Dating as a single mom is the same as dating as a teenager


Sunday morning I had brunch with my brother Josh and sister-in-law Susan. They're in their early 30s, don't have kids, stay out late, and sleep in on weekends. In other words: They're normal. Susan grilled me about my date from the night before while my little brother pretended he'd lost his hearing.

“We went for Ethiopian food in the Village and then he drove me home,” I said.

“Why didn't you invite him up?” Susan asked.

“Are you crazy? The kids and the babysitter were there.”

“So what, he got to second base in the car and then you were home by midnight?”

“Basically, yes!”

“Oh my God. That is so funny. And that's so early!”

I felt a little defensive about my single mommy lifestyle. Because, really, what can you do? But then I realized that dating as a single parent is kind of horrible and awesome in the same way that being a teenager is  horrible and awesome. In fact, while necking in his four-door sedan (car seats in back) my single-dad love interest and I were laughing about all the ways that dating as a parent is the same as dating in high school: It can be tricky to find alone time, everyone's finances are limited, and you often have to answer to the scrutiny of parental figures. After all, had I ushered my date upstairs Saturday, I'd have had to face Karen, our beloved long-time babysitter who serves as a surrogate grandmother to my kids and me. What would she think?

My friend Sarah is a professional single mom whose ex lives out of state — drastically limiting her child-free hours, and forcing her to turn to babysitting from her mother in order to get laid. Tapping her inner teenager, Sarah always lies to her mom about her whereabouts when she goes out with men, lest she get “the third degree about whether he'd make a good father.”


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“I don't want to lie, but I also don't want to deal with the judgement,” Sarah told me. And so she obeys her mom's rules–or else she pays the price. “I told one guy I went out with that we'd be skipping dinner and going straight to sex because I had to be home by 11:30,” she said. In my case, I was acutely aware that every minute spent making out in that car also came at a price — the cold, hard hourly rate paid to Karen.

The upside of all this finagling and sneaking and financing is that it collectively mounts the lusty, torturous tension lacking in readily-available sex. Like, for example, in marriage. In other words, sex as a single mom can be unbelievably hot. Which was probably not the case when we were in high school.

But Sarah and I agreed that sex isn't the only part of dating that makes us feel like we're in 10th grade again. I nearly didn't publish this post. I mean, what if my date reads it and feels betrayed or embarrassed and doesn't call me again? I mean, OMG, I would totally DIE, cuz I like totally like him! But like, would it be my fault? I mean, he knows I blog about my life or whatever, so, like, whatever!?

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.


  1. Jane on November 2, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    Oh my I love this so much. I am a recent single mother, and there is so much truth in this post.

  2. Sarah on November 13, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Maybe…and it’s just a thought don’t be a whore and you won’t have this problem. Dating doesn’t mean sleeping around.

    • Tor on July 19, 2018 at 9:58 am

      Well, that is rude.

  3. Steph on January 20, 2016 at 12:04 am

    This article totally resonates with me!!! I am a single mom who is dating and finding places to be alone is few and far between. My problem now, my teenage daughter has just started dating and I will not allow her to be alone in the car with the boy…..because I know all too well what happens in that car!!!! UGH, save me!

    • Emma on January 20, 2016 at 8:03 am

      Hahah! Remember: It’s all natural.

  4. Iluvemma on October 22, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    You have opened the doors of my mental prison, Emma! I suspected this was the case. I know I’m right, now. You have validated my thoughts and feelings. The difference between us is that I’m still too uncomfortable to deal with any of this, but most especially how to deal with the family backlash of how I spend a Saturday night. My family SAYS they want me to date. But I’m not okay with having to answer any questions. And my teenage daughter fatty asked me to just postpone dating until she leaves home several years from now. My mom echoed that sentiment. At least now I know that other people also have to contend with family reactions. Good for you for charging ahead anyway. Maybe some day I will also.

    • Iluvemma on October 22, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      *teenage daughter FLATLY asked me

  5. Courthey Ludwig on October 22, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    I am in the same spot. Finances are just enough to cover expenses and a little bit extra for fun. Babysitters are expensive and the young ones have to be driven home. I tend to hold dates until the kids are at grandma’s or I have my oldest daughter home to watch the kids. My boys are at an impressionable age so I don’t like having guys over. Even a late night in/early morning out tends to not work. One kid still wakes up and interrupts :)

    • Emma on October 22, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      All so true :) Been there!

  6. Kelly on August 23, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I had to post. A couple of nights ago I went out for drinks with an old friend who was in town- from high school! Not anything romantic. My mom was at my house with my kids. Well, my friend & I had a blast! It got later than I meant to stay, so I pulled out my phone to check on my mom. I had several missed calls, from both my mom & dad; missed texts. I call my mom & say I’ll be home soon. She is freaking out- she just knew I had been kidnapped & her and my dad were in a TIZZY. I felt just like I was in HS and I was late on curfew and about to be grounded & lectured. This post was the 1st thing I thought about :)

    • Emma on August 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      Kelly – that is SOOO funny. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more we are always the little kids.

  7. Pepper Tan on August 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Oh Emma, I can so relate to you Nothing beats dating the way we single moms do. Yes, sex tends to get a bit stale when you’re married, doesn’t it? Men are simply so lucky to have us.

    • Emma on September 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Pepper, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic, but I agree with 100% of what you wrote.

  8. BB on July 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I think I love you! I am single mom and a small business owner with a three year old that I am in love with. I am finally thinking about dating but I’ve been trapped in my own single-mom preconception box. Thank you for seeming sane, human and hopeful. Looking forward to regular reading here.

    BTW – First Commenter = snotty and judgmental.

    • Emma on September 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      BB – somehow I missed your comment here. Thanks for the kind words! I hope you’re still reading!!

  9. joan mooney on April 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Isn’t your child old enough to allow you sleep in on a
    weekend? Remember I went through the very same
    situation as you but without any family to back me up.

  10. Sparkle Ra'on on March 31, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I love this! It’s so true though. You definitely have a knack with words Emma!

    • Emma on March 31, 2013 at 10:58 am

      ha, thanks Sparkle!

  11. Emma on March 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Sure, I could come up with the cash required for more babysitting hours to get some booty, but it’s not that simple. If you don’t live in the same neighborhood as your lover (which is always my case), then we’re talking long commutes and finding a child-free home. If both sets of kids are home babysitters, you’re stuck going to a hotel – it all gets complicated far beyond basic personal finances.

    But we always make it work.

  12. Really? on March 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    A fascinating read, but… Does the premise really hold up on examination? Only if your audience consists mostly of starving artists (which is quite plausible).

    If you and your friends are truly modern “professional” women in your 30s or 40s, then you’d have no worries about building an “extra” $100 or so (which I assume still buys 4 hours of babysitting nowadays – ample time for an un-hurried traditional conclusion to a successful date, even allowing for travel time between his place and yours) into your nightly date budget.

    As in many other areas of life, having a little money makes a big difference in the quality of one’s experience. I didn’t read your other post about “you’re stupid if you do your own laundry”, but I surmise that one conveyed a similar message as what I just gave; rather the opposite of the current post, with its reference to Sarah saving a few bucks by depending on her mom to baby-sit (and structuring her own love-life with that constraint in mind).

    I don’t mean to be critical… after all, this was an entertaining and well-written post. And I do get the idea (and the irony) that sex is hotter when you must “work” for it. Still, thinking back to my own mind-set when I was single, I would have been much more understanding if a date had explained time constraints or de facto curfews by citing the needs of her CHILD (“he sometimes wakes up at night and cries if mommy isn’t there”) … rather than the sensibilities of some (paid) “surrogate grandmother.”

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