Tag Archives: dating a single parent

What a Divorced Dad Wants in the Next Relationship, Year 3!

whole-lonebench

Dating is not enough.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will surely miss it.

My goal in dating, in setting out a dating plan, was to wind up in a relationship. I don’t like dating. I didn’t like dating. And now that I’m set to remarry in March of 2017, I can tell you, while the process was not unpleasant, I prefer being IN a relationship to searching for one. Let’s get caught up.

Dating a Mom
I said this was of critical importance to me in my next relationship. Both the women I dated before finding my fiancé were moms. And I assumed that being a mom was a requisite for dating me, because I assumed that the “mom” gene was required to understand the “dad” gene. I was wrong. My fiancé can accept my dad role along side my mate role. They are not mutually exclusive, but one is not more important than the other. In fact, as I began to date my fiancé it became more and more clear to me that establishing my next relationship was as important as being a good dad. And in several years, my kids will be going off to college and all I will have is my relationship. I determined that getting the relationship right, regardless of kids was more important that if the woman had kids of her own. Date the woman, if she has kids or does not have kids is just part of the equation.

Going Long Term
As I stated early on in my dating adventures, I was not “into dating.” I was looking to be in a long-term relationship. (LTR) My dating activities were focused with that in mind. If chemistry was lacking on the first date, it was also the last date. I wasn’t interested in creating the next relationship. I wanted sparks and fire and excitement right from the start. I wanted spunky, adventurous, creative, and beautiful all wrapped into one package. I was not going to setting for “all right” or “nearly.” I was either all in or all out. I learned to streamline my dating process by using this rule: If I didn’t see a future in the relationship there would be no second date. Sure, people warm up to each other over time. But chemistry and initial attraction were part of my program. And when I went out with my fiancé I got all of my wishes in spades. Even as I was telling her, I was really not looking for a relationship, she was blowing my circuits with her charm, smiles, and wit. She knocked my socks off from the first Facebook text. And things have not slowed down one bit.

Going Too Fast
When you know it’s right, when you both know it’s right, there’s no need to hesitate. Jump into it. If you’re going to blow up, blow up big and soon. Why piddle about and “see” if things are going to work out? We jumped at the assumption that everything was going to work out, and the attraction and compatibility we felt early on was all the signal we needed. Granted we were both in the right position, we were both looking for NEXT, and we were both open to a long-term relationship. As they say, “Timing is everything.” When the timing was right with us, we were planning a trip to New York City together within the first six weeks together. BOOM. Don’t hesitate or you might miss it. Don’t doubt the magic, if you feel it lean into it, and if it goes away or fails, you will know you took your shot.

Sweating the Small Stuff
We’ve always maintained our eyes on the big relationship picture. We can disagree on several things while still maintaining our balanced love for one another. She can irritate me, and I can trigger her anger, and we know we’re bigger than any of the little misses. We have the BIG CONNECTION figured out. The little misses, the irritations, the things left undone and unsaid, can be repaired in the wake of the huge love we feel towards one another. If you’ve got big love, the little details will work themselves out.

About Those Kids
My fiancé does not have to be best friends with my kids. They don’t have to love her like a second mother. We don’t have that kind of relationship between the four of us. She is Martha, they are my kids. We all have a relationship together. Sometimes they are the priority, sometimes it’s Martha, sometimes it’s myself. But it never gets confusing because we are not jockeying for position. We all love each other. She loves my kids because she loves me. They love her because they have seen the transformative effect she’s had on my life. We are all happy. And we are all individuals in a relationship with each other. There’s give and take on the weekends they are with me. There is more flexibility and freedom on the weekends when they are with their mom. What we do have is time. And the time I get to spend with all four of them is of peak value. And when I most feel like a family is when we are driving somewhere in the car together and the kids are rolling their eyes at our overt displays of affection for one another. “I’ll get to be so lucky,” I say, to see you guys in love in the future. They get it. We all get it. We are a family of individuals who come together on alternate weekends to be a family. There’s plenty of flexibility in that and plenty of togetherness.

Looking to the Future
The kids will be moving past high school and moving out sooner than I imagine. I am going to eat up all the together time with them that I can. While I have the opportunity to be with them, I will show up 110% for them. And as they reach escape velocity I can focus even more on my primary relationship. We’ve started talking about retirement, dreams, next big plans. And we’re 100% in sync. Life after kids will not be a lot different that life today, but we’ll have even more time to explore things together. And when possible we’ll invite my kids along for the ride.

As you look to build the long term relationship with a spouse, remember your kids are important, and in some ways they are priority number one, but that will change over time. As you become less of a priority in their lives, as they move on to college and their own lives, you will be left with what’s next. Make sure you are building the NEXT that you want. As I was looking at dating a woman, I was ever conscious of the next I wanted to build together. Today I have that and it gives me great hope and joy for the future.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Dating After Divorce

Related Posts:

In Relationship with a Divorced Dad: Ground Rules

WHOLE-dancing A woman responded to one of my Single Dad Want posts with a very moving and impassioned comment. (See the comments) And as I was writing the response I realized I was beginning to write the next post about relationships. So I moved it here, as a post.

Lucky, I really like your comment. Your man, your divorced dad, is lucky to have someone so understanding. And while I only have limited experience with being on the dad’s side of the experience, I do have a little knowledge of what you speak.

There are plenty of single parents who use their kids to get out of almost every obligation. Even obligations to themselves, for say… exercise, dating, taking responsibility for their own actions. And I have been the dad who apologized for checking his phone when a text dinged while on a date. I don’t think I will always do this, and there are certain moments when the phone definitely needs to be turned off, but while my kids are still in pre-college school, I’m at least going to make sure there is no emergency. That’s the deal with me.

As a single dad I do understand that my kids are a priority. That’s a given. But kids can be used as an unhealthy defense mechanism as well.

But then there is my response and my boundaries with both my kids and my ex that must be understood and enforced as well. I am available 24/7 for emergencies. But when the text dings and it is, in fact, one of my kids… Well, at this point I have several options. Let’s take this from the perspective of a FIRST DATE, rather than a developing relationship. In a first date you are trying to make an impression. That “best behavior” should be the formula for the relationship going forward. Certainly things change as dating evolves into a relationship, but let’s take the first date as our benchmark for good behavior, especially on the single dad’s side of the dinner table.

SCENARIO ONE: CRISIS
If I determine that the issue is a crisis that requires a response, I will apologize, explain the situation briefly, and respond with a text or phone call. From that point on, you should treat it like an unexpected emergency. Everyone’s agenda and desires take a backseat to the first aid and trauma response. (“Your daughter has fallen on the playground and needs to see a doctor.”) And beware that many requests can be setup like a crisis, (“Dad, I need my science binder by 3rd period tomorrow, I left it at your house.”) when they are actually poorly formed requests. Your willingness to let these types of requests become new plans can tell a lot about healthy boundaries and good parenting skills.

SCENARIO TWO: REQUEST
The text could be a request from one of the kids or the ex. “Dad can I go home with Kate after school today?” And depending on the situation, you can choose to ignore (The discussion that evening, “You needed to ask me the night before, we’ve already got plans.”) or respond. But it’s not a crisis. And if you ignore it no one will be hurt. Frustrated perhaps, but not hurt.

SCENARIO THREE: THE EX DROPS THE BALL
“Dad, I need someone to pick me up after the cross-country meet and I can’t get Mom to pick up.” Things happen. We make mistakes. And between strained ex-parents, there can be some manipulation and control going on. Let’s assume the best. In this scenario, the kid needs a ride. Whatever the situation, the Mom is incommunicado, a problem that might need to be addressed at a different time, and a solution needs to be provided. “Okay, count on me to be there if we can’t get your Mom to respond. I’ll keep trying her, and you do the same. But OF COURSE, go to your cross-country race, we will figure it out.”

SCENARIO FOUR: I’D REALLY RATHER…
Kids can be an excuse to get out of anything. Sorry, but it’s true. If your divorced dad is always breaking plans because their kid is sick, getting an award, has a recital… Well, you might want to see why you’re no longer a priority. Don’t let his kids become an excuse. Make sure the two of you have a chance to establish enough rapport that you can ask, “Dude, if you don’t want to go to this event with me, just say it.” Kids can be the easy way out. I’ve done it. I’ll probably do it again. Sorry. It’s often easier than a confrontation. But if you’re avoiding the confrontation because “his kids need him all the time.” That might be the issue right there.

SCENARIO FIVE: KIDS AS AN EXCUSE
Very similar to number four. When used in relationship the “excuse” is often used to recover from a miss of some sort. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you last night. The kids got home and all hell broke loose.”  That might be okay, if your call was just a “nighty night” check-in, but if you were scheduled to talk about living arrangements, that might be an example of using the kids as an excuse for not taking responsibility.

SCENARIO SIX: PLAYFUL KIDS WILL BE KIDS ONLY SO LONG
Kids are our singular priority as parents. As I move into a relationship with another woman I know that too will become a priority. I’ve never really gotten past the dating phase, so I personally haven’t had to cross this bridge. But I do know, that I push back on my kids all the time. They ask, they demand, the whine, they want all kinds of things. That’s what kids do. And I know that if I have an opportunity to PLAY with my kids, at this point in my life, I’m going to choose that, whenever possible.  But in a primary relationship I also want to PLAY with my partner. The balance between these two desires of mine is more about respect and courtesy than it is about being divorced or not.

Don’t make your kids the reason not to explore a new life, a new relationship, and the new intimacies that may open up a whole new future for you and them, eventually.

As a single dad I am just now entering in a new dating relationship with a woman who does not have kids. I can feel the pull. We have already had moments of “oh shit, your kids are there, I’m sorry…” and “don’t worry about the kids, they are in their rooms studying.” If I try to imagine her point of view I’d be projecting, so I’ll stick with mine.

As a single dad I do understand that my kids are a priority. That’s a given. But kids can be used as an unhealthy defense mechanism as well.

And as I have stated that I didn’t think I’d be interested in dating a woman who was not a mom, I’ve had to revise that statement, based on new information. My fear about dating a woman without kids is more about boundaries and time management. It’s not about her being a mother or not. It’s not about her wanting more of my attention or not. The issue is about MY management of MY relationship to my kids and my ex-wife and HER.

I can use the kids to get away with murder. With a single mom as a date I know that she will understand when the kids trump our plans. However, with a date who is not a single mom, the same rule applies. Kids MIGHT trump our plans, but I am always willing to talk about it. And I am perfectly capable to make decisions based on a requests and a crisis in the moment.

My goal then, is to keep all requests out of crisis-mode. And keep all boundary discussions about us and not the kids. The real answer is: As a single parent I have responsibilities to my kids that will trump all plans 100% of the time. However, I will never use those same responsibilities to disrespect you or avoid my commitment and responsibilities to you. An emergency will be evaluated on a case by case basis, and I will always attempt to let you know the real story.

I will try to say, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m just tired and I don’t want to go,”  rather than, “Oh, they moved the parent-teacher conference without telling me, I need to bail on the opera.” I’ll simply say, “Sorry darling, I don’t like Opera.” We can take the negotiations from there.

Never use your kids as an excuse, unless you simply need an excuse. But don’t make your kids the reason not to explore a new life, a new relationship, and the new intimacies that may open up a whole new future for you and them, eventually.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

Dating a Divorced Dad Series started here:

related posts:

image: dance, incase, creative commons usage

The 5 Stages of Dating Again After Divorce: Letting Go of Expectations

WHOLE-couple

I’m not all that good at dating yet. I mean, I don’t really know how to BE. I try to be “myself” of course, but I’m too involved, to hyper, to talkative. I don’t listen as well as I should. But the part of the problem, that I’m just beginning to understand, is my habit of projecting any “potential” relationship off into some imaginary future. What I mean is, I sometimes have a problem staying present.

If we both felt a “yes” we should both want to feel it again, soon.

The fact that most of my adult life, post college, was spent married is a good place to start. I’m new at this “dating” concept. When I was last on the dating scene things were a lot different. I was more interested in sex than in “relationship compatibility.” I need to reframe my expectations and assumptions about dating vs. relationships. I’m going to attempt an exploration of what is going on in my head, to help illuminate (mostly for me) my issues and see if I can get some traction underneath the “issues” to them to let them go.

1. Before We Ever Meet

The process of meeting potential dates these days is “easier” but also more distracting. We’ve gotten online dating down to a “hot or not” process. And I’ve met plenty of “hots” that were not. And more women who were quite attractive who had nothing in common with me. The question, “Why am I here,” was a constant refrain in my early dating experiences, as I jumped at the opportunity with anyone who looked interesting. Notice the emphasis on look.

Looks are deceiving. Of course they are, because the outward appearance has very little to do with what is going on inside the person’s head. And with most of these “pretty dates” I never got to any expectations or projections because I was disinterested within the first 5 minutes. Sad when the extent of a person’s conversation is work, working out, and television. “But their profile seemed so lively,” I thought. Upon returning home I’d go into forensic mode and scour their online profile to see what I missed.

What I’ve decided about online dating recently is that it’s a distraction. Profiles are full of great things just like your fortune cookie after a nice Chinese dinner. You can see things in the words and pictures that can fire up your imagination, but it’s 100% made up. Until you meet there is no such thing as chemistry, or connection. All the texting and flirting via email and even phone calls are moot the second you meet in person. If I’m going to schedule a date these days the woman has to absolutely amaze me before we meet. THEN we might have some touch points in the real world. “Meh” dating is done. (See: Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution)

2. On the First Date

I believe the chemistry is either a “yes” or a “no” with little room for middle ground, or “maybe.” In the first minute, perhaps much quicker, I think two people sum each other up in their animal brains and either get a tail wag or no tail wag. It’s a lot less about what type of person we think we’re attracted to and a more about instinct and dog-like reactions. If both people start out with a tail wag, then you have the potential to begin exploring what’s next. When the hit is strong neither of you will ever have to ask, “What’s next?”

We need to see each other under the duress of regular life to understand how we deal with things.

For me, it’s what happens after the tail wag that is illuminating. Even in those first minutes together my mind is jumping all over the map of the future. I don’t think we can help it, actually. I’ve begun watching my brain on “yes.” My fantasy maps all kinds of odd things from “do they play tennis” and how would they look in a tennis skirt, to are they creative, do they have other passions that can balance our time together? I am fascinated by the things my animal brain locks on to, again in almost dog-like fashion: a dark glint in their eyes, a soft vulnerable spot on the side of their neck, a whiff of their perfume and the intimacy it unlocks.

And I continuously try to pull my attention back to the conversation even as my blood is rushing into dusty areas of my body. And I use little tricks to bring my focus back to the present and what she is saying. I will try to repeat a tiny portion of what she just said as a connector. “Yes, I love the Spanish poets too.” The real trick is stopping the projections into the future. I have an internal mantra going, STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, REPEAT. It’s not that mechanical, but I’m aware of how whacked out a YES date can get me. I do my best, but if my animal brain is turned on, I’m not as clear as I’d like to be. If we’re both in a semi-intoxicated space, we’ve really got to move carefully and slowly.

3. Following Up

As we are wrapping up our date I start to notice how she is responding. Is there a smile on her face or are the closing moments tinged with anxiety? I’d like to know immediately if there’s a mutual tail-wag, but it’s not necessary to ask. The signal is in the “what’s next” question. It’s best if you don’t have to ask it. When there is a pull to connect both people will be making space for the next date to happen. In that last goodbye do you feel a warm fuzzies or is there a lack of resonance? That’s probably your best indication of where things are, unspoken feelings. The words often mislead. Too often you say, “Okay, so see ya later.” And what that means is, “Probably not.”

If you get a “see ya later” rather than a “What about Wednesday?” you’re probably not a match. I think the YES happens fairly soon, and if you are interested in a relationship and motivated by the chemistry, you’re really not going to just let the person scoot away without securing a “next” time. And if it’s you, don’t wait, ask. (I do understand that I am extraverted, so I’m always the one seeking the answer, and a more subtle and introverted date might need some time to sort through all that’s happened, so I don’t push.) If we both felt a “yes” we should both want to feel it again, soon.

4. Getting Into the Groove

Beyond the “dates” comes the relating. Relationships are what happen between the dates. Dating is like a performance, a show, a wooing process. But once you’re wooed and have seen enough of the other person that you’d like to give it a go, you now have an opportunity to just be together. The mundane life tasks are what can illuminate a person’s approach to relationship and the bonds and boundaries you can expect as things move forward. For example, if you have to eat dinner every night, and you’d like to also find time to be with this new relationship, you might start deciding how to share meals that aren’t dates. In my first relationship we got this part of the togetherness down. “I’m heading home in about 10 minutes, would you like to come over, I can grab some salad stuff at the store.” What a warm feeling that gives. Just being considered as part of the plan.

As you move into relationship you have to find ways to include the other person in your normal activities. Sure you want to spend weekends (as available) together, but what about all those other evenings and nights? (Single parents have another priority that can be seen as a gift or a complication.) It is in this ongoing negotiation and resetting of expectations that we start to uncover some of the fundamentals of our relationship compatibility. Does the other person freak out when something comes up and you can’t get together? Can you have a low-key evening together? What if the other person is just too tired to get together? Is that acceptable? Disappointments are part of life, how does this new partner deal with disappointments? Do they roll out of bed on the positive side of life or is there a sigh and struggle in the morning to get on with it?

We need to be co-captains in the navigation of dark and stormy waters as well as the high-noon-high-wind happy times.

Here’s where my expectations must be tossed out and I try to be with the other person as I would like to live. We need to see each other under the duress of regular life to understand how we deal with things. If little things throw the other person’s world into a tailspin that might be a good sign that you’re either going to be a caretaker or you need to move on.

In my experience, so far, I had a HIT on the relationship front and a miss on the sexual chemistry. And in my second relationship I had a HIT in desire and sexual enthusiasm but a miss in navigating life without drama and crisis. I don’t need any more crisis and drama in my life. That’s the antithesis of what I’m looking for.

In going slow, you can get s sense of how the other person navigates their life. And if we want to jump onboard with them, we need to see how things go when storms and seasons change plans and break expectations. A healthy relationship finds easy repair. The bond between you begins to build strength and not liability. What you’re looking for is a co-pilot, not a domineering captain. We need to be co-captains in the navigation of dark and stormy waters as well as the high-noon-high-wind happy times.

5. Back to the Drawing Board

I’m just learning these things about myself. I’ve learned there were a lot of things I overlooked in my two previous marriages. Now, as a single dad, I’ve got a pretty full schedule, and a built-in priority around my two kids, but I also have a space for nights and weekends with someone special. The latest re-discovery is that time alone, even when lonely, is better than time with someone who causes us to feel alone.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

related posts:

image: random date at maudie’s, john mcelhenney, cc 2014