A guide to online dating as a single parent

Yes, there are 'rules' and algorithms - but there's also a lot of fun to be had. Experienced daters guide you through the process, from profiles to puckering up

First things first: where to look

There are lots of online dating sites, and they all have different personalities. Use our fun (and not entirely serious) table below to find out which is for you.

I am looking for…

Check out…

Fellow single parents who are just as knackered as I am Single Parent Dating 
Just Single Parents

Brainy, artsy types who won't scream when I put Radio 4 on
Guardian Soulmates 
Telegraph Dating
Times: Encounters Dating

Blokey blokes Match.com

Gay women
(although most sites allow you to search for different sexual orientations)

Someone with a beard and an Oyster card OKCupid

Shift workers, costume enthusiasts and firemen Uniform Dating

Culture vultures DoingSomething

A quick bit of how's your father Plenty of Fish

Younger men*
*You won't have any trouble finding older men - trust us
Tinder (app)

Don't fancy any of these? Coming over the horizon is a new generation of sites set up by women, for women, with nifty features like being able to hide your photos until you're sure you like the sound of someone, or only women being able to send the first message (cutting down, if you'll forgive the vulgarity, on the danger of dick pics and pornographic messages before you've so much as introduced yourselves). Keep an eye out for Bumble, Siren and Lulu.

You've found your perfect dating site and you're ready to go. Time to write your profile...

Do get a friend - or several - to read your profile and give honest feedback. It's always useful to get the perspective of the opposite sex (if that's who you're looking to attract) too.

Do give a flavour of what you're really like. Forty-something bookworm who loves crossword puzzles and hates beaches? There will be someone who loves the sound of that; don't pretend to be a gym-bunny or hard-drinking socialite.

"I'm over 40, not very pretty and I still get proper messages in amongst the one-night-stand trawlers and idiots. My profile is fucking hilarious though, so that helps."

"I've included a bit of self deprecating humour, because I've got some quite geeky hobbies and interests. But I'm not really all that geeky. (I am.)"

Don't be defensive or talk about past relationships. Statements such as 'I've been hurt in the past' or 'No more men who sleep around!' are perfectly valid, but have a horrible knack of attracting responses from exactly the sort of people you're hoping to avoid. The responsibility for knocking back chancers is on you; putting this stuff in your profile won't ward them off, and can make you sound a bit glum or grouchy to everyone else.

"I thought my profile was great, but looking back I can see where I was going wrong. I was putting out subtle signals that I couldn't see at the time that were saying 'I know I'm unloveable'."

"I met my fiance online. He said that he liked what I'd written because it was about what I enjoyed, rather than what I didn't want."

Don't use photos from 10 years ago. It's fine to put your best foot forwards, but remember that you will actually meet some of these people and they're going to notice if you look nothing like your pictures. But do put photos up: profiles with photos get a lot more interest. And put up a few: dressed up, dressed down, indoors, outdoors, formal, relaxed.

"Photos are everything in a visual environment. You don't have to be amazing looking to present well: have a nice photo taken, wear fashionable clothes etc. I would sort your photo out seriously before venturing online."

"The best thing for me was no profile photo but stating that I would send one. I got hardly any responses but the ones I did were sensible and I contacted several guys, sending them a picture with my first message. I felt like it put me back in control a bit."

Don't give away information that will allow people to find you in real life or on Google. We hate to say it, but there are some unsavoury characters on these sites, and you don't want just anybody to be able to turn up at your front door or in your personal email.

Do give a bit of thought to your user name (and consider whether it would make you identifiable or searchable).

"What sort of bloke do you want to attract? BustyBlondeXXX will obviously give a certain impression. Perhaps a character you identify with from a favourite book?"

Don't use cliches. There are certain phrases that you'll see in about 50% of profiles, and after a while they make people glaze over. Examples include:

  • I work hard and play hard
  • I'm a rough diamond
  • I'm a right softy once you get to know me
  • I have a very diverse taste in music
  • My friends can't understand why I'm single
  • My kids are my life

"Try to avoid cliches like 'I love to relax on the sofa with a good bottle of wine and a DVD' - everyone likes that!" 

What's online dating like if you're older?

Online dating is a numbers game, and the truth is that the older you are, the fewer people there will be in your age bracket. 

On the bright side, you might find that while people in the same age group as you aren't that plentiful, there's a greater probability that they're going to be proper grown-ups who don't want to play games; lots of them will have children of their own, and many will have had at least one long-term relationship.

"I'm 48, I can see through the bullshit that blinded me when I was younger, and I'm definitely calling the shots."

Should I give my real age?

Hard data shows that men tend to reach out to women who are younger than they are, so it's understandable that some women are tempted to lie about their age. Think down the line though: if you really like someone, at what point are you going to come clean - and how will they feel about having been lied to?

Should I mention my kids?

Your kids are a massive part of your life, so it can feel weird to not mention them. Plenty of others in the online dating pool have kids too; not everyone sees it as a negative by any means (and, unless you're just up for some no-strings fun, what's the point in hooking up with someone who's going to run a mile when they realise you have children?).

Some people see giving honest info about kids as a way of filtering out unsuitables:

"Older men will be less bothered about kids as they may already have some, or be more realistic about partners having histories."

Others recommend saving the info for the first date:

"Save the info for further down the line (eg on the date itself); it's too easy for people to dismiss single mums on the basis of young children via a profile."

Whatever you decide, if you do include mention of your children in your profile, never, EVER give out any identifying information about them until you're sure the person you're speaking to is completely trustworthy.

What about their profile?

"Online dating is just a way to meet people, it's not Ocado."

If they've put any thought into their profile, you should be able to get a feel for what they're like from there. If they've barely put anything on their profile at all, it may be an indication that they're not totally committed to the process. 

Do pay attention to what they say they're looking for, and assume they're being honest. If they say they're after a young, free and single supermodel, you should probably move along (unless that's a description of you, in which case - get in!).

It's fine to have a couple of non-negotiables, but be ruthless with yourself: if he's ideal in every other way, how much do you really care if he's a bit shorter/taller or older/younger than you'd ideally like?

Lots of Mumsnet users report that men tend to be better looking in real life than they are in their profile photos - hurray!

"Some of the best looking men I have met looked grim on their profile. I now talk first and meet ASAP!"

"Almost all of the men I've met are better looking than their pictures. BUT... they're also consistently shorter than they claim to be."

That said, Mumsnet users have been known to have a bit of fun spotting men's photo cliches.

"Why put a picture of a group of people up? How am I supposed to know which one is you? And giving the finger is a massive no-no."

"Ditto for the pics of the massive fish you caught and are showing off proudly although it totally obscures your face."

How do I get things off the ground?

You've identified someone you like: do you take the lead, or hang back? 

Opinions differ: some women like to be with a partner who will take the first step; others can't be bothered with hanging around. Do remember that nice, genuine men are often nervous too and find it hard to send the first message. There can also be a crossover between men who are happy to make lots of first contacts, and men who are playing the field very hard indeed. So take the plunge and send a message - what's the worst that could happen?

"You have to be proactive. Don't just load up a profile and sit back waiting for the offers to flow in. It does not work that way, and if you have any notions of 'the guy should make the first move' then you really are putting yourself at a disadvantage."

When and where should we meet?

Safety and first-date location

Dinner dates can really pile on the pressure: it's a high-stakes option that can result in an amazing four-hour conversation, or a toe-curling evening of awkward silence and loud chewing.

"Always make first dates a midweek drink or a weekend lunch; never go for a full dinner until you are sure you get on."

"Only ever meet for coffee on a first date. It's easy to extend the date if you get on and easy to escape quickly if you don't!"

You could pre-arrange to have a friend text half an hour after you arrive, so that you can make an excuse - 'oh no, the hamster has fallen into the toilet! I must go home!' - if it's all going absolutely terribly but you can't work out how to get away.

And if it's all going swimmingly...

When do you take your profile down? And (more tricky, this), how do you ask someone else to take down theirs?

The Mumsnet view is: just ask your date whether they want to get serious. After all, that information is relevant to your interests.

"Really you have nothing to lose. If he doesn't want to be exclusive, he's not right for you, and if he does then he won't have a problem deleting his profile."

"I met my other half online and it was about three weeks in that he raised the subject. He just said he was going to cancel his membership as he didn't want to meet anyone else and asked how I felt about that."

Mumsnetters' five top tips for online dating

1. Don't put all your eggs in one basket; keep up with other interests and hobbies too

"Online dating didn't work for me, and I tried twice, some years apart. Both times I met someone in real life after not a squeak online. The second one was nice enough to marry."

"Try meetup.com. Look at things that interest you (where you can take your children or get childcare) and meet up with others on there to do the activity."

"Join a political party - they are full of fortysomething divorcees."

"Remember, internet dating is just another iron in the fire. It is not there to replace all existing forms of meeting people and you rarely have overnight success."

2. Date! Date! Date!

"It's a numbers game. I must have been on 30 or more dates before I met my husband. Meet them ASAP; a virtual relationship just wastes time, and you need to know if there is any chemistry. If not it's NEXT, and keep doing it until you get a good'un."

"Line up lots of first dates - several per weekend, ideally."

3. Work out what's really important to you

"I'm finding out what my deal breakers are. Already, I know that level of education/ intelligence and the field someone works in are more important than the amount of money they earn."

"Searching for a tall, dark, handsome prince, aged 35, with own castle and white horse, hobbies: dragon slaying and jousting - is probably not going to yield much."

"DON'T SWEAT THE SILLY STUFF. I can't believe how many people I know went on dates with nice guys then obsessed over their shoes, their hair etc. My husband arrived at our first date wearing THE UGLIEST JACKET IN HISTORY!"

4. Play the algorithms

Most sites will make your profile more visible if you're online; if you're new, or have recently updated your profile; and if you're responsive to messages or proactive about looking at other people's profiles.

Basically, the more activity that's associated with your account and the more you're logged in to the site, the more visible you'll be to other people and the higher you'll be placed in their search results. 

If you log off for three weeks, you might find very few people will have looked at you when you log back on; it's not because your profile is bad, it's because you ‘ll have been effectively invisible while your profile was inactive.

5. Set up a separate email address for dating

Some people also have cheap pay-as-you-go mobiles for when conversations move off-site as well. It makes it easier to control, and means that anyone who turns out to be an oddball doesn't have your real address or number.

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The 'rules' of online dating 10 worst dates ever  Relationship advice on Mumsnet Talk

Last updated: over 1 year ago