Dating Tips Single Parents

Men's Dating

11 Dating Tips for Single Parents (From a Dad Who’s Been There)

John McElhenney

Written by: John McElhenney

John McElhenney

John McElhenney is an internationally recognized single parent author and coach. He is also a musician, poet, and tennis player, and he lives in Austin, Texas, with his two kids. Read more at

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

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Getting back out into the world of dating after years of being in a relationship and raising kids together is a bit of a shock. Believe me, I’ve been there. The rules of engagement have changed. Even online dating has changed a lot, and it’s only been around for 20-something years.

From one single parent to another, here are my top 11 tips for jumping into the dating pool when you’re newly single.

1. Decide If You Want to Date a Fellow Single Parent

I’ve had experience dating both parents and non-parents, and I think there’s a major, ready-built connection if you’re dating another parent. Those “drop everything” moments are not so shocking if you’ve had them yourself.

If your potential partner has kids, they’re dealing with the same parenting issues. If your partner has never had kids, the interruptions seem more like inconveniences.

2. Lose Your Expectations

You don’t know who’s going to light your fire once you get to meet them. Potential partners on paper can be duds when you meet face to face, and dating profiles that seem average can be hiding a real gem.

Let go of your expectations when you meet a person for the first date. Let their real-time presence be what you’re paying attention to.

3. Join Several Dating Sites, Not Just One

Since I’ve been dating again after divorce, I notice my standards are a lot higher than they were when I was younger. I’m less likely to compromise on my “must have” list. I estimate that I’m interested in about 5% of the available women on online dating sites. Of those, a small fraction will be interested in me.

Photo of a man looking at a dating site

Signing up for a few dating sites, not just one, will increase your chances of finding your perfect match.

So I’m not afraid to join OkCupid, Match, Tinder, and Bumble all at the same time. I can set the pace. I can dial back if I get too much action, but I’m throwing my net out as wide and far as I can. Then I can sit back and see who responds.

4. Be Honest About Who You Are

Here’s a chance to put out there what you are all about. If you love working out and traveling, that’s fine, but, well, that’s not very imaginative. We all work out and travel, in some fashion, or we don’t. Get as specific as you can.

Also don’t gloss over your wants and desires, and if you have several dealbreakers (one of mine is smoking), put those in your profile. Why waste time?

5. Be Honest About What You Want in a Partner

Be honest about what you’re looking for. In building your profile online, you have a chance to articulate what you value in a relationship and what types of activities make you smile. Give as much information as you can (“Long walks on the beach” descriptions are lame).

Be as specific as you can. If you’re a tennis player, mention that in your About section. It never hurts to ask, upfront, for what you want.

6. Use a Variety of Photos in Your Dating Profile

No glam shots, please. We’ve all seen them. We know they lie. They look like you’re trying too hard. Be natural. Show yourself in several active settings. Perhaps a sporting shot if you’re sporty, and include at least one full-body shot.

Photo of a man taking a selfie with a dog

Post one action shot, one headshot, and one full-body shot, so people get a better idea of what you look like and the type of person you are.

Do your photos express some of the joy in your life? I know it’s what I look for in other people’s dating profiles. I like to see photos that show me the joy the other person has in their life and, in my mind, the joy they will bring into my life.

7. Be Flexible and Adaptable

Once the process of coordinating a date comes into play, both partners have to be very flexible. If you both have kids, scheduling can become a challenge.

See if the future date/partner can be flexible when things don’t work out. Are they late for the date? Are you OK with 5 minutes late? What about 20? Know your limits, but express and encourage flexibility whenever possible.

8. Listen to What the Person is Telling You They Want

Listen to the other person’s intent. Are they looking to date? Or do they want to settle back into a long-term relationship as quickly as possible?

9. Give All of Your Attention to Your Date

Sure, there will be some misses at the beginning, but if you’re in the middle of a date, try to stay engaged. Listen to their questions. Listen for red flags.

Photo of a couple on a date

Really listen to what your date is saying and the questions he or she asks you — don’t mentally be somewhere else.

Key into the connections you can draw between your life and theirs. If you pay attention, your perfect match could be just a few dates away.

10. Develop a Dating Plan and Process

Again, dating is a process. At one point, I even made a PowerPoint with photos, names, and salient points about the women I was chatting with. This helped me differentiate between the various interests of the potential mates.

And I have a plan. Several dates a week. Listen for genuine matches. Follow up with the 100% wins, and pass on everyone else.

11. You’re Either 100% In or You’re Not

I’m not into dating. I want a long-term relationship, so when a date comes up short, I pass quickly and without drama. I will gently let the person know either in person or via text after the date. I’m looking for my next 100% connection. Anything less is cheating myself. I recommend you do the same if you’re also looking for a long-term relationship.

Most Importantly, Be True to Yourself

There are a lot of new ways to meet people. Try online dating, go to meetups, attend church if you’re religious, etc. Most importantly, if you go about your process with honesty and diligence, I believe you will find what you are looking for. I encourage you not to settle, but to keep looking when the match is less than pure. Good luck out there!

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