We're curious about the dating habits of divorced gay dads. Here are the stories of four of them: Mark, Brian, Greg and Ed.
A beginning, that’s how Mark views this new chapter in his life. The 44-year-old Seattle-based high school teacher talks about his past with heartbreak, and his future with bittersweet hope.
“We were only married two years, and we adopted our baby girl right afterward,” he says of his now-defunct partnership to a man 10 years his junior. “It’s embarrassing, because I bragged about everything to everyone. We were the perfect couple, the product of new gay times, with our little girl and our house and all of that. Then I found out my husband was having an affair. That was it. He was gone; we dissolved the marriage; we now share custody of our child.”
The end of the story? Not really, as three years later, Mark has stepped into the dating world, again, with a little less trust and a lot more family. “I have a three-year-old child, which is more of a dealbreaker than I would have thought,” says Mark, who adds that he’s on about three different online dating sites.
Mark, like many gay men around the country and the world, is embarking on a journey they never imagined before the fight for marriage and children progressed: being single with a kid in tow.
“I don’t think people read those online profiles very carefully before they respond,” he says, “because I get all these messages from men, we chat, I remind them I have a little girl, and I never hear from them again. My mom was a single mother and I can completely relate. When I do date, and I have our daughter that week, there’s a lot of hassle. The babysitter, the phone calls, the getting home on time. I don’t think single gay men are comfortable with that lifestyle. Or at least they are not used to it.”
Mark says he would love to date another man with kids, but he hasn’t struck that gold. “I want to date the men I’m attracted to, and so far I haven’t met another man with kids who gets me going,” he says matter-of-factly. “Also, I tend to be attracted to younger men, and there’s a much bigger chance that they won’t have children, or want them.”
Although Mark and his ex-husband don’t communicate outside of discussions about their child, he does know that there’s a new man in that picture. “Yes, it makes it harder,” he admits. “He started seeing someone immediately after the breakup. I’m told I shouldn’t care, but it hurts and it makes dating harder. I feel as if I’m supposed to have someone new too. And my daughter talks about her other two dads a lot. That’s very hard.”
When I asked Mark about dating outside the cyber world, he says he’d love to, but does not quite know where to begin. “Half of my friends are no longer my friends,” he says on life after separation, “and my entire social life revolved around my husband. I teach all day, I work out when I can, and I come home exhausted, with a child to raise. Yes, Seattle is very gay-friendly, and sometimes I’ll meet a man when I take my daughter on walks or to the park or getting coffee, but it’s not as glamorous as it seems in the movies.”
While he’s somewhat joking about the last part, he does say there’s a myth to the notion that men think Daddies who are Dads are hot. “It sounds sexy on paper,” says Mark, “but once men realize how complicated my life is, they don’t find it so alluring. I’m not fighting men off with a stick. And try meeting a guy at a bar and then telling him you have a three-year-old. It’s like telling him you have herpes.”
Brian, 49, who lives in Dallas and has two children from a long-ago marriage to a woman, tells a different kind of story.
His children got a new dad when he moved in with his partner 10 years ago; they have since broken up. “My ex-partner loved my kids, and he was their second dad,” says Brian, who also says his children have a wonderful relationship with their mom. “They were still pretty young when my wife and I divorced, so in their minds my ex was my life partner, as they grew up around him and we lived together for over five years. Also, my wife remarried, so they’re wondering what happened to me,” he laughs.
Now that he’s single and living in an apartment, alone, Brian dates quite a bit.
“People always ask me if it’s difficult dating and having kids,” he says, adding, “not really. Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe it’s because my kids are older. Maybe I’m just automatically attracted to men who like kids, but I date a lot. It doesn’t always last but I’m not a sexual hermit.”
Brian says that if he meets anyone he’s interested in dating, or if someone asks him out, he tells him he has kids in the first conversation.
“It’s one of those things you need to say immediately, not just so he’ll know that you come with so-called baggage, but because children are a part of who you are. Once you’re a dad, your priorities shift, your attitude on life shifts, you’re a dad! And on that rare occasion I meet someone who objects, I need to know right away because to even go on a date would be a complete waste of time.”
An avid beer drinker, Brian says he meets men on Grindr and Scruff, at Dallas bars, and lots of Sunday beer blasts and barbecues. “I think I meet more men at The Eagle than anywhere in Dallas,” says Brian. “Something about those big leather guys. They’re all softies underneath, and they all love kids. That’s so cool.”
Venice physical therapist Greg, 49, paints a completely different picture of the single dad life. Separated from his partner for six years, and with a 17-year-old son with whom he shares custody, he says that in that time he’s had a few hookups with friends of friends and has been on two blind dates, “both horrible, one worse than the next.”
“I’ve not dated since,” he says. “I have a very difficult relationship with my ex at times and I have to be on guard. I want my son to get through high school and keep him as my focus of attention. When he’s off to college I can think of myself again.”
Sound sad? Not at all, says Greg, who adds that he’s not opposed to dating, he just doesn’t see it as a necessity.
“I’m open to dating, but it hasn’t arisen,” he says, simply. “I do not go to bars, I do not go out seeking dates. I do not go online. If it’s going to happen I would imagine it would be at a party with friends.”
Greg seems almost baffled when I tell him that other single men feel the need to date or be in a relationship.
“I’m not lonely,” he says. “I keep busy. My son is my focus and I’m very close to my family. I’m a private person by nature. I do not need to seek constant companionship. My life is very full just being me.”
Back to the dating game, Greg adds, “There are plenty of men who I see and who I’m attracted to, but they never approach me. I don’t put out that energy.”
Besides, dating is a package deal for Greg. “I wouldn’t bring someone in my life if my son wasn’t comfortable around him,” he says sternly, suggesting he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the subject.
“He’d meet my son in less than a day,” Greg says on any potential partner. “I think of myself and my son as a family and a unit. I would say, ‘Hey, would you mind if my son came along?’ There’s no hiding it. It’s right from the start.”
A relative virgin to after-divorce dating, Ed, 51, a New York realtor, has been separated from his partner for a year, and has been on four dates; the guys were aged from 22 to 55. His two children are 22 and 19.
“My expectations on a date are not high,” he says. “I’m not looking for anything serious; hanging out, friendship, a f*** buddy. I’m not committed, emotionally or physically.”
He’s also not finding what he sees as anything substantial. “I was very attracted to one guy, 44, who was after me. Turns out he lived in a halfway house, was a drug addict, was on social security and disability, and had tried to commit suicide. I had a date with a twenty-five-year-old; he was interesting and well grounded and he was holding my hand in the cab. I never heard from him again.”
Ed, who says he meets most men on Grindr or Manhunt, would prefer to date someone closer to his age, but says the avenues are limited.
“The resources aren’t there,” he says. “Are you really going to find a guy in his fifties on Grindr or Manhunt? You’re going to meet them at parties or from friends. I don’t want to go to the bars. What other establishments are there to meet men my age? I have no intention of going on Match.com because the men I know who are on it are miserable. I also think there are less men in our age group to date because a lot of them are partnered.”
While Ed says he hasn’t had any particular trouble after telling dates he has children, it can be awkward on the other side. “When I told my daughter I went on a date with a 25-year-old she almost had a heart attack. But he helped me build my self-confidence again. In reality, however, it would never work.”
What Ed didn’t tell his daughter is how often that age group is available. “I only get the young ones,” he says. “It’s a father/son thing. The majority of them I meet, their fathers were absent in their lives. Ultimately, they’re cute and you want to teach them in the bedroom. It’s a turn-on and a turn-off because of their age.”
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While Ed and others I spoke to for this piece said they’d wait a good chunk of time before introducing any man to their kids, Greg has the dissenting opinion. “I would never wait,” he says, adamantly. “That would make it all about me and not my son.”