Louise Pentland: ‘Should single mums give up on love?’

A lonely divorcée with a young daughter, novelist Louise Pentland thought juggling a double life as a sensible mummy and sexy singleton would be a breeze. But then she plunged into the murky, mixed-message world of dating apps…

When I was small and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d give the same answers as most little girls – usually a ballerina or pop star (with, if possible, a gorgeous husband, ten children and ten cats). At no point did I say, ‘A lonely single mum, please.’ Yet that was what I became four years ago, at the age of 28, alone with my small daughter Darcy as my four-year marriage came to an end.

It could have been worse: my husband and I had an amicable split and established a good custody routine. After the first challenging year, when I was insecure and broken, we were making it work. I felt I’d mastered the art of single-mum-dom and I loved my work as an online creator and journalist (and, more recently, novelist). But I was still so lonely.

Louise having hugs and kisses with daughter Darcy

So, in 2015, I dipped my toes in the murky waters of dating – and to my surprise I enjoyed it. I had a few dates but didn’t find anyone I really liked until 2016, when I met Mike through a dating app. He was six years older than me, lived in the next county, had a job in IT and no children. After a couple of days of chatting and inbox banter I told him I had a four-year-old daughter. He seemed fine with this revelation and I explained that I shared custody 50/50 with her dad. I added the disclaimer that Darcy’s dad was very present in her life and I wasn’t looking for a father figure for my child.

I made sure to be clear (in the most painfully breezy fashion I could muster: in the early stages of online communication nobody can be firm or serious about anything!) that I had every other weekend free as well as two nights every week. Just because I had a four-year-old didn’t mean I wasn’t still fun and carefree. He needn’t see me on the days when I was up to my eyeballs in poster paints or ironing school uniforms.

Mike seemed great. He agreed that there was no need for him to meet Darcy straight away. After having a turbulent childhood myself (my mum died when I was seven and my dad brought several women in and out of my life as I grew up), I’d decided I wouldn’t introduce my daughter to new people until I thought they’d be sticking around. Mike said when the time was right he’d love to be a ‘great role model’ in her life. Inwardly I was bursting at how lovely that sounded but outwardly, of course, I was breezy, breezy!

To begin with, everything was pretty great. Half the week I’d be Mummy, driving back and forth for the school run, supervising playdates, taking cute Instas of the two of us; the other half, I’d be sexy girlfriend, legs constantly smooth, going out for drinks and enjoying lazy Sundays in pubs. I thought I had the best of both worlds, leading an almost perfect double life. With Darcy I was happy being Mummy, but it was also lovely to feel desired.

Things were going so well that after four months I suggested to Mike that he might like to meet Darcy. I thought he would be touched that I valued him so highly and would understand what a special moment this was but, alas, he said no.

I respected his decision and didn’t push it (for both their sakes) but I did ask what was worrying him. Every time I asked, he shut me down. He’d get agitated and angry, telling me things were fine as they were and to ‘stop going on about it and just be fun’. With Mike refusing to explain or expand on his ‘no’, it felt as though my little girl was being rejected or as though he no longer saw me as the ‘fun girlfriend’.

Being a single mother suddenly seemed very unattractive. I stopped talking about it but I needn’t have bothered because one week later Mike told me he ‘didn’t think it was working’. He said I wasn’t adventurous enough (I didn’t ask if that referred to travel or the bedroom). He said he didn’t feel he ever had all of me, because of Darcy, and that if we had children it wouldn’t be as exciting as it should be because it wouldn’t be my first. In fact, he didn’t want to be in a child’s life anyway – or mine.

I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t suddenly sprung the notion of Darcy on him – he’d known all along. His comment about me having already had my first baby made me feel like damaged goods, as though I wasn’t new enough or sparkly enough. I had been dumped for being a single mum.

e went home and I had a good cry. I thought the next day I’d pick myself up, dust myself off and carry on but instead, rather embarrassingly, I found myself texting and begging him to reconsider. I offered to continue living my half-and-half life. I was desperate. The loneliness of four months earlier was still fresh in my mind. Mike ummed and ahhed, but a week later he’d met someone else on the dating app. Fast mover.

This was the first time I’d ever been dumped and I thought I would be absolutely devastated. Braced for impact, I filled my week with friends, playdates, trips to the park and a night in with my great friend Esther. By the end of the week I was still waiting to feel upset. Mike’s actions had reduced being a single mother to a negative thing, dismissed me as not good enough to be dated or loved. But in truth I wasn’t devastated. The skills I’d learnt as a parent had equipped me to deal with Mike’s less-than-ideal behaviour.

Motherhood had taught me patience, resilience, kindness (to others and myself), self-respect (I made, delivered and am raising a tiny human – that’s impressive!), strength and creativity. Sleepless nights, potty training, providing constant entertainment and not losing my mind when it fell apart with toddler tantrums and mess everywhere had helped me master a few key life skills.

I wasn’t cross at Mike for not wanting to be in our lives. I’m glad that he told me before he met Darcy and confused her. At the time, I wished he’d realised his limitations straight away, but I understand that he didn’t owe me that responsibility and it wasn’t his fault that I was trying to hide who I was. I am a woman with many attributes, motherhood being one of the most important.

I took a few months off from dating and enjoyed all that motherhood had to offer. After a while I felt ready to get back on the horse, but this time I was prepared to be blunt about exactly who I was, what was important to me and what I was looking for. I wanted to re-embrace dating with an open heart but, I must admit, Mike had knocked me off kilter. Would I be better off focusing on my little family of two and giving up on love? So when I met Liam through a dating app I arranged to FaceTime him before our first date. I told myself if he was a dud I’d stop trying, but he seemed lovely so he was worth a video call at least. An hour later we were still chatting. I was upfront about having a daughter and explained I have a 50/50 custody arrangement but don’t lead a half-and-half life. Liam laughed at the idea that I would, and I knew he was a good’un.

Our first date was perfect. We instantly clicked and had our second date the next evening. Our third the evening after, and our fourth – you get the picture. Liam met Darcy early into our relationship. We didn’t do a great big introduction – he just popped over while I was having an evening with some of my family in the garden. I told Darcy he was my friend, they said hello and that was it. It was so easy. He started popping round or coming to the park with us and about four months later (ironically, the same length of time it took Mike to realise he didn’t want a child in his life), we had a really lovely day all together at a butterfly farm. After so many little meetings, Darcy and Liam were really comfortable with each other.

Two years later, I’m typing this article from the beautiful new home Liam, Darcy and I share with our seven-month-old daughter Pearl. I never did make it to be a ballerina but I have a career I love. I haven’t racked up ten children and we only have three cats, but my heart and hands are very full.

I’ve realised how important it is to be honest about who you are and what you need from a relationship, to be yourself – whatever that is, mum or not – when you’re getting to know a new partner. I’m grateful to Mike for being a bit of a berk and teaching me such a valuable lesson. Motherhood does not make a woman less; it makes her so much more.

Single mum and ready to mingle?

The Dos and Don’t 

  1. Remember that being a mother is not all you are. You have other interests, passions and ideas, too.
  2. Your role as a mum is a credit to you. If you talk about it positively, it will come across positively. Don’t avoid mentioning it as though it’s something to be ashamed of.
  3. Be out and proud straight away. Tell your romantic interest that you have children and ask if they do.
  4. Accept that they might not be up for it. It’s OK for someone to decide they don’t want children in their lives. If they have children, ask yourself how you feel about that, too.
  5. Consider your children’s needs. I didn’t feel that my little girl had to know about my social life, but if you have older children it might be worth telling them you’re giving dating a go so that they don’t feel kept in the dark.
  6. Avoid surprise meetings. A male friend of mine once went home with a woman and, in the morning, her toddler (who he didn’t know about) burst into her bedroom and was shocked to see him. Such situations aren’t ideal for anyone!
  7. Be inspired by other amazing single mums who are giving dating a go. Robin Wilde, the leading lady in my novel, could teach anyone a thing or two.
  8. Enjoy yourself! Even if you don’t find Mr or Ms Right, you’re having an evening out, enjoying some time for yourself and hopefully feeling fantastic.

Louise’s novel Wilde About The Girl is published by Zaffre, price £12.99 at mailshop.co.uk.