Single dad and writer Eric S. Elkins shares the victories and challenges of parenting his young daughter while trying to get back in the dating scene after divorce.
Eric S Elkins

I used to be embarrassed about the fact that I was dating women I'd met online. Actually, I'm still uneasy admitting it. Invariably, someone will ask, "Where'd you guys meet?" And then I have to a) suffer dubious expressions highlighted by raised eyebrows and/or b) defend the idea. I'm not a champion for online dating services, but I have been on more dates with women I've met on or Jdate (the premier Jewish pickup place) than I have in other places.

It's a function of logistics (half-time parent, full-time working guy, overtime freelancer) and knowledge of my own limited communication skills (kick ass writer, smart in discussions, terrible at small talk). I do much better wooing a woman via email than trying to maintain a conversation in a smoky bar.

Tips for single parents
So, here are my rules for single parents trying online dating:

  • Don't depend on it solely, because you'll be disappointed. Sure, checking the personals can be a great way to filter out the ones whose lifestyles and/or predilections don't match yours. If you're a single mom who loves cranking up Jane's Addiction and eating hot Krispy Kremes in the car after you drop off your daughter at preschool (and, if you are, write me!), you might not have a bunch in common with the silver-haired cellist who keeps all food items separated on his dinner plate.

    But, photos are deceiving, and we all should tacitly admit that chemistry comes as much from physical attraction as it does from intellectual compatibility. There are guys out there whose online photos are 10 years old, and when you meet them, though they may be nice enough, they've put 50 pounds on their butts and bellies, and their hair has migrated from their heads to their nostrils. At least, when you meet a new person in context (bar, place of worship, grocery store, workplace), you can establish the physical part right away. If your brains aren't in the same place, at least you won't feel shallow when things don't work out.

    And there are some real dangers that you're going to miss something and end an email-spawned romance too early. Dating situations that begin online are the lab-grown versions of free-range relationships -- early signs of potential incompatibility become deal-breakers when a person hasn't had a chance to grow on you over time.

    My best friend is dubious of my online adventures, because he worries that I may meet the right girl, but one of us will say something stupid early on and mess the whole thing up. We won't have the same sense of shared experience we might if we met in a more natural context over an extended period of time. There won't be that foundation of "Oh, I couldn't stand him when we first met, but I realized after the third or fourth time we spoke that he's really quite charming." It's a point I'm prone to ignore -- you know, if the sparks aren't there on our first date, why meet again? But the truth is, as my sister says, we send "representatives" of ourselves out to first dates and job interviews, and, with blind/online-initiated meetings, there's not the same chance to get beyond those facades and fall in love with the real person.

  • Always get a picture (AGAP). I once met a woman on the faith of her phone voice and a few short e-mails, thinking, "How bad could it be?" Oh man.

  • Meet as soon as possible. I would be the first to admit that e-mail romance is heady stuff. If you're a half-decent writer, if you're always online, if you're a slave to text messaging, you know it's fairly easy to develop relationships with little or no face time. If I ever write one of these articles after two or three Guinnesses, you'll learn of the way I was drawn into something and figuratively smacked off my chair at the final revelations. But that's another story.

    The thing is, if you find yourself falling for a smooth e-mailer who's funny, romantic, obviously well-informed and likes all the things you do, you're only setting yourself up for the big smackeroo when you see her at your meeting place before she sees you, and wonder how quickly you can end the date. There are wonderful men and women out there, who do terrific e-mail, but turn out to be not your type. Meet, figure out if anything's there, then get into the hot and heavy text.

  • Speaking of meetings, don't, if you can help it, just meet at Starbucks. First, lattes, though delicious, aren't great for the breath or speaking voice. Second, you have to deal with the "who pays" question way too soon. Finally, as tempting as it is to "meet for coffee," you voluntarily place yourself in the conversational compatibility crucible, and will most likely end up asking each other questions like, "So, where did you grow up?" and "So, what's your favorite movie?" Blech. Meet with something to do, or even a minor goal in mind. Window-shop or laugh at people together at a mall, or tool around an art museum on a Saturday. You need an activity that allows you to react to your surroundings, so the pressure is off non-stop talking. Do. Something.

  • You know this already, but leave the kids out of it. As great as your first date goes, as sure as you are that you two will stick with each other for awhile, give it some time before you get "the kids" together. Remember, if you find yourself bonding quickly, your young son or daughter will be like Super Glue to your Elmer's. And if your new significant other has kids too, your offspring might make an even bigger connection to them.

    And, though I believe in the theory "the more friends, the better," it's not fair to allow your child to develop attachments that you might find yourself unable to maintain. All single parents are aware of this, of course, but we still have the propensity to slip when a new person comes into our life after a drought of satisfying assignations, and connect too quickly, and lose all sense of perspective. When only your own heart is at stake, it can be worth the risk. But take your time before inserting your child into the experience.

  • Keep things in perspective. It's only a date! Have fun, and remember that, even if it's a terrible rendezvous, you'll have another killer story to share.
  • Tags: dating

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