Over the past 12 months or so I’ve well and truly found my dating feet. Prior to that I hadn’t dated in a long, long time; in fact, arguably, I’d never actually dated in my life. As a teenager you don’t really date, you just lead some weird, experimental lifestyle before you cop off with someone.
When I became a newly single dad, therefore, I had no idea at all what I was doing. I mean, yes I had some ideas, and thanks to the fact that I spend all my work life meeting new people and building relationships I knew I had the skills, but dating is a very different beast.
There was also a serious lack of advice out there; most of the dating blogs are written from a female perspective, and of the very few that are from guys most make no reference to being a dad. The support groups I’m on are frustrating in many instances with their biased and myopic view of womankind, so I had to make it up as I went along.
I can’t go back and help myself, but I can help other newly single dads with a few of my own thoughts and lessons that I’ve learned. I’m no newbie now, after all.
You’ll get stood up
I thought at the start that people, in general, were like me. If I say I’m going to be somewhere, I go there. If I’m interested in someone, I’ll make the effort. Not so, as it turns out.
Be prepared to be stood up. Whether it’s a with a few day’s notice, a few hours or even when you’re already at the bar waiting, having spent an hour and a half on trains and tubes to get there, you will get messages telling you they can’t make it after all. “I’m feeling a bit ill…”, “my kid isn’t well…”, “my childcare has let me down…”, “I forgot I’m seeing a friend who’s going through a rough time…”; you’ll soon be able to pick out the tell-tale signs that you may as well not make the effort after all.
Don’t take it personally and don’t let it get you down, though. It’s just part of the dating game you need to get used to. Better that they stand you up when they aren’t actually interested than they actually turn up with no intention of giving you a chance but happy to drink plenty of £10 cocktails and eat whatever they like from the restaurant.
Don’t talk about your ex unless they ask
And even if they do ask, keep it lighthearted and factual. I get it. You might think it’s a fun story to tell, you might want to show your honest and sensitive side or you might just want to find some common ground, but the more you talk about your ex the less likely you are to come across as over her.
Regardless of whether you actually are or not, if you want a second date then you need to at least appear that you definitely are. Don’t bitch, don’t moan, don’t cry and don’t compare every story your date tells with something you and your ex did. No-one likes to hear that. Would you?!
Don’t hide your kids
To paraphrase Popeye, you are what you are. You are a dad. You have one or more children. They are one of, if not the, biggest things in your life. If they aren’t then you aren’t doing it right (and no, I don’t care if you think I’m being judgemental or not, I’m right).
Make sure she knows you have kids. Make sure of this before you even meet her. I tried a few different approaches to this, but assuming that you are interested in a relationship rather than a hook-up, the only way that works is to tell her in advance. In this day and age there’s a good chance that she’ll find out anyway, so pull that tooth before it becomes an awkward discussion.
If she backs out then, odds are she would have backed out later anyway. Even if she’s hot and funny, don’t start any potential relationship on a half-truth or even a lie.
But don’t talk kids too much
Conversely, remember that you are on a date. You are not at a meeting of a parental support group; you are trying to find someone to have some fun adult time with. The more you both talk kids, the more they become the thing around which your relationship is built.
I went on a very frustrating First Date once where my date spent ages talking kids. I kept trying to change the topic from that to her, but it looped around regardless of my efforts. It turned out that this should have been a warning sign as I discovered her questions were based on a previous relationship not working out as she hoped for.
Talk about your kids, but bear in mind that she shouldn’t meet them for quite some time, at least not until you are very happy that you are fully in a committed relationship. It’s not fair on the kids, and it’s not fair on either of you.
Drinks are fine
Some people seem to think that the perfect first date is one which involves a meal. After all, there’s an entire First Dates tv show based on that very premise, isn’t there?!
No. don’t fall into that trap. Dinner is expensive and puts way too much pressure on you to get it all right. The quality of food and service, the cost, splitting the bill and more are all bad things to have affect your date, which should be nothing but fun and laughter. Not only are you increasing the cost of your date three or four times, but you’re also trapping your date (and yourself) for a set period of time.
No, you want plenty of chances to cut things short if they are going bad butcan extend if they’re going good. Drinks in a bar is perfect, cocktails are even better. Best is when you can combine drinks and a fun activity; I love the Swingers cocktail bar and crazy golf course in London; things like that are spot on.
Don’t fall too quickly
This is true especially for those newly single. Be honest, at least with yourself, about where you are. You’ve probably been hurt. You’ve found yourself single when that wasn’t in your life plan. You will feel a need to prove something to yourself, to your ex and to the world about your ability to find love, or at least to be attractive.
It’s easy to think that you are ready for a new relationship right away. You are not. No, stop arguing with me – you aren’t. You’ve been hurt, perhaps deeply, and need time to heal. Unlike many people I’m not going to say that you should heal by yourself, that you should “learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else”. That’s bollocks.
Have fun. Meet people. Enjoy new experiences. Learn things about yourself. Experiment. Change who you were. Take advantage of the wonderful getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship without the pressure of turning it into a full-blown exclusive relationship. If you fall too deeply too quickly you will soon regret it. Take your time. It’s worth it.
That’s the point, isn’t it? Don’t look for a new wife or girlfriend, just meet people and enjoy every experience for what it is. Learn how to swipe, practice flirting and see what happens.
And if you’ve got any advice or questions, add them to the comments below. Everyone loves a sharer.