Finding Love

Love is a major theme for single parents but it’s scary to think about finding love again especially when what we thought was love ended in disappointment and hurt. The idea of dating again can be daunting when you don’t know who to trust anymore. Whether we're divorced and we have felt betrayed, or maybe widowed and felt devastated, or maybe never married and felt abandoned, we have all had love, create huge hurt in our lives. So to believe that we can love again is a scary thought. Although on some level we all long for that, it also terrifies us.

We thought it would be helpful to put together a panel of solo parents, or former solos, and talk about what “finding love” means to each of us. We are going to share notes on dating experiences, a few war stories, and funny things. We’ll also talk about our screening methods for dating and relationships including red, yellow, and green flags. Red flags are deal breakers. Yellow flags are things that might be a no for you, but you would pass them on to a friend, and green flags are things that told us we had found a keeper, someone who hits the important things on our list.

Red Flags
Marissa, who recently got married, said her red flags include anything that makes her feel even the littlest bit unsafe for her or for her children. One guy suggested he pick her up for a first date at her house and asked for her address. When she said no because they had never met, he persisted and got hostile when she wouldn’t agree. He kept pushing and that confirmed the red flag. She ended all communication with him and reported him to the dating app.
Another safety issue for her is a man who moves too quickly. Marissa says, “Suppose you meet someone for coffee and as you go to say goodbye in the parking lot, he starts to be a little too handsy. This is someone who doesn’t even know my middle name. That is a non-starter.”  Whenever a potential date acts in a way that raises concern or a sense of “I need to escape this”, those are red flags.

Single mom, Amber, shares how fortunate she has been to have found a guy who respects physical boundaries. She only dates men who are willing to go at a pace that is safe and feels emotionally connected, noting “That's wise and healthy.”

While she was dating, she shares one of her red flags which “seems so obvious”.  If someone is married, you should not be dating. She goes on to share an experience she had where a guy reached out to her via text. “We had some mutual friends; he was pretty charming and could keep up a good conversation. He went into some subjects that were important, mentioned church and a relationship with God – two things which are absolute requirements”.  He was gainfully employed, seemed like a good dad, and suggested they meet for the first time at church. “Hmm. Okay. I might be in”, she thought, and they continued texting back and forth for a few days. Suddenly he says, “Let's have lunch sooner.” Something about that gave her pause so she reached out to a mutual acquaintance to ask for a little more information about this guy before meeting him for lunch. When she did, her friend, said, “He’s married!” She was flabbergasted. They had talked about his “divorce: more than once, even going into details about the time frame and talking about his ex-wife. But sure enough, her friend said, Amber, I'm telling you, that guy is married. “So, I went back to this guy and confronted him about it, and said, What on earth are you doing? And how would you even bring up a relationship with God and wanting to meet at church when you haven’t honored the covenant of your marriage?  I read him the riot act and never spoke to him again.”

Of course, we all get lonely and it’s tempting to put the cart before the horse when you’re in the process of divorce but there's a type of healing you can't do until that one door is finally closed. You can't grieve what is lost fully until the divorce is final.
Robert shares one of his primary red flags was stage of life. Before he met his wife, he dated a girl who was considerably younger. “She was beautiful… and it was great for my ego” but he realized that they were in completely different stages of life. When he looks back on that now, he realizes if he chosen someone to remedy insecurity, he would have lost out on building something substantial.

Kim shares a red flag for her is also that you must be divorced before you start dating. “You are married until you receive that piece of paper in the mail and the judge has signed it.” Another red flag is if they don’t know Jesus. “They have to know Jesus. I cannot walk the rest of my life in a relationship with someone when we're not on the same page. Absolutely, I just cannot do that.” And, Kim adds, another red flag is someone who doesn’t show up at your doorstep already happy and who knows who he is in Christ. She shares this is essential because we are each responsible for our own relationship with God.

So, these are some red flags in dating that are non-negotiable dealbreakers. Yellow flags are things you learn when you go out with someone, and they are nice, but they are not for you. So, you may think, “They are not right for me but I’m going to pass them on to a friend.”  

Yellow Flags
For Marissa,  a yellow flag for her was a guy she met who had older kids. He wasn’t interested in raising more kids. As a widow, her kids didn’t have a father figure and that was something they really wanted.
“And so, for me, that was a nonstarter. The guy was great, very successful, smart, fun to be around, shared the same hobbies, but my kid is still at home, and I still want them to have somebody they can have a relationship with.”
Amber shared two stories where there was a yellow flag with someone. One of her yellow flags is stage of life. “I dated this wonderful guy. I really liked him; we had a great relationship. He loved God and he was emotionally mature which are two of my absolute green flags. But he was in a different phase of life. He had younger children. My kids are 17 and 19. I'm really looking forward to the next season of parenting adults.” Amber realized that she wasn't prepared to be a stepmom to young children. She shares, “I really had to think it through and pray about it.” She did and found herself telling him, “I really like you and respect you. I so many good things in you, but my season of life is different than where you are and where I want to be.” So, they parted as friends.
She shares another story of the time a guy sent her a picture of his abs. “I want to be strong and healthy until I'm 95. I walk a lot but I'm not in the gym six days a week and I'm happy with who I am.” Amber realized that being healthy is important to her but someone who is super into fitness might not be a match because they have different priorities and ways of spending their time. A yellow flag doesn't mean they're completely unqualified but just that they may not be the right fit for you.

Green Flags
Red flags are an absolute no. Yellow flags are not the right fit for you.  What are some green flags in dating?  

Kim shares that her green flag is  “must love Jesus” She also loves a guy who is funny and can laugh a lot. She is thankful to have found those things in her husband, Brian.
Green flags for Marissa are integrity and kindness. Although she is a widow, her marriage was not easy. She was wary about dating. Every time she would consider someone to date, she would come up some reason not to like them.  Finally, her youngest son said to her, “Mom, if you reject everyone for no reason, you will be single forever.” Marissa realized he was right and realizing her kids wanted her to find someone and move on was helpful.  She’s thankful to have found that in her husband, Matt. Matt is safe and responsive. He leaned into her fears and loved her through her triggers. He didn’t try to fix her. He just loved her where she was at.

Another green flag for Marissa is when other people pull you aside and tell you what a great guy you are dating. When she was dating Matt, people would come up to her and say, “You got a keeper. This is a good guy. This is a great man.”

For Amber, one of her green flags is emotional and spiritual maturity. When she was dating, she looked for someone “who had done their individual work, processed their divorce, who had figured out what happened, had grieved some of the losses, and knew where they were going next.” She had taken time to do that, and she wanted someone who came to the table with the same level of commitment to health. She wanted someone who was able to love themselves well so they could love her well too.

Another green flag for her is when someone has a great relationship with their family. She shares that her fiancé’s family is really connected. “There's just a lot of warmth and kindness in how they treat each other. There's a lot of consideration for each other.” That means a lot to her because she is very committed to family too.

Robert shares that a green flag for him was no “drama”. He shared that he had enough of his own drama. A major red flag for him was if someone was always talking about their ex or talking about them always being late on child support. He shared that when he met his wife it what was so refreshing about the relationship was that “nothing was volatile”. If there were hurts or conflict, they could talk about it openly without the conversation becoming escalated. He said he wanted someone with self-awareness who could share emotionally but not be overly dramatic. He wanted there to be enough healing that has happened to where there could be the lack of drama.

These red, yellow, and green flags are not an exhaustive list, and we aren’t necessarily going to find someone who checks off all these boxes, but we thought it would be helpful to explore some of the things we've learned along the way.

Knowing You Are Ready to Date
As we talk about finding love after being single, another important question is “How did you know when you were ready to date?

Amber shares that she knew she was ready when she had reached a place of emotional stability. She felt ready after she had processed some of the hurts that had taken place in her divorce and when she felt good about who she was. She had reached a place of self-awareness and taken intentional steps like working through things with other people, going to counseling, dialoging with God, and finding out who she was, what she wanted, and what she didn’t want. She said she also knew what she had to offer. That awareness and honesty seemed like a good place to be to before she started to date. She adds, “Interestingly enough, though, I really felt ready to date…but my kids weren't ready for me to date.”

Marissa shares that she may have started dating before she was ready. She wanted to move on with her life and close the chapter that was behind her and pretend it never happened. So, when somebody asked her out six months after her husband’s death, she thought, “Why not?” But, she says, “Let me be a cautionary tale to you because it blew up very quickly. It wasn't a very long relationship. I was not ready.” She shares that she didn’t know at that time what ready really meant. She started setting ground rules for herself like building a support system to have in place before she started dating. Working on that and maturing through her experience meant she did end up waiting to date but she is glad. She shares, “I knew that I was actually ready to take on a relationship when I got to that point where I no longer cared if I had it.” She said she was ready when she no longer needed a relationship to feel whole or to make her family is complete.
Kim said she knew she was ready to date when she was content and grateful, in a place where she loved her life with her kids and was learning how much God loved her. She shares, “It wasn't until after I got to that point when my husband came along.”

Robert shares, “I knew I was ready for dating when I realized I didn't really need it.” He wanted to be dating but he got a place where things were enough the way they were. He also realized his daughters weren’t ready for him to be dating yet.
Finding love is multi-faceted. First, we have to do the work to process and heal so we are ready to date again. Then, we need eliminate potential dates with red flags and find someone with green flags. It all takes time.

For Robert, Kim, Amber, and Marissa, their stories, and their process to find love looks very different – four people with four approaches. There is no right or wrong way, and no absolutes. There are similarities in their stories and experiences but also differences, including how their kids accepted a potential spouse. So much depends on our specific backgrounds. Kim and Marisa had kids who were open to them dating whereas Robert and Amber were the opposite. It looks different for everybody.

Dating Advice
Knowing that, what are some helpful tips about dating?
Amber shares, “Know your own mind.” Know who you are. Know what you want and know what you don't want.  “Don’t be open-minded. Actually”, she says, “maybe be a little bit narrow mind and really focus on what you want and need. Go into it with an openhearted approach…but instead of being open-minded, I think to know your own mind is really important.”

Marissa shares, “When in doubt, that probably means somebody better is out there.” Don’t rush it and don’t push yourself to being ready. God doesn’t push us, and He has a plan. “Rather than pushing and trying to pursue a dating relationship, pursue your relationship with God. Pursue who you are and make yourself right for when God does bring that person into your life.”

Kim shares, “Stop crying so much.” Trust that God has your best interests at heart and remember how much He loves you. “It’s so hard to wait because we are lonely, and we all want to be loved by another human being but waiting was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Be patient, enjoy the waiting more, because God has the best ahead for you. Enjoy the time you have as a single parent.

Robert says, “Don't overanalyze too early.” A dear friend, an elderly woman, told him, “Please just have fun.” That resonated because he was such an analytical person but that got him in trouble with his first marriage. We do need to know our own minds but don't overanalyze too early. Lighten up. Enjoy dating.

Amber shares, “Robert, I remember you giving me that same advice.” She was so glad she did because her season of dating as a single parent was fun. “When you keep your values and boundaries in intact, then you can really enjoy it and you can grow.”

When it comes to dating, be deliberate. There are as many ways to find love as there are people in the world because we all approach it differently. Finding love is one of the biggest decisions we will ever make.

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