Relationships

Dating & Rice

A few weeks ago, a leading dating app asked if I would give them my thoughts about “dating as a single dad” or “dating after my Bachelor fame.” (By the way, I can’t emphasize how loosely I use the word “fame.”) The exercise of delving into these questions turned out to be an important step in my post-divorce recovery (sadly that’s a thing for me four years later).

The last time I seriously dated a girl, she became my wife. We started dating in 2003 when I was 21, she wasn’t old enough to drink, and my phone didn’t have text messaging capabilities, let alone the pressures of maintaining a “Snap Streak.”

We matriculated from that dating relationship into a sevenyear marriage that produced an incredible daughter, many great memories I will never forget, and some memories I wish I could forget. It ultimately ended in divorce, which is why I’m now writing this article about dating and not marriage. As if these changes weren’t enough, being a contestant on The Bachelorette complicated my post-divorce life even further.

When I got married, my dad told me a simple, yet poignant parable about a son “leaving and cleaving” his family for his new wife. The son spent his entire life eating his mom’s rice and became accustomed to it — maybe even dependent on its consistency and comfort. When he got married, his wife made rice differently, and he struggled to embrace this new style of rice.

Too often since my divorce, I have found myself comparing characteristics of lovely, amazing women to my ex-wife’s “rice” and ultimately letting it affect any potential relationship I could have had. While I’m cognizant of these comparisons, it has been a bigger struggle than I ever expected to truly let go and develop a new palate for “rice.”

My daughter Gemma is, and has been, the only girl in my life the last four years. I was essentially an absentee dad the first year of her life, working 100-hour weeks in investment banking. The only time I spent with her was holding her from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., as she was a colicky baby.

Ben Higgins Mahogany Workplace JJ Gemma

Post-divorce, I left my job and have spent every Wednesday, or as we call it, “Happy Wednesday,” with Gemma. Wracked with guilt and fear about her growing up not knowing her dad, I made loving her my job… my life. We have developed a relationship I am so proud of, and I believe her mom and I have laid a steady foundation for her life.

During this time, there has been little room in my life for another woman (and to be clear, Gemma acts like a 25-year-old woman more than she acts five!). Dating always takes a backseat to spending time with Gemma, and I can’t count how many times I cancelled plans with a potentially wonderful woman because there would be a Gemma conflict.

Therein lies the challenge of dating a single parent; it requires finding a special person who is willing to be patient, cancelled on, and play second fiddle at the beginning of a relationship. After a while, I stopped “putting myself out there” because it just wasn’t fair to the woman. I knew I couldn’t give enough of myself to build a real relationship.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and starting next week, “Happy Wednesday” will retire as Gemma starts school full-time. I mourn the loss of this innocence we shared together, as she’s now on the fast track to being a teenager, boys, driving, college, and marriage. That being said, I also rejoice in the next chapter. I’ve given Gemma her wings and can now comfortably open myself up to seriously dating. Granted, Gemma just told me, “I don’t want you to get married because I don’t want you to have another kid that you’ll love more than me,” but we can cross that bridge in a few years.

As I stated above, I was cast and appeared on The Bachelorette, after which I joined an esteemed alumnus of some of the absolute dregs of society. Graduating into that fraternity does one thing for you when it comes to dating: It opens the floodgates on a volume of female attention, but doesn’t help with the quality of said women.

It’s amazing what having your face splashed across a TV screen can do for your attractiveness to the opposite sex (excluding those who have developed a brooding hatred of me). The quantity of interested women only complicates things, as it makes finding that needle in the haystack much more difficult.

As I navigate the dating world, I feel as if I’m flipping stones over in a quarry of granite, hoping to find that gemstone.

The show opened me up to a bigger quarry with the same dilemma. In short, dating is tough, regardless of your situation. We all have our unique stories, upbringings, baggage, and scars.

Too often I hear people who are discouraged and lamenting the breakups and heartbreak that comes from dating and relationships, but through my personal struggles and experiences, I feel we all need to get back on the horse, keep flipping those stones, and keep putting our best, honest selves out there. I am confident that I will eventually find a beautiful, amazing woman whose “rice” I am crazy about.

By JJ Lane

What have been your biggest dating challenges?

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Germany Lou
    August 29, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Loved this article and can completely relate! I’m a single mom to a little boy (Abram Beckham) and I am recently learning that being a mom makes dating that much easier in a sense! I’m that awkward person that blurts out on the first date I have a little boy and it usually does a good job of weeding out the people who are truly interested and the people who aren’t. When you start dating again as a parent you aren’t looking for someone to complete you (you already have that with your special little person), you are looking for someone to add value to your life and your happiness. I find that you start to really look at people’s personalities and lifestyles and what they would look like as a role model in your child’s life and I think by taking that into consideration that’s when dating gets hard because it eliminates a lot of people and then you’re left dateless on your couch again! It’s definitely hard but we just have to stay positive that our person will come and in the meantime, we are fortunate enough to have a little person that would spend every waking second with us if they could! <3

  • Reply
    Gemma
    August 29, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Great article!
    Regardless of exposure finding the one is a cross between luck, circumstance, and chemistry. I wish us both the best of luck in this modern world of romance.

  • Reply
    happy in yyz
    August 29, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    This is a great article and so true for many out there. Dating is definitely tough when you have little ones. I have two, a full time job and a past. People I know always ask when will I get back into the dating scene. Its not just that simple… with the little alone time I have, a lot of its still focused on the kids and keeping life organized. As much as I need to learn to trust another man with my own heart, I need to trust that person with my kids as well. At this point in life having been through so much, you or I, know what we want and need especially when that person could be an influence on our child(ren). Finding someone who can be patient and understanding with the cancelled plans, little time and being put second, can and will be tough. For myself, a single dad would be ideal as we would have the same priorities and be able to understand them. Finding a new “rice” is very relatable to many of us… I too hope one day I can find that and a companion to share my time, experiences and my heart with. Either way I’ve never been happier and felt so blessed to have created such amazing lives. My kids get more love than imaginable but I will always have more than enough for the right man. Life takes us in many different directions… stay positive and always know, you truly are an amazing man and wonderful father. I hope you find the gemstone you deserve!

  • Reply
    Kelsey
    September 5, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Currently going through a divorce at 27 after 8 years together and 5 months after my first child was born. It’s a heartbreaking experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My son is my world and I aim to raise him to become a gentleman with positive male role models. Bet of luck to both of us in the dating jungle!

  • Reply
    Ashley
    October 9, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Tho I do not have any children of my own I have dated several single dads and fully understood that their child came first and I was okay with that. It’s hard on both ends to try to date. Shoot, dating it self is hard lol no one has time these days for things like that. I have certainly had my own hardships and traumatic experiences, although I’ve never been married. I’ve learned that when we aren’t looking for someone, that someone will appear. Don’t rush just because you get lonely. Especially due to your “fame” you want to make sure that person is genuine and honest. I think you are a great dad, Some dads don’t even try especially with having a daughter.

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