You rocket out of the dating scene for a couple of decades, and re-entry is tricky.
"It's almost like I was in a coma and woke up and dating had changed. You go from meeting people and going out to da-da-da-da-da," says 41-year-old divorced mom Renee Trikolas, adding sound effects to her pantomime of texting, emailing and checking online dating sites. "I didn't have any experience dating."
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Perhaps that is why Steve Harvey's TV show is trying so hard to find a date for Trikolas, who grew up in Inverness. Trikolas and daughter Isabella, 14, and son Romeo, 8, are living with her parents in Palatine until they move into their Vernon Hills townhouse in June. In the meantime, Trikolas' search for a man moves to daytime TV.
"Steve sets up a single mom who's looking for love with his biggest dating game ever!" reads the promotion for the 2 p.m. Thursday Steve Harvey show on WMAQ starring Trikolas. "She has 10 good guys ready to sweep her off her feet on a dream date! Who will she choose?"
That is not what Trikolas expected.
"When you see my face and I look shocked, I was really shocked. I wasn't expecting it to be so big," Trikolas says of the bachelor crowd.
When she was on the Steve Harvey show in April, she was one of only two choices for a bachelor who wanted a date, "and I didn't get picked," she says.
Well, she didn't get picked by the bachelor. But the crowd, online commentators and Harvey liked her.
"Steve says, 'You're not going anywhere,'" recalls Trikolas, who quickly returned to film the show that airs Thursday.
She can't give away too much before the show airs but says she did pick a guy and go out on a date.
"With my mother," adds Trikolas, who drove to the taping in Chicago. "I brought her in my car, so my mom went on my date with us."
Richard and Penny Bontkowski want their daughter to find true love.
"She wants me to be happy," Trikolas says of her mom. "She wants me to have what she has. She and my dad still hold hands. It's really cute."
Married at 20, Trikolas says she figured she'd have her parents' kind of marriage and a "picture-perfect" family life. Instead, a few years ago, she pulled the plug on a marriage that hadn't been happy for years.
"I had to start my life over," she says. "I had to step up my game."
She expanded her Isabella Rose Designs bracelet business on the Internet and in boutiques. She lost so much weight she needed surgery to remove the excess skin. She had other cosmetic surgeries, exercised more, ate healthier and determined "I'm going to be happy, with wide eyes and a big smile," Trikolas says.
"There are a lot of women in my situation," Trikolas notes, stressing that all single moms don't need to follow her path to feel good about themselves, but they do need their own plans to recover from sinking marriages. "Why go down with the ship? Pick yourself up."
Her TV career began when she was shopping at a Chicago store and a TV crew picked her out of the crowd and asked if she'd audition for a VH1 show called "House of Consignments." She made the cut and appeared on the show with Chicago fashionista Corri McFadden. When a friend suggested she apply for the Steve Harvey show, she agreed to a Skype interview on a Monday and was filming the show the next day.
"I don't date online. I think it desensitizes people to dating," she says. "I get sick of these guys, they want their Barbies, but they are not Kens. And it works both ways. There are woman who want Kens, but they are not Barbies. I like to meet people organically."
Trikolas was out with a female friend at a restaurant when she met a man who asked her out. She told him she was a single mom with two kids, and they dated for more than a year, but he never met her children.
"I'm very protective," Trikolas says. "I'm not going to introduce anyone to my children unless I think we're going to get married."
She says she isn't expecting the Steve Harvey show to find her a new husband.
"I don't want to be a negative Nellie about it, because I believe in love," she says. "I miss being in a relationship, I do. I miss going out to eat, or just sitting on the couch, or cooking for somebody. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I've been super happy."
Mother's Day is far from a melancholy holiday for this single mom, who plans to spend the day with her parents, her kids and other relatives at Arlington International Racecourse.
"I like to be around my family," Trikolas says. "You don't have to have the picture-perfect husband to have a happy life. The thing that makes me happy is being with my kids on Mother's Day. Mother's Day is about mothers and their kids."