Dating as a single parent: ‘You’ve got to be pretty resilient’

Lucy O’Driscoll Edge began dating roughly six months after she first became a single parent. “I wasn’t thinking about dating, I wasn’t on any of the sites,” she laughs now. “I met somebody at a party, and he asked me for a number.”

he describes the first hurdle that faces every single parent when they begin dating; how soon do you mention your child? Lucy’s daughter, now a teenager, was four at the time.

“In setting up the date I didn’t feel I should mention I had a child,” she says. It wasn’t a conscious decision as such, she adds, rather a vague feeling of not wanting to bring her child into something so new and as yet unknown.

There is a problem with that though, Lucy adds with a smile. “Your child is pretty much your life. So when he’s asking you, ‘What did you get up to at the weekend?’ I literally sounded like the most boring person in the world.” She found herself making things up. “At the end of the date he said, ‘I’d love to go on another date’, and I thought I can’t keep up this façade. It all came blurting out,” she laughs.

Finding time to date as a single parent is challenging, not to mention money for babysitting for an evening that might turn into a damp squib. “Do I give up an evening with my daughter to spend time with this guy who I’ve just met? And there’s the guilt of, am I going to spend money on a babysitter when money is a little bit tight at the moment? Can I justify that?”

“I’ve been in tears coming back from a wasted child-free night before,” one single parent I spoke to told me.

“As a single, working mum, constantly feeling like I was juggling and that I didn’t have enough time and headspace, the thought of adding another element into that mix was quite overwhelming,” says Lucy, who is the co-founder of Mum Talks, an organisation which runs events for mums.


Frolo founder Zoë Desmond

Lucy introduced that first boyfriend to her daughter when she felt it was appropriate, calling him a friend, as she did, much later, when introducing her now husband and father of her second child, Andy, to her daughter.

“There is a lot of talk that you’ve got to make sure he’s the one before you introduce your child. I agree that you need to know that he’s a really lovely guy, and know you’re going to be spending a lot of time with him. But you’re not going to damage the child. They’re just meeting a new person, a friend of yours.”

It’s also good for the child, she points out, to know that in the times when they are with the other parent, that you are okay. “I think it’s quite good for my daughter to know that when she’s with the other parent, that mummy’s okay, mummy’s with Andy. And it’s so important for them to see us happy, and to see what a good, loving relationship looks like.”

Ian Redmond separated from his wife in 2018, they have two sons. “It was really, really odd,” he says of finding himself single again. “When I got married in 2005 I thought that was it for life. My parents had separated when I was 12, and that was one thing I didn’t want to put my kids through.

“I tried all the dating apps,” he says. “I really enjoyed them, met some lovely, lovely people.”

He has been dating “a fantastic woman, Sinead,” for two years now; they met on dating app Hinge. He introduced her to his sons after about three months.

“We’re our own little family now, and it’s fantastic. Kids are incredibly resilient. They’re not stupid. They’re so well clued into what’s going on, so don’t hide it from them. It’s just a natural progression. Everyone’s entitled to happiness.”

Laura (name changed) has been a single parent for five years, her daughter is in her early teens, and Laura began dating about three and a half years ago. “I found it to be always very confusing as to whether you should be honest about having kids to begin with. Because I don’t know how it’s going to be perceived.”

She will always mention the fact that she is a single parent on the first date, she adds. “Sometimes I feel like you get judgment then. The face kind of flickers a bit. It might not even be something that is offensive, but you get this feeling from the person of, oh, that’s not for them. I’ve had people actually calling it an obstacle or been made to feel really not desirable because of having a child. It can be hurtful; you’ve got to be pretty resilient.”

As a single parent, no matter how robust your support network or supportive your co-parenting situation, time away from your children tends to be limited. “It does make me very likely to make a snap judgment. I tend to go, ‘No, this isn’t worth it’, and move on pretty quickly. But I am still single,” she laughs, “so I must be doing something wrong.”

Laura met a man last year with whom things, for a time, became serious. But when he began to pressure her to introduce him to her daughter, she ended the relationship.

“I was sad about it at the time but not for very long. Because the most painful thing has already happened to me,” she says, referring to her relationship with her child’s father ending. “I don’t think I’ll ever be in as much pain. I think you have to talk yourself down when you’re starting to feel lonely in these matters. Just say, ‘You know, it could be worse. You could be really unhappy with somebody else’.”

It was some of these issues — being met with reluctance to date someone with a child, finding it hard to meet a person who understood what is involved in single parenting — that were behind Frolo founder Zoë Desmond’s decision to add a dating app to her business.


Frolo founder Zoë Desmond

Frolo is a location-based app for single parents intended to help form a network of friends (the word is derived from friend and solo), which launched in 2019. Now, after feedback from the community, Zoë has just launched Frolo dating.

“Dating was always something that in my mind felt like a natural add-on,” Zoë explains. “But to be honest with you, I thought that before that step in the business road map, people would want things like access to lawyers, child psychologists, things like that.”

Research amongst their members showed otherwise. “Forget the expert thing, it’s dating that everyone wants.”

She describes some of the feedback from the Frolo community about dating as a single parent. “The term baggage. Not being sure whether to mention that you’ve got kids on your profile, if that will go against you. If you don’t, not being sure how to enter that into conversation, and at what stage, and then worrying about being ghosted because of it.”

One friend of Zoë’s dated a man for several months before he said he did not want to continue the relationship. “He told her, ‘I don’t see a future with someone who’s got children’. It not only knocked her confidence, but she also felt is anyone ever going to want me, because I’m a single parent. I’m spoiled goods or something.”

She is now in a blended family situation with another single parent. “She can talk to her new partner about that kind of stuff. He’s a single parent, he understands.”

Dating apps can be brutal whatever your situation. But Zoë describes how they can seem especially difficult as a single parent. “While thankfully things are changing in terms of how society sees and accepts single parents, dating apps don’t seem to be. There is this perception that you have baggage, so people are not interested. Not everybody, I’m sure there are some non-single parents that are open to dating single parents. But there is this feeling that you’re less-than. And that you should almost be grateful to a non-single parent for dating you.”

Obviously, this is not the case with the new Frolo dating app. “Everyone is a single parent. You know you’re not on the backfoot. Everyone who is there is there because they’re also interested in dating a single parent.”

Susannah and her partner Carl, based in the UK, are both single parents; they met as friends on the original Frolo app several years ago.

“I’ve been a single parent for just over five years. I joined the Frolo community looking for help and advice to be honest, because I was thrown into oblivion, as we usually are,” Susannah explains. “I made quite a few friends, male and female. And I made it very clear that I wasn’t up for anything else, I was just here to gain from a male perspective as well.”

As time passes, your guard drops somewhat, she says. She and Carl both have two children, he a 14-year-old daughter, and a 10-year-old son; Susannah has two daughters, 13-and-a-half, and an eight-year-old. They would chat about raising teenagers, and everything that came with that.

“It developed into this friendship really, where I was able to be very open and honest, and vice versa. And that led into starting to date.”

She extolls the virtues of dating another single parent. “I felt so lost, and because I was, dare I say it, a woman over a certain age (Susannah was 43), I just thought, ‘Crikey, I’m not going to go out and date, I’m not one to go out and club, I don’t want any of that bother or hassle’. I felt like I was going to be on my own forever. And how would I date even if I was going to? Because I had both my children all the time.”

Carl understood the packed-tight schedule of a working single parent, the need to snatch moments of time wherever you could. They began organising to have the same day off, and meeting in Bath, halfway between London and Cardiff where they were respectively based.

“We would just go and have a coffee for an hour or have some lunch. And then go home, separately. I felt that he really understood that because it was only me taking my children to school, picking them up, doing all the activities, I couldn’t really give all of my time. And I never really had weekends to myself, child-free. He had a huge understanding that we would just see each other as and when we could.”

Later into the relationship, Carl changed his working situation somewhat; he now splits his time between London and Cardiff, where Susannah lives. They now enjoy several degrees of blending, she smiles. There is time with just Susannah and her girls. Then Carl will come stay, and then his children, who he has every second week, come to the house. “It feels like a really nice kind of spread and even keel of things.”

Introducing children feels extremely high stakes, she laughs. They went ice-skating for a couple of hours, it felt like a less pressured activity than dinner, “sitting around a table for two hours, thinking you’ve got to get along, because we like each other,” she laughs.

She told her daughters beforehand, “‘I quite like him, so I want you to meet him because it could go somewhere. If you’re not keen, then we’ll just stay friends’. And then I was hoping that they liked him, and they did, thank God. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise,” she says.

“You have to be honest together about the type of relationship you want,” she adds. “Because Carl and I had great communication from the start, and we took it really slowly, and didn’t push each other with anything really, it just kind of went quite steadily, and quite easily.”

Frolo Dating app is now live across Ireland and the UK

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