Single Parent life and “Divorced Parent” life, which is just single parent life with baggage, alimony, and a never ending feeling like someone is haunting you, can be difficult even on the best of days. We don’t have someone to back us up when something goes wrong. We cannot afford to panic in any crisis. (Not that you should want to panic.) Our children need us to be both mother and father in their lives, when sometimes we have barely enough time being ourselves. Social interaction can consist of the philosophical debate about whether men ever really need to stand when they pee. And life becomes a never ending series of chaotic adventures where the parent becomes a cross between MacGyver and Indiana Jones. Duct tape and lost relics are our specialty. (Just not snakes. Please not snakes. Oh no! Why did my daughter’s mom get her a snake for a pet?)
So the subject inevitably comes up about us wanting to date. First, no one in their right mind wants to be alone for the rest of their life. In their left mind maybe. But never in their right. Even parents who do not date again until their children are grown need to have some social circle outside of the one they have around the bathroom, as Judy doesn’t want to leave the bathroom; Johnny demands that he gets two minutes in there to brush his teeth; and Steve sits there, laughing at them both. Grownup interaction is important, and dating inevitably becomes a part of this social interaction.
Secondly, the social group that you actually do have (your children), begin to put pressure on you to be in some kind of a relationship because they want you to be “happy.” This happiness can mean that they get to feel like they are somewhat normal like everyone else who has a “mother” and “father” around to tuck them in at night. It may be the happiness they experience because they are tired of having you remind them to pick up the room for the twentieth time, and they feel like someone else around might distract you from being supermom, or superdad. (This does not distract us from knowing that you didn’t clean up your room. We do know. We have eyes in the back of our heads; we can hear you from every inch of the house; and yes those black helicopters in the sky are for you.) They also want us to be dating to cure us from our loneliness. This is the hardest argument to fight against because it makes us go aww; yet we are hardly lonely, having our children around all the time.
Lastly, there is a lot of social pressure to be in a relationship that does not come from our kids. The church that I attend, for years, only considered people to be in the “zero” category until they were married. Who wants to be in the zero category? Seriously! People treat you differently when you are in a relationship, when you have kids. For women, this means you don’t have to be hit up by the boy behind the fast food counter at your local McDonalds for the umpteenth time. That pimple-faced jerk does not know that you can and will squash him like a bug, when you actually have the energy to do so. For men, it means that Judy at church no longer needs to come in and rescue you from your dire situation. (Speaking for both sexes, rescue relationships are horrible ideas. Period.) For both men and women, when you go out in public, no one has to treat you as defective, or some broken doll any more. Who wants to be considered Lots O’ Lovin’ bear from Toy Story 3? Really?
So we tepidly jump back into the dating scene to be able to fix our problems, or fix other people’s problems for thinking we actually needed to date in the first place. Wait. What? Why would we fix other people’s problems? Well, I think as parents we become fixer junkies. We get so used to fixing our kids problems that we don’t stop there. I wonder if there is some FA place. Fixer’s anonymous. Maybe it should be a thing.
So off we go into the wild blue yonder of dating. I know that we are probably likely to crash and burn, but we brave the unknown like the aviators of old. We are like the Amelia Earhart of daters. Crazy and maybe a bit unhinged, headed off for the wide blue Pacific Ocean of dating, never knowing when are going to crash and burn. But hey! We at least crash and burn in water right? That shouldn’t hurt as much. And what’s worse is that we are bigger risk takers than you think. For many of us, dating has changed markedly in the last 10 years. It’s not that they didn’t have dating sites 10 years ago, but they were few and far between. And for those who did do it, you were looked at like you were a cross between a grizzly bear, and a laughing hyena. People knew you were crazy. They just didn’t know how dangerous you were.
As we are deciding to take the risk, and jump into the dating pool once again, we have many things that we need to remember. I know I have talked to some people who only dated one or two people before getting married and now they find themselves out there in the dating world again. So they had little experience to begin with. Others might have been serial monogamists. They dated lots of people individually before settling down with one; and now they find that they no longer have that person any more. They might have had good experience. But it’s all the wrong experience. It’s like someone who used to use the Apple 2e regularly being given the IPhone 7. They might have been used to the idea of computers and technology but they wouldn’t have any clue what to do with that kind of computing power, all in the palm of their hands.
So I decided to take some of my own experience, for better and for worse, and let you know what 10 things to watch out for when you are dating, to make sure that you do not make a bunch of bad mistakes as you dip your toes into the cool waters of dating. It may look refreshing, but when 30 degree water hits you, you just stop caring how refreshed you are. I have written this for you. So that you don’t panic and rebound into Dating or Marriage Hell part 2. The first movie might have been good. It made you laugh. It made you cry. Ultimately it made you cry. But you could pick out the good and bad. Just remember! The sequel is never as good as the original. Unless you are the Godfather. If you are, then making people an offer they can’t refuse might be to your benefit.
Moving right along. These are my top ten things to look out for, “Red Flags” you might say, when going back into the dating scene. This might have been written with single parents in mind, but for you who are single and dating, this is pretty good advice as well. For those of you married or already dating seriously . . . read at your own peril. This screen is set to blow up in 10 seconds. Nine . . . Eight . . . Seven . . .
10) You are dating someone that reminds you an awful lot of someone that you just can’t put your finger on; and your friends and family say they remind them of your ex. I know you may want to live in a state of denial. Sometimes ignoring what is obviously in front of you seems like a good thing up front. And how could you possibly get into a relationship with your ex again? That would be like masochism. And you couldn’t be that into torture, could you? Let me say here and now: yes! Yes, you could be that person. We all have “types.” It may not be a physical type. It may be a personality type. But this type of person draws you to them like Homer Simpson to a donut. It may taste yummy but you start making some awful noise. Blood curdling, nails on a chalkboard noise. So I say stop it! Cut it off right now before they remind you why it wouldn’t work. It’s like fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on . . . billy goats, or the number 13, or your co-worker Jill who told you that Matt was THAT into you. Just run.
9) You are dating someone that is the exact opposite of your ex. This is the “red flag” that is more insidious. Our former partners became an ex in our lives for a reason. There is just something very wrong with them, or so we keep telling ourselves. And then these exs go about and remind us constantly why they became exs in the first place. It’s one thing if they would just quietly fade away. But their very existence is like a big warning sign. You can hear Gandalf faintly in the distance every time they come near you, “You shall not pass!” So you don’t. You go in a completely opposite direction. But truthfully, down deep inside, way down deep, you know this is wrong. (Ok. Maybe it’s in the deep part of your soul that never sees the light of day; but it’s there.) There was something that was positive about your ex that was why you were with them in the first place. They might have loved kids. They could adore their mother, or father. They could have shown you a whole new side of life that you were able to appreciate through them. When we go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, we lose all those good things. (Unless you were dating Satan. Then by all means, run!) Don’t lose what you had for fear of a repeat.
8) The person you met off the dating website says that they love you on the first, or even the second date. I know that this should be a pretty recognizable thing. Desperation is an ugly perfume/cologne. And the moment that they tell you they have these deep feelings for you without knowing you long enough, is a sign that they are desperate. They may say that they are desperate for you. They may act in a way that is wholly insane and make you feel like you are stalked. They might dance on the top of their car to the tune of Little Red Corvette in front of your house. I don’t care what kind of a prince/princess they may be. It’s time to call it a day. I know a friend of mine once said that one of the biggest attractors for another person is that they are attracted to you. There may be some truth in this. But the desperate person is not attracted to you. They are desperate to get out of their situation. They are desperate to not be lonely. But they don’t know you from Ryan Gosling, or Monica Bellucci, if Italian supermodels are your thing. It may be flattering to have someone “like” you that much. Just say no!
7) The person you are talking to seems to be dragging their feet about meeting in person. This is dangerous for you and for them. For you, until that first date, you begin to fantasize about who that other person is behind the computer screen, text message, or voice over the telephone. And you know who you are fantasizing about? Yourself! I don’t mean that in some weird strange way, despite it kind of being weird and strange. But up until that point, the other person is merely a projection of who you want them to be. They don’t have the ability to change your vision of them. No one lives up to a vision. You need to allow the other person to be who they are and evaluate that. The longer you aren’t in their physical presence, the more defined this fantasy person is. Try to go on a date with the person you have been talking to online within the first month of moving off the dating website/app. I suppose this only goes for those people who use said services. If you don’t, then carry on with what you are doing. But truthfully, the moment you are introduced to each other in some other method aside from the digital variety, you need to move into the physical world. Once you have done that the first time, you can proceed at whatever pace you like, provided you are still interested in the person. Stop fantasizing! Start living! And any other person who is dragging their heels, huge red flag because you are likely one of many. And unless being in a harem is your thing, move along.
6) The person is overly picky about where they want to go on a first date. First of all, if they are caught up into the place and not who you are, then you don’t need to be with that kind of a person. They may have picked you off the online dating factory line, but that doesn’t mean they need to start dressing you in particular clothes, making you go to particular places, and have you wearing specific hair styles. That is for some horror film. Not for you. You may think Real Housewives are crazy, but you didn’t exactly sign up to be a Stepford wife either. Or Stepford husband for that matter. If they are too worried about what you are doing and where you are going, and appear to be wound up so tight that a slight breeze may cause a nuclear explosion, they aren’t worth seeing. For my two cents, or dollar if you are counting inflation, dates are about the people and not the places you go to. I’ve had great dates almost anywhere that I have gone. I have had awful dates at those same places. Unless their idea of a first date is at a strip club, you can have an amazing time anywhere. (And for those who think going to a strip club on a first date is a good idea, I’m watching you. Yes your phone is bugged. Yes there are black cars following you.)
5) All of their relationships with their exs had tragic endings and/or they are reviled by all their past relationships. Unless black widows are your kind of thing, you watched Gaslight and thought Charles Boyer was the tragic hero of that piece, or you really loved Michael Douglas in A Perfect Murder. Then carry right along. The truth is, unless someone’s dating experience is really limited (and that means a bevy of other issues), not every person they have dated should end up hating them. Because if they all hate them, then there must be a reason for why they hate them. The problem may no longer be with the individuals that your potential date has gone out with. Most likely the problem is with them. So unless you want to continue your streak of dating bad boys/bad girls, then raise your hand and let yourself off the ride. You won’t want to continue in the end because even the barf bag may not be enough to take care of the mess.
4) The person you are with is fixated with giving you things, and often. It’s perfectly ok that your date gives you a rose on a first date. If a bottle of wine is your thing and you have invited them to a nice dinner at home (which is another no no but I digress), then by all means, the wine would be appropriate. If your date wins you a stuffed toy at the claw machine at the movie theater you went to, this is also fine. But a diamond ring, piece of bling, long trip to a beautiful bed and breakfast in Napa Valley along with a wine train tour? They are either trying too hard, or you just put a big price sticker on your forehead. I don’t think you mean to have the Walmart cost cutters sign emblazoned on your dress/shirt. And as such, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be considered something to be bought, sold or bartered. With all due respect to those who set up arranged marriages, I don’t think anyone should be bought or sold at any price. You are too highly valued, most of all by your children, to consider having a price tag on your head. You want your kids to respect you at the end of the day. You want to respect you at the end of the day. Repeat this mantra: respect first! Ring later! Now repeat a few more times.
3) The person invites you to their home on one of the first few dates. I am going to be forgiving to those who have had some unforeseen circumstance happen on early dates. Obviously, if you picked someone up from their house, then you will need to bring them back to their house. I would recommend that your date be OK with leaving you at your car. I would also recommend that your date be OK with you meeting them at their car. (Although make sure to give them a good description of what your car looks like. You don’t want them going off with Steve now do you?) And if someone ripped their dress, or got a massive stain on it during their first date, taking them back mid date can be excused. Still, avoid the indoors. Bad things happen indoors. Do you really want to meet a stranger half naked for the first time at their apartment? (OK guys! Put your tongues back in your mouths.) Let’s just say that even if that is what you wanted, you would never respect them or yourself in the morning. And I am all about respect.
2) After seeing them in person, you believe that they have magically aged in the last few hours. The picture on a dating profile, or a personal photo they send you, is the first thing that you see of this person. So it’s a person’s first opportunity to tell the truth on the net. This does not mean that the person should be expected to wear their yoga pants and sweat shirt so you can see the “real them.” Of course someone should want to put on their best face. But best face is very different than “Best Face Adapted for the Computer Screen.” Contrary to popular opinion, this is not an Oscar category. I have watched people change their hair color, add highlights, remove wrinkles, and give themselves muscles. There is enough fantasy in computer dating as their is. There is no need to increase it with a fake photo. You will have a hard enough time living up to what you claimed to be. Give me a photo-shopped picture that takes years off your age, and I’m gone. Plus, it smacks of insecurity. Do you really want to be with someone as insecure as all that. Wait. That means you never date a Hollywood star/starlet? And that’s bad because . . . ?
1) Drum Roll Please! The biggest “red flag” in dating someone else is that they still “love” their ex. OK. There is a lot of tricky terminology and language used for the person hooked on their ex, but it all comes down to one thing, they still have unresolved feelings about them. I get it when you are dating, that it’s often funny to tell war stories of your previous battles (cough!), I mean dates. And usually, the ex comes up at some point or another. Any person who conspicuously avoids talking about their ex probably has other problems. I also know that when you are divorced, or a dating parent, then you usually have to deal with your ex. It’s eight . . . nine . . . ten of the most exquisite years of torture of your life. (Hopefully it’s not that bad. I hope.). But if the person you are seeing cannot get themselves past their ex, and talk about anything else, Houston, we have a problem. This is the mother of all relationship roller coasters. If you are in the mood to ride the biggest, tallest, baddest roller coaster there is, with only a 50/50 chance of survival, then you are a better person than I. (Or at least a stranger one.) Just look out for code words or phrases like: in love; he/she called me today; she/he said you were a good person; he/she said that beaches are for suckers; and she/he said roses are so passé. If they are taking relationship advice, hearing from these exs regularly, or saying that they have feelings for this person, it is your cue to exit, stage left. Because if you don’t, the curtain will fall on your relationship, without warning, and without fail.
So here is my top ten list of “red flags” to avoid when you are entering, or re-entering the dating scene. Of course, there are many, many more, which i would love to hear about. So add yours to the list. And keep the conversation going.
I know people write whole books about dating dos and don’ts. I thought about writing just such a book and then I got tired and went to bed. So I wrote this instead. Hope it helps those who are going out on dates or just considering it. Raising a dog might be easier. But I’m just not into kissing dogs. That said, I wish you well. And I repeat: respect yourself, respect yourself, respect yourself.
So here I am again. Until the next time.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life