Dads, after divorce, are earnest, eager to please, and a little unsure of how to begin the experience of coupling up again once children are involved. Their concerns seem more important than when they were without kids worrying: “Will she be good to me (and my children)? will she be even tempered? warm? spend all my money? will she love me as much as she’ll love my kids? how am I supposed to have good sex with my kids in the house?” Real concerns… real decisions. Below are 5 important tips on how to approach dating when you’re a single dad so you can be at your best - responsible for your own well being and those of the children you brought into this world.
- Here’s a BIG secret: your sex drive does not make you a man - there’s nothing to prove to the right woman! So think of it this way…. If you think you need to have sex all the time, to prove to her (News flash: yourself) how good you are in bed; if you’re out seeking sex every weekend without wanting to select one woman and build a relationship just with her, then figure you’re not ready to bring anyone home to your children. Which is just fine! But then don’t. Don’t bring your girlfriends home to meet your children. Don’t bring your children to meet your girlfriends or to “hang out where they work.” Or, to coincidentally meet up with her and her kids at the park. Don’t do it…. children do not need to meet another person who’s going to teach them anymore about abandonment and broken promises.
The woman who you’ll want to be with and to build a relationship with wants to know who you are on the level of your character. (Yes, of course, she must be attracted to you and you must be attracted to her!) But she wants to know how safe you make her feel and thereby, will assess how safe you make your kids feel. It’s not about prowess in bed. It’s about feeling safe. When a woman feels safe, when children feel safe, they can relax. And a relaxed woman will easily please the man she’s dating. So figure out how willing and able, and ready you are to keep those you love safe. The rest will follow.
- You may have this fear that you won’t be able to afford to date or you may be afraid of how to handle dating after an expensive separation. Having money to date is part of courtship (despite the changes in dating customs and practices these days.) For most men, being able to provide for their family helps define their masculinity. (No judgment on this if you’re a guy or gal who likes sharing the costs!) But having just wrapped up expensive negotiations and having to pay child support in the future affects guys who want to date or who want a bigger family. They’re unsure of how to navigate the ask, how to say, “I want to take you out for dinner but do you mind sharing the cost?” And they might not even ask.
This is where a little imagination and a lot of fortitude come into play. First off, you have to begin dating after your divorce to pair up again. You have to be able to handle dating again, you don’t just get to hang out at home in front of the TV and have sex, and then wonder why you’re not excited about the woman you have in your bed. (News Flash: be careful of that routine. That behavior = marriage habits, not courtship. And after divorce, while dating, you’re not married. So you must start courting again to find a new partner!) Dating usually costs money but doesn’t have to be over the top expensive and you don’t have to ask the woman you’re trying to impress to help foot the bill!
Where can you go that would be great fun and not cost that much? The beach, a mountain hike, a walk through a green market or shopping plaza? Grabbing an ice cream is relatively inexpensive, making it is even more fun! What about a picnic or setting up a BBQ while tail gating? Do you see where I’m going with this? Sure, your idea of dating might have been white table cloth restaurants and a movie in the past and those meals will come your way in the future if you desire, but the woman you want, wants your full attention not you, worrying about your Visa bill.
(Here I go again): your divorce is your rite of passage… you’re being forced to mature, to step into a future you haven’t yet lived (with more responsibility and more financial concerns than you may have had in the past). You must stretch. You are made of way more than you realize and amazing things happen when you focus on what you want. So don’t bemoan those bills, the child support, the maintenance. In other words, don’t feel sorry for yourself. (Those pity parties are not a turn on.) No apologies - you’ll figure it out! Impressing yourself will impress the right woman. So make your dating life enjoyable (not expensive) and get to know the woman you’re with!
- You may not know where or how to start dating after divorce because, you may be afraid that your kids won’t be able to handle your dating at all and, you’d be right! Dating after divorce for a man with a child is difficult. Your children will not want to share you with another woman. They’re already having a tough time seeing you without their mom. Quite honestly… they’re afraid that you’re going to leave them too and a new woman is a real threat.
How you approach dating after divorce is truly very different than dating as a single man. You know that your children deserve a good woman and that means not seeing you all hopped up on sexual hormones hanging out with a sexy partner! They will see the distraction (your date) when they want and need your attention. They won’t be able to say this to you, they’ll just be feeling the feelings which will show up as a melt down, a temper tantrum; they may not want to visit on your weekends and they’ll sulk. You’ll feel they’re pulling away.
What’s happening is that kids sense the sexual tension coming from the man who gave them life and who, from their perspective, is there to keep them safe. They simply can’t handle the shift in your behavior. If instead, you force them to visit you and your new partner (which often happens) you’re simply teaching your kids that their feelings don’t matter. So be careful about that. But yet, I get it, you want to show your children how to give and receive love from another person rather than keep them focused on the bickering they’ve been privy to up until now. So you have a big job to do! Slow down, give everyone time, give yourself the time to adjust. Waiting a few months won’t change the years you have ahead of you with the right person.
- Putting your kids first looks like finding them a woman who can step into her own sensitivity and power, able to show up for you and your children. You may be afraid that you have to put your kids first and decide to not bring a new woman into your life but then you recognize that you’re lonely and don’t want to be alone. That’s okay… loneliness gives you a chance to slow down and to figure out your new life while feeling feelings you’ve probably not felt in a long time. This period of time is an adjustment and is necessary to go through. It won’t last.
It’s important that the woman you find is kind, soft, strong, and secure. She’ll probably be one who’s worked through her own losses (be it the loneliness of not finding a partner of her own or her own divorce and fears about dating). She’ll probably be afraid to open up and to trust you, and she’ll be afraid of being hurt again. She’ll carefully negotiate the timing of meeting your kids and you, hers. (Remember, if you’re bringing your children around to meet each other too early, she’s not the one for your family!) Being afraid to be vulnerable is normal and natural for an empathetic woman. It pushes you into the role of provider and protector. As a father, you've become familiar with that role because you’re wiser and more in charge than when you were younger. So this is a really good thing.
- How to begin dating may seem completely overwhelming. But sometimes the where or the how approach is super simple like “she’s the woman you’ve seen at your kids’ school events.” She may belong to your church or be someone you knew in the past. Internet dating sites are filled with good women looking for the right man.
There are no hard and fast rules on where to find a woman. Except for one… if you know her from your community (especially a school parent) don’t break up with her. That’s a mistake too many make and the embarrassment or anger will haunt you for a long, long time after the breakup. (Please take this advice as a strong warning!) But otherwise, the rules have certainly changed about how to begin and technology has made is so much easier to select the right partner. What you’re teaching your kids is to be discerning. The role you’re ultimately looking for is a part-time mother. She’s got a huge responsibility to share in raising your children; you may be helping to raise hers. The opportunity is a privilege, not an obligation. You’re not looking to buy a new sofa!
This is what you do to get started: Get yourself some healthy support - a men’s group, some coaching, a therapist, a parenting or church group. Put yourself into an environment where you will learn how to do a new relationship better. (As opposed to a group - including those online ones - hell bent on criticizing the opposite sex, the experience of dating or indulging your fears of the future.) You want to heal your pain and grow your courage. If you have to understand your finances or learn to live on a smaller budget, speak to your banker or financial advisor. If your heart needs mending, your hope restored, join a group to volunteer. Head to http://www.laurabonarrigo.com/scarlett-d-letters/ and join my Scarlet D™ Letters, you’ll get a weekly email with a head’s up on what to expect going forward with life after divorce. How to approach dating after divorce is truly up to you but my advice, do it well… the rewards will be amazing!