The thing about figuring out how to date when you're a single mom is that it is exactly as simple, and exactly a boiling-hot messy as dating before you became a mom: you find someone you want to go out with, you somehow mutually express an interest in auditioning for one another over tapas, and then you spend the days and hours leading up to the date desperately trying to hide your profound shortcomings as a human being with Spanx and contouring. When you finally meet up, you get drunk enough to stop the impulse to rage-cut your bangs over the joke you made in the first 5 minutes that totally didn't land. Then you get several degrees too drunk to functionally exist in public. Then three years later, you look back and realize that you were kinda awesome that night and the other person was having a panic attack about what to do with their elbows. So, like, being a person and trying to find someone's hand to hold while we're being mercilessly flung toward unknowable darkness is exhausting all around.
That's what happens when you make a date, whether you're a mom or not. The similarities largely stop there.
There are some aspects of being a parent that actually make you far more effectual and healthy about dating: Most of us are more aggressive about maintaining good boundaries around our kids and their space than we ever were about maintaining them around ourselves, thus making us far more likely to proceed in new relationships at a slower, more even pace (you know, like we always knew we should've been doing but neglected to do at all once we actually met someone we wanted to never get out of bed with).
It's a well-established truth that no one is ever their real selves on the first few dates. We all send our representatives on those dates: the shiny, charming, curated, calculated approximations of who we'd ideally be if we ever got our shit together, which none of us will ever really feel like we have, but maybe in the meantime, our dating representative will lure in some unsuspecting sucker and trick them into loving us, and then by the time they realize the unsightly mess we really are under unflattering light, they'll be too far in and will just stick around becauseOUT of pure inertia. Basically, while dating, everyone feels like an ill-advised timeshare property, and we're all just hoping that by time someone realizes we're a faulty wreck that they never should've bought into, it'll feel too complicated and annoying to get out of, so they'll just stick with it.
To be clear, this is true of everyone. Not just single moms. Like, we are all essentially trying to gently scam every person we've ever been on a date with. That's OK. It's called romance. It's fine.
For single moms, the representative we send is almost always the same: A mom, but not someone who is solely defined by being a parent — someone who doesn't talk about our kids very much but who says all the right things about them when we do. And for the record, "all the right things" means anything that implies the final, and most crucial, quality a single mom's dating representative needs to possess: Being the world's best mom, but also someone for whom having a kid somehow magically doesn't interfere with the ability to enjoy all the fun, carefree perks of a kid-free lifestyle. Like, you don't want your date the think you're a shitty, negligent parent, but you definitely want to make it look like having a kid doesn't make you a tied-down bore who can never do anything.
Anyway, all people who are dating are all nothing more than freshly showered vessels of high-octane lies, and nothing we say on a first date is ever what we really mean (except the part where we order more drinks). Here are the ways in which single moms, in particular, are filling their dates' heads with bullshit with blissful abandon.
"It's Actually Not As Hard To Find Time To Date As You Might Think"
"Before I got here tonight, I worked a full day (which started with a 6 a.m. wake-up call from a 3-year-old who suddenly forgot that peeing in the bed was a goddamn rookie move), slew the dragon that is getting my child to actually put on his coat and leave his school to go home (he stays later than most kids, because I'm a single mom and no one else can take him home, so in his defense, he's just kinda fucking tired and over it by the time I need him to focus and mobilize), made dinner for my kid, enduring 3.5 meltdowns (I hid in the bathroom and threw chocolate at him when the 4th one started), and got him bathed and in bed.
I let in the babysitter (who promises to just text me and not ring the doorbell next time; "No, it's fine, he'll go back to sleep...ya know, never, and I'll spend the next two days fruitlessly searching for my will to live while I get him back on a regular sleeping schedule, but really, thank you for coming over tonight!"). I listened to the sitter talk to me about this "seriously so genius" mobile app idea that her boyfriend had while I nearly gave myself a concussion against my headboard while rapidly trying on every pair of tights I have in an effort to find ones that don't have rips or tears in them (because some pre-date struggles are the same whether or not you have kids).
I had to completely scrap my original outfit plan when I discovered that the top I was planning to wear had, at some point recently, been used to blow my kid's nose (I assume it was the week before, the morning after another first date — yes, I wear the same outfit on nearly every first date; can I live? — when he came to wake me up and then sneezed and I didn't want to get out of bed so I grabbed last night's shirt off the floor and let Jesus take the wheel).
I had to stare at wrinkle between my eyebrows in the mirror for 17 minutes and ask myself if I really had it in me to sit across from a stranger all night and try to sell myself as lovable, or even fuck*ble, before I could shake myself out of it and put makeup on.
All told, I was so existentially drained by the time it was time to show up here tonight that I was convinced I was mentally drafting the "sorry, something came up and I can't make it, I'm so sorry" text right up until the minute I walked into the restaurant, and frankly, even now I'm trying to take stock of exactly how much fun I'm having to see if there's any room to reasonably decide to go home and sleep instead of pretending to listen to you talk about where you grew up."
In Response To Tentative Questions About Your Kid's Other Parent: "Oh, We Get Along Great. They're Basically Still One Of My Best Friends. We Just Didn't Make Sense Romantically, But It's Ultimately Better Since We Realized That, Ya Know?"
There are about 75 different, more honest answers to this question that a single mom might give depending on her specific situation, and no first date in the history of time has been emotionally prepared to hear any of them. Suffice to say, we will start out by letting you believe the beautiful lie of completely congenial co-parenting (which, to be fair, we sometimes also believe). It won't be until you're months into dating us, out to dinner meeting our best friend, who will wait until we're in the bathroom to drop fun little nuggets about how "weird it is to actually see her happy, but like, in such a good way... She deserves it after...well, everything," accompanied by brief-but-laser-sharp eye contact that says, "This luggage cart of trust issues and pathological insecurity is yours to push now, buddy. It's worse than you ever could've imagined and if you fuck it up, I'll wreck your world, sir."
"You Know, Everyone Says That Having A Baby Will Ruin Your Vagina, But I Guess I Just Got Lucky."
Alright, so you're clearly drunk now, and talking about your vagina. It's cool. This was inevitable. Maybe you have to be a mom who's ever been on a date after having a baby, but the whole "I'm drunk and talking about my general vaginal situation" thing feels like the unavoidable magnetic north of the evening.
"I'd Invite You To Come Inside, But I Have A Really Early Morning."
"I have an early morning...because my child will be waking me up in about 4 hours, and I'm going to need every last second of that for sleep just to get myself to a point where I'm able to functionally deal with being a parent who is breathing and awake and capable of keeping my kid alive. My day tomorrow is going to be a scorching blast of unmitigated hellfire directly to my face because I stayed up late to listen to you talk about how "important it ended up being" for you take a year off before grad school. And also, there are about a hundred dates standing between where we are right now and me actually inviting you into the home I share with my kid. Why? Because I'm not that interested in coping with the guilt of said kid's adult financial ruin beneath the crippling weight of the therapy bills they were forced to incur on account of my parading an endless series of randos in and out of our house while they were growing up.
But other than that, I would totally invite you inside right now."
"It's Kinda Great, Actually. Maybe It Was Challenging Or Sometimes Sad In The Beginning, But You Just Adapt And Get Better At Everything, And I Genuinely Really Love My Life Right Now." – In Response To General Inquiries About Whether Or Not "It's Hard To Be A Single Mom"
"Two nights from now, you'll text me to see 'what I'm up to tonight.' Instead of texting you to come over for real human-upon-human sex times like a childless person would do in the days following a good date, I am going to tell you that I'm at a dinner party or friend's birthday or even a work event that I'll make sound casually fancy, like it's fancy but I feel casual about how fancy it is, because this is just how full, rich, and dynamic my social life is.
I will not be doing that.
The truth is, I actually just won't be able to book a babysitter at that late, last-minute hour, and I want to wait until you like me more before I break it to you that there will almost never be times when I'll be free to randomly hang out with you without advance notice, which is admittedly the bread and butter of having fun while dating someone you like. So for now, I'm going to tell you I'm busy doing something that will ideally raise your opinion of me more than anything I could've done had I been able to hang out.
Instead, I will masturbate on the couch after I put my kid to bed. And then I'll cry afterward upon realizing that I never bothered to put down the half-finished snack pack of Annie's organic cheddar bunnies I was eating after my child left them on the coffee table, nor did I turn off the episode of Paw Patrol he was watching. So no, I've pretty much got this whole thing handled. This is great. This is fine. This is all totally fine."
"Wow, That's So Interesting."
"I'm sorry, I just fell asleep for a minute."
"Ya Know, I'm Not Sure If I Want More Kids. I Guess It Depends On A Lot. I Could See It Happening Or Not, And Would Be Fine With Either. I Don't Really Know Right Now."
"Yeah, I definitely know how I feel about this. I just don't want to tell you my real answer until you've told me whether or not you want kids; not because that has any chance of changing whether or not I want kids, but because it might affect when I tell you the truth. If we're on the same page, I'll tell you now, no problem. If you say the wrong answer ("Your life goals are wrong." – me being the best date ever), I'll tell you...not now. There's nothing that can bring a date to a screeching halt like realizing you're on opposite tacks regarding significant life issues, and nothing will ruin the dessert I just ordered like the stale silence following a realization of insurmountable incompatibility."
*Checks Phone* "Oh Shit, My Kid Got Sick — I Have To Go Home."
"I have never been interested in doing sex on any person less than I am currently interested in doing sex on you. In fact, beyond sex, I cannot even summon the mental and spiritual fortitude that it would take to withstand the next hour or so of your company that would be necessary for me to end this date without making an excuse. That's how much fun I'm not having."
Fact: If my kid actually gets sick while I'm on a date, I will likely make up literally any other excuse to leave. I mean, I'm still going to go, but if I like you and I'm having a nice time, the last thing I want you to do is think, "See this perfectly lovely, interesting, funny, ~upsettingly sexy~ person with whom you're enjoying a good time? You are no longer enjoying that good time because she has a child. And if you keep dating her, this won't be the last time you have a good time interrupted. Maybe it would be better to find someone who doesn't carry with them permanent, built-in barriers to fun."
Look, I know that's bleak as shit, but it's true. On a first date, you don't know me. First dates with single moms are basically extended games of "let's see how adeptly I can truthfully answer your questions about my life while also shielding you from the reality of how unbelievably complicated it is to date as a single mom." They're about hiding the reality that you're going to need to be in love with me to an almost unhealthy, self-sacrificing degree before you can know the truth without hastily opting the fuck out of trying to date me at all. And honestly, opting out would be fair and arguably reflective of a prudent, admirable sense of self-love that would make me want to date you even more enthusiastically. Yes, I'm saying that people who care enough about their quality of life and are confident, secure, and unafraid of being alone enough to walk away from situations that aren't in their best interest, people who respect themselves enough to not want to date me, are the people I most want to date. I'm fun at parties.
"Yes, I'd Love A Bite. I Haven't Had Foie Gras In Forever."
*sensually lean across table and bite off fork*
"I did eat my placenta not that long ago, though."