“I think it’s so nice that you still think about sex,” my friend says, as though she were congratulating me for going to the gym. I glance over at my one-year-old daughter, Lucy, who is playing on the floor. She’s oblivious to our conversation. But I don’t think it’s nice that I think about sex. I think it’s a major issue. Because in the past year, I’ve only had sex once. When I became pregnant with Lucy after a one-night stand in Ireland, I knew that it would be hard to have a baby by myself. But what I hadn’t factored in was how much I’d miss dating. After all, even though I’d technically been “single” for most of my 20s, I was always either flirting with, sleeping with, or figuring out how to break up with someone. Before I had Lucy, I probably went out with more than a hundred men (and a few women). I loved meeting in a low-lit wine bar, exchanging back stories over appetisers, the thrilling anticipation of not knowing whether a goodnight kiss was in the future. I loved the familiarity of a fifth date, which, for me, was right around the time we’d have sex. I loved how suddenly there was no question: We’d hold hands, have a “hello” kiss, head home in the same cab. And, to be honest, I even loved the four- or five-month mark when I realised there likely wasn’t a future — I could reactivate my Tinder profile and start the cycle all over again. I don’t need a shrink to tell me I have a classic case of commitment-phobia. But having a baby is the ultimate commitment — and after Lucy was born, I realised that the way I dated had to change. Before, a first date was the perfect antidote to boredom: Even if there was no spark, at the very least, there’d be a story to tell friends at brunch the next day. But now, leaving my flat without Lucy required the same level of planning I’d formerly reserved for a holiday overseas. Since I don’t have family nearby, I needed to either find a friend who’d be willing to watch Lucy, or fork over £10 an hour plus an Uber ride, for a babysitter. In other words, the price tag of a bad date now hovered in the £100 range.
I want to find a partner who would also be excited about playing the role of Lucy’s father.
Plus, there was the fact that I still feel awkward in my new role as a mum. My days are taken up balancing work assignments and infant care; I felt like I didn’t have the same things to discuss — around-the-world travel, exciting office projects — as I had back when I was unattached. Finally, there’s the fact that I don’t want to just “date.” I want to find a partner who would also be excited about playing the role of Lucy’s father. So many times in Lucy’s first year, I found myself looking around and wishing there was someone else going through this with me. And the weirdest thing was, it was never when she wouldn’t sleep or had a fussy episode that lasted for hours. I wanted someone to witness when she was being particularly adorable: when she’d laugh the minute I started reading her favourite book, or the week when, just beginning to crawl, she’d arch her body up into a perfect miniature downward dog. I knew I was unlikely to find that person by swiping right on Tinder profiles. But I was unsure where to begin. And in order to do things right, I needed to have a few “training wheels” dates under my belt. Which was why my first one was with Matt, my friend-with-benefits of the past six years. He lives in London, and we only see each other three times a year; the last time I had seen him had been when I was midway through my pregnancy, the curve of my belly just beginning to be evident underneath a tight tank top. When he came back to town when Lucy was four months old, I was ready. I had five friends on call to babysit. The day before we planned to meet, I got a bikini wax while Lucy slept in her stroller next to the aesthetician’s table. That night, I left Lucy with one of my five friends and headed over to Matt’s hotel, clutching my iPhone and swiping through pictures of her for comfort on the way there. I felt like a teenager sneaking out of the house. As soon as he opened the door to his hotel room, I hungrily kissed him, feeling like I had to prove I could still be just as sexy as I had been before having Lucy. But my heart wasn’t in it. Hotel sex used to be one of my favourite things ever; now, I wished we could just be cuddled on my couch, with Lucy a room away. In fact, it was during sex when I felt most envious of all my new mum friends who had husbands. They were able to have sex as parents, making sure to be extra-quiet so their babies didn’t wake up while their parents were mid-orgasm — they were in it together. I felt like I was playing a part, and was relieved to get home to Lucy. That was when I realised that I needed to change my entire dating M.O. The fact is, right now, Lucy’s the centre of my universe, and the men I date need to realise that. Which was why, a few weeks after my date with Matt, when I picked up on the flirty vibes being sent to me by Jake, the barista at my local coffee place, I invited him for a beer — and told him I was bringing Lucy. This was made easier by the fact that he's also a writer, and our “date” was ostensibly to talk about our careers. But he paid for my drink and told me I looked nice, and it was a relief not to feel like I needed to hide Lucy or make it seem like she had anything less than a starring role in my life. After all, Jake had seen me come into his coffee shop ever since the first few "WTF" days of new motherhood. He’d seen me in stained tank tops and unwashed hair, and had flirted with me anyway. It was clear after our beer that we wouldn’t be anything more than friends, but it was still gratifying.
I wished we could just be cuddled on my couch, with Lucy a room away.
A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s wedding. Lucy had been invited, her name engraved alongside mine on the cream-coloured invitation. I wore her in a baby carrier over a bodycon DVF dress with five-inch heels. I drank champagne while I let Lucy be passed around between friends. Both of us danced to the DJ, me holding her tiny hand to support her wobbly standing. At the end of the night, the bride tapped me on the shoulder. “By the way, Adam adores you. You should go talk to him again if you’re interested.” I thought back to the tall guy with the shaggy blonde hair and crooked smile. We’d been laughing in line at the bar; at one point, Lucy had reached up to try to grab his sunglasses. I hadn’t been trying to impress him, I’d just been enjoying the fact that I could enjoy a glass of champagne with Lucy in my arms. I had been myself, as a mum and a single woman and whatever else I was at that moment. And he’d liked it. He also lived five hours away. So no, this story isn’t going to end with me falling in love with Adam, or Matt, or Jake. They just weren’t right for me — for us. And that’s the thing I’m learning: Dating as a single mum is logistically complicated, but emotionally, it’s pretty straightforward. You just have to be yourself, because you don’t have the time or emotional capacity to hide who you are. And in a new life in which independent moments are fleeting, that’s pretty damn liberating.
This article was first published on 13th May 2016