Happy Single Mother

With Valentine’s day just around the corner, Sarah Thompson discusses the challenge of relationships as a single mum.

Sarah Thompson

Romance before you had children was only about the two of you, but romance as a single parent is a different matter altogether.  Now you have a whole set of mis-matching children and a bunch of vitriolic exes, and probably quite a few dogs to factor in too. Just the logistics of romance are mind-bending.

And you have to get used to a new person and all of their habits – something that gets harder as you get older and it’s doubly hard when you’re just not used to the physical presence of another body around the place. One friend told of a lovely guy who ticked loads of her boxes but who did a really loud and rather upsetting poo every morning. It was in the ensuite of her bedroom, so there was no escaping it. After flushing, he would come back to bed and never acknowledge that it had happened. Facing a future where that was her morning alarm for the next 40 years, she decided to get out before it was too late.

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And then there are the children. I admit I found involving the children to be a less complicated affair when they were small. Young children will think a man is a keeper if he turns up with Bean Boozled and a packet of crisps. They are less easy to please as they get older. Teenagers, in particular, can be exceptionally critical of your choices. You might want to keep a new romance away from a teenager, but only for a quiet life, not because you are doing anything inherently wrong.

Different children bring different situations. One friend has a daughter with autism who really struggles when people she’s not familiar with are in her home. So my friend goes every other weekend to her boyfriend’s house.

For children who have never experienced a man living in the house, the novelty doesn’t so much wear off as never exist in the first place. When Lara’s new boyfriend popped round for a cup of tea, her son said after a few minutes, loudly and in front of him: ‘Can that man go now?’

Whatever the set of challenges are, a common thread seems to be a sense of feeling torn between the children and the relationship, and life, especially if the relationship lives a distance away and there is a need to leave home for periods of time. While many single mothers do get time off when their children are with the other parent, it isn’t always easy to compartmentalise a new relationship into your specific windows of free time.  I’ve heard over and over single mums come to the conclusion that a serious relationship can’t and won’t happen until the children leave home. Not because they don’t meet nice partners, or have plenty of fun in the meantime, but because they don’t have the mental energy or space to fit everyone in.

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So many stars need to align in order to make things work. I’ve learnt there is no secret to success, and no perfect conditions can be established for romance to flourish. Everyone’s circumstances are different and ever-changing.

My friends love to hear about my misadventures in dating -‘did you shag him?’ generally being the first questions they tend to ask, especially the married/cohabiting ones. And I always enjoy hearing the stories of the men I meet on dates and from friends who are also dating. Some of course are sad, like the woman who had an affair with the guy’s best friend so that he didn’t only lose his marriage but his best mate too. The guy whose ex-wife had bought her son a vacuum cleaner for his bedroom as a birthday present (she really tickled me). The self-styled Viking who had a miniature Valhalla fire pit in his garden. The hunk who lived in the woods and caught fish for his tea but talked like Worzel Gummidge.

But dating after kids and marriage is of course more than a series of hilarious mishaps and stories to dine out on. Great relationships can and do happen after divorce and after children.

I guess it depends on the kind of person you are. But if you can lose the imperative to see new relationships as potential life partners (and if you can get everyone you know to stop asking if he’s a keeper) and basically do away with the second-time-around thing and see it more as a first-time-for-everything thing, then dating on this side of the marriage and children fence can be hilarious, exhilarating and completely and utterly fascinating.

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This feature is an abridged extract from a book, Happy Single Mother, written by Sarah Thompson and published by Thread.  It is out now in ebook and Paperback.

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