5 Things You Should Know About Dating a Single Mom
We met at a tapas bar soon after we matched on a dating app. Halfway into our first glass of wine, the petite and attractive woman sitting across from me divulged that she had an eight-year-old son. Given that I wasn’t looking for anything serious and was dating other people, I was more interested than taken aback. Likewise, she didn’t seem put off when I told her that I’d had a vasectomy and had plenty of thoughtful questions about why I’d done that. Clearly, we’d made some different decisions about our lives, but by the end of our second glass of Rioja, we decided that wasn’t going to get in the way of being intimate with each other and having some fun.
Fast forward two years, and despite that somewhat star-crossed date, we’re still an item. It’s been the most loving and mature relationship I’ve ever been a part of. Though had I consulted the experts who shared the following insights with me, I dare say I could have saved us both some misgivings, trouble, and heartache along the way.
Talk about what you want early on
While it feels unnatural to have a discussion about what your expectations are, it’s a conversation worth having sooner rather than later when you’re dating a single mother. That’s because any preconceived notions you have can be way, way off. “When a single mom begins dating, they may just be looking for a break, a supportive ear for the challenging period they’re going through, fun outings, and sexual companionship that provide hope for the future,” says psychotherapist Sari Cooper, director of Center for Love and Sex. Cooper adds they may also begin dating with the longing for a serious relationship, so it’s important to both know what you want and be honest about whether it’s compatible with what she’s looking for and check in regularly as your relationship progresses.
Get off your high horse
Ever heard of White Knight Syndrome? Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., describes it as a “compulsive need to be a caregiver to romantic partners you perceive to be in distress.” If, like me, you style yourself as a happy-go-lucky, freewheeling guy, the challenges a single mom faces down day in, day out can compel you to want to wade into the mire and solve problems. I’d seen this White Knight personality trait in other people and seen how it can be counterproductive.
I thought I could resist the compelled to swoop in and save the day financially, physically, or emotionally, but increasingly, I couldn’t. More to the point, I wasn’t being asked to swoop in, in the first place. “Unfortunately, while saving the day will temporarily feed your ego, it will leave you feeling angry, resentful, and drained in the long run,” says Hokemeyer, detailing something I learned the hard way. While it’s natural to want to relieve the burdens and resolve the issues of the person you love, doing it to the point when it disrupts your own life, health or happiness isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Know your place
She’s made incredible sacrifices, endured unimaginable pain, and navigates a slew of daily challenges to make sure her child or children get everything they need in life. Something I try—and sometimes fail—to be mindful of is that her child is her number one priority. “Don’t expect you will suddenly jump to the front of the queue when it comes time for your needs to be met,” says Hokemeyer, explaining that if you require constant validation from your partner, perhaps your not ready to be romantically involved with a single mom. Rather than allowing yourself to get butthurt about the amount of time or emotional bandwidth she has for you, look for other expressions of how she feels for you.
Don’t wait to meet the children until you are “all in.”
When I told my friends that I was going to meet the kid around three months after our first date, several expressed concern. They worried that the introduction was a Rubicon-crossing moment. I didn’t listen to them, and in retrospect, I think I made the right move. Spokane-based sex therapist Zita Nickeson agrees. “What if you don’t get along with them and that becomes a huge point of contention?” she says, adding that instead of waiting for certain conditions to be met, a better tactic is to agree upon a healthy way to meet her children and get to know her children without creating expectations that would lead to disappointments. Nickeson goes on to explain that part of building a romantic relationship with another adult is also building a friendship. “Explore meeting her children in that stage and follow her lead in conversations with her children,” she says. “They don’t need to know right away that you are anything more than a friend.”
Know that you and your relationship are having an effect.
Nickeson says that while you should try to replace the other parent, it’s important to recognize that you are a potential “role model” for a child, and there can be equally important responsibilities in that. She explains that, beyond being a potential role model, your relationship itself is a model to her children. “Many mothers recognize the importance of their romantic relationship, and that they are modeling and building the framework of the adult relationships their children will eventually have,” she says.
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