While I enjoy my time with my daughter immensely, I do get lonely…and afraid to repeat my mistakes. How can I avoid the temptation to fall into a bad relationship again and protect my daughter and myself?
Single Dad Dating: I am an only daughter raised mainly by my single/divorced father. He never dated anyone after the breakup with my mom when I was 4 years old and had full custody. The main reason he mentioned was that he didn’t want anyone else to interfere with his relationship with me. While I appreciate his love and care he gave me, I also witnessed his loneliness and isolation, despite having close friends and interests.
He modeled a lot of positive qualities that I absorbed, but one thing he didn’t model was how to have a successful long-term relationship. I imagine he shared some of your fears. My advice would be to see a therapist, ideally a marriage and family therapist. They will help you overcome the stumbling blocks/fears in your relationship and help you build tools and awareness around dating as a single dad. Going to therapy isn’t just for you, it can help you take healthy, proactive steps to resolve relationship issues for your daughter. Even if she doesn’t know you’re in therapy, she’ll benefit from seeing you learn healthy ways to date and interact.
– Raised by a loving but always single father
Single father: Good for you recognizing a harmful dating pattern and putting your daughter’s best interests first! Few single parents would do this. I think it makes sense to take a break from dating for a while, but it doesn’t have to be forever. Give it a few years until your daughter is a bit more independent, then dip your toes back into the dating pool and see how it goes.
Meanwhile, develop activities that will keep you from being so lonely and allow you to develop a wider and healthier range of relationships with both sexes. Join single-parent support groups, play a sport (pickleball is popular) to stay fit, take your daughter on outings (museums, nature preserves, shows) to cultivate shared interests. And take comfort in the thought that when you start dating again, there will be a relatively fit and healthy middle-aged man with broad interests and an active social life terribly high demand.
Single Dad Dating: I support the idea of stopping dating. After a series of breakups, so did I, at about age 49. Instead of dating, I dived as deep as possible into my personal passion (making music in my case) while still being responsible for my daughter and my job. Getting more involved in my hobby brought me into contact with more people, which led to friends and dates with people I already knew and liked and had something in common with. It took a while, but finally there was a match – and a great one. And I wasn’t lonely while waiting because I was so busy with my friends and doing what I loved to do. Maybe this approach can work for you too.
Single Dad Dating: After my first marriage ended, I went to off-and-on therapy for three years before I even considered dating again. I realized that my abusive marriage was just another screwed up relationship, in a long line of screwed up relationships. I basically dated the same guy over and over; he just had a different name and face each time. If I hadn’t done the personal work in therapy, I wouldn’t have been healthy enough to recognize what I deserved, and it wouldn’t have worked out with my now-husband. We have been together for eight years and married for four years. I would have sabotaged the relationship myself because I couldn’t have trusted him.
I highly recommend (active-participant) therapy. Simply going and being passive will not bring about the healing and mindset changes needed for fundamental change. You owe it to yourself, your child and your future partner to be as healthy as possible in all your relationships. It is an investment in your future that you will not regret.
Single Dad Dating: My son is 20 years old and I raised him alone. I didn’t go out at all during his childhood. Like you, I didn’t trust myself to make good decisions. I also had no extra money for babysitting and going out. Instead, we hung out with other families. I was very involved in all the activities he was involved in. We had a lot of friends, a lot of fun and a lot of adventures. He went to college last year (Ivy League!), and my friends immediately put me on a dating app (despite my reluctance!). I now have a really nice boyfriend and am experiencing the wonder of an unexpected romance.
It seems like too much to ask to give up sex and romance during your child’s infancy, and I’m not sure I really recommend it, but that’s what I did. I was lonely at times, yes, but it was the best for me and my child – no regrets. We have a beautiful relationship and so many happy memories of a wonderful childhood.
Each week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted via Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s episode here. New questions are usually posted on Fridays, with a submission deadline on Monday. Comments are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and have been edited for length and clarity.