Finding love is hard, but it has an added layer of complexity for single parents. While single women may have to consider if the men they’re seeing are liked by their friends and families, single moms have to make sure these potential partners are worthy of their children, as well.
Single moms’ dating choices have bubbled up in the news recently as singer Ciara’s relationship with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is called into question by her son’s father, rapper Future, and Internet hecklers.
We wanted to hear what other single moms’ experiences with dating were like. We got Tamika Stephens, 36, a kindergarten assistant, bartender, and doula raising a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son; “A”, 37, an actress, private chef, and mother to a 2-year-old son; and mater mea contributing writer, case manager, and doula Barbara Verneus, 34, and mother of a 19-month-old daughter on the phone to have some real talk on the difficulties of dating as a single mom.
What follows is an edited down version of the two-hour conversation these ladies had. Can you relate to some of their difficulties and concerns? Let us know in the comments!
Barbara Verneus: When did you begin dating as a single mother?
Tamika Stephens: I started dating when my daughter turned three, and it was somebody I knew from college. We had been friends for 12 years, but it was always the wrong time to date each other. When my daughter turned three, it just so happened that neither one of us had anyone. Dating was great, but then I became pregnant with my son and things kind of took a turn for the worse. At this point, we no longer talk at all. It was kind of like I lost my best friend.
I got kind of focused on myself and my family, my two children. People would [tell me], “You can’t just do that all your life. You have to have some fun.”
So I started dating people. I dated some older people, people my age, sometimes a little younger. But everyone seemed the same. Then I met this man who was much older than me. I thought, “Alright, I’ll give him a try. He can’t be that bad.” In October, [on] his birthday, I had to be in the ER with my daughter and he got upset. [I thought], “This isn’t going to work either, because my kids come first.” As a single parent, I thought he would understand, [but] It just didn’t turn out well. I have friends who are in the friend zone who want to date, but I’m skeptical.
You can’t just do that all your life. You have to have some fun.
I meet people because I bartend. You can go out a few dates with people, but you never really know. It’s superficial. I don’t know how to get behind the acting that they put up in the beginning. I don’t introduce them to my children. They may know I have children, but it’s not like, “Oh, yeah, come meet my kids.” Because if it doesn’t work out, I don’t want my kids to be like, “Oh, yeah, such-and-such,” or remember all these different people. It’s hard, dating.
A: The first time I dated my son was about a year and a half, and it was really random. I had gone out to dinner with some friends and this guy was just sort of checking me out the whole time. When I left the restaurant, he came outside and asked me for my number. He knew the people who owned the restaurant and so did my friends, so I felt a little bit more comfortable. I gave him my number. I was kind of eager to meet guys, because it had been so long; I was a little bit lonely and wanted some attention.
This guy was cute—he was persistent, and I liked that. He was texting me all the time and he wanted to take me out to dinner. It turned out that he worked in my neighborhood as a super for these buildings that were literally within blocks of where I live. We went to dinner, we had a really good time, we made out—there was chemistry. He was just really persistent. Every day he would text me.
One day he just showed up downstairs with lunch for me, so he came up and met my son. At first, before I ever met anyone, I [thought], “Well, I’m not going to let guys just meet my kid,” you know? But it just seemed so natural, and my baby was small, so it’s not like he was that [aware] of who people are.
He would come around a lot, and he started to play with my kid. He was really sweet with him, [but] it was a little much for me after a couple of weeks. I was like, “Whoa, this is a lot. We need to slow down a little bit.” I just realized this wasn’t going to be any long-term thing; I was just having a good time, just getting my feet wet again. I wasn’t looking at him like this is going to be my next man—I knew this wasn’t going to be anything that could last.
Since then, I haven’t met anybody. It’s hard because I live with my mom right now. She’s cool about letting me go out after he goes to bed, but half the time I just end up being so tired, that I don’t go out. I wasn’t a big “go out” person before I had my son. I’m not really into nightlife like that.
A lot of my friends were like, “You need to do online dating,” which I was really hesitant about. I’m a vibe person, and you can’t catch a vibe online. So after everybody was just really giving me shit about it I tried Match.com. It was so discouraging, just opening up these pictures—”Oh, he likes you, oh, he messaged you, oh, these are your matches.” I swear to God, there was a picture of a dude, 100% it was taken in jail. Like 100%. Standing in front of a concrete wall with a doo-rag in that pose. I was like, “No, stop it.”
You get to talking to somebody online and you think it’s great, the flow is great, you have all this in common, and you start to catch a feeling for cyber person. Then you meet them, and you’re like, [makes gagging noise]. I don’t even want to put in that effort of chitchatting and it’s going to not even work out, you know what I mean?
I’m not trying to be a nun, but I’m also trying to figure out how that will play into me having my son.
I know I’m not trying as hard as people say I need to be trying, but I can’t. Every dude I’ve ever had anything significant with, it happened naturally. But at the same time, I’m over here like, “Okay, I need some attention from a man.” I’m not trying to be a nun, but I’m also trying to figure out how that will play into me having my son.
My long-term goal, of course, I want to get married, I would like to have other children, I want my son to have a father figure. But I know that’s not something I can expect overnight. Meanwhile, I haven’t even met anyone I’m interested in, so to think that far ahead, to me, seems like I’m getting ahead of myself.
Verneus: I guess it’s hard not think like that, because we’re taught that we’re on a biological clock. If you don’t do it by this time, your pregnancy is going to be higher risk. There’s more pressure on us because there’s a time limit for us.
Stephens: Also, as children, there’s always those fairy tale books [with] a Prince Charming. Once you have a baby, I feel like our family is more like, “Okay, so when are you going to get married? Okay, you’re not getting married?” Or, “Okay, so when are you going to start dating again?” You’re like, “I work and go to school.”
A: Could you, like, introduce me to somebody? I’d be happy to start dating.
Stephens: Right, right.
A: I don’t have a clue where to look.
Verneus: I actually went on my first date all summer online. We exchanged numbers, and he was very polite, kept being consistent, and eventually, we just met up. We went to a restaurant and it was actually nice. We said we would do it again [and] we stayed in touch.
Eventually, he texts me and confessed something that he lied about. I was just like, “Oh, no, no.” He [said], “I really like you, I didn’t think I was going to like you in comparison to the other women that I’ve come across on this dating site. I didn’t feel like it’s right that I do this, I should actually tell you the truth: I told you I 42, I’m 52.”
A: Oh, shit.
Verneus: [Laughs] That’s how I felt. Have you ever tried online dating, Tamika?
Stephens: I’ve never tried online dating. I need to see the person. I was going to go speed dating about a month ago, but then I was like, “No, that’s still kind of weird to me.”
Verneus: Are you currently in a relationship or actively dating someone?
Stephens: I mean…
Stephens: I have a friend, we’ve been friends for 21 years. We tried dating; it didn’t work out, but now he’s come back around. He comes over at least three times a week. He cares for the kids, he knows them, he’s seen them grow up, but to me we’re not dating. To him we might be dating, since he’s like, “You didn’t call me yesterday.” I’m 36. I work, I have two kids, so I can’t be readily available for everyone who might want to go out. I can’t just get up and go.
So I’m trying to express the idea of, “Okay, you can have someone [else], but I need you to be honest and truthful [about that].” He’s like, “So if I had someone else, you’d be okay with it?” and I’m like, “Yeah, because I can probably only see you once a week anyway, so…” [Laughs]. I’m tired, I work, I come home, I play with my kids, I help them with homework.
A: Well, we get used to being on our own. We don’t need to settle because we know that we’re okay like this. I think that’s what happens after a while. I don’t want to say I’m comfortable alone, but I am. I know I’m good by myself, but it would be nice to have some companionship and all those things. But I’m not willing to settle just to have someone present.
Verneus: I struggle with that. There are some things that I feel like I’m not willing to compromise on. But I have compromised, because [I’ll think], “Okay, let me just give this person a chance.” The person I’m [in a relationship] with is Muslim. I’m a Christian, [and] my faith is something I really hold on to. I attract those who are as strong in their faith as me, but then we start bumping heads.
A: It’s hard to get past that with a lover. I can get past that with friends, we can have some debates. But I feel like you’ve kind of got to be on the same page with your morals, your ideals, the things you believe in… If it’s like a major disconnect, it’s hard.
Verneus: What are some concerns that arise when dating?
Stephens: I can’t just up and go. I’m like, “Yeah, I need you to plan that two weeks in advance.” I need to have child care ready.
Verneus: I would agree with that. I would also say guilt, because I still wrestle with the guilt of trying to date when my daughter’s not even two yet. I don’t know when I’ll be ready.
Stephens: Do you think the guilt is from you, or from your family pushed on you, like, “Oh, I can’t believe it didn’t work out”?
Verneus: No, not my family—they want me to be in a relationship. It’s me, because on top that, [I’m worried about] bringing the child around the person.
A Yeah, that I feel uncomfortable with, because now [my son is] so much more aware, and he started calling random men “Daddy.” Like we got off the elevator the other day, and some old man was in there, and he was like, “Bye, Daddy.” He associates a man with being a daddy, because he doesn’t know his own, really. One time he did FaceTime with his father, and his whole face turned red. He was so excited to know that he had a daddy. So I’m scared to bring a man in his life, because, you know, it may not work out, and it might break his little heart. I don’t know how to keep it separate, or even—I’m afraid to even tell a guy I have a son. Is that going to scare him off?
Recently my girlfriend she wanted to introduce me to some guy. He has a child that’s 13, but with the mother in Atlanta. She told him everything about me, and the first thing the guy said was, “Oh, she’s looking for a father for her son.” And already, I’m like, “Ew.” First of all, I don’t know you. That’s a huge question that comes so much further down. Let me even decide to meet you.
I don’t like the judgment that men seem to have about single moms. Before I had a kid, I’d meet guys, and they’d be like, “Oh, do you have kids?” And I’d say, “No,” and they’d say, “Why not?” So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I see a lot of my friends who are in a relationship with the father, but it’s always drama—they’re not happy, they’re stuck together because of the kid. I feel like maybe I have a better situation because if I meet a guy now, he knows what he’s getting into. It’s not going to change the relationship. So maybe starting from that place, it could be something good, but I still have an issue of meeting the guy in the first place.
Verneus: I had that moment with my daughter, because she’s met [the man I’m seeing]. There was a day when she said, “Dada?” He just smiled through it. I just never want my daughter to start associating or start calling random people [dada]—that does make me sad.
A: My son did [say it] to this guy, that guy I was talking about earlier who I dated briefly. One day he was leaving and we walked him to the elevator [and] he said, “Bye Daddy.” I almost threw up in my mouth, but that’s what they get. They’re watching TV, they’re thinking, “Oh, so this is a man figure that’s here now. You’re Mommy, he must be Daddy.” That’s just two and two [for them], but no. No.
Verneus: That is definitely a concern, our children associating father figures or male figures in their lives. What are some other concerns that arise when dating?
Stephens: My daughter used to go to her dad’s house every other weekend and then something happened over there. I’m not quite sure what it was, [but] we had to go to court. So even if I’m dating somebody, I’m always cautious to bring them around my daughter, or even say anything to my daughter about someone, because I feel like I trusted her in her father’s care and something happened to her, so some random guy or somebody I’m dating [won’t] have any concern for her.
I’m always cautious. I don’t bring someone home, or I don’t talk to them long enough for them to be like, “Oh, let me come over and meet your daughter or your child.” I’m concerned. You could be a pedophile. If I date someone, I want to do background check, I need to know almost everything about them. And I’m like, “Let me talk to the ex-wife and find out what happened. I really need to know, because you might be crazy.”
A: I just feel like the person has to be really open and honest and not judgmental, and that’s a lot to ask, and a lot to find out early on. At this point, I’m just kind of looking, even, for something casual, to even get me back on the roll of dating to even potentially meet somebody serious.
My standards are different, but I think it’s a good thing. I think because of [my son], now I won’t just put up with the bullshit that I would have put up with previously. I had other boyfriends in my life that I just let shit slide a lot that was bad behavior, but now that’s a dealbreaker. If I’m going to be with you [and] this is potentially going to lead to something, then that means you’ve got to be okay for my son as well. My son fills a void of love that was missing before, I think, so I’m not quite as needy as I was before, in that way.
Stephens: I don’t really look anymore. I see people and they may be looking at me, but I don’t pay them any mind. I’m like, I want to go home, and get my kid. [Laughs] I’m worried about my kids.
Verneus: I feel like there’s this image that once we have kids, we become asexual.
Stephens: Once you have a child, you’re expected to do everything for everyone else and not for yourself. We don’t really look at what we need for ourselves.
A: I can’t be taking care of another person. Especially not a grown man. I need somebody really capable. I’m a giver by nature, and to an extent, you like to give and be nurturing, but you have to have your shit together, I can not take on…
A and Stephens [together]: Another responsibility!
A: You have to have it together to really come into this situation. I want someone with a big heart, and [who] has a desire to take on my son as his own to a certain extent. To fill in that gap. Because I don’t want to have a man who is separate from my kid. If you’re going to be my man, you’re going to have to be his man too.
This article is part of our love series. Click here for more stories on love.