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What a Single Dad *Still* Wants in a Relationship (first 9-months)

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Don’t kill the heat by worrying about the fire damage.

This is a continuation of my *next* relationship concept started here:
What A Single Dad Wants in the *Next* Relationship

One of the things I’ve learned thus far is to never assume you have it figured out. This list has come back to bite me on more than one occasion. Sure, I’m okay with being a single-parent blogger and getting into the dating/relationship space, just a bit. And I’m okay with telling you I write about stuff, and might even write about our relationship should we hit it off.

Well, let me tell you how my last three months have gone. We hit it off, sort of. We hit some parts of relating in spades, and other parts, not so much. Here are a few more points that I’ve learned in the course of dating another single parent for three+ months.

1. Long-Term Relationship Or Bust

Saying that I’m only interested in a long-term relationship, or marriage is not very accurate. This was the first issue that freaked this woman out. She politely said, “We’ve got a lot of heat, but I don’t think I want the same things you want. I’m not looking to get married again. Ever. So if that’s your goal, you’d best keep looking.”


There was no argument. However, we were both sad when our chemistry and joy was absent again from our lives. And she texted later, “do you want to hit.” We were tennis buddies. And what unfolded from that “date” was an agreement that we would stay in the present and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Starting a relationship and having a Relationship are two different things. Couldn’t we just enjoy our present moment together? Sure, let’s try that.

I have had to recant my declaration of long-term quite a number of times. Though I know, what I want is a long-term relationship. Not a question for me. The question is, what does that look like? That’s the sticky wicket.

2. If You Stay Present You Won’t Get Scared

It’s the future that gives my friend the freak-out posture. The best-case scenario, even in her mind, is a bit diffuse. And it is also pretty abstract when I start thinking about next year, or two years from now. I’d like to still be involved with this highly intelligent woman, who I completely dig on all burners, but who knows… Right. Who knows? Certainly, we don’t know. We’re just starting out. But that’s our pattern and our fear that comes into our minds when we start mapping out too far in advance. And, in all fairness, it’s not necessary. NOW is it. Stop with the “what if.”

3. Making It Up As We Go Along

So we don’t really have a word for what we “are.” I don’t like dating, so I’m not dating her. She doesn’t like the idea of a long-term relationship so we’re not doing that either. Do we need an easy handle on what we are forming between us? No. Is it more convenient if you are able to say, my boyfriend and my girlfriend? Maybe a tad better than my lover, or my life-mate. But please, we’re splitting hairs. Do we like to be together? Yes. Are there things we like to do together besides fooling around in bed? Yes. Then do that. Do all of that.


4. Hold On Loosely

So she doesn’t want to read my love poems. She doesn’t need to read my blog. I don’t have to get my yayas by getting her to tell me I’m a good writer or a swell poet. I don’t need that reassurance. I’m okay with who and how I am. And she also doesn’t want to hear if I’m still looking for the next relationship, though she wants to be clear that she’s not it. Well, sometimes she’s okay with that. (Yes, she’ll be reading this at some point, and I’ll get her side of the story) We’re figuring that out too. What we are, what we will be. Who knows? If I think I know, I’m delusional. I have no idea. What I do know is we have an honest relationship. She’s able to say when she’s pissed off at something I’ve done or written. And I’m able to let her breakup demands roll off my shell until we’re able to meet in person and talk things out. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. And that’s fine.

5. Texting Is Dangerous and Lovely

The minute there is a misunderstanding on text, stop trying to figure it out or argue it out on text. STOP. Get face-to-face and talk. You cannot read a person’s attitude. You have no idea what is really going on when the text comes across saying, “I’ve gotten some very disturbing news.” Um, what? Just STOP. Trying to answer complaints, answer requests for reassurance, basically answering anything that has an edge to it, is very risky to continue via text. Our average is 1-out-of-10. Just forget about it and ask for a meeting. “Sweetie, let’s get together and talk about this.” That’s all you need to know. It’s never gone afoul when we are able to actually talk. Yet. (grin)

6. The First Three Months Are Not Reality

We’re still pushing boundaries, still finding rhythms, and still managing two single-parenting schedules to try to find time to be together. The good thing is we ARE trying to get together. We’re both trying. We both make efforts. And that’s enough for now. Just as the long-distance relationship has a tendency to create a honeymoon extension, the single-parent dating cycle is quite gated by our ability to find the time to be together. That’s probably a good thing.

7. All About the Kids

In the end, our kids come first. We’ve got to make them the priority. They are dependent on us and our availability. Our adult relationships are not. Your “dating” needs to be able to weather some disappointments. When the kid is sick and the date doesn’t go off as planned, it’s got to be okay. And that goes back to the idea of single parents dating other single parents. We get it. If at some point in the future we decide to blend our family lives more, we’ll have more insight into the inner workings of the other parent-child relationship. Until then, we should butt out of all things kid-related. Other than giving their kid priority access to them, obviously.

8. I Have No Idea

Where are we going? Why should I really be concerned about not knowing what the future holds in store for me and my special friend? There are over a hundred things that could upset the apple cart in the next three months. Why spend energy and time trying to figure the future out? Don’t. Go read some Power of Now. Go for a walk alone when your new partner can’t make it. In the end, go on about your lives as if…

As if the other person is just a nice-to-have and not a must-have.” Going that far, and putting too many expectations on the future of your relationship is enough pressure to blow it up right there. Don’t kill the heat by worrying about the fire damage.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Emily

    Oh john….sigh…
    Your posts mean a lot to me… They really do.
    I’m a single mum, of a very young awesome little dude…I’ve been (very slowly) dating a wonderful father of two preteens for a few months…. It’s been slow, it’s been confusing… This is my first real stab at dating post kid, post relationship… So many new dynamics.
    As my luck would have it, it appears I have met a truly wonderful, compatible, man, and father… But this is not “20-something-let’s- go-back-to-my-place-you’re-so-amazing-and-the-love-of-my-life-today” kind of dating… Which is where I was the last time “dating” was a thing I did.
    Your posts are grounding, reinforcing, inspiring, and sometimes a reality check.
    Thank you. Keep writing.

    1. jmacofearth

      Wow. I’m touched. Thank you so much for reaching out. It is encouragement that keeps me mining for a hot vein.

    2. Michelle

      this is wonderful, I am in the same boat. Sometimes I fall off track and feel neglected, but How incredibly lucky are we to have found these guys who selflessly surrendered “the scene” and the single bachelor life to take on full time sports events, school and homework, teenager lessons, sick days, cranky days, messy rooms, laundry and cooking.! Just incredible.
      And they still find enough love to share with us and our children!!
      Best Wishes :)

      1. jmacofearth

        Thanks Michelle, I haven’t found my next partner yet, but my kids are my priority. Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. jack

    I’m a single dad of two being divorced twice I don’t know if I even feel the need to date again I’ve given up on love and finding the right mate

    1. jmacofearth

      Sorry to hear that Jack. Eventually, my guess is, your heart will heal and long for another connection. Don’t be in a hurry. When you’re ready, you will know it. Or you might decide to stay alone, that’s okay too.

  3. LuckySchwartz

    I wonder if you’re still checking the comments from this Blog…I wish I’d found it sooner.

    I’m a child free woman in my 30s dating a divorced dad (same age) of tweens. He’s the first single dad that I’ve ever dated and it’s been wonderful and a struggle at times.

    He’s a family man who has his kids more than half the time and I’ve been understanding and patient. I’ll admit that I’ve been completely overwhelmed at times. There’s no guidebook to tell you how to navigate dating something with children. Google searching will get you the usual, “Be patient, be kind, understand that his kids come first, accept that his ex will always be a part of his life, etc.” These are surface statements that prepare no one for the nitty gritty.

    Lately I’ve been struggling with the differences in our schedules. He’s very busy and has a lot going on. We’ve been having scheduling conflicts recently (which I completely understand and can easily get over with a, “my bad”). It’s just the sense of parental entitlement that I struggle with. It’s as if having children completely absolves him of any consideration toward our plans or my time. Yes, kids have emergencies. Your ex might call with a change of plans. You’ve agreed to take your kids for the next two weeks at the last minute. You forgot that there’s an event at school. That’s all fine…just let me know when you can and say a quick sorry. I’m not unreasonable but it’s nice to think that the person you’re trying to build with values you too.

    Any reasonable person understands that children are a priority. I would never ask someone to choose me over their children. But why aren’t children a priority instead of THE priority? Things get crazy at work and you have to stay late a couple of nights this week. Doesn’t your priority become your job in that moment? Is it asking too much that you have a list of priorities that get shuffled around based on need? If your parent becomes ill, don’t they become THE priority for a time? If you have a relationship with someone you love, aren’t they THE priority when they need you? Children don’t always need you. They’re at school or a play date or with their mom and then your priorities can shift. When they grow up and leave the house to forge their own lives…wouldn’t it be nice to shift your focus to the person who has been by your side through all the ups and downs? Why does everything have to be so absolute?

    I don’t make demands on my man’s time. He’s got his own thing going with his ex-wife as far as the kids’ schedule is concerned but if you’re ready to date and bring someone into your life at what point do you shift your focus from “me and my kids” to all of us? How can you share a life with someone when you build this wall around “your” family while expecting your significant other to accept the role as tag-along?

    I recently told my boyfriend that I will see him and the kids on a set Thursday schedule. It’s the one day that we’re both available and things rarely pop up. We’ll leave the weekends open. I’m just trying to find a system that respects both of our time so that I don’t have to feel upset when I get blown off for a last minute basketball practice with no apology or recognition that we may have had plans. I also told him that if the time comes when he would like to start making plans with me rather than telling me about plans that he’s made with his ex…I’d be willing to re-evaluate the schedule and move forward with that.

    He seemed confused as to how the two of us could have a schedule and I suggested that when his ex calls with a last minute request (that’s not an emergency) he tell her that he’ll get back to her and then we can talk and I’ll be a part of the process. I have never asked him to pick me over the kids, I have never suggested that he not spend time with his kids, I have NEVER complained when he’s had his kids. I love that he’s an involved father. I would simply like to have some input in things that affect my time and my life. If our plans are going to change, I’d like to know as soon as possible rather than finding out in passing while talking to his daughter.

    There are two sides involved when dating with children and both parties deserve to feel respected, heard and appreciated…regardless of who has kids. My extra time can be an asset depending on how you view the situation.

    1. jmacofearth

      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.

      Your comment helped me write this post:

      Thank You,


    2. Karen

      I am trying to end it with a divorced dad after seeing him for nearly 2 years because he didn’t send a text when we had plans, kept me waiting, and then went home after being near my house (<3 miles). It wasn't a crisis; he was helping his niece with math homework. The only expectation I had of him was to be considerate and let me know when things came up.

      I tried to be understanding, flexible, considerate, but I don't want to be a woman who is OK with that that sort of disregard. In some ways, it seems petty, ending it over what is essentially one text, but that's not completely it. He didn't even want his kids to know he was dating. I was fine with taking more time with meeting them, but if the kids can't know it also means everyone else in his life can't know because it could get back to the kids.

      I'm heartbroken over this because otherwise it was a fantastic relationship. We seemed to be in the same place; we weren't in a rush, but I have to matter sometimes too. I don't have kids, but I always told him I knew his kids came first. I just didn't realize that I'd never get to be first and would always have to fit into the few empty corners of his life.

      1. jmacofearth

        Karen, yes you need respect and consideration. But perhaps your “ending it” can just be an opportunity for clarification. If the relationship was that good, maybe things can be worked out. Sounds like there was more than the text. But keep trying. And always stand your ground for what you need in any relationship. Thanks for your comment.

  4. LuckySchwartz

    I’ll just add this…

    Is it a divorce thing?

    I grew up in a home with married parents who both worked…at one point my mom went back to school on a sabbatical. They had hobbies and friends, they took vacations with my brother and me and they took vacations alone. They shuffled us to practices and lessons but still managed to do things that they liked. I grew up happy and healthy and loved but at no time did I feel like their lives revolved around me. Maybe it’s the guilt of divorce that makes single parents feel that their kids are the center of the universe? Are these kids going to grow up feeling entitled too? Good lord.

  5. rita

    I feel so many essential elements of a balanced and healthy partnership are missing from relationships between a single person and a single parent particularly when the single parent is really bad at parenting, prioritising, and lacking of proper perspective. First, with most single parents always saying “My Kids Always Come First” even if they are already engaged or married to someone are basically saying: you are not my partner in life, your needs are not equal to mine or the rest of my family, you are an outsider in this family, and you have no say in day-to-day and big decisions that affect your life too.

    I think if you are, say, only 30% available an committed to someone for whatever reason (because 70% of your time, devotion, loyalty, resources are for kids, ex-wife, etc) then the same rule that applies to anyone applies to you. You are not in the position to start a relationship with anyone. Uh, OK you are super dad and you think I should understand that I come in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th (after my kids, ex-wife, job) but what’s in it for me? You have to be some kinda superwonderful god for me to to want to be with you after that declaration. We have nothing against you having kids and being divorced, for sure kids should be loved and cared for and sure divorcee deserves a second chance in life, but it doesn’t mean they are a free pass for you to be a sloppy at being soulmate/lover/human being. You are “divorced dad/mom”, NOT Special.

    What about love, you say? What if you love me very much? See love is what you do, not what you say.

    I agree with Lucky about it being a “divorce thing”. There are parents that do not have this prioritization problem and their kids do not have drama over them being devoted spouses and not being there 24/7. I did notice that those who put the kids as center of their universe appear to have shitty relationship with their spouse or are just not in love with their spouse.

    1. Karen

      After the fiasco with the guy not texting me or stopping by after we had made plans when he was <3 miles from my house, we did have a talk. One of the things I asked for was an occasional weekend, one planned ahead of time, so we could go do something. That was back in Oct., I broke up with him in May partly because he never ONCE stuck to it. In fact, one month after the talk I bought tickets for a show and he then told me he wasn't sure he could make it cause of the kids. I was livid since he'd told me he'd arrange it, so I bought tickets. We did end up going but I had to get angry first and that's not the way I want to have a relationship. I want to matter! I want to be first SOMETIMES, ffs!! I never got another weekend unless the kids were already busy. Even then he wouldn't plan ahead of time.

      He couldn't tell his kids about me either which was a huge problem. He had been divorced over 4 years, had been seeing me for two, it never seemed reasonable or healthy to keep his dating from them for all that time. It certainly didn't help our relationship.

      Oh well, it's over. I don't think I'll even date a single dad again; not worth the hassle.

  6. Christine

    This is EXACTLY what I needed…dating post kid and divorce is completely different. You let me know it’s ok to not out labels on things, and take things slow. You write EXACTLY how I was feeling and what I’m experiencing…Thank you!

  7. Mandy

    What if they never talk about the future? I’m dating a fantastic dad for 8 months but he never talks about the future and at sixth months I asked him how he feels and he said men don’t like being pressured. How can I get him to tell me how he feels the relationship is going.

  8. Caroline

    I know this is an older post. But I think you just saved my “whatever we are doing situationship”. This reads just like what we are experiencing. He’s a great guy, amazing involved dad. He’s exactly who I would have wanted my kids dad to be like (alas not the case). I get frustrated and the seeming lack of direction when I look forward in time. But the now, the present, it’s great. I couldn’t ask for more. Thank you for putting this out there.

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