How insanely difficult is it to date when you’re a single parent? Or maybe you’re considering dating one? It’s like an emotional roller-coaster that’s out of control and you’re not wearing a safety harness.
In the interests of full disclosure, I was a slightly obsessive dad. Was it part of a wider OCD issue, who knows? Don’t we all fall somewhere within that spectrum depending on how much something means to us?
Maybe it was because I was a kid who was bullied and for whom school was a constant ordeal. Perhaps it was guilt that my son had already faced more than enough upset and upheaval due to a messy divorce. I guess my connection to past trauma translated into a burning need to protect my boy as much as I could. That’s just natural though isn’t it?
In any case I started out thinking that if the right person was to enter our world, then maybe it wasn’t too late to start again; after all I loved being a dad above everything else.
As time wore on however, my occasional forays into the world of dating increasingly began to sap both my energy and optimism. Again, being completely honest here, I’ll take my fair share of responsibility for a level of self-sabotage that took place.
It wasn’t that I didn’t meet some great women, it was more that I could never seem to find the right balance in my mind and in my life; one at least that I felt was sustainable. There were certainly times when my need to overcompensate for being a one parent family may have clouded my judgement.
That said, there were also times when this personal obsession gave me the strength to make hard decisions and return to singledom, knowing that it was a safe haven for me and my boy.
Here were the 5 biggest issues that I faced as a single dad, I wonder if you’ve experienced any?
I fully respect anyone who genuinely suffers from this condition and don’t use the term lightly, but it accurately describes how I felt on many occasions. It was as though I was constantly being pulled in two different directions, in one as a doting dad, the other as an attentive boyfriend.
Depending upon the calibre of person I was seeing, or their level of life experience, it could literally mean that I had to flip an internal switch and section off which aspects of my personality they weren’t yet ready for. For some people who’ve not yet experienced parenthood, the reality of the role can be a strange one to comprehend and make allowances for, especially when dates have to be curtailed at short notice.
The easiest solution would have been to bring both together sooner, but that’s not how I roll. Easy isn’t always better, and I never rushed into introducing anyone to my son until I was fully comfortable that she was good enough.
That sounds terrible doesn’t it? But my son had to come first, and I wasn’t about to take any risks with his stability or happiness.
Trying to play two separate rolls, and having to switch between them at a moment’s notice when the phone rang was a nightmare. Two sets of wants, two sets of needs, too much to handle. It became all too easy to get lost somewhere in the middle.
I won’t attempt to preach to the converted. As I’m sure you’re fully aware of how much of a toll it takes juggling multiple responsibilities on a daily basis. Maintaining any kind of work/life balance can be the most Herculean of tasks, let alone taking on the additional role of boyfriend.
Parental responsibility comes first, and work is non-negotiable if you want to put food on the table. A relationship however isn’t an absolute necessity, and quite often can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when time management is a constant losing battle.
Don’t get me wrong I love the company of women, and many of my friends over the years have been female. There’s a big difference however between a platonic relationship and one in which there’s a level of commitment involved, and to put it bluntly, nakedness.
It adds a whole set of expectations that you’re now inextricably bound to. Regular contact across a spectrum of mediums, consideration of another person’s needs and feelings, and a requirement to spend quality time with one another.
Perfectly natural to expect this as a minimum standard in any relationship, but to a single dad whose already working at maximum capacity, it can be nothing short of overload. At least it was for me. The thought of adding another layer of responsibility to a life already busting at the seams was too much to even contemplate for the longest of times.
The joy of being a parent is the purest kind, and if that’s all we had to worry about then life would be bliss. Reality dictates that we’re never afforded that luxury, and mental well-being can literally hinge upon how you manage the responsibilities you take on board. When something has to give, the easiest choice is the relationship that isn’t a parental one.
Being a people pleaser at the expense of one’s own needs is exhausting. A conscientious parent rightly puts the needs of their child first; it’s the natural order of things. You become completely in tune with their moods and feelings, and you can sense when there’s a micro-shift in their energy. This allows you to anticipate problems and plan ahead for a solution, or just swoop in with a big old hug!
It’s actually a cool talent to have, and developing this highly tuned level of perception can be useful elsewhere within your life. It’s also a skill that has to be managed, as you must be wary of trying to please others in the way that you do your child.
Problems arise and personal identity begins to fade when the desire you have to please your child becomes your default mode. Sounds crazy unless you’ve been there, but let me assure you that it’s no small step to carry over your emotional risk assessing into your wider life, especially when you start dating.
Being brutally honest, taking the same level of responsibility within your adult relationships as you do within your parental role leaves you little or no room for your own needs. My inability to differentiate my approach found me slowly losing myself as I put my own wants and needs secondary to those of others.
It wasn’t intentional but a good parent learns not to be selfish, when sometimes you have to be, just a little, in order to remain whole. Losing a connection to your core identity leaves you hollow inside to the point where a relationship can’t fill the void.
Guilt was a huge obstacle for me to overcome, and in some ways never truly did. Elements of it still haunt me today when I look back and know I could’ve done things better. Hindsight can be a harsh prism through which to view the past, and it certainly pays to reflect with kindness on the struggles you may have been dealing with at the time.
Bear in mind, parenting provides just about the steepest learning curve one can ever experience. There’s no adequate way to rehearse for it, and no amount of preparation can offset the monumental chaos it visits upon your life.
So why do we feel so guilty when we fall short of perfection, especially when it’s arguably the intent that matters most? I suppose the answer is a purely personal one, and something each one of us has to come to terms with in our own way.
My guilt struck on many levels. I felt guilt that my son didn’t have a functioning two parent family. Guilt that I had to spend so much time in work. So much guilt because I often struggled to be at my best due to stress and exhaustion.
To find a balance I could live with, virtually every waking moment was spent overcompensating. So in my mind, to create yet another layer of guilt by spending time away dating, was a step too far.
I make no claim that my logic was sound. Only that it was mine.
Fear Of Failure
What if I can’t make it? What if I get ill? What if, what if, what if? When your life feels as though every day is a struggle and your entire position is built on sand, the fear of failure constantly lurks in the background.
When feelings of being overwhelmed are uncomfortably familiar, it doesn’t seem like such a big stretch to think that one extra component could push you over the edge. For me, a relationship represented that component, and very often didn’t feel like a risk worth taking.
The other aspect I wrestled with was a fear that if I did get into another relationship, it too could fail. This wouldn’t just impact myself but also my son, and I didn’t want to put him that position. A far easier choice was to turn my attention towards consolidating our current position and maintaining a very solid status quo.
Nothing ventured nothing gained is a familiar axiom, one that has merit, and a wonderful rationale if you can pull it off. At the end of the day though it all comes down to a perception of risk and reward, and whether what stands to be gained is worth taking a chance for at the risk of destabilising that which must be protected at all costs.
Check out 10 Reasons to date a single dad.