The world tells single moms that there are no good men available to us, and we are destined to be lonely. Not true. Here is how to attract a quality man, find love, a boyfriend and even a husband, and enjoy a healthy relationship.
When I was growing up, my divorced mom dated a lot, but she drilled into me her mantra: A good man is hard to find.
My mom was angry at herself — and still is, 40 years after her divorce! — for choosing her now-ex-husband, my dad. This colored how I dated, and married, and then dated again after my own divorce.
Throughout my life I have been involved with really wonderful men. Today I am very happily celebrating a three-year relationship with a divorced, single dad who is hot, smart, successful, great lover, adores my kids and me to pieces, and is very interested in commitment and marriage.
But the early, negative messages I received about men, dating, marriage, and love have plagued me throughout my life. I see so many women held back by similar messages, and negative experiences with men.
In this post, we will explore:
- Understanding your loneliness
- How to get over your ex
- Good men hard to find — right?
- How to find a boyfriend (And love! The one?)
- Dating after divorce
- Relationship goals and stages
- Online dating apps and other places to find a serious relationship. My favorite: EliteSingles.
Why am I so lonely?
There is a great scene in the Amazon series Fleabag, where the protagonist is in the bath with her gorgeous, but shallow, lover. He is asking her deep questions like: “What are you afraid of?” and “Do you ever feel lonely?” She asks him the later, in return: “Do you ever feel lonely?” His answer: No.
It's a punchline. Because of course everyone except this one, superficial guy feels lonely.
Lonely, sometimes, is normal.
Everyone feels misunderstood, unable to connect, and lacking the right friends or family support.
Some people feel this all the time, and many of us feel it for long stretches of time.
A deep sense of loneliness can especially true if you are unhappy in your romantic life — either in an unfulfilling marriage or relationship, or if you are single, and prefer not to be.
A lack of a fulfilling romantic life can leave you feeling more lonely than a lack of other types of relationships, including family, community and friend relationships.
Why are boyfriend, girlfriend, dating, marriage and other romantic relationships so important to our sense of connectedness, and cure for loneliness?
A few thoughts:
- Typically, romantic relationships are the only ones that address all of our sensory needs, including physical touch and sex.
- Our culture, society and media promote the idea that a soul-mate, the one, a husband or wife, is a divine source of fulfillment attainable to everyone. In reality, throughout history, platonic friendship and close family and community relationships were critical and large parts of most people's social lives. Marriages was typically a financial arrangement, and romantic and sexual fulfillment came from lovers — especially for men.
- Social norms prefer couples. Often, single people are left out of social situations and invitations, there is documented discrimination against single people when it comes to paying taxes, travel (the “singles supplement”), and your grandma or aunt are typically nagging you about finding a boyfriend — not to mention getting married for the sake of your kids.
None of this is to dismiss the importance of romantic partnership, but to help you understand why being single may feel so lonely.
How to get over your ex and divorce
There is a difference between feeling lonely, desiring a romantic partnership, and trying to get over a divorce or breakup.
You can be very happy with a full social life and crave a boyfriend.
You can be lonely and have lots of friends.
You can be grieving a boyfriend or husband, and not want to date or have a boyfriend.
It's all good!
If you are trying to get over a divorce or breakup, and move on from your ex, you may find yourself stalking his Facebook and Instagram, seeing if any cute new female followers are hearting his posts, and seeing if your ex-boyfriend is in a rebound relationship.
How to forget your ex and move on
Here are 5 steps to getting over your ex:
- Unfollow him on all social media, and do not look at any of his accounts, or that of any women you think he is dating or interested in. Do not ask mutual friends ‘Does my ex miss me?' It doesn't matter if he misses you.
- Accept that the relationship is over, and that there are good men out there worthy of your love, body, time and life. In other words: He is not the last man on Earth.
- Grieve. I wrote this about why my first, post-divorce breakup was so painful and hard to get over. It is important to sit with the pain, understand it, and work through it. Therapy can help. Time alone is important, especially if you have never been single, or not been single for a long time.
- Stay busy. Schedule positive activities, including spending time with positive people, caring for your health, fitness and wellness, hobbies, and building your career.
- If you have kids with your ex, focus on positive co-parenting — and not on your broken relationship.
- Get laid. Sex and dating when you trying to get over an ex is a slippery slope — some fun and sex can be a great distraction and help you move on, but without some controls and restraint it can be easy to slip into patterns you are trying to break — like dating assholes. Here are some guidelines for finding a friend with benefits.
Easy trick to forgive your ex (and anyone else you're angry at)
Ever feel like your beef with someone – maybe with an ex, or even a friend or a boss – is getting to your head? Maybe you feel the negative effects of a grudge sending you spinning, weighing you down.
I'll admit it. I have a very active mental life, emotional life, creative life, and one of the things I’m really bad at is letting things go. But I know, and you know, that thoughts are energy, and energy manifests in your life. So, I have developed a way to change this negative pattern.
In this episode, I'll show you how you can start cultivating more positivity in your life with just one simple trick.
Because, although your anger and resentment is for someone else, it's affecting you and your loved ones. You deserve to clear your mind, once and for all.
Stuck being angry at your ex? Try this easy trick …
Emma: You know what? One of my many shortcomings is that I have a very active mental life, emotional life, creative life, but one of the things I’m really bad at is letting things go. I find myself having arguments with people that I have had beef with, in my head, over and over. I know, and you know, that thoughts are energy, and energy manifests in your life. I have developed a tool and a trick to change this.
I want you to think about this. If you have an ex, especially an ex-husband or partner, who is the father of your kids, this is so critical. It might also apply if you’re angry if your mom, or your boss, or past boss, friend you’re having a fight with or had a fight with five years ago that you can’t let go of, those are the worst. I have been there, and I’m so guilty of that.
This is what I want you to do right now. You might do it out loud, or you might write it down, but I want you to come up with a list of ten positive things about your ex. Ten positive things. I’m going to do mine in a minute. I’m in a good place with my ex, but trust me, I’ve not always been there at all. Things have been really ugly over the years here and there. I’m going to share a list of ten because once you start doing it, it feels so good you could go on forever.
The value of this is to get you out of that spiraling negativity and start to focus on the positive. That’s kind of the obvious. You’ve probably already figured that one out. When you start to focus on the positive, you’ve already been focusing on the negative things you hate about this person, all of their shortcomings, all the sudden you start to see this person as a person, a fallible human being, just like you and just like me. Really, this is a process of healing and forgiveness.
When you are seeing the bad and good in someone, you are able to see the bad and good in yourself and everybody else around you. This is how humans are. There is not one single being on this planet that is not both negative and positive, that does not have shortcomings but also many wonderful qualities. I am here to tell you, every single person does.
Why saying positive things about someone changes your whole life:
When you start reframing this person, you start reframing your relationship with them. Face it, you chose that person. You chose them to marry, you chose them to hook up with, to have a baby with. There was choice.
Then, suddenly you start to see that all that anger is really maybe not at that person. Maybe you’re really angry at yourself for choosing that person. Maybe you’re angry at yourself for the relationship not working out. Or you’re angry with yourself because you can’t come to a place of peace with them right now. It really is an act of forgiveness and humanity towards yourself.
Maybe you miss the other person. No matter how bad things were in the marriage, ex-husbands miss their wives, and ex-wives do miss their husbands.
All a sudden, there’s a very, very interesting byproduct of this. That is, when you organically start to work out some of your stuff in the relationship with this person, this translates into how you talk about your ex, or your kid’s dad, and other people in your life. All a sudden, it does not become this black and white, good and bad, angel and devil. That’s not real. That’s a fake, weird, perspective on life. That is not human.
Why forgiving your ex makes you a better mom
Now you are more easily able to share positive memories with your kids. You’re able to point out the positive qualities that their dad has. Or maybe this is their grandparents or a friend that’s in your lives, or your neighbor. All the sudden, you are communicating with your kid that you love all of them. You love all of your child. You love the parts of your child that remind him of you, and you love the parts of your child that remind your child of his dad. It’s also telling your child that you really love your child. When you paint people as black and white, they are either in or out. Your child knows that he has some shortcomings and not great qualities, and it makes your child more confident in your love because now you are expressing that you are able to love all of your child, the good, and the bad, and the ugly. That’s very hard to communicate when you paint somebody else important in your child’s life as purely bad.
I want you to try it. Communicate with yourself first and see how this translates into other relationships in your life, by listing ten things that you love, loved, or appreciate about your ex. I will be part of this too. I will go first.
My list of positive things about my ex:
- My ex is super funny. To this day, he can crack me up.
- He is politically very progressive.
- I like that he is interesting and does very interesting things in the world. He volunteers. He takes classes.
- He’s a good dad. He is there for his kids. He teaches his kids stuff. He’s strict with them in a way that I don’t find easy to be.
- Many times, he has supported me when I’ve had challenges with my kids. Not too long ago when he was dropping them off, right in front of the kids, I was like, “You know what? We have a problem in our house with the kids back-talking to me all the time.” Right then and there, he gave them a talking to about respecting their mom and being grateful that they have good parents. Man, I will tell you what, it changed my household. I am very grateful to him for that.
- My ex has good taste. He buys the kids clothes all the time. He buys them much nicer clothes than I would ever buy, and they look cute, and that’s because of him.
- He’s very talented in his career. He works in video and he’s very competent.
- He has a great work ethic, which I hope that my children acquire.
- My ex just adores the kids. He adores and loves them in a way that I would hope any child could benefit from.
- He’s smart. He’s smart in ways that I’m not, like a facility with languages, and a a visual intelligence and a physical intelligence that I don’t possess.
- He’s a good person. He really is a good person.
A good man is hard to find — right?
When I was newly single, with an infant and toddler, I ran into a neighbor I'm friends with in the elevator. “He's moving out,” I said, barely holding back tears, the baby whimpering on my chest in a carrier, my daughter in the stroller between the middle-aged woman and me.
“That's too bad,” she said. “It will be hard for you to find someone else.”
She was not being cruel. She was stating her belief, neutrally.
We are about the same height. I locked eyes with hers. Did not flinch. My face was neutral, too.
“Fuck you,” I said.
*Ding.* The elevator hopped to a stop. It was my floor. I pushed my little family out. Said nothing more.
I'd like to say I forgot those words, but I didn't. I thought about that elevator scene. I worried she was right, that my single-mother status was a lifelong sentence of loneliness. After all, there are literally no positive and realistic models for adult women who have kids dating and enjoying romance and sex in a positive way.
Instead, women are inundated with very sexist and negative messages about dating … Messages like:
There are no good guys out there at this stage … and the few that are left don't want to date a woman with kids.
Dating sets a bad example for your kids.
Dating steals quality time from your kids.
It's too much work / takes too much time. You should be focused on your career (and, of course, the kids).
Men like young, skinny women — not mom bods.
You'll only get hurt.
If you involved with a man and it ends, your kids will get hurt. And you'd be responsible.
And on and on.
I told myself each and every one of those negative messages (even when my horrible neighbor wasn't drilling them into me).
But after a while of healing from my divorce, and being incredibly lonely (not to mention horny), I dipped my toe into dating. Then I found a wonderful boyfriend. When that ended, I started dating. A lot. And in the past few years I've had so much fun and learned so much through my romantic life.
I hear from women like you every day who tell me they often think about dating, but don't. Women who, like every other human, get lonely. You see happy couples and would also like to sit across the table at a nice restaurant from a good man. To talk about your day with someone who cares. Maybe you just want to go for a beer and dance. Or to walk in the street and hold a man's hand, and feel like a woman.
What you believe becomes reality.
Fact: Many women find that dating after divorce, or otherwise dating as a single mom, is the best time to date. One of the reasons (I can attest to this) is that the men are older, wise and better at this stage of life.
However, what you believe can easily be influenced by what you hear, and what you surround yourself with.
If you hang out in certain crowds, like many divorced women, women who are single but would prefer to have boyfriends or husbands, women who suffered trauma at the hands of men, etc., you will hear these messages:
All men cheat.
Men are spoiled children.
Men don't do their share at home.
If you believe these generalizations, you are likely to experience sucky men. This is because:
- Humans like to be right. We seek out experiences that validate our current expectations.
- If you hate men, or otherwise have a poor opinion of the entire masculine gender, good men will not be attracted to you. Because good men love themselves, they love women, and they love women who love men. However, negative men are attracted to negative women. There are plenty of both in the world. There are also lots of wonderful, good men — who are looking for positive women who love men.
When women bash men, what I really hear is fear. Fear of getting your heart broken. Fear of being hurt again. Fear of being vulnerable and trusting, and having that trust broken.
When women say there are no good men out there, what you are really saying is:
I am afraid I will never find love.
I worry I am not worthy of a good man.
I am afraid of being alone.
How to find love
When we talk about how to find love, most people assume we're talking about romantic love — how to find a boyfriend, a lover, a husband or wife or partner.
Here is what many people don't talk about: Loving people attract love. There is one love, and it manifests in many different forms, including platonic love friendships, love we have for our children and families, love for your communities and country, passion you bring to a job you love, as well as love for pets, community service and a spiritual practice.
All love comes from the same, divine source, but manifests in different ways and forms.
But all love shares the same essence, including romantic love for a man:
Open-mindedness: You see men as your equals, who are equally capable of goodness, kindness and love. You do not presume men are bumbling fools, incapable parents, sloppy, or that men always cheat.
Forgiveness: You don't punish new men you meet for bad things that men did to you in the past. Each new person you meet is an individual worthy of consideration.
Healthy boundaries: You love yourself enough to disallow poor treatment from others. You also have a deep sense of your self-worth, and do not expect another person to fulfill you, be your one true love, or otherwise have unreasonable expectations of the person or relationship.
Accept responsibility for the relationship: When things don't feel good, or don't go how you'd hoped, or you get your ass dumped, seek to understand what you brought to the situation. It always takes two, equally.
Dating after divorce as a single mom
After divorce or a big breakup, whether you have kids or not, it can be so hard to trust again.
You may not have dated or been single for many years, and intimidated by new dating culture, including online dating, texting, sexting, the acceptance of open and polyamorous relationships. You may also be new to dating with kids, and be plagued by questions about when to find time to date, if and when to introduce your kids to a boyfriend or other romantic partner.
Your situation may also be complicated by clauses in your divorce agreement with your kids' dad, which can include rules about when you can introduce a man to your kids, as well as requiring that your ex meet him first.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative messages about single moms on the dating scene, and dating after divorce. The common messages include:
“There are no good men out there at this stage of the game.”
“All the good men are taken at our age.”
“Good guys are not interested in dating women with kids.”
In my experience, single dads are very keen on dating single moms (and can be great partners who get it), and this dating coach insists that good and successful men are interested in women with children.
How soon after divorce to start dating
Quick answer: You can start dating again any time you want. The thrill of being desired by new men, the excitement of tasting the new life ahead of you may be exactly what you need after a big, nasty breakup.
Long answer: Dating and seeking a relationship are different things, and when you are a steaming hot mess after a divorce, it can be very hard to tell the difference. It is easy to get swept into a big relationship that is all wrong.
Give yourself the gift of time. Time to heal. Time to explore. Time to play and have fun. Time to get to know yourself better, and understand what truly makes you happy. Lots of moms find they prefer living alone, or staying single, or cohabiting with friends, or living on the road, or any number of other arrangements they would never have imagined, but found, haphazardly, after divorce, or as a single mom.
If you're hung up on finding the one, or connecting with your soulmate, or otherwise desperately figuring out how long after divorce you can remarry, I urge you to pause. Keep in mind that you likely believed your now-ex was the one. And if marriage was so great in and of itself, why are the divorce rates for second and third marriages so high — and why are you divorced?
There is nothing wrong with seeking a serious, loving, committed relationship, including marriage. But let's collectively work together to debunk the myth of the Disney Princess soulmate, and the notion that marriage is the answer to human happiness.
What should you do if you want a boyfriend as a single mom
For about six years after my divorce (I took a year off from men before I started dating), I had every type of romantic entanglement: a zillion first dates, many second dates, a whole bunch of hook-ups, a long-distance love affair with a single dad in Denmark, a couple boyfriends of a year or less, and a ton of online flirting, waiting for texts that may or may not have arrived, and a lot of other experiences I've blocked out.
It was all wonderful, interesting, sometimes heartbreaking, prone to personal development, too much money spent on waxes, and otherwise a great experience to have in my 30s, that many women do not get to enjoy because they are busying being married.
Finally, I'd had enough dating. I decided I wanted a serious boyfriend.
What does having a boyfriend mean?
In general, having a boyfriend means:
You and the man decided that you are committed to each other, and a relationship with one another. This typically means a monogamous relationship, but can mean other arrangements that you mutually agree to. Unlike a lover, or friend with benefits, a boyfriend is part of your life, and is invited to meet your friends, family, and children — if you're a single mom or dad.
In a boyfriend-girlfriend partnership, the relationship is an entity requiring care. You have regular talks about how each of you feel in the relationship, what the relationship needs, the boundaries and future of the partnership. Each of you is committed to working to make sure the other person is cared for, as well as that the relationship is cared for. A boyfriend makes you a priority, and you make him a priority — sometimes even above your children.
In other words, a boyfriend is someone with whom you share relationship goals.
#relationshipgoals is a funny Instagram, Twitter and Facebook hashtag, that people attach to memes, pics and phrases that summarize things they want in their own relationship — whether a relationship you are currently in, or a relationship you hope for.
Example of a relationship goal:
Relationship goals can include everything from silly things like (for me) the fact that my boyfriend knows that unloading the dishwasher is my least-favorite kitchen cleanup activity, and always takes over this chore when we spend time together.
I posted this pic of me squatting my boyfriend, and someone commented with #relationship goals:
Good relationship goals might not include finding a 200-lb man willing to let you squat him, or expecting your partner to fly across an ocean and continent to watch reality TV when you have the blues. Good relationship goals can include abstract things like feeling validated (unloading the dishwasher for-real makes me feel validated), commitment to the relationship, financial security, honesty, fun, and a 10″, always-ready penis.
Ways to set relationship goals start with you, but should be flexible. Write down all the things that you do want in a relationship.
Get out there. Assess and reassess as you date. When you find yourself in a serious relationship with a boyfriend, bring up relationship goals you can set together. But don't lose sight of your own goals — which may or may not be met in your relationship, which will help you know whether your boyfriend is the right one for you, long-term.
How do I get a boyfriend?
Before I share with you tips and tricks for finding men who want a serious relationship, I have some tough love for you:
Work on yourself first.
Let's get real: None of us will ever truly understand ourselves, or be rid of our baggage 100%, or work through our neuroses. I'm still working through lingering daddy issues, and still get really fucking mad at my ex-husband, and have to remind myself sometimes that my boyfriend really does love me for who I am (and not just my killer BJs ;) )
Time is a great healer. Learning to enjoy your own company is a great way to grow, and be an attractive partner.
I believe that spending time with people who are either happily single, or in a relationship that you really respect are great ways to absorb healthy relationship attitudes and vibes.
Of course, therapy is a wonderful way to work out your issues — as well as feel assured that you are not losing your mind, but in fact are a perfectly normal, lovable woman.
Online therapy sites are a great option because they are affordable, convenient, and offer thousands of counselors to choose from. This is my list of the best online therapy sites. BetterHelp offers plans starting at $40/week for unlimited counseling by phone, text, email or video.
What do you want in a boyfriend?
I'm not asking you to commit to this list. This is not a final step, but the very first, beginner step in finding a relationship that will work for you.
Make a list of all the qualities you want in a man. These can include his personality, lifestyle (whether he smokes or drinks takes care of his physical health), spirituality, religion, sexual compatibility, career, income, financial habits, whether or not he ever wants to live together or wants to get married or not (because you may actually prefer dating a guy who never gets married).
Again, this is just to get started. Write down all the things you crave in a boyfriend.
Write down how being with this man makes you feel.
Next, write down why this man will bring value to your life.
Add why YOU deserve this man, and what you bring into his life.
Struggling with self-confidence? I wrote How to feel confident and sexy when you feel old, fat and gross.
I repeated this manifestation exercise every day for months. In short: It works.
What about long-distance relationships? Is it possible to have a serious relationship with a man who lives far away, and doesn't cheat? What about for single parents?
There are many good reasons couples live apart: you met online and live in different cities, one of you moved to be close to your kids or family, a job forced a relocation, military, prison, or international citizenship challenges. Just a few years ago, women followed their man's careers. Today, couples are more likely to manage their lives around two careers, which increases the demand for separate living. Add to this the proliferation of online dating and connecting with old boyfriends and classmates via Facebook, it is not surprising long-distance relationships are as common as ever.
Thanks to technology and affordable airfare, these relationships are more common than ever — and in many ways, easier to manage. Think about it: Text, FaceTime, email, unlimited voice plans mean that you can easily spend an equal number of hours communicating with a boyfriend who lives three time-zones away, as our grandparents did on an average day while living on the same farm. Add to this the fact that so many of us share our lives and thoughts via social media, blogs, and YouTube channels, there can be a real, though sometimes perceived, sense of intimacy via a good wifi connection.
Here is what research knows about long-distance relationships: Couples who live far from each other report being happier and more in love in the relationship. And when those couples do move into the same place, they are more likely to break up than other couples who had lived close-by all along.
Researchers surmise that it is easy to glorify a partner when you don't have to navigate the mundane drudgery of daily living: laundry, schedule conflicts. Meanwhile, there is a lot of time to elevate your opinion about your boyfriend or girlfriend when you don't see them every day, and feel lonely.
How to make a long-distance relationship work
- Prioritize in-person meetings. Otherwise, you are penpals, not partners.
- Allow mundane conversations and activities to flow. It can be tempting to schedule special, romantic activities to make your time together more special, but true connectivity blooms in everyday interactions.
- Have an end-game. Openly discuss how you can eventually live in the same town, and when that can happen.
How to find a boyfriend when you're feeling lonely
- Surprise visits
- Plane/bus/train tickets
- iPhone, smartphone, or iPad stand for better Facetiming
- Framed photo of the two of you, or custom couple portrait
- Fine jewelry or a watch/timepiece
- Book — and buy one for yourself, then discuss
- Access to your Amazon Prime / Hulu / Netflix account — so you can watch together.
Famous long-distance relationship quotes
I exist in two places, here and where you are.”Margaret Atwood
“All-so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew.”Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Our separation of each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.”Albert Einstein
“I fell in love with her when we were together, then fell deeper in love with her in the years we were apart.”Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
“This is the sad bed of chosen chastity because you are miles and mountains away.”Erica Jong
“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
I believe in the immeasurable power of love; that true love can endure any circumstance and reach across any distance.”Steve Maraboli
Where to find a boyfriend
Of course, you can meet a good man anywhere: Your kids' school, the playground, a bar, work, through friends, on the street. You can meet a good man in a bookstore, at the beach, your local coffee shop, and of course through an online dating app.
Whether you are looking for a regular person to go for dinner and sex, or you want to know how to find a man who wants to get married, I am a huge fan of online dating for single parents.
Online dating apps and sites allow you to browse and connect with hundreds of men in a single evening — from home, with no need to hire a babysitter or buy a new top — making dating sites the most time and money efficient ways to find a boyfriend.
Here is a roundup of the best dating apps for single parents:
For finding a serious relationship, a boyfriend or a husband, EliteSingles is the leader.
EliteSingles stands out because it features:
- A deep personality survey to make highly compatible matches
- Verified profiles
- 82% of the members have a college education
- 90% of members aged 30+
Learn more about EliteSingles in my review.
Resources mentioned in this article:
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, Oprah.com, 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.