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‘I’m a single mother looking to date but don’t know where to start’

Ask Roe: It seems impossible to re-enter the world of dating, when my children are so young and there is so little free time

Dear Roe,

I have been divorced for over a year and have two young children. My ex-husband has moved abroad and so I am more or less solo parenting. I would like to have a new relationship in the not-too-distant future but I have no idea how to go about this. The nights I do get a babysitter, I tend to spend with friends, which I enjoy immensely. I am not against online dating but I don’t want to spend my rare free nights on what I believe would be a string on disastrous dates. Even if I were to meet someone, which seems unlikely, I can’t see how I would carve out the time to start a relationship. Should I put the whole idea on ice, and wait until the kids are teenagers before I consider dating again?

Dear Roe,

I am in my early 40s and was sadly widowed a few years ago. I have two young children, and my main focus since my husband died has been trying to guide them and mind them through this life-altering loss. I have also taken as much care of myself as I can (with counselling etc) as I want us to have a good life and not have the loss of their Dad define all our lives forever. We are all doing well, all things considered. I have amazing friends, we are well embedded into our community, and have a pretty good life. But I am lonely and I would love to meet someone new – but I wouldn’t know where to start with dating apps, plus it’s not like I have free time/weekends without the kids to casually dip my toe into those waters. So what can I do? I love my kids but I want more in my life.


I wanted to put these two letters together because there is not enough recognition of people who are dating after a loss or in the wake of a divorce. I understand that these circumstances are different and that grieving a death is very different from choosing to end a relationship, but I want to focus on what these circumstances have in common, and how you can start to move forward and seek out the connections you want in your lives.

You both reference dedicating your time and energy to your children, and there’s an idea here that being a mother can or even should be your only focus. But as mothers, you are role models to your children, and committing to some self-care, carving out some time for yourself, and pursuing a relationship when that is important to you are all ways of modelling self-loving behaviour to our children. Children adapt to circumstances and they learn the values and messages that adults model. It can be important for children to see that mothers are people, too, and that there is hope after difficult circumstances. Wouldn’t you like your daughters to see that having children doesn’t shut down their ability to embrace their selfhood? Wouldn’t you like your sons to have a role model to teach them to respect women not just because they are self-sacrificing, but because they are independent, autonomous, fully rounded human beings who date, who try, who hope, who draw necessary boundaries, who take some time for themselves?

I understand that you have limited time and you want to guard that, which makes sense. But guarding your time and guarding your heart are two different things

Invest in the life you want, and commit to trying to find what you want. This means thinking about what you want right now; are you ready to find a life partner, or are you looking to move slowly into the world of dating? Do you want some fun and romance and exploration? Think about what you want – and then commit fully to the process of seeking it out. This means prioritising it and remaining open-minded.

I notice that in both letters that are immediate dismissals of online dating, saying “you wouldn’t know where to start” and you assume it will result in “disastrous dates”. These are defence mechanisms. You start by picking an app and making a profile, and you don’t enter interactions assuming they will be disastrous, because that’s just a negative confirmation bias waiting to happen. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to meet new people, to learn about yourself, and to get closer to what you want. I understand that you have limited time and you want to guard that, which makes sense. But guarding your time and guarding your heart are two different things. The key to balance is remaining open-minded and open-hearted by entering the dating realm with hope – but being selective and mindful in your actions.

This means setting up a dating profile (or two) where you are clear about who you are as a person, what you’re looking for, and the fact that you have children. Immediately you have weeded out anyone who isn’t interested in what you want. If you connect with someone and are having nice conversations on the app, ask for a Zoom date or a phone call to see if conversation flows. If it progresses well, don’t feel obliged to immediately use your prime babysitter time or socialising hours – arrange a lunch date, or a coffee, or a morning stroll. First dates are just for seeing if you feel comfortable and want to see each other again, that’s it. Take the pressure off, and just explore.

Rope in your supportive friends. Ask them if they can watch the kids for an hour for those quick first dates, or, if they also have children, swap group babysitting duties once a month. If you want something other than the apps, ask your friends to go with you to a class or an event or even a speed-dating night. (Online forums or social groups for single parents are great places to find out about events where you might meet someone.) Bringing a friend means you get to spend time with them regardless of whether you meet someone; it’ll help alleviate anxiety; and they can be your wingwoman and help you strike up conversations. If you do meet someone and want to go on some evening dates, pick something you’ll really enjoy, so you’re investing not just in the outcome of the night, but the experience of it.

Later down the line there will be decisions to make about boundaries around your children, such as when to tell your children that you’re seeing someone and when to introduce them – but for now, focus on the first steps.

And when you falter and hesitate and doubt yourself, which you will, think about your children, years from now, recovering from loss or heartbreak and wondering if there’s any point in trying. What a wonderful thing if they could look loss square in the face and say “I know that I am worth prioritising and that I need to take care of myself as well as others. I know that I get to be a person as well as a parent. I know that love is always worth fighting for. I know, because that’s what my mother taught me.”

The best of luck.