Stigma, mansplaining and safety worries — dating as a single parent

Casual Dating

‘No second-hand kids’. This was the (entire) bio of one Tinder user I came across recently. I swiped left.

Rude but concise; surely this type of anti-single parent sentiment was a one-off and not to be found on the other dating apps? Especially the fancy ones, where you can match by star sign or political preference? Wrong. Dating as a single parent, I quickly learned, is a minefield, where the explosions encountered are usually not the good kind.

When I entered the dating pool following a significant timeout after splitting from the father of my child, who I had been with for twelve years, I wasn’t exactly hopeful. But what awaited me was worse than I feared. Dating after any long hiatus is tricky, and if you’re also navigating childcare issues, single parent stigma and coming from an experience of abuse or adultery, these are particularly rocky waters.

I learnt my lesson from ‘no second hand kids’ guy that leading with your kid on your online profile isn’t the best idea. So, when to reveal your ‘baggage’ to a potential partner? Once, I waited until mid-way through date two to divulge my single parent status. Taking a nonchalant approach, after my date had finished reeling off the details of his six housemates, he asked me ‘so, who do you live with?’. ‘My son’, I casually replied. He coughed/choked on his wine, excused himself and left the table. (I thought) never to be seen again, but he returned several minutes later and opened a new topic of conversation.

Rebecca Cox with her son

/ Rebecca Cox

I continued this casual approach when, in my house several dates later, he stumbled across a wedding photo of my ex and me and shouted from the kitchen: ‘Were you married?!’ I shouted back, ‘mm-hmm, can you grab me some water?’ The very next morning both my ex-husband and my child turned up unexpectedly at my door as we were enjoying a leisurely morning in bed. If this spelled disaster for him, he took his time thinking about it, eventually ghosting me after nine months together which included a holiday I arranged to Jamaica. Thankfully, I never introduced him to my son.

A male model I once went on a date with spent the entire evening lecturing me about how my son needs a dad (side-note: he has one) and women who thought they could ‘go it alone’ were sadly mistaken. It was about 45 minutes into his monologue that he revealed he had a daughter he sees once every three weeks ‘because he’s busy’ (man-splaining parenting to unwitting single mums, evidently).

And it’s not just the men. If you’re a single mum who also dates women, you’ll also be treated to biphobia from (some) women and being fetishized by (some) men. One man messaged me on Hinge to tell me his ‘wife saw me on her Tinder’ therefore ‘did I want a threesome?’ (no, thank you). One woman’s bio stated simply: ‘No bis. No mums.’ Ouch.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting kids or having preferences and voicing them in your bio, but since many of the single mums I know are not single by choice, and all of them have had to overcome some form of stigma or struggle, going on the apps can truly start to feel like an exercise in voluntary torture.

So why continue to put yourself out there? A question almost every single mum I know has asked herself. Single parenting is by far the most relentless but rewarding job I’ve ever undertaken. My life is full of love and laughter, but it’s lonely at times, too. In the evenings, once my son is tucked up in bed, the house can feel quiet and empty. Being a single mum can also feel all-consuming, it can become your entire identity if you let it, and dating is just one of the ways I can be something other than just ‘mum’.

On a date you can be the other you, the one you were before you had kids, or the one you’re becoming as you learn just how strong you are, how much you’re capable of. The next challenge comes in merging the two worlds. However separate the you on a date is from the one tucking your child in at night, at some point you may want to integrate the two. Where do you even start when it comes to meeting someone you feel comfortable to introduce to your child, in any capacity let alone as your partner?

Rebecca Cox has found dating as a single parent challenging

/ Rebecca Cox

Indeed, there is an extra layer of stress when it comes to keeping yourself and your kids safe. I spoke to sex & dating educator and single mum Lalalaletmeexplain whose book Block, Delete, Move On is due to be published in 2022, about how single parents can stay safe when dating. She says: “For starters, don’t state that you’re a single parent on your profile because unfortunately single mothers can be targeted by people who specifically want to date mothers in order to gain access to their children. Drop it into conversation early on, just don’t advertise it on the profile.” Lala has vital advice about keeping yourself and your children safe when you’re considering dating as a single parent on her Instagram page.

In order to negate these risks, it can be tempting to completely separate your dating from your parenting, only dating people you know you’ll never be able to integrate into your home life. I’ve done this a number of ways: by choosing a string of people who were completely emotionally unavailable (mostly good fun) and even picking people who lived in entirely different countries (nothing quite like international travel to really prevent yourself getting too close to someone). One of my single mum friends (from the juiciest Whatsapp group on my phone) just came home from an impromptu trip to Tenerife to see a man she met at a festival, reporting back that she had ‘the best 5-day rollercoaster of intense emotions’, (returning with nothing but cystitis). Who said romance was dead?

Pre-Covid I frequently ditched the apps altogether and only dated people I met in the real world at bars and parties. And, from a Parisian artist to a boat-dwelling pirate (yes, really), they’ve all been glorious (in a wholly unsuitable way). But if meeting someone compatible in real life feels unlikely for you, hope is on the horizon. Frolo Dating, the world’s first user verified dating app for single parents is launching soon. The award-winning Frolo app has been connecting single parents for two years, and according to founder Zoë Desmond, several single parents have already found love via the community, with some even getting engaged.

The Frolo dating app launches early 2022

/ Frolo app

“Frolo Dating has been created with feedback from the existing community every step of the way,” says Desmond. “First-hand online dating experiences from single parents have been considered and remedied within the Frolo Dating offering, including a “no ghosting” feature.” Access to the founding member version of the app begins Wednesday 24 November, allowing members to create their profiles and get one month free following the launch in January 2022.

Hopeless romantic (read: glutton for punishment) that I am, I have dipped in and out of the dating pool for the last four years. And while I remain a tireless…

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