Over the past few years, I’ve dated a variety of men in their 40s and 50s. They’ve ranged in personality, profession, height and appearance, but they’ve all had one thing in common.
They’ve all been dads.
I tried dating men who didn’t have kids, but it never progressed. Their lifestyles were too different to mine. I’m a custodial parent of three, and my life necessarily revolves around my kids. And childless men, I’ve found, have expectations I can’t meet.
They want to go out spontaneously after work or on weekends, or take off on mini-breaks together, or have me sleep over at their place on the regular. I need to schedule and plan, and my time is limited. It’s unworkable.
But am I wrong to dismiss childless men from my dating pool? Can a single mother and a childless man live happily ever after?
Well, 47-year-old Karen, a mother of two, and her partner, 51-year-old Steven, seem to be doing just that. Karen met Steven through a mutual friend back in 2011, when her boys were just five and seven years old. She had recently separated from the father of her kids; Steven had been single for a few years after the end of a long-term relationship.
“We never discussed the kids,” Karen told me. “I didn’t even introduce him to them for six months.”
When she did finally introduce Steven to her sons, Karen took things exceptionally slowly, orchestrating a series of ‘accidental’ meetings. Eventually, the boys liked Steven so much they invited him to dinner.
Two years later, after a series of sleepovers in Steven’s apartment, they all moved in with him. They married in 2014 and have been happily together ever since.
I asked Karen if there were any challenges in becoming a family.
“Of course,” she says. “When we were dating it was all about us, but when we moved in together it wasn’t. Steven made many sacrifices. But he has this incredible way of dealing with the kids. He knew that they boys would come first, and that if he didn’t have a good relationship with them there would be no relationship with me.
“It wasn’t love at first sight but he grew to love them, and they listen to him and respect him like he’s their own father.”
Does she have advice for other mums in relationships with men who aren’t parents?
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is communication,” she says. “We have very intense discussions about how to handle different situations and we rarely disagree. And we prioritise ourselves as a couple.”
Karen’s ex takes the kids every Wednesday night and every other weekend, and so Wednesday, says Karen, is date night. “I make sure that the kids are in bed early so we have alone time, I make sure that when we are together, it is about us.”
Ellen, a 46-year-old with three children, agrees that communication is key. She began dating her partner four years ago, when he was living in Melbourne and she was in Sydney. Ellen had 50/50 shared care with her ex, so she and Rob, who had no kids, “did the long-distance thing” for a year.
The complications began when Rob moved to Sydney to live with Ellen and the children.
“As far as the kids were concerned it was fantastic,” Ellen told me. “The three of them all really liked him and he gave them all individual time. But it was very hard for him. He’d become part of someone else’s family. He’d gone from complete freedom to all these different people needing my attention.”
And for Ellen, resentment was building. “I couldn’t understand why he didn’t understand my needs as a parent. Why wasn’t he getting up and volunteering to make dinner? To take some of the pressure off me? For him, the kids were a new responsibility. But for me it was an additional responsibility. I had to look after him as well as the kids and work.”
The couple split late last year, and the catalyst, said Ellen, was the lack of communication. “It’s all so scary and wobbly that you don’t want to rock the boat (by having difficult conversations), and because you don’t want to rock the boat you don’t have those conversations so it gets worse.”
Of course, there is an upside to dating a man with no kids. As Karen said, “I didn’t have to deal with any baggage on his side. We had enough to deal with on mine!”
And even Ellen still believes that partnerships between mothers and childless men can work. “My stepdad didn’t have kids but he’s a fantastic, available, nurturing, caring man.”
Maybe, I should keep an open mind.