn’t like it and to be honest it must be quite terrifying to an unassuming two and a half year old. So we use the slightly more expensive valet service at the gym and as a bonus they also clean the inside: job done. Secondly, it turns out the thing I hate most about putting petrol in the car is how expensive it is. So you’ve just got to suck that one up. Thirdly, when in doubt ask your dad/uncle/brother/knowledgeable male friend. (Dad, if you’re reading this, one of my wheels is making a funny noise. Help?).

Who run the world…? Girls. And sometimes their Dads.