The One Thing You Need To Know About Dating A Single Mom

by M. Esther Sherman

There are roughly 11 million things it would be nice if everyone knew about dating a single mom. At least a million of those things should be considered a top priority that must be known before embarking on a romantic situation with a mom. These include things like what hours of the day are best for sexting (hey, we're busy) and how many minutes a single mom needs in warning before you casually pop in (actually, you should probably not do that at all, unless you know for sure that you're dating a single mom who happens to love that because most of us do not). I would argue that at least six of those things are desperately essential to having a healthy, stable relationship with a single mom and maintaining your sanity while you do it. But in all versions of the universe, alternate realities, and tiny crevices of this very earth, there is only one thing that you absolutely need to know about dating a single mom:

You’re never going to be the number one person in her life.

That may seem harsh and I’m certain there are at least a few hopeless romantics shaking their heads and insisting I’m wrong, who want to cry out that it's possible for a single mom's kids and her partner to share the number one spot. I get why you might want to think I'm wrong, but I have to say, after much consideration, I’m not. I don’t put this statement out there to hurt anyone's feelings or make the daters of single moms feel unappreciated. We see you, you lovers who don’t flee at the mention of our stretch marks or recoil when we gush about finger paintings and holiday photos. No, you have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. You may never know how much we love you for the way our children look at you, how we admire you for the patience in your eyes and your ability to give your energy not just to us but to our little ones, for those of you who have gotten that far into our lives. And for the rest of you, the people we date more casually, we adore you for how you respect the boundaries we have to put up around our homes and our kids. We see you, lovers of us single moms.

But no matter how amazing you are (and trust us, you are), you will never be the number one person in our lives.

There are some people out there who try to prove this wrong. I’ve met them, dated them, and been impressed by their devotion before having to admit the truth: There’s nothing they can do to make themselves the number one person in my life. Nothing. No amount of flowers, romantic walks, intimate passion, or spur of the moment getaways can alter the position of my heart. I mean, even I sometimes doubt if this is completely true; I’m a travel junkie, and for stamps in my passport, we can pretend I don’t even have a kid. Just kidding (kinda)!

But the truth is, the kid will always come first.

There are fantasies in my head about dating, relationships, and falling in love. I’m what some might refer to as "high maintenance" in the standards department. There’s something about settling down that ruffles me and I can’t quite wrap my brain around it. No, “settling” is not what I’m open to. I want intensity, passion, heart; I want someone I can respect from here to eternity but still can’t wait to get naked. I want someone who sees me so completely, so fully, that I can only ever be myself with them. I want someone who has my respect and love, who will keep my secrets and protect those things with an intensity equal to what I put into the relationship.

But most of all, I want someone who’s OK with being chosen second. Not because they aren’t the best partner, lover, or friend, but because my child will always come first. The good news is that most parts of life don't necessitate a single mom choosing between her partner and her child; those moments happen rarely, and in between, there's enough room and energy for everyone's needs to get met. I just mean that when needs overlap or contradict, and I'm in a position where fulfilling the needs of my relationship means diminishing my ability to meet the needs of my child, that's totally not happening. Hopefully, no one has to go without. But if someone is going to go without a piece of my energy or resources, it definitely won't ever be my kid.

I want someone who sees me so clearly that they know they are in second place and it’s a title they are proud of. Eventually, I want what most every single mom wants: someone who doesn’t see me as a "single mom" in a way that reduces me to a stereotype, or a collection of choices. I want the person who looks in my eyes and sees how much I love my people — deeply, unconditionally, and with a smile on my face — and wants to earn a place in that group.

I want someone who knows they will never be the number one slot in my life, but knows that doesn't mean I don't have their back; someone who chooses to put me first anyway.

Because that’s the hardest part of dating a single mom. It’s not our hours; We are masters of babysitters, school lunches, and magic sound machines that keep our children in their beds precisely when we need them to be. It’s not our stress level; We can handle our lives and our happiness and still somehow manage to have a healthy, delightful sex life (even if it’s often just with ourselves at times). We single moms are superheroes, chefs, magicians, teachers, and wielders of power beyond the understanding of the average mind. We can do anything...except put anyone (other than ourselves sometimes) before our kid. If you can hang with that, you are one step closer to being able to hang with us.