What A Single Dad Wants In the *Next* Relationship

WHOLE-tennisgirl

[Feb 2016 Update: Dating a Divorced Dad – Version 2.0 Updated]

Let’s Hook Up, Wait. I Mean, Let’s Go Out On A Date…

We’ve both got some history under our belt, kids, and some requirements for what’s OK and what we simply won’t ever do again. (Red Flags, we like to call them.) As we navigate “dating” again, we quickly realise the rules are very different. Our experience gives us some distinct advantages in terms of recognising what we don’t want. And perhaps our unfinished wounding might keep us from starting the dating process again.

Don’t miss the exciting conclusion of this single dad’s journey:
A Single Dad In Love, Again

Rules for dating a single dad.

(I’ve got two kids and a full-time job, but I’d still like to find time to be with someone.)

1. Let’s not rush into things.

I will admit that getting back out there, for me, as a man, initially was about sex. Today, I think sex can get in the way of learning if you like the person. And if you’re going to do more than lay around in bed with this person, you’d might want to go easy on the seduction moves at first. Get to know if you like talking to, as well as looking at your potential partner. I don’t have any hard rules on this. But if you slow the drive to the bedroom you might avoid getting mixed up in something purely physical. It can blur your vision when trying to figure out if you want to hang with this person for the long run.

2. I’m Looking for 100% Pure Connection

Half my life is behind me. I have two beautiful kids. And I’m happy with myself, just as I am. (I’d like to keep getting fitter, but my joy is genuine.) In several previous online dates I found myself sitting across the table from very attractive, usually younger, women who had nearly nothing in common with me. I could see myself eyeing their bodies and trying to imagine the sex, but I stopped myself, pretty quickly, even with the fantasizing. It takes a lot to get to a second date with me. Today, I’m even getting pretty stingy with first dates. I don’t want a “date.” I don’t want nice. I want my next relationship to start out with the potential going the long distance. I’ve never been a casual dater.

3. I’m Into Moms

If my date doesn’t have kids, they probably don’t have much in common with me. At our age kids are either a choice you made or one you didn’t. And nothing against the non-parents in the group, but I’m so wrapped up with my kids, that if you don’t have that same passion and joy, we’re probably going to have to look for things to have engaging conversations about. If you have kids, we’ve got an immediate starting point for everything. Trying to talk about your kids with a woman who’s not a mom… Well, they just don’t get it.

4. Let’s Be Clear About This

Games of any kind are an immediate time out. Passive aggressive might have worked in some other decade, but as adults, we should’ve gotten that silliness out-of-the-way. One thing I will tell a first date, “You can ask me anything. In fact, I prefer the hard questions. I’m trying to learn the answers myself. I will always try to answer honestly.” And the one relationship I’ve had since my divorce, went right for it. And while we are no longer a relationship we went through the whole process, getting to know each other >> dating >> breaking up, without any drama. None. We’re still friends. That’s how it needs to be. Let’s do without all the crazy stuff.

5. Brutally Honest

If it’s not a fit on the first date I’m going to try to let you know as gently and as quickly that it wasn’t a fit. I think that initial attraction is something that we can’t really control or completely predict, but I also don’t think we can do without it. I have created a dog metaphor to help me explain what I’m talking about. And I usually share this concept on the first date. (Hmm. Maybe this explains a lack of second dates.) Here it is. Two dogs meet up in a park. Either 1. both tails are wagging; 2. one tail is wagging; or 3. neither tail is wagging. It’s as simple as that. I was born with a Boston Terrier’s body. I can be several different sizes of Boston Terrier, but if you’re into whippets and poodles, we’re probably never going to be a match. And there’s no accounting for taste. I think some of this is hardwired.

6. The Spark Is Only a Start

If the chemistry (tail wag) is ON, there are still a ton of steps along the path before we’re in a relationship. We need to have intellectual compatibility. (If I’m a reader and you’re a reality tv junkie, we might not go the distance.) We need to synchronize our schedules over time. (Kids, work, and all the other stuff we’re just remembering we love to do) have to be the priority. It may take several months to get in our first four dates, but… Like I said earlier, we shouldn’t be in a hurry. And then we’ve got all the negotiations about how and when we want to see each other. (Let’s not start with jumping in bed or looking at vacation calendars for a while. Okay?)

7. Fearless Commitment To Monogamy

At first divorce may seem like we’ve gotten the key to the kingdom of sex again. It’s not that easy. If that IS what you are looking for, go for it. I won’t be in your queue. If we do decide to sleep together I want to know that we’ve just become mutually exclusive. That might be a stretch if you’re playing the field, or not sure about what you want. It’s not difficult for me. By the time we get past 1st-base I’m letting you know that I am into you. And if you want to go further, we’ve got to establish some mutual objectives. (If we’re about to sleep together I can assure you we’ve had this conversation.)

8. Feeling the Feelings

Men are often accused of not feeling their feelings. And, in fact, feelings can be scary for both men and women.  But as we begin navigating our time together we’ve got to be able to talk about whatever we’re feeling. The beauty of that is feelings include the ability to fully love. So when opportunity arrises I look forward to being 100% present with my feelings. There might have been a disconnect on those terms in my previous marriage. But I’m a learning individual. I know that I feel deeply and I enjoy being expressive of those feelings. If feelings scare you, that might be something for you to look at. Feelings are the key to compatibility, in my opinion.

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I look forward to having another opportunity to learn about myself “in relationship” at some point. I’m happy and patient right where I am. But I believe by having my priorities clear and articulated I can do a better job of finding and sorting through the process of finding that NEXT RELATIONSHIP. I wait enthusiastically.

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UPDATE: Responding to a comment on another site about this post, I’d like to share a few more observations.

Thank you for your comment. Here are several points where I think we need more discussion.

1. Dating younger women. Yes, I selected these potential dates and knew their age, and also that they had not ever had children. My post shows some of my learnings as a result of these mistakes. It’s pretty telling for both men and women when their profile says they are 50 and they want to date partners who are 30 – 40. I’m not that guy. I’m pretty clear about wanting a woman who’s experienced a lot of the world. And in that model they’ve probably had kids, and are generally within 5 years of my age, on either side. My one girlfriend since divorce was a couple years older.

2. Straight to sex. Hmmm. This is one I try to cover in the post in several different ways. If this is the case, we are not a fit. (I can only speak from my perspective, not your’s, or her’s.)

3. Who pays, who is the predator, and who’s demanding sex? I agree with many of the things you say are wrong between the relationships between men and women. I am not an apologist for the cultural norms that have stacked the deck against those of us who are trying to elevate the discussion about it all. And I think our culture’s focus on youth is way off base. But I’m not sure porn is any more the driver then the Miley-Cyrus-type circus of celebrity and mainstream media. Our culture feeds on extremism. And it has an effect on all of us, adults and teenagers.

The discussion I am hoping to facilitate is the antithesis of these issues. That’s why I am trying to come out with my individual perspective that seems to be different from the experiences you’ve had. We learn. We evolve. Or we don’t. I am hoping to get better, clearer, and more honest with each attempt at being in a relationship.

I really do appreciate you taking a chance and voicing your opinion. We (men and women) need to have more frank discussions about desire, sexual preferences, and how we want to relate to each other in and out of the bedroom.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE:

I didn’t “find myself on a date” I realised during the date, with an attractive woman who was within my desired age range who happened to be younger than me and not a mom. It was my realization that we had nothing in common (yes we seemed to have a lot of spark on txt messages and via email) once we were sitting at a table together. It was a moment of finding myself, not discovering that she was younger. I discovered that I wasn’t interested in this attractive, younger, woman for a variety of reasons I tried to articulate. I understand the knee-jerk reaction. There are just as many women in online dating who do the exact same thing. Again, that is not what I am looking for. And sex is way off in the future, for ME. What she might be thinking, her motivations for sitting at the table are for us to discover, hopefully, via clear and honest communication.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

The Dating a Divorced Dad series continues:

New Dating Strategy in 2015:

image: tennis girl smelled so nice, austin, texas, july 2013 – john mcelhenney

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  1. I love this so much I can’t even take it! I’m about two years out of my marriage and my friends and well-meaning family can’t understand why I’m being what they call picky. “i wait enthusiastically” is my new mantra.

    PS Found you through the Good Men Project Writers Group. ;)

  2. Wow! Thank you for this article. I have been “seeing” a divorced dad ten years younger than I (a long distance relationship) for about two months. We only get to see each other every couple of weeks, so we have no choice but to take things slowly. We did break a couple of your rules (sex before an exclusive relationship). He and I felt an incredible chemistry and intellectual compatibility immediately, both online and in person. As soon we met face to face (within two weeks of our initial contact) we knew we would be physically intimate in the near future.

    However, I do have to disagree with you on one point…not all single men and women who are not parents made a conscious decision to not have kids. I do not have children myself, but I was a caregiver for my elderly parents for most of my adult life, That was my main reason for not having children, so I understand the pressures of caring and providing for a family. However, some are childless because of health issues…others may have had the decision made for them by their exes. And yes, others may have decided to not have kids for selfish reasons. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome your children into his or her life. Find out more about the person before you write them off . Don’t paint all non parents with the same brush.

    One more rule of my own… DO NOT INVOLVE THE KIDS UNTIL YOU ARE SURE IT’S GOING TO BE A LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP. While I would love to meet his children, I will not until he and I agree the time is right…which is when (and if) we have decided to be exclusive, live together or get married. There is no point in becoming attached to the kids if there is no future. It’s devastating for both the children and adults.

    The rest of your rules are spot on. Quite honestly, they should apply to ALL dating “relationships.” Like you, I am past the games and passive aggressive bologna. Be honest and straightforward. And if you go out on a date and discover you don’t have chemistry with the person tell them gently…don’t disappear and leave him or her wondering what happened.

    • Lizzie,

      Thank you for your heartfelt response. And I have heard this comment more than once, so I know you are spot on with some situations. And I guess, my bias towards moms only comes from my limited experience with non-moms. I would not exclude a woman with potential just because she did not have kids. That *would* be kind of shallow. I think, in my experience, the two women I met via online dating, back in the Spring, were both attractive (potential chemistry) but perhaps a bit too self-involved for my taste. Sometimes, at a certain age, if an adult does not have kids, they define their focus in life around things like fitness, or entertainment. And while those things are definitely a part of my constellation as well, they take a second row seat to my love and duties as a single dad. So, in answer to your point about non-moms, I don’t think I would write them off simply for not being moms.

      I also agree that introducing kids too early would be hard for all involved. In my parenting plan with the ex-y we’ve specified six-months in a committed relationship before the kids meet them. I think that’s fair. It’s not always easy. But I know it can greatly reduce the chance for unnecessary attachments. My kids are now 11 and 13, so I think they have more understanding of these kind of things, but I’d hate to have a relationship develop between my daughter and a new girlfriend and then have it whisked away when things didn’t work out. I am excited about the idea that my son and daughter would have another loving person in their lives. But first I’ve got to make sure that loving person is going to stay in mine as well.

      Again, thank you so much for your comment. The dialogue between men and women is more to the point. We’ve got to open up and talk about what’s going on.

      JM

    • Thanks for making this point, Lizzie. I wanted to post the same – not to write off all childless women. One of my best experiences in dating was the relationship I developed with my teenaged “stepson”. I have no children of my own, but I thoroughly enjoyed building a family unit with my ex and his son over the years we were together. Without detracting too much from your overall point, I’d ask that you reconsider this: “And yes, others may have decided to not have kids for selfish reasons.” I think it’s a shame when people characterize childless (by choice) adults as being “selfish”. It’s a personal choice and people have all kinds of reasons for deciding not to have kids. And as you pointed out, many childless people have plenty of room in their hearts and lives to love a partner’s children as their own.

      • It’s not the childlessness that’s the issue for me. It’s not really an issue, anyway, it’s a preference. A mom knows things that non-mom’s just don’t know. And perhaps I like the balance that comes from her having a full-time family as well. Less pressure of me and the relationship if we are negotiating for less time to start. At least in the beginning, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. (grin)

        • I’m childless and I think you are spot on and smart for wanting a woman that has kids and can relate to you. Also some childless women may want a child of their own and many divorced dad’s may not be interested in having another child. I am so tired of all the divorced dad’s who seek me out and argue with me when I say I’m not interested.

  3. Didn’t mean to take you to the woodshed…you are spot on with most of your rules. In my situation, the man I’m seeing has a 7 year old and a 3 year old (both adorable from their pics) and he, rightly so, puts them first. I would never expect him to ditch his children for me. In fact, that would be a HUGE red flag for me about his character. He has hinted about me meeting them; I say when the time is right I would love to meet his wee ones.

    But, you are right, men and women need to open up and TALK more. Thanks for opening up the dialogue.

    • That’s funny. I wasn’t feeling “woodshedded.” It’s a tough subject. I can’t wait for the woman to arrive who’s into my kids (when the time comes) and if she’s had kids of her own or not won’t matter a bit. That’s the funny thing about putting out these theoretical roadmaps for relationships. They are more like ancient treasure maps rather than satellite-corrected road maps.

      I’ve been in ONE relationship since my divorce. Everything else is theory and projection. I’m happy with my projection, but it’s just my own little drawing of who and how I hope to find another person to be with.

      Thanks for your comments. The dialogue is what is most important.

      JM

  4. Having been through a bad relationship (and now realizing that I’m FREE from it after a year of soul searching) you do have a better idea of what you want in your next relationship.

    when you meet the right person…you’ll know. :)

  5. I agree, though inexperienced in the mutual glow vibe so far. I’ve had a few connects on my side that were not reflected. But when it goes both ways I don’t think it will be a mystery to either of us. At least I’m sure I won’t leave it mysterious, and I hope the other person can break pattern and say “yes,” as well.

  6. I like your word “glow.” I tend to use either “spark” or “click” myself. I’ve felt it with a couple of different guys so far… but it appears to be lasting with this latest guy… even though he is among the walking wounded, which means I have to take it slowly. (Not easy for me…I tend to jump in feet first when I feel that glow with someone.)

    I just have to remember to not beat myself up if the spark isn’t mutual… that’s the hard part of dating…at any age….

  7. I just came across your blog and am blown away . So very refreshing to see that there are single dads out there who have this authentic, genuine and mature perspective! After 4 years post divorce with two kids 11 and 14 the dating world for a 49 year old successful women is filled with all the usual suspects of game players looking for hook ups and the like. Your post gives me renewed hope that there are like minded men still out there that value the chemistry but are willing to be patient enough to allow that to build into much more. Thank you for all your honest posts.

    • Hey Misty, thanks! Glad to be inspirational. If you were in ATX I’d suggest a more in-depth assessment of the situation. (grin)

      Take care. We are out there, and some of us are working to do it better than we’ve ever done it before.

  8. Omigosh…this is by far the most refreshing, transparent, vulnerable, honest piece of prose I’ve seen a man write regarding his desires in a romantic relationship in quite some time!! I thank you so much for this work! It’s poignant, clear, unapologetic and honest. I love it!

    As a recently divorced mother of 2 boys, I am taking my time… I’ve worked through my own stuff, and am cheerfully waiting to meet someone of substance, wit, a strong spiritual sense, inner peace and phenomenal chemistry. Knowing what I want and need are so absolutely key to weeding out the riff raff…

    I totally agree with waiting on intimacy…I’ve learned the lesson that chemistry is indeed just the beginning…without all the other pieces, it’s just sex…and I don’t want just sex…

    I’m very excited about romantic love…creating it, and creating memories with someone special…your article reaffirms my belief that there are mature and maturing men out here looking for the same….
    I thank you!!

  9. Great read. I am a single mom of one, dating a single full time dad of two. The past few months has been an overwhelming whirlwind of baseball double headers, gymnastics lessons, curriculum nights, cooking for three children with three different eating habits, wrestling in the living room, birthday parties every other week, etc etc

    I really have gotten to make love to him twice in the past two months. Not joking. Its frustrating. Ive spent the past few weeks so mad, hopeless, and a little bitter, wondering if this is what i really wanted. After reading this, it puts it all into a new perspective. All this time I wanted to meet a man who would respect my situation, love my little girl, and understand and my priorities and obligations to my daughter coming first in my life, – here I was cursing, and rolling my eyes at his lack of attention he gives me, the lack of time and cash he is able to spend taking me out, when he is doing exactly what I have been struggling through, just DOUBLED.!! He is amazing!

    This really hit home. How selfish was I being?
    Dating a single Dad is the biggest blessing for me. Someone who adores his children, and selflessly gets along with his ex wife without drama, puts all of his material wants and wishes aside so they can have what they need for school and sports… somewhere in between I have faith that we will eventually get some time for each other, and maybe have our fourth date (and maybe some wild sweaty fun with no clothes?) but until then I am just cheering next to the dugouts, watching the uneven bar routines, reading for the reading logs, making homemade volcanoes, renting movies, playing playstation, and overall just counting my blessings and thanking God, or the barista at Starbucks that day we met and mixed our drinks up. I am just thankful I think me and my little girl have found “the one”…..no, no….. wait for it, wait for it…… we found “the three” <3 <3 <3

    thanks again for the awesome read. I followed on facebook, cant wait to continue reading more.

  10. John, first of all, I haven’t spent much time online seeking answers for my many questions since my divorce (3 years!) – it’s been a busy time keeping my head above water – but thank you and thank the heavens for your HuffPo/GoodMen posts. I’m eternally grateful.

    One question I’ve had for some time: I’ve struggled with calling myself a “single dad”, as I’m a 50/50 co-parent. I’ve been told by many (mostly female) friends that being a “single parent” entails having sole custody, or, at the very least, primary residence and being mostly responsible for the children. Despite my belief that by footing the bills (ex didn’t work until last year) and directing their education and extra-curriculars, I feel like I’m doing some heavy lifting on my own. What are your thoughts about this ?

    I don’t know if this is the right string to be asking this, but thanks either way…

  11. Wow, I am really impressed with your insightfulness! Great work! You can include me in any of the further areas of topics for discussion.

  12. I am a single woman who does not have children dating a single dad and we get along wonderfully. I am interested in his life, he is interested in mine. We find connection in many different ways, including his kids.

    He is very open and kind hearted. Thankfully neither he nor I wrote each other off based on me not having children yet. We would have missed out!

    The way you explain how you date in this post, makes me very glad that I never had to go through your “tail wagging” process. Because mine wouldn’t have waged at all.

  13. I’m a newly divorced and uneducated woman. I have been a stay at homemaker who helped my husband stay organized with his insurance business. The last few years I have been a caretaker for my elderly parents. I am scared to be on my own. Although I lived my adulthood very frugally, I’m afraid of not being able to provide for myself and fear being alone. I married young and had no experience prior to my husband. I grew up in an east European immigrant household. My mother had emotional shortcomings such as not fully loving me based on her superstion of the day I was born etc. My father left us children for weeks at a time without food etc. My childhood was dark and sad. As a girl and teenager I dreamed of meeting Prince Charming. I now know that it seems so childish and premature in the idea of that happening; however it was what got me through most days. I believed God’s plan for me was to be a happy caregiver and lovely wife. I was sexually molested at five by my father’s friend that had come to live with us, therefore, I never could trust anyone else raising our two boys. So I thank my ex husband for wanting me to stay at home with them as well. It’s all I really wanted in life. But now here’s the problem. I’m 40 and have had no true career.

    The good news is that I’m healthy, and naturally pretty and still have a great figure. God did bless me with being attractive. Lol But the only guys that have approached or have shown interest in me are guys that just want to have sex or are interested in just having another attractive woman by their side. Also, I take great pride in only having slept with one man, but what are my chances of finding a man that has the same old-fashioned values as me??? Ugh

    Feeling Lonely, Confused and Lost

  14. Hi John,

    Great article! Thank you. I have a couple of questions.. as far as co-parenting goes, what do you think is an appropriate relationship with one’s ex? Doing joint family activities and events is understandable, but do they have to keep chit-chatting and posting family pictures of each other on social networking sites in front of friends, family and myself? It doesn’t benefit their 8-year-old daughter (she’s not even online). I get trying to stay friends, but at one point, don’t you need to give space for the new relationship to grow? Would be interesting to know your thoughts. Thanks! Yvonne

  15. I have started to date a single dad of teenagers! I have asked to take it slow, but he seemed to want to go exclusive fairly rapidly. I am a single mother of a 20 yr. old who lives with me. I have more freedom with my time than he does with his two children, and his devotion to his daughter is sweet. I am in the stage where I have to go with the flow and see if he keeps pursuing me as their are lulls in his texts and calls. The dates have gone well(no sex) just lots of affection and kissing as we are getting to know each other on my insistence. When I dated childless men, I did everything I could to rally my resources to care for my child while I went out on a date. It meant getting to go out for 4 hours and then going to get my little one. Somehow, my single dad seems to jump at the beckon call and spontaneous planning of his teens. Is it simply devotion to satisfying their needs, (usually a spontaneous movie, or night out with dad who pays…) or does he need to teach them boundaries such as in “when I make plans for me, I don’t want you interfering with making plans that require me to pick you up and cut my date short”… What do you think? All things are possible if one resourceful.

  16. I completely agree with John McElhenney, This is a great write-up, though some are imaginary per your statement in answers, you did pour the inner thoughts of a Single Parent Dad. I am a single parent with two kids, my thoughts are inline with you.

    While i am not in to dating or anything due to the very fact i my kids needs all attention from me as i am playing a dual role amidst my work schedules, i still do feel if i am in to this “Yes what you said is 100% correct”. I accept the fact about introducing the kids, this should be the very well placed in the order of events once a major decision to next step is done and only after that.

    Many a times, a Single parent dad is not a choice for even a Single parent mom, world worships a single parent mom, but i have never even seen a heart felt remembrance of such people anywhere, People who know us , recognise the value we put in to raise the kids, however there is no where the world recognises it. Without a father, the child would have not come in to this world, i do agree that women go through labor pain etc,. However the single parent Dad’s story is always an unsung and unheard story.

    Honestly many think that divorced/separated and single are sex freak-outs, No – not at all, we are the most responsible and realistic people when it comes to sex and relationships.
    Thanks again for the great post! much appreciated!!

  17. Number 3, “you’re into mom’s”
    “At our age kids are either a choice you made or one you didn’t.”

    That is so NOT true. I don’t have children and it was not my choice. I wanted them desperately and it didn’t happen in my first marriage.
    Now I’m older and out there and most men my age do have children. It’s hard, there is a lot more balancing to do with that dynamic in a relationship. But just because a woman isn’t a mom, shouldn’t mean you automatically dismiss her.
    You might just find the woman who couldn’t have her own but has so much to give yours.

    • Yes! You put it a lot better than me. I can’t have my own children. I adore kids (I have tutored for years, write kid’s books, babysit as much as possible, I love talking to them – they have an amazing perspective on the world, and have the energy of a five year old myself), but I know I will never be able to have my own. I would be more than happy to date/marry into a pre-made family and take on the role of mother. But it’s rare that a) the man is willing to date a non-mother and b) the ex girlfriend/wife isn’t still on the scene. It’s a difficult one.

  18. i don’t get ur fear of single women that never had a kid?! If the person is single, no kids, no siblings and don’t want all that ok.. But there are plenty of girl out there.. single, no kids but want a kid or understand.. kind of selfish of u.. it’s like I will only date moms because I think I can talk to her about my kids and my ex actual relation.. get real.. u can’t.. nobody want to hear about ur story, because moms sometimes have it worse and u don’t want to listen to them…

    I kind of like the other article about single dads and dating.. specially when u explain that they don’t play games..

  19. I absolutely love kids, but can’t have my own for medical reasons and can’t afford to adopt. I would be happy enough with or without children, although I come from a huge family so I grew up with big gatherings and parties and would prefer that sort of life. But men my age (or even 10 years older) either want to sleep around or want a woman who can give them children. I can appreciate wanting your own biological kids and don’t blame them at all, but it means my dating pool of single guys is severely limited. If you state you can’t have children, you are contacted by either men wanting hookups and not a relationship or adult boys who want a mother figure for themselves.

    I would have no issue dating someone who already had children, although my concern would be that they (both the father and the child) would never consider me as a parental figure. I suppose it is dramatically different if the biological mother is not around and you can literally jump in and provide that role for them. That would be the perfect situation for me. I would have no problem loving that child as my own, much in the same way that I would if I adopted. However, I know in most cases the mother is very much around and I would never have much if any say over the parenting. I would be more of a big sister/aunt figure and act as a third hand for the ex-wife/girlfriend. That makes it a lot harder.