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How can a single dad avoid toxic dating patterns? Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post) (The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Hi, Carolyn: I’m a single dad with a young daughter. I’ve decided to give up dating because I fear I tend to be attracted to women who are ultimately not good matches for me — I should know better but I’m responsible for jumping feet first into toxic relationships. I want to protect my daughter from the consequences of my poor dating choices. I just turned 50 and feel like I'm too set in my ways to adapt.

While I thoroughly enjoy my time with my daughter, I do get lonely … and fear repeating my mistakes. How should I avoid the temptation of falling for a bad relationship again and protect my daughter and myself?

— Single Dad Dating

Single Dad Dating: I am an only daughter who was raised primarily by my single/divorced dad. He never dated anyone after the split with my mom when I was 4 years old and had full custody. The number one reason he cited was not wanting another person interfering with his relationship with me. While I do appreciate his love and care that he devoted to me, I also witnessed his loneliness and isolation despite his having good friends and interests.

He modeled a lot of positive traits that I absorbed, but one thing he didn’t model was how to have a successful long-term relationship. I imagine he shared some of your same fears. My advice would be consider going to a therapist, ideally a marriage and family therapist. They will help you work through your relationship stumbling blocks/fears and help you build tools and awareness around dating as a single dad. Going to therapy would not only be for you, it can help you model healthy, proactive steps for working through relationship challenges for your daughter. Even if she’s not aware you are in therapy, she will benefit from seeing you learn healthy ways of dating and relating.

— Raised By A Loving Yet Perpetually Single Dad

Single Dad: Good for you for recognizing a harmful dating pattern and putting your daughter’s interests first! Few single parents would do this. I think it makes sense to take a pause from dating, but it doesn’t have to be forever. Give it a few years until your daughter is a little more independent, then dip your toes in the dating pool again and see how it goes.

In the meantime, cultivate activities that keep you from being so lonely and allow you to develop a broader and healthier set of relationships with both sexes. Join single-parent support groups, play a sport (pickleball is popular) to stay fit, take your daughter on trips (museums, wildlife sanctuaries, shows) to cultivate shared interests. And be comforted by the thought that when you do start dating again, a relatively fit and healthy middle-aged man with wide-ranging interests and an active social life will be in very high demand.

— Boston Dad

Single Dad Dating: I support the idea of giving up dating. After a string of breakups, I did that, too, at age 49 or so. Instead of dating, I dove as deeply into in my personal passion (in my case, making music) as I could while still being responsible for my daughter and my work. Getting more involved in my hobby put me in touch with more people, which led to having friends and dates with people I already knew and liked and with whom I had something in common. It took a while, but ultimately there was a match — and a great one. And I wasn’t lonely while waiting because I was so busy with my friends and doing what I loved to do. Maybe this approach could work for you, too.

— Juliette

Single Dad Dating: After my first marriage ended, I went to therapy off-and-on for three years before I even considered dating again. I realized my abusive marriage was just another messed up relationship, in a long line of messed up relationships. I was basically dating the same guy over and over; he just had a different name and face every time. If I hadn’t done the personal work in therapy, I wouldn’t have been healthy enough to recognize what I deserved, and it wouldn’t have worked out with my now-husband. We have been together eight years and married for four. I would have self-sabotaged the relationship because I wouldn’t have been able to trust him.

I highly recommend (active-participant) therapy. Just going and being passive will not achieve the healing and changes in mind-set necessary for fundamental change. You owe it to yourself, your child, and your future partner to be as healthy in all of your relationships as possible. It’s an investment in your future that you will not regret.

— Happy And Healthy

Single Dad Dating: My son is 20 years old, and I raised him on my own. I didn’t date at all during his childhood. Like you, I didn’t trust myself to make good decisions. I also didn’t have any extra money for babysitters and going out. Instead, we socialized with other families. I was very involved with all of the activities he was involved in. We had lots of friends, lots of fun and lots of adventures. He went to college last year (Ivy League!), and my friends immediately put me on a dating app (despite my reluctance!). I now have a very nice boyfriend and am experiencing the miracle of an unexpected romance.

It seems too much to ask that you give up sex and romance during your child’s childhood, and I am not sure I actually advise it, but that’s what I did. I was lonely at times, yes, but it was the best thing for me and my child — no regrets. We have a beautiful relationship and so many happy memories of a wonderful childhood.

— No Regrets

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.