When I met my ex-husband, we were both in our early 20s. Neither of us had any money, we spent too much time bar hopping, and we had wads of credit card debt. After dating for six months, we talked about getting married. We were in a healthy relationship, we loved each other very much despite our flaws, and we knew we’d figure it out together.
We soon realized that if we wanted a family we needed to be more responsible with our money. It was time to grow up. But it was okay we hadn’t done all the work yet. It wasn’t a red flag to me that he was forgetful or ran late all the time. He didn’t really care that I spent my entire paycheck on clothes and jewelry. We didn’t mind getting gas station pizza for dinner if it meant we’d have more money to go to the bar. That’s the kind of stuff you can work on together and fix when you find your partner before kids. It’s all good and fun and, deep down, you know you have time.
Then you find yourself over a decade older, divorced with kids, and the things you are looking for in a mate change completely.
After you’ve been through a divorce you get really clear on what you will tolerate in a partner. Being a single mother is the most challenging job I’ve ever had. It requires figuring out how to parent on your own, how to run a household, and how to make ends meet financially. You need a partner who can match your energy and enhance your life. I’m not saying they have to have it all figured out — but I have no energy for them if they don’t have their shit together and they act like a child.
Most single mothers I know work full-time and have their kids at least half the time. After you account for household chores and managing their kids’ schedule, they hardly have any time for themselves, much less time to date. This means if someone is late to a date or changes plans last minute, it’s a big deal. Single mothers want someone who respects their time. They will not change their kids’ schedule around for someone who tells them a different night works better if the plans have already been made.
Being spontaneous can really keep the romance alive, but kids can squash that fast. It’s hard enough to be spontaneous when you’re married and have kids at home. It gets even harder when you are divorced and dating.
Anything from a last-minute trip to a quickie in the middle of the afternoon involves planning and a lot of work. You have to make sure it’s during a time of day when you don’t have kids at home. There have been a few times when I thought I had enough time to fool around or a fast date at my place before my kids came home. It wasn't fun — I couldn't relax, and I watched the clock constantly, and I practically shoved them out the door afterward because I was worried my kids would discover us.
In my experience, it takes about six months to a year to really get to know someone. People are on their best behavior when you first start dating. You can hide a drinking or gambling problem from someone for a long time. I know this because I dated someone who had to have a six-pack every night, and at first I thought he only drank when we went out, which was once or twice a week. Then, as things progressed and I’d stay at his house or he’d stay at mine, he’d stop and get a six-pack and drink it alone every single time. It was a dealbreaker when I asked him if this was his way of life and he said yes. Then I dated someone with a compulsive gambling problem. I knew he seemed distracted, but I had no idea he was addicted to playing blackjack on his phone until he told me.
Dating when you have kids is incredibly different. You’ve gotten better at spotting the bullshit you don’t want in your life and you don’t have the time to invest in someone the way you did before you had kids. This can make it harder. However, I’m a firm believer that if a relationship after divorce is something you want, don’t let these things hold you back. Yes, it may be more difficult but finding the right person to fit into your new life will be so worth it. And it’s not a bad thing to have no time for foolishness, either.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.