By Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri
Single parents have it hard enough in their roles as primary caregivers. To add dating to this situation can be undoubtedly complicated but can also be incredibly rewarding if one manages to strike that precarious balance between being parents and being themselves. Unfortunately, in many cases, it really is mutually exclusive.
Parenting is often a constant sense of running out of time, energy and patience, all depending on the kind of day you’re having. To do this singlehandedly while also juggling work, puts far more pressure on dating than one was accustomed to in their younger years.
“You fight the idea of dating for a good part of single parenthood out of this misplaced sense of guilt. You feel it makes you a bad parent of sorts. I’ve been divorced six years now, and I juggle between my work as an educationist and being the mother of a seven-year-old. Dating was not even on the cards when I was newly divorced. It never occurred to my parents that I might want to date again. It wasn’t the usual “log kya kahenge” attitude. They just never thought I would be with someone who isn’t the father of my child, despite the divorce. There is so much unspoken judgment about the situation,” said Simran Sahni, 41.
If judgment weighs heavily for a single mother, it doesn’t necessarily escape the single father either. Terence D’souza works out of his Powai home as a graphic designer, a move he made back in 2013 when he and his wife amicably parted ways. While his wife was expected to have custody of their son, the 12-year-old boy chose to stay with his father. “When you’re a single father, people have this notion that once the child has gone to sleep, I’m a man about town. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. On most days, I’m just catching up on my sleep, TV shows and football,” says D’souza.
Years of being with one person while being stabilising, can also create a sort of social inertia, so dating for single parents has a lot to do with unshackling themselves from that. D’souza adds, “In fact, initially when I got back to dating, I realised how rusty I was. I had married my college sweetheart and 15 years of being with one person, makes you so far removed from the ‘dating customs’ of the present. It sounds awful to say this but if you’re a widower, somehow there’s a sympathy angle that works in your favour. However, as a divorcee, sometimes you can just see how the other person is quickly judging that I’m ‘on a date instead of raising my kid and no wonder my wife left me’!”
Dating apps and websites have provided the perfect interface for those who want to get back to meeting interesting people and seem unsure or rusty of how to go about it. While her friends egged her on to try and meet people they knew, Sahni found herself constantly apprehensive about how to initiate conversations with such acquaintances. Either she was meeting single people who found her life exhausting, or she couldn’t relate to the pop culture references and lifestyles of some others. Her first dates were beginning to turn her off from the idea of dating itself. “I realised that though I preferred to meet people in real life and get to know them, being on Tinder fast-forwarded the wooing phase and took the pressure off me and the other person. The algorithm brought you closer to likeminded people. A few virtual conversations later, meeting the person in real life seemed as if I was picking up from the last chat with the person,” she says.
She is currently dating a person she incidentally did not meet on a dating app but serendipitously at a concert four years ago. She laughs, “We’ve been together for a little over three years now, and it’s strange how everything works out. I went on a few Tinder dates with other men before finding a rather interesting one at a concert. I have to acknowledge that these dates actually gave me the confidence to date with the right amount of privacy and anonymity in the early stages of messaging.”
Stock broker Aditya Khandelwal couldn’t agree more. When his wife passed away after a long-battle with cancer, he was left to take care of their 15-year-old daughter. For a few years, it never occurred to him that he could find romance again. Running parallel to this was also his own daughter’s coming of age and dating scenarios. He heard her friends constantly drop names such as Hinge, Tinder, PlentyofFish. “I just wanted to make sure she didn’t end up meeting some sweet-talking psychopath on these apps. The two of us have always been close-knit, so I wanted to reassure her that I’m always there to talk to,” he says.
Before he knew it, that father-daughter conversation veered into Khandelwal’s non-existent dating life. His daughter insisted that he at least give it a shot. She wasn’t on Tinder, so he felt less embarrassed about making his profile on the dating app, he admits. It’s been over a year now that he’s been dating someone he met on the app. “My daughter has been onboard with my personal life from the very beginning. Although she didn’t really warm up to another woman I was briefly dating, she let me believe that she was okay with her. I am tremendously grateful for her my daughter’s handling of what is known to be a precarious situation for many single parents. She gave me the strength I never knew I had.”
D’souza did not introduce his dates to his son, concerned that his attachment to any of them would be affected should the relationships end. As his son grew older, he systematically, age-appropriately spoke about going out with “lady friends”. “Being in a co-ed school, he understood that we all have friends from both sexes, so my going for dinner with a woman was not out of the ordinary for him. That ran parallel with his adolescence, so I did not want to burden him with more emotional confusion. Today, we’re in a better space to talk about these relationship dynamics. I’m raising a young man in the world of today. I have a responsibility towards him and the women he meets to raise him right. I want him to have a positive picture of loving, falling out of love and finding love again. Because that’s how it has been for me.”