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When I came to the dating scene four years ago after being in a long-term relationship, I was blindly optimistic. The number of dates I’d been on in my life had amounted to approximately six, with number six being with my ex-husband (and after we were ‘a couple’, so did it really count?); having spent my late teens being wooed over warm snakebite in the SU bar I was excited to live some kind of perceived single-woman Carrie Bradshaw dream.
Except Carrie Bradshaw didn’t live in Milton Keynes with two young children.
Stepping into the dating world as a newly-single 27 year old was like a baptism of fire. There were no Mr Bigs, there were no Trey MacDougalls, there were no barman-Steves. There were, however, a load of freaks, geeks and weirdos, and they all seemed to want to go on a date with me…
4 Years of Dating
Ironically, in dating predominantly online I’ve experienced eye-opening things I’d only ever before read about on the internet. It didn’t matter if I found matches on Tinder, on Plenty of Fish, or perhaps on the slightly more high-brow Guardian Soulmates… either way, 90% of men I’ve met this way will bring a certain je nais se quoi to your dating experience, and not necessarily in a good way.
We’re talking all sorts here: from eccentric, quirky blokes with a penchant for dressing up in clothes from the Victorian era, to the uncomfortable silence that came from someone telling me they loved me on the third date, all the way through to the guy who refused to eat if there was more than three ingredients on his plate at any one time. You name it, I’ve felt uncomfortable observing it on a date.
I used to envy the women I saw around me who seemed to meet perfect matches online within weeks of becoming single. I thought I would suit the situation of quick coupledom too, wasn’t sure I’d be adept at changing lightbulbs, putting out bins or rescuing spiders from the bath. Getting coupled up again seemed like the easy option, the familiar one, only I soon realised there wasn’t room in my house for the kind of men I was going on dates with.
I thought I’d feel the absence of a man more keenly than I have done, when in actual fact it’s been – therapist speak alert – the most wonderful journey of self-discovery.
True, it’s been a long learning curve, one with peaks and troughs and many a bad date, but I’ve reached this four year milestone feeling way more content to be on my own than I have ever been before. Don’t get me wrong: I might have got over the guilt of eating a meal for two all to myself and grown way too happy with the monopoly I have over the remote control, but being alone is not something I aspire to do forever. I just know that, should I spend more time in my own company, it won’t be the absolute worst thing to happen (though I do draw the line at getting a cat).
In short, it’s better to be alone than with with a bloke I’m not entirely ecstatic to be in the company of. Don’t expect much, do I?
My biggest attitude shift in this time of dating has been my own prejudice on how I see myself as a single mum. It used to be something I’d be ashamed of, and in a dating situation I’d genuinely lose sleep over how to breach the fact of my children with a man. I’d awkwardly blurt it out over text message, not wanting to lure a guy to a date under false pretences, and then anxiously wait for the ‘thanks, no thanks’ message to follow.
Of course, that message barely ever came – the chip on the shoulder I had about being a mother was much bigger than anyone else’s prejudice – and I feel sad now that I let it hold me back as much as I did. Now I realise the men who aren’t open-minded enough to be accepting of my brilliant children are not the ones I want to be dating.
It’s not particularly easy to begin romantic relationships when you’re the primary solo caregiver to your kids. From a purely logistical point of view, if like me you have an every-other-weekend arrangement with your ex that gives you a grand total of two nights away from them a fortnight. Which leaves the early parts of a relationship that are so vital – long nights chatting in candle-lit bars, sleepovers at each other houses – difficult to experience. It can be done, and any man worth your time will be understanding and flexible, but still it can feel like you’re scheduling your sex life around your childcare: not the most romantic of situations, I think you’ll agree.
There has been a part of me that has felt sad to wave goodbye to the impulsiveness and spontaneity of dating as a young person, but in the long-run it’s something I don’t miss at all. Dating at 31 with two kids is more considered, more thoughtful, more meaningful; when you’re so short on time without your kids you don’t want to waste it in generic bars with people you’re not sure you even like. Back then it was all about the selfish fun, the experience… now it’s about connection, which is why I can count the number of men I’ve been on more than a couple of dates with in the last two years on one hand.
That’s not to say dating has to be boring at 31, no way. Sometimes the most unexpected situations can turn out to be the most exciting and fulfilling. Different is what it is. More grown-up, I hesitate to say.
If you’d have told me four years ago that I’d be spending those years on my own I wouldn’t have known what to think. I would have been sad, horrified, scared. But I’m pleased to report that long-term singledom really isn’t the worst thing in the world that can happen to you, not by a long shot. Embrace it: go travelling, decorate your house, focus on your career. I promise you’ll emerge four years later a happy and confident person, with even more to offer the next lucky person to get in a relationship with you.