I’m A Single Dad And I Have No Clue How Dating Works

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I don’t know how some people do it. I see other single parents — even some, like me, who are full-time single parents with full-time jobs — who seem to be able to go out on dates, have social lives, and generally pursue non-parenting-related interests in a way that eludes me. Part of me wants to believe that they’re just being bad parents, neglecting their kids in favor of their own self interest. But I know that’s not true. Some of them are fabulous parents who, on top of having social lives I can’t imagine, manage to make it to all their kids’ school events and have their kids in all kinds of activities.

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So there must be something I’m just not getting. I work at a job that is quite flexible. I’m able to move around my hours and work at home when I need to. Still, I find that the only things I have time to do are work and take care of my sons, who are 13 and 10. I don’t have any family close enough to help out, so it’s really just them and me. I love them and have a great relationship with both of them, but sometimes I find myself looking at others in similar situations and wondering how they do it.

I’ve been on OKCupid for years, but it’s been over a year since I’ve even had a single date, and that was an anomalous island in the middle of several more years. I’m not a casual dater (really, I’ve never been much of a dater at all, more of a “hang out and see what happens” sort, but that doesn’t work as well in adulthood, especially when you have kids). I have never been one to date for the sake of dating. I find it unfulfilling and tiring. If I’m going out on dates, I’m looking for something more than that. But is it even possible to have something more than that, given the logistics of my life? How in the world would I ever find the time and energy to devote to nurturing a budding relationship, even if by some oddity I managed to find the right person?

Or am I just being sort of willfully defeatist? After all, I haven’t put in the effort. When I do log in to OKCupid, I end up browsing through matches, but I never contact them, or even respond to the rare message someone sends me. I just browse and imagine that I have the time to actually connect with other adults in the world. I click on a profile here or there, but I have this annoying habit of looking through each one for “deal breaker” items — the site has a handy tool that lets you view only the questions in which you or the other person has an “unacceptable” answer — and I can almost always find something.

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Even when I don’t, I am generally just discouraged by my lack of time and a feeling that as happy and fulfilling as my life is (and it truly is both), it would be quite a lot to ask another person to sign up for it.

Part of me wants to believe that they’re just being bad parents, neglecting their kids in favor of their own self interest.

And so, again, I wonder how other single parents do it. The few in my situation whom I’ve talked to don’t seem to have any real answers. Usually they have some detail of their situation that differs from mine, or they have more money and can hire babysitters at will. In the vast majority of cases, they are women, whose experience with dating is generally very different from that of men, at least in a heterosexual context.

I’ve always been rather solitary. Maybe if I’d dated more when I was younger, and dating was something that was ingrained as a natural part of my life, things would be clearer. Maybe I missed some developmental milestone at which I was supposed to learn how to do all this. I don’t know.

So I’m writing this as a way of sort of reaching out into the world. I feel like putting it out there makes it something more real, makes it something more deserving of my time and effort to think about and maybe solve.

Chris Torgersen is a writer. Check him out on Medium.

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