Dating While is a series from The Lily that explores the circumstances affecting women’s dating lives. Interested in contributing to a future installment of Dating While? Fill out this form.

Tina Dyakon is a 49-year-old marketing director living in St. Petersburg, Fla. She was married for seven years and has been divorced for 14 years.

When do you tell potential partners that you’re a breast cancer survivor, and how do you approach that conversation?

This issue of timing is an interesting and evolving one, and I think it’s the crux of the matter. I’m approaching my five-year remission anniversary this June. For the first two years after the diagnosis, my energy went towards getting through the numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments — not to mention losing my hair, losing my health and then re-establishing both.

When I was ready to date again, I noticed that if I mentioned that I was a cancer survivor in my online dating profile, I would get fewer responses and those interactions would not materialize into meeting in real life.

Sometimes, it comes up in conversation or is on my mind. Other times, my date will find me sweating profusely out of the blue (I’m on a drug that forces me into menopause) and will wonder if I’m okay. I’ve also withheld the information and found that as the relationship progresses, I feel as if I’m not being my true self and ultimately, my partner wonders why I’d not mentioned it before. Regardless of the approach, the moment I mention the c-word, most people shut down. They don’t know what to say. It’s complicated.

How does being a single parent affect your dating life?

We went through the divorce when my daughter was 4 years old. My ex-husband left the state when she was 6 years old. When that happened, I no longer had every other weekend and every Tuesday and Thursday night free to think like, act like and be a single woman. It was challenging at times to juggle a big career and the most important job — parenthood. I made being there for my child and offering her the stability we both needed at home a priority, which left little time and energy for dating. I’ve had serious relationships through the years, but they tended to lack the depth of previous relationships, before I was a divorced parent, when I could truly focus on my mate.

Tina Dyakon. (Courtesy of Tina Dyakon)
Tina Dyakon. (Courtesy of Tina Dyakon)

Describe one of the best dates you’ve had.

The good news is that my daughter has grown and I have more time for dating. My favorite first date was a meeting after work on a Friday at a local wine bar. It was a lovely spring evening in Florida. My date was early to the restaurant, had secured a lovely outside table and greeted me with a big smile and warm hug. We sat outside for hours, sipping wine, laughing — lots of laughing — and enjoying the scenery. When the date was over, he walked me to my car and asked me if he could call me the next day. And then, he did and we recreated the experience together again and again.

Describe one of the worst dates you’ve had.

One of the worst dates I’ve had was midday, mid-week at a coffee shop. He arrived late, was self-absorbed and spent the hour talking about himself, name-dropping and bragging. It was exhausting and uninteresting and, in the end, it didn’t work for either of us.

If you could give your younger self some advice about dating, what would it be?

Be true to yourself. You are worthy of love and should be proud of your journey. Pay attention to how others treat you and how you treat yourself in the process.

What’s your dating philosophy, in one sentence?

Keep an open heart.

What’s your current outlook on dating, and why?

I’m optimistic and discouraged and hopeful and fearful. I try to spend more time in the optimistic and hopeful place.

What are you looking for in a relationship? Do you think you’ll find it?

Being a single parent and a cancer survivor have deeply enriched my life. I’m looking for someone who seeks to understand me and sees the beauty in my story — as I look forward to doing the same for him.

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