Oh, how the dating world has changed over the years, especially with the vast majority of communication going digital. And though everyone is probably pleased that the cheesy pickup lines from the bar are long in the past, the introduction of two souls through swiping is very much the reality of the world’s dating scene. Perfecting your digital persona is just as important as your physical presentation when it comes time to unveil yourself the world. But with all the well-thought-out selfies floating around on the dating apps, where does a dad fit into the mix?
My own equivocal journey may offer some guidance concerning what to do and what to avoid. Well, mostly on what to avoid.
First, I think it’s important to mention that I don’t regard myself as a single dad, I am a dad that is single. I believe that if someone asserts themself as a single dad or mom it implies or should indicate how badass the person is because they are trying to raise a child or children and simultaneously live life on their own. Not to take away from a parent that is single, but there is some help out there, especially in the era of co-parenting; there is a chance for the non-parenting parent to get out on the town or spend the night swiping with Tiger King playing in the background.
To get yourself back out on the market the easy answer is of course to hit the dating apps. But with close to 1,500 to choose from, how do you pick from Tinder, Bumble, Christian Mingles, Farmers Only. or J-Date? And that’s just scratching the surface. I’ve been a dad that’s single for over 6 years now, as my daughter’s impending arrival came from a phone call from an ex-girlfriend, so maybe that even puts me in a whole other classification of a never-married dad that’s single? Regardless, over those 6 years, I have given Tinder, Bumble, Match, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Hinge a try from the couch and even talked to a few individuals in person (crazy, right?). And with each app, I have bounced back and forth between choosing the filter that indicates that I’m a father while certainly never showing any photos of me and my little girl for the sake of her privacy.
First, I think it’s important to mention that I don’t regard myself as a single dad, I am a dad that is single.
I’ve had some success with Tinder and Bumble, neither of which indicate that I come as a package deal. The first go-around was with Tinder when my daughter was about a year old and living in a different state at the time. We swiped, we Tinder chatted and then moved onto real texting before the first meet up. At this point, I don’t even remember what we did for the meet and greet, but I guess it went well enough to schedule a second date, though by then I had not relinquished my tiny little secret. The second date came as I was house-sitting a home with an amazing kitchen, so I offered to cook. Dinner was cooking, the conversation was great and then we started talking about Tinder and what the immediate turnoffs were. She started to mention that if she saw a guy with a picture of a kid or profile indicated he had a kid, there was no chance. And before she said anything too embarrassing I stopped her and told her I had a daughter. There was definitely an initial shock value and because we hadn’t eaten yet, and she stayed through dinner. But there didn’t seem to be any problems or reasons to run out the door quite yet.
I explained my situation of how I got a phone call from an ex-girlfriend and that my daughter had recently moved to California (where we all reside now) with her mother to live with the mother’s family for extra support. The dating continued for about 6 months and was pretty great. Perhaps it worked because my daughter was not present and I was essentially any other single guy aside from weekend trips to California and trying to FaceTime with a 1-year-old.
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Moving to California was and has been a real test of every aspect of life and dating has been no different. Aside from my daughter and her mother, I moved to San Diego not knowing anyone, so one of the few options was to hop back on the apps to find a “friend” Nothing panned out initially and maybe it was because I was about as far from the SoCal image as one could be. I was still wearing plaid shirts and dreaming of snow while the beach body selfies hit the internet. And then there is the whole going out situation, something that I’d never been a fan of. I’ve always been on the happy hour schedule: hit it hard from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., mingle for a bit afterward, then home by 8 p.m. and asleep by 10 p.m. — absolute beauty. I did meet a girl at a wedding which turned into a 2-year relationship that recently ended, but maybe it never stood a chance given that she lived in New York City, which is just about as far as one could be from San Diego. But she was different, the first night she saw who I was and I wasn’t afraid to say I was a dad and had a 4-year-old girl at the time. Maybe it was the booze, but from that night on life was good and we’d fly across the country to see each other and by about the 4th time she came to San Diego, she met my daughter.
The first meeting is tough on both parties and certainly the parent. With a kid, you’re no longer dating for yourself. Everyone you date, you have to think about them as a potential parent to your child and the very least, someone that will be a part of their lives. And as things move along and you’re starting to get comfortable with your new friend, there has to be time dedicated to spending time as a potential new family. If my girlfriend didn’t get along with my daughter or vice versa, it wouldn’t work. And a new addition to Saturdays at the park has to be okay with everyone as well. I’ve been told it’s hard to walk into a family and become part of their bond and I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to find that balance in the past and equally distribute the love when everyone was together.
After 2 years of long-distance dating, the relationship ended. And being single again, I did what everyone does: went out on the town and partied like it was my senior year of college. I focused my attention elsewhere, got a new job, and even opened a few apps again. Bumble seemed to be the ticket this time around and after some time the texting began. All the same basic questions to make you seem interesting and prolong the digital relationship so you continue checking your phone, hopeful for a response. Though for me specifically, enough with the texting, let’s just go get a coffee and play this out like real people.
But alas, another dating-app relationship had started without knowledge of me being a dad. Though this time around it was not more than 20 minutes into the first date that I revealed I was a father and that was only to match her telling me she was still “technically” married. Seemed like a level playing ground. The dating continued for a bit, though she said she was not ready to meet my daughter. And in all reality, I wasn’t ready for her to meet my little girl anyway. Eventually, the relationship concluded on the basis of her still not showing interest in my other half and her unavoidable preoccupation with her pending divorce.
The first meeting is tough on both parties and certainly the parent. With a kid, you’re no longer dating for yourself.
That was a few months ago and now I find myself in a similar situation with a few new variables. First, I still really don’t know when to tell a woman that I’m a father. I just feel like if that information is sitting on an app for someone to read there are too many misconceptions that can form. But I don’t really like hiding anything, either. I guess I like the idea of a date or two to get to know someone before they need to know that aspect of my life. Two, am I really going to hop on the apps again? But if not that, am I going to force myself to go out or sign up for some group gatherings? That is a toss-up, especially given that earlier-mentioned preference for being home by 8 p.m. Three, I have a kid, and do I really want to have another at this stage of my life? I don’t think so. The idea of having a middle schooler and a newborn does not sound appealing and call it selfish if you like, but I’ve played the baby game with the diapers, sleepless nights, and loss of the ability to do much of anything else I’d like to keep as an element of the past. And with that, it does throw me into a smaller dating pool as at 35 years of age with a 6-year-old. I’m still in that 29-40 range where many would still like a child of their own. While I’d be happy to acquire another existing child, I just don’t think I’m in for starting from scratch. Four, Netflix and legitimately CHILL.
When it’s all said and done, I don’t believe dating is all that easy for anyone and often you fall into relationships of circumstance such as the kind that involve another member of a friend group or a friend of a friend. I still like the idea that there is someone out there for everyone, but I guess I have yet to figure out the dating dad game and how to be the guy I want to be for everyone simultaneously.
I may not be in a position to offer much advice, but I hope that by detailing my dating life over the last few years, this account may help other dads who are single and are working through similar issues. So if you’re in the same boat, keep your chin up, and I’ll keep mine up as well.