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 seven–year 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.
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?