Dating a single dad – not something I ever thought I’d be doing, having always imagined I’d be part of a traditional nuclear family. Other than my own son, I’ve never felt that I’m particularly great with kids (and let’s face it, some days I’m not even that great with him) so the thought of dating someone who came complete with their own child would have been pretty daunting.
But the nuclear family dream went up in smoke a while ago now and I spent 2019 dating. Single dads, child-free bachelors, nice guys, not-so-nice guys, younger guys, older guys – I met them all! Dating a single parent seems to get more than its fair share of bad press, but it turned out that dating a single dad was the best decision I have made in a very long time.
I discovered early on that, when you date a single dad, you generally know what you’re getting. You see what type of parent they are – and I’ve learnt that that can be a great indication of what type of man they are.
You see what type of parent they are – and I’ve learnt that that can be a great indication of what type of man they are.
Brilliant fathers, who parent consistently rather than play Disney dad, can usually be relied on to stick around through the tough times. Men who can be unashamedly silly, modelling pink bows styled by their young daughters, are the ones who will make an effort to keep things fun. A man who scoops his child up, ready to kiss the tears away after a fall, will try to put the smile back on your face after a hard day. A hero who chases away bad dreams will be the person you’ll want next to you on a cold night. And, of course, it works the other way too. A man who is happy to cancel time with his child for the prospect of a date or will miss an important hospital appointment for a romantic weekend away, will almost certainly casually let you down too. Parenthood is like a secret window into the soul, showing you just what someone is made of.
Dating a single dad, particularly as a single mum, is a huge responsibility. The last time I dated, as a carefree girl in my twenties, the worst thing that could happen was a relationship not working out. As a dating mum I’ve discovered something much more terrifying – the possibility that it could actually work out, because in doing so it opens my child up to the potential for more hurt. There are four of us in this relationship and our children have already experienced enough change in their lives without having someone coming into it, only to leave shortly after. It’s a sobering thought and one that I know my boyfriend is as aware of as I am. Having said that, I truly believe that the benefits of this new relationship, for all of us, outweigh the risks.
It’s easy to overthink things when dating a fellow single parent and to jump ahead, envisaging problems before they arise. But being open-minded and flexible can work wonders. I was adamant that I would need to date someone for six months before introducing a partner to my son, but actually an early play date worked well for us. We’re lucky that our children are close in age and that was a possibility – I’m not sure we would have gotten away with stolen kisses during a game of hide and seek if we’d each had a teenager to contend with!
There are of course certain tensions that come from two single parents dating. We haven’t been without our problems and I’m sure we have many more ahead, but so far we’ve managed to resolve them together. Our few arguments have been about our children, each of us rising to the defense of our own but we’re also realistic and don’t beat ourselves – or each other – up about it. These things will happen but, as parents, we both know the importance of being able to say sorry.
As parents, we both know the importance of being able to say sorry.
Logistically, dating a single father can be more difficult. In the past we’ve struggled to coordinate diaries taking into account two young children on different schedules, jobs in different locations, individual hobbies and keeping in touch with friends. At the start of our relationship it took us 6 weeks to find a free weekend night for both of us. It was frustrating but worth the wait. Almost seven months in and we’ve just had our first child-free weekend away. I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d been heading for two weeks in the Caribbean!
All of the above does however come with a caveat. Dating a single dad doesn’t guarantee you’ve got a keeper (after all my ex-husband is one!) While a single father can indeed ‘get it’, identifying with your parenting challenges, there will also be single dads who behave badly – just as there are plenty of single mothers who are no angels.
But it does mean there’s hope. I used to moan to friends that the only available men my age were the ones that had been left on the shelf. I’ve realised now that I had the wrong attitude.
What I should have been doing was checking out the awesome ones that were just coming back on the market.
Emily is a frolo living in Bristol with her son Teddy. You can keep up with her on her blog Pop Goes Perfection.
As I looked around my cute two-bed Nine Elms flat last week, surveying the piles of stuff (read: crap) I had accumulated over the last 18 months, it became increasingly difficult to swallow the lump in my throat. This wasn’t the flat I had been in when my partner left, but rather the place I’d moved in to shortly after, the home I’d built for myself and my son. It was the space in which I’d learned to love myself again, the place I had forged a beautiful relationship with my little boy and grappled with all those sanity-draining toddler issues solo. While trying to hold down a full-time job. And have a social life. And exercise. And date.
So why was I so upset?
I haven’t been in this space much since lockdown started. In January of this year, despite putting myself firmly back on the shelf, I met someone.
At Christmas, I had actively announced on Instagram that I was off dating for life, having had one too many self-esteem-shredding experiences in 2019. But then one of my most valued supporters, who only knew me in Frolo-dom, messaged to say, ‘So, I have a brother who is recently separated…’
My first response to the offer of a set up was a very polite, ‘No, thank you’. Which turned into, ‘Tell him to look me up in six months’. And then, once I’d seen his picture: ‘Ok, I’ll take his number but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything with it.’ Before I knew it a tall, dark and handsome man (wearing a jacket I still threaten to burn) met me under the clock at Waterloo. Though I don’t believe I had been living life as half a person waiting to be made whole by Mr or Ms Right, as soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘Oh, of course, it’s you.’
Fast forward six months and we had been through more than most couples in the honeymoon period. Contracting COVID-19 at the same time and isolating together, only to hear that fateful announcement about lockdown when I was only meant to be staying for two weeks. Two weeks has basically turned into forever. Paul met my son shortly before lockdown and the little dude was soon staying in a new house so that we had support when I was recovering from a milder case of the virus. Shortly after, I contracted a second virus, with symptoms that were much more severe: fevers, nausea, extreme fatigue – and being tested for diabetes. And just as that was on the wane, along came a chest infection. It goes without saying that during this time I was not the sex kitten you hope to be in those rose-tinted first months of a new relationship. But Paul couldn’t do enough for me. Even when my son had a bout of gastroenteritis and wanted to be glued to mummy and the sofa simultaneously, Paul went to the supermarket and came back with a care package of new pyjamas, a snuggly blanket and a monster truck. All while I worried that we were becoming too much of a burden.
As the weeks have gone on, Paul has mitigated my trust issues, treated me better than I’ve ever been treated by any partner in my entire life and introduced me to the joys of Lego. He’s the first boyfriend who has wanted to talk things through when there’s an issue and who actually listens and adapts his behaviour where necessary. I loved him anyway, but knowing that desire to compromise and be better works both ways – that is truly priceless. Plus, he has overcome a severe aversion to bodily fluids to scrape my son’s wet turd from the carpet. If that’s not love, then, seriously…
Since lockdown my ex lost his job, I lost my child maintenance and had to take a pay cut. I’m very lucky to still have a job at all. Living in central London is no longer something I can afford and though I had plans to leave later this year to move closer to family, the longer I spent with Paul, the more I realised that he was my new home. My son – a dedicated Mummy’s boy – is still getting used to sharing me with the new person in his life, but for every not-so-accidental kick to the balls there have been ten times as many hugs and exclamations of ‘We’re a family’ and that’s what counts. This is not the romantic story they tell children in books. But it’s real. And that’s better.
So, as I closed the door on my South London sanctuary, it was emotional. I was scared. I do still worry about the future. But as this year has proven, you can really only do your best and take things one day at a time.
My favourite movie, Garden State, discusses the notion of home and the point when the place you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore, it just becomes ‘some place where you put your shit’. Well, I did a hell of a lot of growing up in my London flat and it became so much more than just a place to store my (sizeable pile of) shit. But really to me, home is people. Home is my two boys sat with me on the sofa. And I’ve realised that’s all I really need. Forever.
Sally McIlhone is a professional writer, editor, and a member of the Frolo community. She lives with her two-year-old son and her new partner.
Book recommendations – whether they’re empowering reads for newly single parents or beautiful picture books that help explain separation to kids – are constantly being swapped on the Frolo app, so we thought we’d gather them all together in one handy list.
Books for adults
Books written by frolos
Frolos are a pretty accomplished bunch – some of them have even written books about their experiences as single parents. Moving, relatable, and insightful – every one of these is well worth a read:
Separation and divorce can be a confusing, as well as emotionally difficult, process. If you’re not familiar with the legal terminology and the different stages involved it can seem pretty overwhelming. Frolo recommend these books to guide you through the process emotionally and practically:
Transitioning to parenting on your own – while potentially navigating some big feelings and tricky behaviour from your kids – can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Check out one of these books recommended by fellow frolos for sound advice:
Lydia Davis is an experienced dating coach and matchmaker, and has even created her own dating app. She joined us to answer questions from the Frolo Community and share her insights on dating as a single parent.
Should you make it clear that you have kids on your dating app profile or not?
Some people are very private about their children and some people aren’t. No matter what, if you’re online dating, your profile really needs to reflect you as a person – and I know that your children are a big part of your life – but it needs to encapsulate who you are and what you’re looking for. Your profile should reflect your personality and showcase the values that you’re looking for – for example, if you’re a sporty person, get some sports pictures up there. You also want your profile to be open and inviting to lots of people – you wouldn’t put that you only wanted to date someone with a specific hair colour or job, for example.
You can put a picture of your children up there, but you don’t have to. It doesn’t have to be mentioned on your profile, but I think you do need to mention it on the first date. Some people might not be open to the idea of meeting someone with a child, but then if they have chemistry with a parent in real life they might change their mind. I think it’s worth seeing what the situation is between you and that person first.
Are there any dating apps single parents should avoid?
It really depends what you want to get out of an app. Take Tinder for example – some people say it’s just for hookups but I know friends who have met people on Tinder and married them. It really depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re putting out there. They all have a niche.
Most people are on three apps – as single parents, you probably don’t have much time, so maybe you’re only on one or two. It’s a bit like a part-time job! You’ve got to set time aside to meet someone, be happy, confident and open with whoever you’re talking to.
However, I think messaging for too long on an app is a huge mistake. You’ve got to meet someone in person to see if there’s chemistry and, if you chat for ages before you meet, you run the risk of building each other up and then being disappointed.
Try and schedule time for dating into your diary – you might decide that you’re going to go on a date with someone every two or three weeks. You can talk to lots of people online but you’ve got to meet them to see if that connection is there.
Apps are very gamified; it’s so easy to swipe and swipe and swipe. So you’ve got to set some rules: Is this person getting back to me promptly? Am I getting a good feeling about them? Your gut instinct is usually right. If someone comes across a bit creepy, they probably are. If you feel excited about them, you should feel confident about suggesting a date somewhere mutually convenient and seeing what’s there.
Any advice on boosting confidence before a date?
Firstly, no matter what, when you’re going on a date you need to feel good about yourself, who you are, and what you have to offer. You need to know that this is an opportunity for you both to get a feel for each other – it’s not just you trying to impress them.
Put some music on that removes you from the day that you’ve had. Make an effort – whether that’s brushing your hair and spritzing some perfume or getting a full blow dry.
If you’re really nervous, think about doing an activity. You’ve got a start and a finish, you’ve got an end point, it’s not as intense as just looking at each other across a table. Then, if you get on well you can go for drinks or dinner afterwards, but you have an out if the chemistry isn’t there. Sometimes short dates are better as they leave you wanting to see each other again.
My last relationship has left me with low self-esteem and very untrusting. I’m worried that my past will sabotage any future relationships. Any advice?
Low self-esteem is very common – especially as we get older and we’ve had some slightly rough experiences. I would really advise that you work on your self-esteem before you start dating because there will be some rejection along the way. Things will fizzle out not because of you, but because things aren’t working out between you and that other person – and that’s actually a good thing to know early on. You do need to have a relatively thick skin for dating!
You also need to feel good about yourself because that’s when you’re going to attract someone. If you’re sat opposite someone who is happy and confident then you come away thinking you’d like to be around them again. Whereas if you can see that a person is very nervous and has low self-esteem you’re not so likely to feel that way.
A really good way to feel more confident is by doing a little bit of research into dating – which actually hardly anyone does. Reading books about dating will help you navigate your future dating path and settle your nerves. You can read about how to gain confidence and what to expect if you’ve not dated for a while. You need to think about what values you’re looking for in someone – what are you not prepared to put up with? How am I going to get to know someone, open myself up, and be vulnerable again? It could also be worth speaking to a professional about those trust issues because trust is so important when you want to meet someone new – especially as that person might not have been through the same experiences as you.
I’d also recommend just being honest with the person that you’re dating. If they’re the right person for you then they will be understanding. After a few dates, you can explain to them that you’ve been through a difficult separation or divorce, you’re very much ready to move on, but sometimes it comes up emotionally – just give them a heads up. This will help them to understand what makes you tick a bit better.
How do I avoid people just looking to hook up or have a casual thing? I’m ready for a relationship.
I think it’s very obvious if someone isn’t dating seriously. If all someone wants is to have some fun and sleep with you, you’re going to be getting messages late at night, they won’t try to make proper plans with you, and they won’t ask about other areas of your life.
If they’re not organising to meet you and you’re not interested in something casual, just be up front and say thanks but no thanks. You’re not going to change them and continuing the conversation will just waste your time and your emotional energy.
How can I meet people if I don’t want to use dating apps?
I think so many people need to be more open in all areas of their life! You might think that you’re open to meeting someone, but you’re actually giving off a very closed impression. Be open and make small talk with people when you’re out and about. You can also try going to talks on a topic that interests you or joining clubs – running clubs, art courses, for example – places where you’ll meet like-minded people. Of course, it’s harder to know who’s single in these contexts but it will take the pressure off and allow you to see who you get along with first. Concentrate on coming across as a friendly and confident person – the rest will follow.
It’s also a good idea to find someone else who is single – a wingwoman or wingman – who can look at your profile, see how you’re coming across, and who’s also willing to come to events and to try new things with you.
You’ve got to take the plunge and really commit to dating – and just being on a dating app is not the same as being committed to dating in my opinion.
When would be a good time to start dating after lockdown?
Start now! Seriously, you can start chatting to people now. Lockdown rules are relaxing, so you can meet up for a socially-distanced walk around the park or even a drink soon.
I’d also like to make it clear that, if you get a little burnt out by the apps, it’s fine to take a complete break for a while. It can be exhausting putting in the effort to chat to multiple people so it’s definitely ok to take breaks.
How can I meet someone if I have limited childcare?
It can be really difficult if you don’t have a lot of child-free time. If you have limited options or need to book childcare well in advance, opt for something with a fixed timetable – like a block of dance classes. Then you don’t run the risk of organising childcare for a drink that gets cancelled or rearranged.
It’s also worth considering where you can you meet like-minded people with children. Are there local meetups, classes, or activities where you might meet a fellow single parent?
Could you swap childcare with a friend in a way that would allow both of you to date?
You could even suggest that you do a Zoom first date! We’ve all got used to chatting this way during lockdown and it will help you see if there’s a bit of chemistry there and whether it’s worth setting up a face-to-face date.
Once you’ve been on a few dates and you want to see more of that person, when do you introduce them into your child’s life?
This is a very personal matter and hopefully, with the right person, you would know when the time was right. If in doubt, waiting a little longer is probably better than making the introduction too soon. I would advise you to be wary of the big displays, fireworks, and someone who’s really keen to move things along quickly. In my matchmaking experience, things that accelerate really rapidly can also collapse pretty quickly and if someone is really interested they’ll be happy to stick around.
Have you got any advice for avoiding cold feet before a date? I’ve chatted to a few people, arranged a date, then a couple of days beforehand they cancel or say they’re not ready to meet someone.
I think unfortunately this is part and parcel of dating – especially online dating. People can be so flaky and just ghost you. Maybe that’s when you think about dating someone who is also a single parent and understands what it means for you to put that time aside.
Remember that this is something that happens to everyone in dating and don’t let it knock your confidence too much. If I’d been chatting to someone and they had to rearrange last minute, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and reschedule once – but if they cancelled again I’d drop it.
I feel like I’m interviewing people when I’m chatting to them! It’s always the same questions: where do you live, what do you do etc. How can I start conversations that are more interesting?
What are your interests? Can you chat to them about that? Unfortunately, especially when you’re chatting to multiple people, it can become a bit of a fact-finding mission, but I’d recommend that you include some information about your hobbies and interests on your profile and, if they do the same, you can ask them about their interests and that’s a great way to strike up a conversation. If they conversation still isn’t flowing – that might be a sign!
How much information should I include on a dating profile? What sort of thing do people want to know about me? Do people even read them or is it all about pictures?
I think people definitely do read them. Creating the best possible profile goes back to openness – you don’t want to start putting your requirements and what you’re looking for very specifically as that’s going to narrow your appeal and put people off.
Have at least three photos – one with some other people (so not all bathroom selfies!) – and write about your interests. You can specify that you’re looking for something serious and it’s really up to you whether you write a detailed introduction or just write a line or two. Ask a good friend who really knows you to read over it and give their opinions on the photos you’ve chosen too.
I always go to the same type of person – how do I break this cycle?
You need to ask yourself why you’re repeating these patterns – and that’s why reading up about love and dating is so helpful. look at your attachment style and see if that helps to shed some light on your patterns. Also, look at the values that you want in a partner – you might need someone spontaneous, or a planner, you might really value kindness and thoughtfulness – and look at the amount of effort they’re putting in too. It’s not all about looks. If someone seems to have those core values, then it could be worth meeting them even if they’re not your usual “type.” When you meet them in person they might look completely different to their pictures or there might be chemistry there that surprises you.
How long after your relationship ends is it ok to start dating?
I’ve seen so many different approaches to this situation. Some people are ready to commit and throw themselves into a new relationship quite quickly after a relationship ends, and some people take longer to heal and move on. You need to be very honest with yourself and how you feel about it – there’s no right answer and you will just know when you’re ready.
If it’s taking you a long time to move on, it could be worth talking to someone about it. It can be very scary putting yourself out there and dating again so don’t feel embarrassed to get some help with that.
I’d just like to say, you could meet someone next week, next month, next year who turns out to be the love of your life. You’ve got to remind yourself that it could happen at any point and stay excited about it.
Books about dating
Love Factually by Laura Mucha. Laura interviewed hundreds of people about love over 10 years to write this book. Expect lots of facts about love and some nice stories
Zoë is the founder of Frolo and a single parent herself
How long have you been a frolo?
Since summer 2017 – when my relationship with my son’s dad broke down just after he turned 1.
Tell us a bit about your frolo family.
It’s me and my boy Billy, who is now almost 4. When I first became a single parent I felt like our family unit was broken, but I feel differently now. I feel happy and at home in my little family of two.
How do you manage a work-life balance as a single parent?
It can definitely feel like a juggle so I have to fit it all in where I can. I co-parent with Billy’s dad which means I can play catch up with work during the weekends he is with his dad if I need to (which I often do!). But I also make sure to prioritise getting some downtime in and seeing my friends (and frolo pals!) regularly.
What do you like to do when you have time away from Billy?
I love meeting up with my other frolo friends (when we are off-duty) as many of them also know what it’s like to co parent and how much of a contrast the weekends can feel like. It always helps being around people who can relate to it all. I also like catching up on things that I wouldn’t get to do when I am with Billy – like a little trip away, a night out, or sometimes doing absolutely nothing except hibernating and recharging my batteries!
What do you like about the Frolo community?
I might be slightly biased but I love everything about the Frolo community. I have so much gratitude for Frolo – the support I feel and the connections I have made through the community have changed my life (and Billy’s) in a profound way.
Describe parenthood in three words.
Beautiful, challenging, life-changing
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t give up the piano!
Best parenting advice you’ve ever received?
To trust my own maternal instincts.
Who or what is your greatest love?
Where is your happy place?
Being snuggled up with Billy.
Is there a book you’d like to recommend to other frolos? A podcast?
For the book, I’d recommend The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Podcast-wise, it’s not really Frolo-related, but I love The Tim Ferris Snow Podcast.
What is your motto for life?
Life is not a dress rehearsal .
What is your greatest achievement?
I have two that I am really proud of: 1. Billy and 2. Frolo
I have made tons of mistakes and questionable decisions in my life – but all of them have led me to where I am today, which I feel is absolutely where I am meant to be. So no regrets.
Biggest life lesson?
To trust my gut
Last time you laughed hard?
I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was – I find Billy hilarious so he’s always giving me reasons to laugh. Other than that I am lucky to have some very funny and fun to be around friends. I’m grateful that laughing happens regularly these days.
Last time you cried?
Watching the frolo testimonials on the Frolo Crowdfunding video (coming soon)! I bawled.
What song would you add to the Frolo playlist?
Follow the Sun – Xavier Rudd
What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their single parent journey?
If you are overwhelmed right now please know that it will get better and easier!
Sign up to the Frolo app to make some frolo friends in your area and use the Feed to seek any guidance, support or tips you need. Having a community of other frolos to connect with and call on will make the world of difference for you.
What have you learned about yourself through being a single parent?
That I am stronger and more capable than I ever knew.