Dating in the time of Covid has been, for most singletons, a distinctly Zoom-fatigued drought. For single mothers, the list of perceived barriers is always longer – for starters, there’s the stigma (for proof, just Google “reasons not to date a single mum”). Plus there’s the post-baby body shame and the fear of dragging the kids into another unstable arrangement, not to mention the crushed confidence, and the conviction among many that they’re damaged goods, just not capable of maintaining healthy relationships. (As a single mother, I’m allowed to say, and believe, that.)
Pile all that onto the single mother’s existing mountain of practical demands, and it’s not surprising that many feel their love lives have been consigned to history. With pubs reopening their (outside) doors come Monday April 12, will a lone-parent renaissance soon be upon us?
Julia Kotziamani, a Hastings-based dating coach on a crusade to get single mothers back in the, erm, saddle, believes so. In fact, she thinks Covid has been a saviour for single mums – so much so that she launched Stop Dating Losers and Move On, Mumma, a £300 online course, this month. “The pandemic has levelled the playing field,” she says, “because nobody has needed a babysitter for an online date.” Being able to forge those initial connections online, as well as a year of reflective celibacy, has “restructured what they’re looking for romantically”. Many single mums typically operate from a “scarcity mindset”, leaving them prone to leap into relationships too hungrily: during Covid, rather than impatiently trying to fill a gap, “They’re making better decisions and are coming at it with more empowerment.”
Kotziamani, 33, counts among her lockdown successes a client prone to jumping in too deep too fast, who in fact started lockdown with a new live-in boyfriend, swiftly followed by a tough break-up. After working with Kotziamani, she embarked on a slower connection with another man, which has so far been limited to video calls and emails, and is based on “genuine friendship”, says Kotziamani. “The distance has given her time to work on her relationship with herself, which is the real success story here.”
Success, however, is not just about fairytale endings – indeed, here is a dating doyenne who doesn’t always want to see her clients in a relationship, if it’s not right for them. She has “sucked the venom out” of entangled ex dynamics, and helped others have a satisfying, no-strings sex life. Her mission, she explains, is simply “to help women not settle for things that don’t serve them”.
A love, sex and relationship coach for 10 years, Kotziamani moved into working exclusively with single mothers two years ago after realising first hand that “single mums need specific help” – but no-one was providing it. She separated from her husband aged 26 when pregnant with her second child, after which followed “a car crash of awful and abusive relationships” (she is now engaged to her boyfriend of two years). After a love coach advised her to date three different men a week (“Impossible”, she says), Kotziamani began tailoring her one-on-one coaching for single mothers, which has culminated in her new online workshop.
She says she is well-placed to advise on how to avoid the wrong uns. “Lots of clients come to me saying, ‘I keep finding losers!’” It’s an easy trap, she admits, adding that resisting being bowled over by Mr Wrong is all about doing the “prep work”, and “establishing a set of tools between you and your hormones”. For example, she encourages clients to work out what their ideal relationship looks like, and not to accept anything less. She also teaches them how to practise self-love, so they’re less blinded by the love-bombing when it happens.
A particularly toxic and apparently common combination is when single mothers meet men out to “use” them. The single mother will be much more invested in the relationship, but in not wanting to look needy, downplays what she wants and settles for something casual. One of Kotziamani’s clients was “at her wits’ end” with a man who “played husband one night a week, but was otherwise completely detached”. The client couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t commit. Kotziamani helped her walk away and to discern those guys who are “just for now”. “We had to do a lot of work around not falling in love with the potential.” Now that her client is not “bringing all this must-get-married baggage”, she is able to have more fun with dating, while “consciously choosing men looking for family”.
Unlike many dating coaches, Kotziamani is not going to tell clients how or when to respond to lovers’ texts. “If you want to attract the people you want, it’s more about working on yourself,” she says. For starters, she helps women switch off the stigma and switch up how they view themselves. Thus, “Your failed relationship will help you work out what you want, and don’t want.” And, “Instead of worrying that men are terrified of the kids situation, enjoy the fact that you’re no longer ruled by that ticking clock.” She also helps clients move on from the past, break negative patterns and “create space” for better relationships. Scroll through the sexy selfies, stretch marks and bare-faced close-ups of Kotziamani’s Instagram feed, and you’ll get a taste of what self-acceptance looks like (see below).
It’s sex, though, that trips most single mothers up, what with the twin perils of kids barging in and seeing something they can’t unsee, and the daunting prospect of actually having it. When you’ve been in full mummy mode for years and feel about as sexy as a service station, there is, understandably, “a lot of fear around sex”. Often, Kotziamani takes her clients back to square one to relearn the concept of “savouring” – “even with food, just to sit there with full permission to really enjoy it”. Make sure your bed is lovely, she advises; take the time to have a bath: “It’s about making sure you’re topped up with whatever gives you bodily pleasure.” She also recommends “little moments” of self-pleasure without the “destination” (which removes the pressure). These are the tiny steps, she explains, towards sexual empowerment.
What about the single mothers who think they’re unfixable? “If it’s to do with being too old, too busy or not sexy enough, then it’s not true,” she says. “You may genuinely not want a relationship, but you have to get really honest with yourself and not make excuses.” The victimhood she observes in some single mums is “protective”, she says. “It can be more comfortable not to work on those really difficult feelings”.
As a single mother rather comfortable in her singledom, Kotziamani’s ethos is enticing – if just for the personal growth, rather than a queue of new boyfriends. And, should the inclination for a dalliance strike, I know just who to call.