“Help! My Parent Is Dating Online”
If you've got a single parent who's ready to take the online-dating plunge, will you offer to help? And should you avoid using the same sites? Here are some guidelines to help you handle this touchy topic.
w, yuck… right? Though we don't actually know of anyone who's experienced this scenario recently, with more and more people of every demographic trying out online dating, the chances of parents and their children having profiles posted on the same site are skyrocketing. And even if you're not cyber-cruising at the same time, it's highly possible that at some point, your parents may ask you for online dating advice. Are you ready to have "the talk?"
With this new multi-generational phenomenon becoming a reality, we decided to chat with daters and experts for advice on the best ways to comfortably
navigate a parental foray into the world of looking for love online. We've broken down what we discovered into a handy set of guidelines for you below.
|It's going to be weird for young adults no matter what…|
DO set up some clear, mutually defined boundaries
Do you really want your mom checking out your profile — or do you want to be checking out hers, for that matter? Maybe you're cool with it, maybe you're not… but before things spiral out of control, this is one conversation you and your online dating parent need to have with each other. "I think the same rules that apply to parents dating with younger kids are applicable here with online dating and older/adult children… don't bring up the intimate details of your dating life with your kids — whatever their age — unless you're getting really serious about someone," says Dr. Karin Anderson, author of It Just Hasn't Happened Yet. "It's going to be weird for young adults no matter what… unless the parents have traditionally had flexible boundaries with their kids and have acted like best buds with them for years."
In other words, if you've got a parent that's dating online, you need to decide just how much you are comfortable knowing (and hearing) about it. This will be different for every situation; some people will be cool with being very involved in the process, even when it means helping a parent sort through potential suitors. Others might feel really uncomfortable (or even unhappy) about the entire situation. Figure out where you lie on the continuum and make sure you and your parent discuss what you're comfortable sharing with each other during the online dating process.
When you're getting ready to have the "boundary talk," decide if you're OK with your parent having the ability to check out your own online dating profile. If not — i.e., you don't want your mom or dad knowing how frequently you're signed in, what photos you're posting, and so on — consider proposing that you should actually "block" each other's profiles so that everyone involved has a little more privacy. The truth is, it can be a little weird (even if it's coming from a totally innocuous place) to see that your dad has you marked as a "Favorite" — because this is not social networking we're talking about…it's online dating!
DON'T offer advice (unless you're asked first)
"Don't give unsolicited advice to each other or comment on their dates unless asked," says Trisha Ventker, author of Internet Dates from Hell and proud member of an extended family with several generations who met their current spouses online (including Trisha and her husband, her father-in-law and mother-in-law, and her mother-in-law's daughter and husband… all of whom met via Match.com). "My mom was in her 70s when I dated online, and because of that and the age gap, I personally would've felt odd if she'd been involved with the process in any way, shape or form," explains Ventker. And with that in mind, this advice goes both ways. The younger generation is, no doubt, likely to be more savvy and confident when it comes to online dating — but unless a parent's asking specific questions about the process or wants to get an adult child involved in his or her love life, it's best not to dole out any advice from the get-go.
DO discuss basic safety issues with your parent
However, there is one caveat in the advice-giving area: safety. "I did tell my mom, 'Meet people in a safe place for a coffee or a drink the first time…it's smarter, and you don't want to get stuck on a long dinner out anyway,'" says Jessica Chapin, who happens to be related to Ventker by marriage and also met her husband through Match.com. "I also said, 'If it stinks, go to the bathroom and call me and I'll call you back with an emergency,'" she adds. If the elderly are lonely, they can also fall prey to certain scams, so it's wise to broach that conversation with an online dating parent. "I was very worried about my father being taken advantage of when he started dating online after my mother's passing," says Joelle Letta, another woman who met her boyfriend on Match.com who's now experiencing what it's like to have a father trying out online dating. "He hadn't dated in 45 years!" You don't want to scare anyone, but let you parent know that anyone asking for money or other types of assistance should be questioned and treated with skepticism, as that's not part of normal online dating protocol.
DO realize that your parents are grown-ups, too
Sometimes it's tough to look at your mom and dad as being other adults seeking love and companionship the same ways that you do, but the reality is that all people crave an emotional connection with someone special — and your parents are no exception. "The adult child needs to remember [that] his/her parent embodies many other roles other than that of 'parent.' The parent has raised his/her children, and it's now his/her time to find romantic happiness," says Dr. Anderson. "The adult child
should cultivate an independent relationship with each parent; supporting one parent's efforts to find love does not equate a betrayal to the other parent, who may not be ready to move on — or who may no longer be living."
|I just try to remind myself this is all new to him.|
It can be really weird to think that your parents have these kinds of needs…but they do. Before you let your brain go in a totally prurient direction, however, remember all the other reasons that adults crave connection: companionship, conversation, care, adventure, love. These are all human desires, and while your parents may be older than you, they still can feel lonely, lost or need reassurance — and possibly someone's hand to hold along the way.
"Though I wasn't sure I was ready for my dad to date after my mother's passing, I had to realize that ultimately, it's not about me and my feelings about my Mom…it's about him, and I want him to be happy," says Letta. "And I know my mom would want that for him, too."
DO be open to helping — but only if you're comfortable doing so
Many "golden age" online daters are very wise and worldly in their own ways, but aren't yet skilled at the various steps involved in the process of finding dates via the Internet… and they may need a little help.
"My mom is pretty tech-savvy, but we did help her with the photos…in fact, we staged a Match.com photo session to help her get some good pics to upload," says Chapin. Some of the technical aspects can be more difficult for the older generations who are dating online. If you have a parent who's struggling with the ins and outs of dating in the digital age, you may wish to step in and help get things initially set up — but again, this is completely predicated on your comfort level with being involved in the first place.
"My dad and I talk about his online dating probably more than I'm comfortable with… but I realize that the computer technology and typing itself is difficult for most seniors," says Letta. "I helped him write a profile, some introduction emails, taught him some computer basics, gave him some rules for online dating dos and don'ts, and sometimes he asks me to log on and read the emails and help him go through profiles… I just try to remind myself this is all new to him."
DON'T judge, but DO encourage
You know how annoying it is when your parents nag you with something like, "Why aren't you married yet?" Well, now it's your turn. Flip that script and you'll get an idea of how your parents might feel if you start to question why they haven't met anyone yet online. "I think it's really important to just try to be open to what they are experiencing and make suggestions when appropriate, but don't judge," says Letta. "They need validation more than anything else in this situation."
If you want to be supportive but aren't totally on board knowing all the details, Dr. Anderson suggests saying something like: "I fully support your quest for happiness, but at the same time, this process feels a bit odd for me as your adult child. So maybe it would be best if you talked with your friends about your foray into the dating scene until you meet someone who might be a permanent fixture in our family. At that time, I'll be thrilled to meet someone who's making you so happy." This will let your mom or dad know that you understand and support these online dating efforts and want this time to be filled with positive experiences, but that you'd prefer to not be overly involved in the selection of a new mate.
On the flipside, if you're totally comfy being privy to the action, like Chapin was with her mother, just try to remember that it's ultimately your parent's decision who to date — not yours! "We had a lot of fun… we'd look at the profiles and say, 'no way' or 'maybe' or 'he looks good' or 'nah, his profile is boring'…stuff like that," says Chapin. "If you're OK with it and your parent is fine with it, I absolutely think it's good to be involved — especially for moral support." And when it comes down to it, that's what family is about, right?
Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a popular New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Maxim, Redbook and frequently online. A certified dating/relationship coach, she's published two books: The Real Reasons Men Commit and Sex Comes First and is the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.