Like most single 28-year-olds, I'm dating. But I’m also mum to three-year-old Freddy – a sticking point that seems to change the conversation in any potential new relationship. I’m not looking for anything serious, necessarily, or a replacement father for my child, but that’s what many men assume when they hear ‘single parent’.
Figuring out when to tell new partners has been a learning curve. I used to keep it a secret, afraid men would run the second I uttered the ‘M’ word, but I’ve learned it’s far better to be upfront straight away.
The first guy I dated as a mum, when Freddy was four months old, said he felt cheated when I told him. It was our first date but that – apparently – wasn’t soon enough. He said I should have made it clear on Match.com. Another man couldn’t get his head around it and went bright red whenever I mentioned Freddy.
So now I have a picture of Freddy on my Tinder and Bumble profiles. But that doesn’t mean I’m searching for a life partner to join the two of us. I want some adult company and someone to stave off the loneliness that comes with solo parenting a toddler.
I was 24 when I realised I was pregnant from a very casual fling with a man who was quick to vanish when I told him. It was tough. But while I could cope with my changing body and knowing life would never be the same, it was the thought that adult intimacy would be suspended indefinitely that scared me most.
Dating seemed impossible. It started badly when I found out I was two months pregnant and had to break it to the guy I’d been seeing for a month. ‘I’m pregnant, but it’s not yours,’ probably isn’t a phrase you want to hear from a girlfriend. He insisted it wouldn’t change things, but our relationship fizzled out a few weeks later. I spent the next few months lonely, craving intimacy and sex.
I started catfishing on Tinder, using my pre-pregnancy photos to get some male attention. I didn’t meet any of the men as I had a bump by this point. But I needed the confidence boost online flirting provided. Then, when Freddy was a few months old, I returned to the dating frontline. I was more insecure and was convinced no one would want me. I assumed men would think I was carting around baggage – which makes me feel ashamed and guilty now.
My fears were confirmed when one man I was dating compared parenthood to living with a debilitating illness. ‘Well, I suppose we’ve all got skeletons in our closet – I’ve got Crohn’s disease,’ he said.
Single dads proved just as unpredictable. One I was seeing refused to let me meet his daughter as our relationship was ‘too new’ – after a year. He wouldn’t even introduce me as a friend. I bumped into them on the Tube one day and he blanked me.
My rule is that Freddy can meet men I’m with if I introduce them as friends. If it’s going somewhere then, after a while, I’ll explain he is Mummy’s boyfriend. I’ve been dumped by men who tell me they aren’t ‘looking for anything serious’ as soon as they hear I’m a mum, without even bothering to find out what I’m looking for. The gender imbalance is frustrating: single mums are ‘desperate’ while single dads are ‘DILFs’. I’ve never met one who feels he has to hide the fact he has children, but I know many women who feel conflicted about when to break the news to prospective partners.
Freddy doesn’t have a dad and never will. He understands every family is unique and accepts it as simply as he accepts he doesn’t have siblings. I let him have fun with someone I’m seeing but I’ve learned not to let them stay over and I’m careful to make sure Freddy doesn’t get attached. I don’t want him to think they’re part of the family. I don’t want the men to think that either. I want them to know they are with me, not filling a vacancy for a dad. I wouldn’t accept a second-rate relationship just so we can be called a ‘family’. We already are a family – just the two of us. But if things get serious with a man, that will be a lovely bonus.
Confessions Of A Single Mum by Amy Nickell (£16.99, Headline) is out now.