EXCLUSIVE After I divorced at 45, most of my dates thought I was looking for a ‘meal ticket’ – this is how I found love again (without my children getting jealous)
- Dating, Rosie Green found there was a stigma attached to being a single mother
- READ MORE: Gwyneth Paltrow reveals how she shielded her children from trauma while going through her divorce from ex-husband Chris Martin
When I tentatively dipped my toe into the world of online dating, post-divorce, I received a message from a man who was also recently separated.
After a day or so of messaging, he revealed he had not been open about his CEO status. The reason? Fear of being targeted by single mothers who wanted ‘rescuing financially’.
He felt he was being pursued by women who were ‘after my money’.
By then he knew I was a single mother, but one who was, he had confirmed, financially independent. I think he thought I’d be pleased he had made this distinction, but instead I felt indignant on behalf of all of the solo mothers deemed to be after a meal ticket. Particularly as that was so far from my own dating desires.
I quickly learned that to date online is to be judged. On your looks, your job, your age, your weight, your personality, your banter, your relationship track record.
Dilemma: Rosie Green had to juggle romance and family after her divorce at the age of 45
This revelation felt shocking. But what surprised me more was the stigma attached to being a single mother.
For the CEO wasn’t alone in his trepidation. On discovering my solo parent status, men were often wary of me — and very keen to ascertain exactly what my commitments were. One, half-jokingly, said: ‘Someone with children in boarding school is ideal.’
Friends and relatives often had very strong — differing — opinions on single parent dating.
‘Only date fathers because they know the reality of having children.’ ‘Go for men without children because then your children won’t feel any threat.’ ‘Wait until your children are 18 before you date.’ ‘Get back on the horse now while they are young enough to adapt.’
Now it seems Candace Bushnell, dating sage and creator of Sex And The City, has waded in on the matter, too.
In a recent interview, the 65-year-old, who is happily unattached and has never had children, declared: ‘If you’re in your 40s, single and with kids at home, I don’t think dating is a good idea. Instead, I think it’s about taking care of yourself and understanding that you’re responsible for your own happiness.’
Hmm. I love Candace, and I agree that you need to learn to love yourself before you hit the dating scene, but really? To generalise like that is pretty extraordinary.
Circumstances are so different, as are individuals. And for her to load on the guilt about dating as a single mother feels counter to all the work she has done to advance feminism.
For me, dating was a bit of light relief in my darkest time. My ego had been hammered by my marriage break-up at the age of 45, so it was a way of rebuilding my confidence. And an escape from the domestic drudge.
If someone had told me I needed to stay celibate for the next eight years, until my son and daughter reached adulthood, that would have pushed me into an even deeper hole.
When she tried online dating for the first time, Rosie was surprised to find that there was a stigma attached to being a single mother
That said, five years on, I do feel a pang of unease about that time in my life. After the split, my then pre-teen children needed me so much — emotionally, physically and financially. Their world had just imploded and I was their steady centre, the constant in their equation.
I know they would have liked me to be ever present. And, yes, they would have liked me to take that break from men that Candace suggests.
I knew their emotional security should be my number one priority — and it was — but I also craved a romantic connection. I knew it would help me heal. So I had to balance my needs and theirs.
I had grown up in a single-parent household. My father left when I was three and soon headed off to a new city with a new partner. Beyond a few short-lived relationships, it was just Mum and me.
Mum dedicated her life to my upbringing at the cost of any romantic or social life. She concentrated on filling me with love and self-confidence. If I’m honest, I know I would have found it unsettling if she had found a new relationship.
Comparing myself to her made me feel a little guilty. I had to remind myself that she is more introverted, less desirous of romantic connection than me. She has said as much herself. So while I recognise she made a sacrifice in not finding a new man, I don’t think she felt the loss as keenly as I would.
One thing we definitely share is an awareness of the stigma around single parenting. The idea that single parents take from the state. That they are somehow morally dubious. That they are down on their luck.
I know my mother faced these prejudices when I was growing up. I remember people — from teachers to visiting workmen — talking disapprovingly about our ‘type’ of family.
I think, generally, people are less judgmental than they were in the 1980s. But within the midlife dating community, where the apps are full of people financially scarred by their splits, the prejudice is still very real.
Immediately after my traumatic break-up in 2018, I couldn’t imagine being in a romantic relationship ever again. After a year or so, however, I realised that I wanted to date.
For Rosie, dating provided some light relief during her darkest time. Her ego had been shattered by her split, so it was a way of rebuilding her confidence
In 2019, a few friends set me up with their single mates and I joined a dating app.
After my profile went live, the likes and messages came in thick and fast — a salve to my crushed self-esteem. And in among the chancers were a few guys with potential.
One, who went on to become a boyfriend, told me he was wary of meeting up as he thought my custody arrangements would mean there wouldn’t be enough time for him.
This man had the usual ‘single dad’ arrangement of having his children every other weekend and one week night. In the end we did arrange a date, but he was definitely disappointed I didn’t have a more equal division of care. He was up front about it and I just absorbed his irritation and stayed silent.
He was also averse to dealing with, in his words, any emotional ‘messiness’ during the fallout of my split. Particularly where the children were concerned. And as this was still early days, there was quite a lot of strife —pain, sleepless nights and emotional outpourings.
But I hid this from him and I presented myself as a carefree girlfriend with no baggage. I knew that’s what he wanted. I stayed over at his house (and on my request he didn’t ever come to mine), and when I was there it felt as if I was living in an alternative world.
I minimised the extent of my children’s suffering to him because I knew he would find it a turn off. I realise in retrospect this wasn’t healthy.
The relationship ended after six months or so and, reflecting on Candace’s words, I probably should have spent more time rebuilding myself before joining the apps.
By the time I tried dating again six months later, I’d had some therapy and was slowly piecing myself back together. But it was still daunting.
Research by the single parent dating app called Even, which interviewed people about their partner preferences, found 16 per cent of people flatly refuse to entertain the idea of getting together with a single parent.
Rosie believes he brought her second boyfriend into her children’s lives too soon – their pain was still too raw, their fear of abandonment too high (stock image)
The reasons were myriad: one in four said it was down to concerns about messy situations with exes, while others thought they might get co-opted into parenting responsibilities.
The hardest one to swallow was that some people equated a person’s single parent status with a ‘poor relationship track record’. Depressing.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that, according to research from relationship platform eharmony, 64 per cent of single parents on dating sites don’t mention they have children.
Being seen as having ‘baggage’ because of their children is a worry for 28 per cent, while a quarter don’t include their kids because they feel it’s not ‘important’ information. More than one in five want to get to know someone before revealing they have children.
Friends of mine have confessed they don’t tell potential suitors about their children initially, having learned it can put men off. They hope that if they meet in real life, the man in question will be seduced by their charms and be able to see past it.
When I uploaded the requisite amount of photos to my own profile, my children were not front of mind.
I didn’t talk about them in my blurb, or include any pictures of me with them, because I was ‘selling’ me, not them.
It didn’t seem appropriate that their angelic faces should appear on the phones of random men.
I later learnt some men would see my omitting them from my profile as being dishonest about their existence. In fact, a music producer I went on a date with early on expressed surprise and mild annoyance that I had children.
He thought I should have made this obvious by including photos of them in my profile.
Research by the single parent dating app called Even found 16 per cent of people flatly refuse to entertain the idea of getting together with a single parent (stock image)
I told him it wasn’t a deliberate deception and I think he could tell I was genuine. But I guess to him it was still a ‘negative’ about me.
After the date I felt saddened by the judgmental nature of the interaction. I didn’t see him again. I personally didn’t mind if dates did, or didn’t have, kids. There are pros and cons to both.
I only seriously dated two men before I met my now boyfriend of two-and-a-half years. My children didn’t meet the first. They did meet the second, and I now realise I brought him into their life way too soon. Their pain was still too raw, their fear of abandonment too high.
They weren’t ready to see me with someone else — it threatened their sense of security. Kids need their home to be a sanctuary and, until that point, I was always careful to go on dates away from the house — recruiting friends and family into childcare.
But after a while I acquiesced to that boyfriend staying over. I regret this now. Then he confessed to being ‘envious’ of my children. It triggered major warning bells, and within a few weeks I’d ended our relationship.
It was all a learning curve and I think in those early days I was still finding my way through. My mum, brilliant as always, listened but never judged, though she expressed relief when it was over.
I remember one man I messaged when I was first on the app saying he only dated women who were divorced (as opposed to mid-split) as they were more balanced, less fraught.
As I wasn’t in possession of my decree nisi at that point, I thought him harsh.
Now, however, I can accept it’s difficult to date someone still in the eye of the storm. Negotiating the financial settlement, working out custody — it’s not an easy backdrop for courtship.
Men are often more pragmatic when it comes to choosing partners, while women are prone to thinking love conquers all. Men can have a tick box list of requirements and are more ruthless about adhering to it. Women will flex and adjust if they really like someone.
Rosie’s dating experience has taught her that men are often more pragmatic when it comes to choosing partners, while women are prone to thinking love conquers all (stock image)
One area guaranteed to cause issues is the ex. In the Even app research, lots of daters flag ‘ex issues’ as a problem they associate more with single parents. And it’s true, if you have children you are bound to some form of contact with your ex until they are 18.
This can raise issues of jealousy, rivalry, animosity or confusing civility with over familiarity.
Some men I went on dates with worried my ex and I would get back together. (I’d reassure them it was more likely Trump would adopt they/them pronouns.)
When I met my now boyfriend I was in a much better place: a lot more able to be myself and less anxious to be ‘perfect’.
We were introduced by a friend and it just felt right.
My boyfriend has children and understands the joyousness, and the travails, that come with single parenthood. And also how much extra love and care is required when your offspring have been through a marriage split.
The demands on your time, emotions and finances are undeniable, but if your partner accepts them with kindness, emotional maturity and generosity of spirit, then you know you can navigate pretty much anything together.
My boyfriend has not pushed the pace, being very respectful of their space and their time with me, nor is he insistent my now teenage children ‘respect’ him.
Rosie’s boyfriend of two-and-a-half years has children and understands the joy, and the challenges, that single parenthood brings (stock image)
He is not anxious about his place in the hierarchy. I think this is because he is secure in himself. I believe parental love and romantic love need not fight for attention. And, actually, if you see someone being a good parent, then surely that is a massive tick in their box, not a cross.
Though I think Candace Bushnell is right that you shouldn’t look to a romantic partner for your own happiness, I don’t think it’s necessary to remain single until your children have grown up.
Dating as a single parent is not always easy — children, exes and the emotional fallout of a divorce add a whole new layer of complexity — but finding love has given me so much happiness. Not to mention the reserves to be a better mother.
So Candace, while I’m forever grateful you gave us Carrie Bradshaw, I’m sidelining your single parent dating advice faster than you can say ‘Manolos’.
- How To Heal A Broken Heart by Rosie Green (£9.99, Orion) is out now. Instagram @lifesrosie
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