|By Debra Kent
Today was my lucky day: I met Eric in line at the DMV. Funny, smart, with a sexy smile, great hands. Both of us loved camping, hated hot weather and had always wanted to try country line-dancing. Yes, we were definitely into each other. Only one problem: The absolute soonest I could schedule him in for an intimate, candle-lit, who-knows-where-this-will-lead date was, well, three weeks from now. At 8:15 a.m. And that was assuming my 13-year-old daughter wouldn’t have a homework crisis or catch the flu.
Sound frustrating? Welcome to the dating life of a single parent—a scheduling nightmare that could make even the most optimistic person wonder there’s really time for romance when you’re raising kids on your own. But according to some dating pros and savvy single parents I talked to, there are ways to have a vibrant love life without compromising family time. So dig that date-night outfit out of the back of your closet and read on.
Hunt for prospects from home
Sure, it would be nice to scope out potential mates at a cocktail party or the local coffee house. But just because your kids need you at home doesn’t mean you can’t do a little romantic networking—that’s what computers are for. You can always carve out a few minutes in your day to browse and respond to online personal ads, join discussion groups or community chat rooms, or even just email your friends asking if they know of anyone who’s looking. When some time had passed after his divorce, Boston-based Mark, 52, sent out an email saying he was interested in dating again. He zapped it to everyone on his distribution list, inviting his friends to email his query to five more people. Since he cast such a wide net, pretty soon he was setting up dates to meet women left and right—all by computer, while staying home with his 14-year-old daughter. “If you’re a single parent, the best thing about the Internet is that you can keep it all quite private from your kids,” says advice columnist April Masini. “You can go online when the kids are asleep, and you can easily set up dates for yourself by email.”
Don’t wait to date in the evening
Sure, it’s the time most people consider heading out to a restaurant or movie with a new love interest. But for single parents, that’s usually prime bonding time with their kids—so why not shift romance to an earlier hour? Think breakfast. Or lunch. Or anytime your kids are in school or daycare. Added bonus: Daytime dates won’t feel as high-stakes as an evening get-together; you’re both likely to be more relaxed over bagels than beef bourguignon. But be careful to clarify that your preference for daytime dating isn’t meant as a diss—it’s just that it’s the only free time you’ve got. “Saturday night isn’t the only time for romance,” says Kate, a 40-ish marketing exec in Dayton. “You can even get together in the middle of the afternoon when you’re running errands just to hold hands and smooch a little.”
Or for an evening rendezvous, skip the babysitter
It’s no fun to come home to a babysitter who needs a ride home, which forces you to wake the kids and cart them along in the car. (And, for some of us, just finding an available babysitter can be a major undertaking, involving all kinds of phone tag.) So instead, send them to a friend’s house for an overnight stay, suggests Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. To avoid feeling like you’re imposing on other parents, propose it as a swap—an option that’ll be appealing to any parent, especially those who are also raising kids solo and are probably dying for a night out, just like you are.
Keep your kids occupied
Even if your kids are old enough to stay home alone (and of course, each parent will make his or her own decision about when exactly that is), hard to tear yourself away if they’re looking to you to keep them occupied. This was a challenge often faced by Jeff, a father of two teenagers in New York who shares custody with his ex-wife. “They’re both old enough to be left alone, but when they’re bored they tend to be clingy, which makes me less inclined to date,” he admits. “I feel like I should be home, entertaining them. And I couldn’t blame them for being bored. Most of their stuff was back at my ex’s house.” So Jeff invested in some DVDs, games and craft kits. He also encourages his kids to invite their friends over. “I feel better about leaving them home alone when I know they’re busy and happy to be there,” he says.
Get your kids to play cupid
We’re not saying your child should literally set you up on dates. We’re just saying that the activities you do with them can be prime opportunities to meet other people. Whether you’re cheering them on at an intramural soccer game or expanding their horizons at the local science museum, look around you: See someone cute with no ring on their finger? Why not approach him or her and say, “You seem to be as interested in astronomy as my son is,” and let things develop from there? “Wherever you find kids, you’re likely to find single parents, too,” says Masini.
Try dating other parents
You may find that dating is a much more manageable proposition if you’re involved with another single parent. As any single mom or dad knows, the world seems to be divided into those with kids and those who just don’t understand why you can’t catch the 9:40 showing of Cinderella Man when your daughter is running a 104-degree fever. “When I dated Dwayne, a childless guy who was five years younger, I was a walking zombie because of all the late nights,” says Lisa Cohn, co-author of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories And Advice For Stepfamilies. “I found that dating men with children who understood my situation was a lot easier than dating childless men who wanted me to stay up dancing with them all night.”
We’re not saying you should limit your dating pool exclusively to single parents, but if you are craving some like-minded company, there are organizations specifically for that purpose, like Parents Without Partners, (check out Parentswithoutpartners.org to learn more and locate a chapter near you). They offer discussions, professional speakers, study groups and (yes!)social activities, with and without kids—the perfect opportunity to connect with someone new.
Freelancer writer Debra Kent has two kids and expects to have a lot more time for dating when summer camp rolls around.