Dating is a whole different ballgame when you’re a dad.
Having recently read an article describing What A Single Mom Wants In A Boyfriend I began asking myself exactly what I was looking for in a woman with whom I choose to have a relationship.
I have a 4-year old daughter. Recently, after a brutal 14-month custody battle, I was finally granted 50/50 custody of her and no longer limited to being an every-other-weekend dad. You might think that change shouldn’t have a significant effect on the qualities I look for in a woman, but it absolutely does. Almost any potential mate can handle a child that is not their own coming to visit four days a month. It isn’t that big of a disruption in day-to-day life. Hell, once they can eat and get dressed on their own, they can practically babysit themselves, right?
In the four years since the birth of my daughter and the end of my relationship with her mother, I have done some dating. Most of that dating was fairly casual, but I have been in a couple relationships—the most recent and most serious of those relationships having lasted just under two years. Dating as an every-other-weekend dad is easy. Or at least I realize now looking back on it just how easy it was. You can live your life, go out on dates, and pretty much do whatever you want within the confines of the law for 26 days out of the month.
Easy or not, the majority of those four years, I was battling some fairly serious depression and anxiety due primarily to the minimal time I was able to spend with my daughter and the ongoing conflict with her mother. Because of this, finding a potential partner to have a serious relationship with was not a priority for me until about the time I began dating my last girlfriend. We started dating casually, but we fell for each other hard and fast. It wasn’t long before we were discussing where we wanted to live when we moved in together, how we would integrate our families, and what our wedding would be like. At that point, after more than our share of failed relationships, we both genuinely thought we had found “the one.”
The day I was granted equal custody of my daughter fell smack-dab right in the middle of our relationship, and looking back, it was a defining moment for us—the day I can pinpoint as the beginning of the end.
When I only had my daughter four days out of the month, it was easy to just plan our dates and adventures around those days. But once I suddenly had her half the time, it became almost impossible for us to make plans together. She had children too, so trying to balance both of our schedules and find evenings that we were both kid-free just put more and more stress on our relationship. When we did find time to see each other, we were both so exhausted from work and taking care of our children, that we barely had enough energy left to sit on the couch watching Netflix until we passed out. Needless to say, the communication and intimacy in our relationship quickly began to deteriorate.
Now I find myself re-entering the dating world as a 31-year old single dad. Watching the successes and failures of my married friends’ relationships got me thinking; what exactly am I and other single dads looking for in our potential mates? This is not meant to be an all-encompassing list, nor is it meant to be a list of “must haves.” Rather, I wrote it as a selection of items which are all individually important in their own way, but not necessarily deal breakers.
1. We want you to like our children.
Sure, we can be realistic and acknowledge that you probably won’t have the same connection with our children as you might have with a child you carried for nine months and then birthed yourself; at least not for a long time. But we want to believe that you will eventually love them as if they were your own. So if you ever find yourself thinking that you are just tolerating our kids because we are a “package deal”, just leave. We don’t have time to waste in a relationship with someone who “tolerates” our kids.
2. We want you to tell us that everything will be okay.
Being a parent is hard. Being a single parent is harder. Being a single parent with a vindictive ex who would be willing to do anything to remove you from your child’s life, is pure hell. We are going to have rough days. We are going to have arguments with our child’s mother and threats of going back to court. We don’t need you to fix anything or tell us what to do. We just need you to reassure us that everything is going to work out.
3. We want you to tell us that we are good dads.
These days, mothers are almost always viewed by the courts and the general public as the most capable and nurturing parent. When we as dads take our children out in public, it is not uncommon to be asked where their mom is, or hear comments about us pulling “mommy duty” for the day. It’s almost as if people assume that if we have a penis, we are incapable of caring for a child for more than a couple hours without some kind of assistance or intervention from their mother. We might act like it doesn’t bother us, but it does. It pisses us off, and sometimes on the rough days, it makes us question whether we really are good at this whole “daddy thing”. Sure, we know you think we are great at it, but we need to hear it. Plus, when you feed our egos, the odds are it will pay off for you in the near future.
4. We want you to make us look good.
No, I’m not talking about being physically beautiful, or being “arm candy” (although that is great too.) We want to be able to take you to company functions and family reunions, and as we are leaving, we want our bosses, our coworkers, or that old slightly-senile uncle who always smells suspiciously like whiskey to pull us aside and tell us we better hang onto you, because you’re a keeper.
5. We want to know that we can trust you.
You can talk to any single dad, and the odds are at one time or another, they have trusted too much and had that trust broken—either by their child’s mother, or by someone they dated after her. We don’t want to be suspicious and un-trusting, but it comes with the territory when you’ve been through what we’ve been through. So it might seem stupid, and it might at times frustrate you, but we need you to show us that you aren’t going anywhere, and that we don’t have anything to worry about when you decide to have a night out with the girls.
6. We want you to tell us that you trust us.
It seems that in almost any previous failed relationship, our trustworthiness has been brought into question by our partner. The littlest thing that was said in passing, months before, is suddenly brought up again as a supposed glaring infraction on our part. We want you to trust us so we aren’t always walking on eggshells. We already have to do that around our ex, in order to attempt to co-parent. You telling us that you trust us, means so much more to a dad who is constantly being ridiculed by our child’s other parent for our past infractions.
7. We want you to desire us.
We get it, we have kids. There are nights that even a quickie is out of the question, because by the time homework is done and the dishwasher is loaded, there is no way in hell we are doing anything but falling into our bed and passing out. But we want to be with someone who realizes that doesn’t mean we have to act like business partners who just happen to live under the same roof and share a bed. Walk up behind us as we are doing dishes and put your arms around us. Let one of your hands “accidentally” slip down south, past our belt and briefly linger in the general area of the zipper of our pants. Text us while we are at work and tell us what you want to do to us later. Maybe even send the occasional naughty picture.
We want someone who will wait for the kids to go watch TV in the other room, then push us into the laundry room to quickly ravish us before one of the kids starts asking for milk and animal crackers, or bursts into tears because their younger sibling touched their favorite stuffed animal.
8. We want you to ask us for help.
Sure, we know you’re a strong independent woman and you are perfectly capable of changing that light bulb, or fixing that leaking faucet. But don’t be afraid to show a little weakness. Let us briefly flaunt our masculinity and then thank us for helping you. We love feeling like you need and appreciate us.
9. Tell us that you appreciate us.
Yes, I’m saying it again. We need to feel appreciated. So much of what we do is never even acknowledged. So what if we bust our ass to get that promotion at work! So what if we take off work early to take our kid to her dance class when her mom had to work late! Sure, maybe those are things we should be expected to do as dads. But that doesn’t mean it would hurt for our kids’ other parent to tell us they appreciate what we did. The truth is though, that person will most likely never appreciate us. Even if they do appreciate something we do, that sentiment will never in a million years be shared with us. So we need you to do it. Look at how much effort we put into something when we know there will be no “thank you” and just imagine how hard we will work when there is one!
10. We don’t want you to play games.
Seriously. We are too old for that shit. Say what you mean. Don’t tell us not to come over and then get mad when we don’t show up. Don’t act like you aren’t into us just to make us try harder. We know what we want, and we have no interest in wasting our time with a girl who feels the need to fuck with our heads just to see if we say or do the right thing in your little relationship puppet show.
So what does a single dad want? We want a teammate. We want your strengths to compliment our weaknesses. We want a caring, compassionate, empathetic, reassuring, confident woman, who is not only trusting, but is also deserving of our trust.
A woman who can be strong for us when we can’t be strong for ourselves; one who recognizes when we do something well, but doesn’t belittle us when we do something poorly.
A woman we can take to a dinner party, or a work function, or a family reunion without worrying about her saying or doing something that becomes the subject of one of those “remember when you dated that crazy bitch who said/did ______?!” stories for years to come.
So do you have to have all of these traits in order to be the type of girl a single dad wants to date? No! But if you read through this list and can check off a good number of them that you think might apply to you, then you just might fit the criteria.
Otherwise, if you are a single woman who keeps saying that you want to find a good, honest man who is passionate and caring, then maybe you should look at this list as a starting point for a little self-reflection.