As part of a series of memoirs redefining the stereotype of single motherhood, author Amy Nickell writes about the realities of dating when you're raising a three-year-old on your own
Picking what to wear for a first date is always hard, but picking what to wear for a first date when you gave birth just four months earlier is a nightmare. I’ll never forget walking down the stairs all dressed up to find my baby, Freddy, with his bottle, ready to be put to bed by someone else. But the guilt didn’t detract from my desire to reclaim my identity outside of motherhood. Plus, I hadn’t had sex in over a year, which is absolutely no fun. However you look at it, landing yourself single-mum status involves a whole world of dating complications.
In my case, going it alone wasn’t a choice. I had been rejected by someone who I longed to love me – a short-lived fling founded on low self-esteem and mindless infatuation. So, not only was I re-entering the dating ring battered and bruised but I was also carting around some ‘baggage’, in the form of a tiny human who was completely dependent on me.
When I timidly dipped my toe back into the dating pool (with a guy I met online), I decided the best way was to masquerade as my former childless self. In hindsight, I feel guilty that I felt my motherhood was something to hide. My logic was that telling a potential date in person would soften the blow, as they would already have invested enough interest in having sex with me that they might at least pretend not to care and my feelings could remain intact.
This turned out to be a terrible idea. One particular ‘big reveal’ ended with my date comparing parenthood to living with Crohn’s disease. Soon afterwards, I changed my dating profile to include a picture of me with my son, who, unlike so many of the children in Tinder pics, does actually belong to me and isn’t just a prop (used mostly by men) to show a ‘softer side’. Putting us out there as a package left me feeling vulnerable, and the tone of the incoming messages changed instantly. ‘Thanks for giving me the nod about your kid early on,’ read one. And it hurt to read strangers refer to my son like this.
Ghosting, hook-ups, men who were definitely married – nothing had changed on the dating battlefield, only now I was paying a babysitter a tenner an hour for the pleasure. But having a child helped me put things in perspective. Newsflash: single mums aren’t looking for a dad-shaped puzzle piece. Our family is the way it is, and that doesn’t change just because I fancy a few dates. One man broke up with me because he ‘couldn’t get his head around being a dad’. No one asked him to.
Every time I think, ‘He wishes I wasn’t a mum’, I hate myself for it. This is not just about my feelings any more; any man I date long-term will inevitably end up emotionally involved with my son. I am who I am because of Freddy, and I’m not ready to disrupt our unit of two. As far as soulmates go, I already have one for life.
Confessions Of A Single Mum by Amy Nickell (£16.99, Headline) is out 12 July