I never expected to date in my 30s. I never expected to be a single parent. But it turns out there were to be some twists and turns between the age of 18, when I met the man I married, and 33, when I became a divorcee.
In 2020, the end of my marriage and becoming a single parent to two very young children hit me like a bulldozer. That period is a blur. It was roughly a year from knowing deep down that our marriage had to end, to the final out-loud words that confirmed it. A storm of forced smiles, fake positivity, and pure physical and emotional survival.
Then came the space, the solitude of being alone in the house while the children slept, or when they were on a play-date, or with their dad, and the slow and quiet whisperings of how to heal, how to love and how to look forward to the future once again.
I spent a year and a half adamant that I would be single for the rest of my days. My inner critic told me: ‘You had your shot at being in a relationship and decided to end it, so this is it now.’ ‘No one would want to be in a relationship with you.’ ‘You don’t need anyone else, ever.’ But with time, and actively seeking to understand my thoughts and ideas, I accepted how unhealthy my marriage had been. I could see a space for romantic love in my life, but I understood how different it would need to be. To get to this point, I spent countless hours reading through material online, attending therapy sessions, and finding resources to help me better understand myself and the reasons I felt certain ways.
Then, one day, I had a spark of excitement about dating. I researched dating apps and decided to sign up to one. Shortly after my account was confirmed, panic and dread set in. I didn’t feel confident or comfortable any more; I felt really scared. I decided I had to put more work into my approach, my profile, my information, my choices; they had to be conscious. But what did that even mean? To me, it meant to choose from a place of understanding, of myself and the reasons for my choices. It ensured I made choices from a healthy place, not just to fulfil a temporary need or to please somebody else.
What does this look like when dating? It could be as simple as putting honest and authentic information on our dating profiles. It could also be recognising when we have thoughts or ideas that aren’t really how we feel deep down. It’s asking questions of ourselves and taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings (the positive and the negative and all the in-betweens). It will look different for each person.
Initially I found dating incredibly challenging. Some exchanges left me confused, sad, angry. At other times I felt incredibly insecure, so much so that it hurt. It would have been easy to react in these moments, to be confrontational or to assume the worst in people. (Sometimes this is exactly what happened!) From the research I had done, I identified as being co-dependent. This was evident in my marriage, looking back, and delving deeper into my childhood, I was able to start to see why I had acted certain ways and had done without question for decades! I am still exploring my past, and helping me at the moment is Mother Hunger by Kelly McDaniel. Realising I felt grief and working through this has been cathartic for me.
I am currently in a committed, loving relationship, which is wonderful! But to get to this point was (and often still is) testing, because I challenge myself every day to learn about myself and represent myself authentically. If something leaves me feeling uncomfortable – a conversation, idea, shared picture, for example – I check in and think, how am I feeling right now? Where do I feel it? What emotions am I aware of and what might I be trying to suppress or ignore? I also find a way to communicate this to my partner. For me, being authentic is sharing my struggles and the reasons for them in a non-confrontational way. I have found the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg invaluable.
There has been joy in this process. I have been able to reconnect to the activities that nourish me and to see just how much love I have to offer. I found Emma from Love and Play Universe and saw the myriad ways that she could help me. I have had one-to-one coaching sessions and group sessions with her remotely since May 2021, and my outlook on all things has shifted. I describe the changes as spiritual, loving and conscious. The work we do together covers inner child work, dance, meditation, art therapy, and I am thankful for the chance to learn more about myself and process past trauma in a safe, nurturing space.
The concept of mindfulness and self-care were alien to me a few years ago. Slowly, through exposure, I am gaining understanding, and I am incorporating daily practices to support, acknowledge and love myself. Accepting that this work will need to be lifelong was difficult at first. I have created an ‘emergency go-to kit’ that I carry everywhere. It contains a picture of my children, affirming words, aromatherapy roll-on, chocolate, and a stone collected by my children with the word love on it. When I am feeling lost, I take a few minutes to connect to these precious items and they bring me back to the present.
My children are my drive. I want to learn about myself, care for myself and be authentic, so I can be present with them and truly enjoy our time together. I am their role model and primary carer. I use conscious parenting methods. When I am triggered by something when I’m with them (when I want to shout and feelings of anger rise in me), I communicate how I feel and show how I calm myself. I connect with what is happening to me and apologise and repair if I act in a way that I regret. I can find peace in the fact I am not perfect. I can pick myself up and try again, and along the way I can teach my children how they might be able to do the same.
I want to reflect on what I hoped to gain from writing this article. For myself, it is a consideration of the processes I have gone through to confidently approach a relationship as a single parent, still finding my way but feeling authentic and hopeful. It is a celebration of my journey. For others, I hope it might serve as a collection of thoughts that can help create a positive approach to dating. Sometimes the way we are brought up and other external factors impact our awareness or our ability to have healthy, meaningful relationships. Once we realise it is within our capabilities to learn about ourselves and why and how we do things, we can start to manifest change, positivity, healthy love, for ourselves first, and then for others. I certainly believe we do not need a relationship to fulfil our lives, and every person’s journey will be different. For me, I am excited to be in a relationship and to see what future can be shaped for my family.
- Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Puddle Dancer Press, 2015).
- Kelly McDaniel, Mother Hunger: How Adult Daughters Can Understand and Heal from Lost Nurturance, Protection and Guidance (Hay House, 2021).
Jessica Woolrich lives in a rural village in Suffolk, with her two wonderful little people (aged 6 and 4) and two therapy cats. She enjoys exploring nature (particularly wildflowers), reading, writing and crafting. She is currently working as an educator and studying while juggling single parenthood and dating!
Illustration by Chrissy Leveille - sewnpress.com
First published in Issue 76 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.