24 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Date A Single Dad

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A few years ago, I started cracking jokes regularly about hot dads. Then when I met a charming, handsome dude with good taste in music and tacos at a secret Santa vinyl swap party last winter, I started dating one. Suddenly the jokes seemed a little creepy, and although I actively pumped the brakes on making them, those familiar with my menagerie of hot dad puns rose a skeptical eyebrow. I didn't seek out a hot dad, it just happened. Hotness aside, there's some unexpected things that happen when you date a single dad.

I've dated ("dated") divorced dudes before, which might be a little similar, but this relationship marks my first with a parent. When the relationship was brand-spankin' new, a lot of close friends lamented renditions of, "I could never DATE A PARENT." They echoed sentiments of kids being deal breakers. But I just figured, we're getting older. Everyone has a past and brings baggage into a relationship. And sometimes that baggage needs soccer lessons. Although, of course, I find my partner's child a deeply charming, fun, hilarious little human who doesn't qualify as "baggage." You know what I mean. A man willing and thrilled to take on the dad role shows commitment. It shows a patient man who gives a damn and has a loving heart. These are positive things. However, yeah...dating one of these men summons some unique situations sometimes.

He gets along great with your dad

I already knew I was dating a sociable, nice guy, and my dad is the same way, but I don't know how I failed to predict this easy bond. It's kinda unbelievably cute to watch them nerd out on fatherhood together.

He moves easily in different social situations

If he has to make pleasant conversation with other parents during tae kwan do, he can flow harmoniously through your old coworker's new girlfriend's potluck.

Finding tiny clothes in your clean laundry

Or...not even that tiny. Just not yours and not big enough to be his. I recently unearthed a red T-shirt that was definitely not mine in a batch of clean laundry I did at bae's house. Granted, I'm a fairly petite person and my boyfriend's child is seven. Even though I modeled it for jokes above, I resisted the urge to actually don and sport it around. That seemed too far.

Reexamining past relationships

Every situation is different, but my boyfriend is still on amicable terms with his child's mother, who also lives near us. Matters are so peachy that she even shared me on a Google Calendar she, her boyfriend, and my boyfriend share re: who has chief parenting duties when (it's half-and-half, really). This kind of amazing camaraderie made me really look at past relationships I'd previously kept duct-taped in a box and tossed the way-back part of the closet. I'd like to say this exercise made me resurrect toxic romantic relationships as healthy friendships, but that hasn't quite happened yet (and with some specific ones, I honestly can't see that ever happening). More than anything, I think it's helped me recognize the hard fact that all humans have faults and, in general, good intentions. Harmony can exist with a little work. (Though to be fair, I can't take credit for the calendar. That's all his superstar ex's handiwork and maturity.)

Realizing people sure like to make fun of/talk about dads

I actually muted #dadbod from Twitter and had to fake a million smiles for people trying to relate to me by bringing the meme up IRL. Also very tired of the dad joke thing (which is real, sure, but still not a phenom I care to discuss for the 999th time).

There's far less invented drama

When a person has to care for another human, they simply have less emotional and physical energy to invent snafus or hang-ups. Nothing is a big deal unless it's an actual Big Deal. He has developed a wisdom to help him identify the difference between the two, and if you haven't already done the same, hanging with him long enough will be educational.

You have an incredibly patient partner

Someone who had to teach a tiny, indignant child how to master the toilet isn't gonna flip when you need to take nine breaks hiking back out of a canyon.

You save money

I've never considered my income sizable until I started thinking of the glaring fact that I don't have to split it with anyone. Since single dads still have to, you know, fund their child, there isn't always a ton of extra dough to fund flippant outings to fancy cocktail bars or jump onto tubing trips you didn't even want to attend in the first place. It inspires you to be more mindful of your own spending habits. As such—

He's wildly creative with cheap and free activities

And knows every single dope park worth visiting in town.

It forces you to address your own insecurities...

So when the kid asks, "Why are you wearing lipstick?" You can actually think to yourself, "...Yeah. Why am I doing that?" And in a more serious sense, it forces you to dissect immature impulses. Like when you're running late to meet a friend because you're stuck in a child-stuffed lantern parade one town over, you're not allowed to bitch and force your S.O. to help you summon an Uber to pick you up, STAT—because he's too busy pushing the kid on a skateboard inside the festivities to indulge your princess agenda. It makes you take a more discerning look at this princess agenda and brainstorm ways to be more reasonable in general.

...and to be an adult yourself.

I was playing with the kid at a playground near my boyfriend's apartment and when an authority figure from the attached daycare came out to ask if we had permission to be there, I immediately turned to the child. Then I realized, "Oh fuck. I'm supposed to answer here." I've always been a touch afraid of authority but knew I had to handle the current situation. It turned out fine, by the way.

Conversely, it means you can't let jealousy get to you with exes. I used to let envy blind me badly in the past—even if a boyfriend managed to remain congenial with an ex, the whole bond made me feel rattled as hell. Now that I'm with a person who's ex will be around in a close way forever and ever amen, I have to be OK with that. Which is the adult thing to do anyway. We can't let ourselves feel threatened for no viable reason.

He knows the world doesn't revolve around him

This can be a difficult quality to find in this world of overgrown Peter Pans on the hunt for their own Mother figure—a person to handle all the less savory household duties, remind them to go to the doctor, praise them constantly, hinge their daily or long-term plans on what Pan wants or says he needs. This situation is different, because he already takes on that role for his child while still taking decent care of himself. Playing Mother to a series of adult Peter Pans got old, so this kind of attitude is a very welcome change of pace.

He is deliberate

Since there's a kid involved, he isn't trying to be all willy-nilly with decisions in life—both those that do and don't concern you. That's pretty hot, TBH.

You can dodge responsibility for your music choices

When "Uptown Funk" happens six times in a row, I can blame that on the kid (which is true). Same with Katy Perry (which might be an extrapolation or even just my idea).

It's hard to gross him out

Possibly one of the best treats of dating a dad. If your cat got secretly sick and he steps barefoot into a pile of barf, he doesn't love it but he understands that happens (probably because he has experience direct skin-to-someone else's-barf contact before). He also doesn't panic about periods or farts or other body stuff.

His place is gonna be messy...forever

Cleaning is one of my favorite forms of therapy, likely because if I'm in a highly cluttered space physically, that transfers mentally and makes me feel like a stressed-out trashcan. Very early in this relationship, I suggested I help my boyfriend with an intense cleaning sesh of his kitchen. We had a lot of wine and played loud punk and soon it was gleaming. This lasted about 36 hours. With a child and full-time job and other luxurious duties such as bathing oneself and staying fed (AND keeping the kid fed), cleaning falls to the wayside. Besides not having enough time to clean, kids are just miraculously mess-inducing machines. Tireless ones. As such, I try to see this situation as an opportunity to relax my OCD tendencies and work to become a more patient, understanding person. Of course my apartment is much cleaner—because I only have to account for me. It isn't fair to hold him to the same standard.

You learn how to relinquish some control

I recognize I have some control freak tendencies, relationships included. A lot of life is outside our control and dating someone with a child is a very effective reminder that no matter what, we can't always call the shots. We have to be adaptable. As such, I waited until my boyfriend thought it would be OK to introduce me to his kid. And even then, it's not like I leapt from a cake and shouted, "I AM YOUR NEW MOM!!!!!!!!!!!" Not at all. I'm still just a buddy who kicks it from time to time to join in on eating pizza or playing "balloon" or the occasional ride home from school. When and if my boyfriend wants to explain my role in his life to his child, that's not really up to me. It's a discussion he and I can have, but it's not my endeavor to pilot.

You get a bit of perspective about your own age...

It's fun to make fun of Oldsters until you realize you are now one. This is highlighted by the frequency at which you offer anecdotes children don't want to hear, always marked with the beginning, "When I was a kid..." They don't care, probably. They just don't need to hear about how your lack of skills with Donkey Kong at age seven feeds into your lack of skills with Mario Kart Racing at age 27. They're just stoked to authentically beat an adult.

...and your general level of importance.

Not to say my boyfriend treats me like I'm not important; He treats me with total kindness and respect. It's just that I have dated people in the past who put me on a pedestal, and you know what? The oxygen gets pretty thin up there. Although I'm sure it's meant as an appreciative gesture, it's unrealistic and puts a lot of pressure on the person sitting on top of it. Dating a parent, though, means no matter what, there is always going to be someone more important than I am in the mix. And I am so so OK with that.

There's no room for jealousy

If a sitter falls through last-minute, that means reservations gotta be canceled and dinner gets moved to the living room and the main dish will probably be pizza. You can't take it personally if homie is late because his child's mother got a flat tire so he had to go help out. You also can't get suspicious when he's on the phone with her a lot. These are complicated waters to navigate and if you're even to dip a few toes beneath the surface, you gotta be able to resign yourself to faith and trust—two things that ought to be present in any grown-ass relationship anyway. It's just here, it's especially non-negotiable.

Shit doesn't have to be so serious

I never babysat growing up and none my nieces and nephews live close by, so I don't actually have much experience hanging out with kids. The first time I met my boyfriend's child, I was 900 times more nervous than meeting any adult. What were we supposed to do or talk about? "Seriously, whatever," he instructed. After a while, the nerves dissolved and we were playing a stirring game of "balloon," which entails whacking a balloon back and forth between two or three people in a living room. Extra rules vary, but usually Taylor Swift is a necessary soundtrack. Things just don't have to be so serious in the sense that kids are very fun and it's almost astounding how quickly you can reverse back to such an easily entertained brain space. It's freeing to launch into some weird accent and spike a deflating balloon in the air without fear of being judged. It scratches a specific existential itch.

There's no ego

Because guess who makes the weird accent and plays balloon when you're not around? Conversely, though—

You can have serious conversations without scaring each other

Although I'm sure there are exceptions, most of the time when a single dad is dating, he isn't just screwing around. It's surprisingly refreshing to sink into a relationship and have the comfortable freedom to discuss individual big-scale hopes and goals. In other relationships, talking about the future at all can often be exactly the catalyst to send Pan off packing for a return and permanent trip to Neverland.

You retain a lot of your own time

Often, especially in new relationships, it can be hard to balance love stuff and friends. Assuming you're in a situation with split custody in a local setting, that means half the time you get to yourself. It helps slow things down early on and maintain other hobbies, tinkerings, friendships, and such in your own life. It's the antithesis to smothering and fosters vital independence.

Images: TriStar Picturs; Giphy(23); Beca Grimm