My son and I moved back to my hometown, where he just started first grade. I love being back where I grew up and I’ve already reconnected with childhood friends who are also now parents. My son adores his nearby cousins, and our new home is really coming together. Here’s the thing though—I am so ready to date. Unlike bigger cities, I am from a small town where online dating isn’t popping for my demographic (Black single moms who want to date a non-racist working man, but don’t want a one night stand, but also want more than a Netflix and chill situationship). I’m not a Christian, so the popular advice of “meeting a guy at church” is not much of an option for me. But there’s one time of year when dating is easier: back-to-school season.
Most single parents have so little time during the summer. That changes in the fall with your kids at school all day. So I’ve put together a list of back-to-school dating tips for single moms.
1. Remember that you are allowed to date
Don’t feel guilty about dating. You work hard, mom—it’s okay to enjoy some free time without your offspring.
Pro tip: Happy moms are better parents.
2. Change your ringtone
If this back-to-school season is the first time you’re dating since having a child, you might be filled with anxiety. Every text, email, or alert can incite panic. Is your little Timmy stuck in a well? Did a fight break out at school? Has the babysitter decided to go on strike in the middle of a gig? Instead of looking at your phone every time it buzzes, you can set a special ringtone for the numbers that potentially would be calling about your child. For a lot of phones, you can even assign a special vibration that’s distinct from the other sounds. Since it would be rude to let your phone ring over and over while you’re getting to know someone, that special vibration pattern can be felt in your pocket without having to take it out.
3. Plan to breakfast + chill
As a freelancer, I have the privilege of working from wherever I’d like on most days. Not everyone has that option—I get that. When I had a regular 9 to 5, I would plan for breakfast dates. Most coffee shops serve breakfast all day, and almost everyone has 30 to 45 minutes during the month to meet someone new over relaxing comfort food.
Pro tip: Try to avoid setting up a date at your favorite can’t-live-without-it cafe so that your sacred spot won’t be tarnished if the date doesn’t go well.
4. Undercover conference canoodling is another date option
Most of us have to attend some sort of training or seminar at some point in our careers. Sometimes those conferences offer open bar after parties. These are low risk opportunities to get to know someone. During a recent event, I invited a potential beau to a meet and greet while my son had a library field trip. We only had about 45 minutes, but it was laid back and I felt safe among my colleagues. No one else knew it was a date because there were so many other professionals there networking. We didn’t make out at the podium, but we did get to know each other without breaking the bank.
Pro tip: Don’t do this with a coworker or another conference attendee. Workplace romances are a whole other bag of foolishness. That could be a quick way to get a call from HR.
5. Hit up a matinee movie
One issue with evening dates at the movies when you’re a single mom is that, if you’re feeling the vibe and want to keep hanging out after leaving the theater, you have to pay the sitter more (if they’re even able to stay longer). Matinee movie dates make so much sense for multiple reasons: They’re cheaper. If things go well, you can grab food or take a walk at the mall while teenagers who’d usually be around are still in class. Your own kids are in class, too—so no babysitter needed.
Pro tip: The matinee show isn’t pricey, so if the date is trash, it won’t sting as much.
6. Don’t introduce your kiddo to your dates
Take my advice with a grain of salt, but the last thing you want is for things to go sour and your child to feel abandoned by the person. Depending on your circumstances, your child may already have those kinds of issues after a parent passed away or left. While it is tempting to have a potential partner meet your child (you may want to see how the person is around children or find out whether they vibe), the risk is too big. Your little one can never un-meet someone you’re dating.
Pro tip: Try bringing your date around friends who have spent time with your child before taking that big step to introduce them to your kids.
7. Be yourself
On your date, eat if you want to eat. If he asks you to come over afterwards and you don’t want to—don’t. No need to make up an excuse or explain. If you’re looking for more than a few drinks during a $2 Tequila Tuesday, that’s fine. The point is, you deserve to be satisfied and to be your whole self.
8. Let go
If you’re freshly back on the dating scene now that your kid is back in school, you may have a lot of first dates that end up being last dates—especially if you haven’t been single for a while. A friend of mine was married for 12 years—she met her husband in high school and they had known each other basically their whole lives. After he was killed in the military, she didn’t think about dating for years. When her relationship with her late husband began, online dating wasn’t the norm. Blockbuster was still a major competitor for Netflix. So last year, when she tried to date again, she was surprised that so many guys would rather text or communicate via apps than talk over the phone. It reminded me that there are so many ways to communicate, and it is alright to let go of a potential mate if your communication preferences are not compatible.
9. Make it clap
This isn’t what it sounds like. As a thick woman, my thighs clap together when I work out, and a working out date is a great way to test compatibility. A lot of people have jobs with a gym on-site, or there may be a public track nearby where you can meet up and sweat together while your kids are still at school. You can also have an awesome fitness date at your local YMCA because they tend to have childcare for members. You’ll know your child is safe without having to spend more money on a sitter. This one could get tricky since there’s a chance of violating tip #4, but with some planning it could be a really fun way to hang out and find out who hates burpees more.
Pro tip: Don’t use your regular gym or it can get awkward.
Dating can oscillate between a dream and a nightmare. The good news: there are some really romantic (and affordable) dates that can happen in that sliver of free time during the work and school day. Dating when you’re a single mom can be really complicated, but hopefully this will help you get back out there now that a new school year has started.