More on why single moms mess up the meet-the-boyfriend thing


I recently heard about a single mom who falls madly and deeply in love with every man she dates, convinced each is her next husband and introduces each guy to her daughter as such. Heartbreak ensues time and again for the kid.

This is an extreme version of what not to do. But the problem doesn’t start at the introduction. The problem is the mom’s expectations of dating.

Both here and on my radio show I’ve said plenty about my stance that you should not hide your dating from your children. Furthermore it is perfectly healthy for your kids to meet someone you’re involved with before you commit for ever and ever — much less hit that supposed magical mark of six months that seems to be the socially acceptable moment that guarantees an emotional safe zone for your offspring to be in the same room with a man for whom you have romantic feelings. It is normal and healthy for you to date. Being ashamed of your sexuality and hiding it from your kids is not healthy.

My feelings were confirmed even more a couple months ago when, randomly, on three consecutive Saturdays we welcomed male visitors: one is Steve, a longtime friend who lives in another state and was passing through on work, joining us for breakfast and a tour of the local waterfront. The second is Marc, my single-dad bestie and his young daughter, with whom we spent the day at the beach. The third was a lover, someone I had gone out with, lives far away and made the long trip to see me, and by default, meet my kids. He spent a day with me and my kids, who then left for the weekend with their dad.

And guess what? Just as when we hung out with Steve and Marc, my kids were totally cool about hanging out with my lover for an afternoon. They haven’t mentioned him since, and frankly I wonder if they even remember that afternoon.

But they probably would have had I introduced him as my boyfriend.

But I didn’t introduce him as my boyfriend (because he wasn’t), or as their future step-father (uh, not even), or even a friend (because parents use that lie to mask their shame about dating). I didn’t say anything at all, except to introduce everyone by first name, just as with our other guests. I wasn’t sure where that relationship was headed (down in flames, if you must know), and that was mostly fine with me. Because that is how relationships often go.

And that, I think, is where my dating and parenting divert from the vast majority of people. I very rarely see women spending time with romantic interests for any other reason than to find a husband. And I don’t see much precedent for people in general dating for any other purpose than to hitch up as fulltime mates. Which is fine. But if that is your only goal, then things get confusing as a mom. Because for most people — crazy star-striking-love-at first-sights aside — it takes a long time to know if you want to commit. And when that happens it is very clear, and very different from other types of relationships that may come out of dating.

Here’s an abbreviated list of reasons I date:

Good times. Laughs with a fun, smart guy – why not? I mean, you spend a couple hours at a rom-com and aren’t disappointed that it fails to text the next morning.

Company. Life is lonely. Sometimes I hang out with friends who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do. Sometimes I go out on dates with men who are annoying because I don’t have anything better to do.


Business. Once on OKCupid I was contacted by a gorgeous British plumber who lived in New Jersey at the exact same time I was trying to find a plumber to unclog my toilet.  He thought I was joking when I shared the coincidence. The situation resolved itself before he could come to my rescue (but not without producing plenty of porn-quality fantasies between my ears), but had that worked out it would not have been the first or last professional contact I made through dating.

Friendship. You know Marc I mentioned above? We went on an OKCupid date when we decided to be friends.

In other words, I can find compatibility of all sorts with many different kinds of men. So when something really special comes along, it is easier to discern him from a guy who was valuable for a fun evening or replacing a flush valve. Which brings me to another reason I date:

Looking for love. Duh.

Looking for a husband. Absolutely.

In essence: Dating is life. Parenting is life. Stop making such a big deal out of the former, and the latter becomes far less complicated.


Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

10 thoughts on “More on why single moms mess up the meet-the-boyfriend thing

  1. Remember The Rules? I came across the NYT wedding announcement for the second marriage of one of the authors. This is what she said about her courtship:

    After that, they saw each other regularly, but only when her two children were with her ex-husband. “I don’t think it’s good for them to watch their mother date,” she said. “Your mom is supposed to make dinners and be around.”

  2. I totally agree with you. I think society puts too much emphasis on dating and marriage that single mothers are made to feel ostracized for their singledom. You can easily teach kids valuable lessons on adult relationships if they see you with male friends, colleagues etc. I have male friends that are both heterosexual and homosexual and not once do my kids place the emphasis on my relationship with these men. All they see are: that’s a cool dude that took us to Chuck E Cheese or that is Uncle Justin who knows nothing about football. I think we all need to relax and stop being so uptight.

  3. “that is Uncle Justin who knows nothing about football.” ha, Heather! Read that first thing in bed this a.m. and LOL’d. We have a few of those, too.

  4. It’s wise for single moms to simply date for sex and good times, without all that ridiculous pressure of finding a new husband. Wish more women here in the midwest were as realistic. We wise alpha males want only that sex and good times. Once we see single moms are looking at us for our wallets – err, I mean as “husband material” – we know the sex and good times will begin to fade and the relationship will become nothing but DRAMA. Time to make an exit.

    1. Really, Darth? We are here, I assure you. In the midwest. And in my experience, it is the men who more often than not are the ones looking to fast-track the relationship causing me (and my single-mom friends) to put on the breaks with a friendly reminder that we are not necessarily hanging out with them because we want to marry them. We are raising our own kids. We have our own wallets, and are paying our own bills. And we are NOT looking for drama; we’ve had plenty of that. Maybe try looking around a little differently, and you will find us. Of course, we are also very good at not being found by men who, despite proclamations to the contrary, are not actually interested in or capable of sustaining the simple, fun, and drama-free relationships are pursuing. Are you one of them?

      1. I’m sure you aren’t looking for drama Meg, but in my experience it almost always follows -and single moms all the more. Mothers can’t control their exes, and often their kiddos, so even if she’s the nicest woman around she’s got others creating the drama for her. I’ve dated several in my lifetime, the more serious it got the more drama followed. The majority of women (and sure there are some deadbeat guys out there) ARE looking for a wallet and ATM. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise. If you don’t see that in your gender, you’re ignoring the obvious. There are exceptions, but few – just like women see the few exceptional “nice guys” they can’t seem to find.

        I know too many men – almost all whom were childless and never previously married – who have married single moms with the greatest hopes of a relationship. Then, after the papers were signed she “lost her job” (never to be found again), and the guys were paying all the bills for someone else’s children so she could be that SAHM she always dreamed of being….And the guys weren’t happy about it. Sure, the guys are responsible for accepting the behavior, but what are they to do? Let her take half his earnings in another divorce?

        To be fair, I do know one guy who married a single mom that ended up with someone worthwhile. One. Out of a dozen. I’d rather risk the lottery.

        I am capable of sustaining a simple, fun, and drama-free relationship. And whenever I’ve been up front and honest telling a woman “I’m only looking for fun, sex, drama-free. blah blah”, eventually she begins getting “feelings”, wanting more, etc. because at one time I was trusting, generous, considerate, and decent to them, but I no longer want to trust them with a contract on my house, 401K, and six-figure income. There’s a ton of divorce out there, haven’t you heard? If she loved me she could do it and still maintain her own house, her own 401K, etc. I don’t need a contract with the state to prove “love”, which I don’t really believe in. I don’t want her money, but they mostly wanted mine. If a guy’s getting married and suggests a “prenup” all your girlfriends will cry “Foul!!” – unless she’s the rich one, then she’s a “sensible woman”. I’d do cartwheels if she suggested a pre-nup. I don’t want her money.

        I’m sure there are men out there who are needy, and seeking to get you into commitment as well, but women far outnumber them. And if you peeled back the layers, many of those men are probably deep in debt and smell money on you, and want someone to share in their bills. I know several single and divorced men who jumped right back into living together or marriage because they don’t have money to live on their own, and think she does.

        And when the relationship gets serious, women aren’t often putting the equal finances on the table, especially if they have children because -rightly so – their funds have been wrapped up paying for kids, debt, lawyers, etc. When I was looking for serious relationships I can’t say I was in a relationship with a woman who wouldn’t gain financially from marrying me, and also from divorcing me, because they weren’t bringing much to the table.

        1. I suppose we attract what we expect or believe we deserve. And certainly, we attract what we project. A minor shift in attitude can create a major difference in results. But that’s not for everyone, I know. Best wishes.

          1. Been thinking about the comment “we attract what we project”. When I was being the honorable “nice guy”, not taking advantage of women, being generous, kind, and trustworthy with girlfriends, I was attracting all those single moms who simply wanted me to pay, and pay, and pay while not controlling the drama and mess they made in their lives. Lesson learned. Don’t “project” kindness and decency, and a man won’t get taken to the cleaners, cheated on, lied to, and taken advantage of by a single mom and her brood.

  5. Wow. Hit the nail on the head. My mother was the extream u spoke of. Im 30 and my mom has been down the aisle with me as a brides maid at the age of 7..12..18.. And now. (i actually adore this guy. He is a great man. Sad he wasnt step dad number 1. And he is so amazing to my kids.). Now i have 4 year old twins. Single mom most of it. With the father in and out the begging. I have now been with my bf for about a year and a half.. And we atually “dated” about 3 months before i let him come around my kids outside of friends gathering. Thats how we met. Now.. I feel i have messed up. Hes immature. Does not get that the kids come first. And though seemed to be happy to take on roll of dad. . . now says tonight he doeant like it. Wants to hide. I addressed it. Causing me to storm off as he yelled. My kids come first. So now how do i keep them from being as fucked up as i am?

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