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6 things every single mama should do when she starts dating

When I read a recent post on the top five dating mistakes single moms make, I couldn’t help but feel a little defensive and…caught. While two reputable, seemingly kind and wise experts — a “courtship coach” and psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues — explain how newly single moms can trip up when they step back into the dating realm, I recognized a few of the potholes I fell into after I got divorced.

Their advice is sage, or at least something to consider as parents explore the “single” part of their lives. For people who have been married or partnered for a long time, it can be very easy to get swept up in the world of crazy boyfriends, bad break-ups, and intoxicating sex. It’s just that this time, there are kids to consider. Even if your children never know where you go on Saturday nights or who you are with when they are dad’s house on Thursdays, how you think of yourself, how safe and happy and nurtured you are impacts them, too. This makes being good to you and finding your va-va-voom kind of complicated.

But first and most importantly this (and then we can move on): I hope the recently single parents out there have given lots of deep, good thought to how they will date with children and why it’s a good idea to hold off on introducing a new partner to them, how you can healthfully compartmentalize your dating and still have your own life, and why hooking up with your kid’s best friend’s dad is most often a terrible disaster. Done that? Good, let’s move on to the other stuff.

Yes, you will make some of the mistakes the nice lady’s so want you to avoid. Yes, you will mess up. But instead of focusing on failure, what if we centered on what you can do to make single mama dating sizzling, safe, and so worth the effort and terribly high heels?

Here are the six things you can do for fabulous single-mom dating.

1. Forget timelines or “shoulds” or anyone else’s opinion about when it is time to start dating.
This counters the first three of the five dating mistakes the experts said single moms make — waiting too long to date, becoming exclusive too soon, and starting too date too soon. Everyone (and yes, this does include your attorney, your child’s teacher, every possible married person you come into contact with, random guy from your job six years ago who you are for some reason friends with on Facebook, your dentist…the list goes on and shockingly on) will tell you the precise time they believe you should start dating. And rest assured, that date will either be four years in the future or four years in the past. Or at least feel like it.

Tune them out and instead, tune into what you really think. You’ve probably been working in some kind of partnership for a long time. This is a chance (or one of many now) to make a decision by yourself FOR yourself. Own that. And if you get into the game and it is too intense or creepy or terrifying, get out or slow down or change the rules. If you need some time to get to know yourself and knit and plan for your retirement and obsessively scrub grout, then do that for a while. If you jump on Match.com right away, find friends who will help support you in doing it in a way that doesn’t puncture your soul or infringe on your time with your kids and at work. If you are a person who tends to hermit but aren’t ready to be romantic, get yourself to rock climbing or an underground dinner club or something exciting that doesn’t have to involve dating or grout but can involve fun and engagement.

2.  Remember that dating is not a permanent status. If you filed for divorce on Thursday (or will next Thursday) and you signed up for e-Harmony on Friday (or last Friday) and it ends up being a mistake for you, put your profile on pause, take what you can from it and make a different decision tomorrow. Just because you go on one date, even early on, you don’t have to continue dating.  In the process of your last relationship detox, this can be part of your twelve-step program (and there are actually many solid parallels between getting clean and finding intimacy after a break-up) — one day at a time.

That said, being alone is not permanent either. Whether you choose to let your family in a little closer, reconcile with a long-lost college roommate, jam out at a ukelele class with more artsy people, or speed-date, trusting folks to be a part of your life is a good, healthy, and often very happy development. Embrace it when it is good. Affirm that you gave it a shot it when it’s not.

3. Help yourself look fabulous. Even when/if you don’t feel that way. Procure an outfit that highlights your curves, brings out your eyes, or just makes you smile when you catch a glimpse in the mirror when you’re wearing it. Maybe you will take yourself on an outrageous spending spree to find that outfit, perhaps you will snag it from the clearance rack at Target. You may possibly dig it out of the back of your closet or a friend might donate it to your good cause. Wear it over and over and over again with these words from one of my wisest, most stylish single friends — “That guy you’re going on a first date with has never seen your wardrobe and has no idea if you wear something every single day. Might as well wear what you feel confident in!” When I go with what she said, it never fails that I look (or at least think I look) great.

Hair cuts, cute shoes, some big and gawdy rings, a sparkly clutch purse that contains nary a Lego, a new pair of good-ass jeans, or a MAC lipstick in a delicious red have all worked magic for me at different points, not just by turning a basic black shirt into something very date-y but also in helping me feel like I was opening the door to something wonderful.

If you’re not ready to present yourself to the world or a potential suitor in a way your proud of (that includes clog wearers and stiletto wearers, Chapstick ladies and glossed up glamorpusses alike), then you may need some more time. Throw on your yoga pants and see #1, section 2, part C on just leaving the house to do something fun.

4. Affirm that you’re good-lovin’-worthy by wearing fancy panties on weekdays.
It’s amazing what a boost you can get out of a pair of red lacy things or even super-soft microfibery things, whether you have a hot date or you’re headed to Trader Joe’s. Putting on sexy undies might seem like an inane or unimportant step in your day, especially if you’re chasing small children or spend hours carpooling teens. But trust me, the tiny pa-dow is worth it! Consider it a reminder that you are gorgeous and smoking hot, whether you’ve chosen to let a bunch of people know it, one person peek, or are still keeping the secret to yourself.

Related: Get rid of the underthings you wore for your last husband, partner, boyfriend. I don’t care if it is LaPerla or a KMart special or it is extremely lucky. You will think of those steamy experiences as you gussy up for what you hope to be new intimacies. If you cannot bear to toss them, I highly recommend you push them to the back of your drawers-drawer and invest in a few new bits of lingerie for this new dating cycle.

5. Protect thyself. This is a serious one and has many applications. Being in transition, no matter how ready we are to romp around with another person or how long out of the last relationship we are, makes each and every one of us a bit more vulnerable. I use my sternest motherly voice to insist that you:

* Take care of your own contraception. Beyond condoms. If you are having sex with a man, practice it safely with condoms. But do not neglect to take care of your own fertility as well.  I have heard many, many stories from single mamas who unintentionally got pregnant when they started dating, mostly because they didn’t have to think so hard about birth control when they were previously partnered up. No newly single parent needs that stress. Talk to your doc frankly about what works best for your life and health and remind yourself every time you tend to your birth control that you are being good to your body.

* Drive or cab yourself to dates. Do not reveal right away where exactly you live. Have a way home on your own and, if you imbibe, take safety into account if you are considering driving.

* Text a loved one you trust the details of your date. For the first few months when I date someone, I alert my brother to every outing we take. I text the date’s name and any contact info I have, where we are going, and then let my brother know I am home safely. I feel reassured he knows where I am and he feels better laughing with me about Captain Halitosis or Boob-Starer McGee once I am back in my own double-locked apartment.

* Hold off on friending until a few dates in.
You will have your own boundaries about social networking when you are back on the social scene. And I am sure it will snap into focus juuuuust as soon as you mistakenly accept friendship with the guy who tells you two minutes into a cosmo and stuffed jalapenos that he’d like you to have his baby as soon as he moves out of his Oxycotin-addicted ex-girlfriend’s house. Well, at least that’s how it happened for me. Then I just put it off to a rule of “no Facebooking until we’re five dates in!” and took the ribbing about what a strict mama I am.

Once you are friends, deactivate your “check-ins” or other locators on social networks. No guy, even the one you’re smitten with, needs to know where you are 24/7.

These safety-girl checks will not make you wackadoodle. They will make you wise.

6.  Feel free to be a whole new kind of sexual goddess. If that means you may want to dig into your inner tigress, so be it. If that requires you to make up for years and years in an undersexed marriage, no worries. If that means you give ladies some love, that’s cool too. Want to (ummm) get to know yourself better? Go on ahead. If you’re thinking you want to be celibate a while, get that going. This is life offering you the chance to embrace whoever it is you want to be — or at least try on some different ways of being. Embrace it. Safely. And fiercely. And with a bunch of condoms stashed in your purse.

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