I’ve been separated for about a year and I’m finally ready to try online dating but I don’t know where to start. Last time I was “there” I had a flip phone. Ha. I’ve never had so many online dates and I’m overwhelmed with how much has changed. What apps would you suggest and how can I facilitate online dating in a way that isn’t awkward and anxiety-provoking?
A young single mother of teenagers in her forties
First of all, welcome!
It’s wild and feeling overwhelmed is valid no matter how long you’ve been apart and how long you’ve had dating apps on your phone. Almost everyone who slips experiences some form of anxiety because nobody know what they are doing. Leaning into that awkwardness is the beauty (and the hell!) of online dating. As, we all showed up to the same simulation together.
Before discussing apps, I want to make it clear that my goal in this column is to unapologetically explore sex and dating through a “single mom” lens that validates personal desire versus societal expectations. Many apps like eHarmony, Christian Mingle, and Next Love are set up as “marriage dating” pipelines, assuming single moms are looking for serious relationships and domestic partnerships, which is fine if that’s what you research, but most single moms I know (myself included) aren’t.
It is not because we have children or that we are at a certain age that we are looking for serious relationships. The reality is that the majority of women I hear about are very comfortable with the idea of casually dating while they still have kids at home. I speak from experience when I say that separating one’s domestic and romantic partnerships can be incredibly fulfilling and through this column I hope to normalize all the different ways single moms make sex and dating work for them.
My goal in this column is to unapologetically explore sex and dating through a “single mom” lens that validates personal desire versus societal expectations.
Where were we? Oh yes. Apps! The very act of swiping is a superficial endeavor and it’s very difficult to know based on images and prompts who we are going to vibe with, so my first piece of advice would be… don’t think about it too much. Then I highly recommend paying extra for a premium membership. Swiping at people often seems like too much at first, and with a premium subscription you can see who’s swiping at you and then decide if you want to swipe them back.
Calling all sexualities and dating profiles, here are my top five picks.
While it may have the worst prompts of any other dating app, Hinge feels like the fairest and least scary of dating apps. It’s well-designed with voice prompts and you can include short videos, which I find much more revealing than photos. I also like not having to take the first step all the time. Which brings me to…
Bumble is where women make their first move, so if you’re a woman looking for a man, you’ll need to break the ice. I really like this concept, but found it gets exhausting after a while. Also, your matches expire after 24 hours, so you should set alerts so you don’t miss potential matches. I love that you can sync your Spotify with Bumble. A shared love for Sophie B Hawkins is meaningful to me.
It is aimed at lesbian, bisexual and pansexual dating and with over 4 million users worldwide, it is loved by its community. And speaking of community, Her isn’t just a dating app — it also has a “communities” area that gives it a social media vibe (in a good way). And with a premium subscription, you can go incognito and search for singles before making your online profile public. She wants you to feel safe, secure, and ready (on your terms!) to make your move, which I love.
Feeld is a sex-positive dating app that lets you stay anonymous while interacting with extremely transparent singles/couples about their desires. Whether you’re looking to stay home and sext, experience ENM* with someone who’s GGG**, DFW***, or maybe a guest star in an FMF***-like storyline, there’s something for everyone on Feeld. I find the transparency, sexual freedom, and kink positivity refreshing. That said, cis men/couples far outnumber single women/women on this app. (I recently returned to Feeld after a months hiatus and had several thousand swipes on my profile – a profile where you can’t see my face, only one of my eyes, a shoulder and a meme from Succession.) All that to say, prepare to be overwhelmed if you’re a single woman.
* Ethically non-monogamous ** Good giving game *** Down with anything **** Female Male Female (trio)
Another great queer dating app, lex is the coolest app of the bunch. All that awkward superficial slippage based on someone’s appearance isn’t a factor at Lex, where dating profiles exist as witty paragraphs with brief descriptions of who you are and what you search. Inspired by personal newspaper advertisements, Lex favors words over selfies. Which I think is hot AF.
Unsolicited but very important safety tips for app encounters:
Your love life should never be all about your personal comfort, pleasure, and joy, and no one (even less me!) should ever tell you what’s best for you. That said, I learned a few things about feeling safe.
1. I never meet a man unless I know his last name first. If I can’t do a Google background check, we don’t meet. Depending on the situation, I may or may not share my last name, but there have been many times where I have not given my last name because, while it is indeed a double standard, the truth is that it is much safer for a man to meet an anonymous woman than for a woman to meet an anonymous man. And until that changes, I feel empowered and justified by my choice to insist on a man’s information, even though I refused to divulge my own. And I would advise any non-cis man to do the same.
2. Take all the time you need. A lot of people (cis men) say things in their profiles like “I’m not here to be pen pals. I want to meet you right away” and in my opinion that is the central red flag. You should never rush to meet someone until you are ready. If you feel compelled to meet right away, block and delete immediately. Which brings me to…
3. Don’t be afraid to flake. You don’t owe anyone you match on a dating app anything, including your business if you don’t feel it. I know a lot of women (myself included) who think that if we make a plan, we should keep a plan, but when it comes to meeting strangers on the internet, you absolutely don’t need to keep a plan. It goes both ways: if someone cancels you, you should consider it absolutely normal and expected behavior when dating online. Don’t take it personally. People cancel for a variety of reasons, and rejection is part of the deal, as is ghosting. Having a sense of humor about it all and not taking yourself/online matches too seriously will make a pretty big difference to your experience.
4. If you plan to have casual sex, get tested and be prepared to share your results. I was unprepared for this when I first started dating and was pleasantly surprised at how everyone GGG had to get tested and share the results. It’s not uncommon for people to list their STI results the same way they do their Covid vaccination status (especially on apps like Feeld and #open), which is refreshingly sexy and very different from what it was 20 years ago.
Finally, I would like to say that online dating can be exhausting and sometimes you need a break. I recently deleted all apps from my phone because there is nothing wrong with being alone or taking a break. Let this be a sweet reminder as we begin this conversation together that not having sex or dating is fine too. Never underestimate the gratification of solo sex, self-love, and platonic dates with friends.
ps I want to answer all the questions you have about the exhilarating, terrifying, and wonderful experience of dating new people and having sex with new people after becoming a parent. Send me your questions at [email protected].
Rebecca Woolf has worked as a writer for over two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: from savage to childand the next All This: A Memoir on Death and Desire. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.