…how people go about the dating after divorce process has everything to do with whether they enjoy it and how successful they are.
At the age of 44, I found myself once again single after a divorce and ready to start dating. The problem was, I hadn’t dated since George H. W. Bush (the elder) was in office and college provided all the men I needed to choose from.
So after some trepidation, I found myself cobbling together a profile on Match.com. I was so overwhelmed and confused by all the winks and blinks and nods (or winks and likes and favorites), I shut it down two hours after launching. I took a deep breath, gathering my courage, turned my profile back on and began the dating process in earnest.
After about 10 uninspiring dates, I turned to my friend, a seasoned online-dater, bemoaning my lack of success. Her unsympathetic response was “You’ve only had 10 dates? Talk to me when you’ve had 40, then we’ll re-evaluate.”
What I realized was that dating—at mid-life, with kids, careers and lessons learned from a failed marriage—was going to be much more complicated than getting to know the cute guy in Art History class. It required a whole new strategy.
After four years of dating, more than 100 first dates and a few lovely but ultimately unsustainable relationships, combined with my professional experience as a psychologist, I have found that how people go about the dating process has everything to do with whether they enjoy it and how successful they are. This starts with preparing yourself to enter the dating world.
As you go through the process of divorce, there is often a desire to either run from the pain of the failed marriage into the distraction of a relationship or to shut yourself off from it, immersing yourself in work, kids, working out or wounded isolation.
First of all, before you even start dating, you need to give yourself time to heal, to get your new life in order and to learn how to be on your own. This healing work is best done in the context of individual psychotherapy or a healing-after-divorce support group to help you see your blind spots, unhelpful beliefs and stuck places.
You need to spend some time evaluating what happened in your marriage.
A marriage gets to where it is because of both parties, the things you did and the things you didn’t do. It’s important to explore that and own your part, seeing what lessons you can learn so that you don’t continue making the same mistakes.
It also can help you find some acceptance and letting go of your former spouse in a healthy way. Carrying around the vitriol and resentments from your marriage will likely poison future relationships. Once you start dating, it’s just not pleasant to listen to someone bitch endlessly about an ex-spouse and often sends up a red flag.
We learned from Jerry Maguire that the ultimate in connection is: You complete me; but that sort of dependence on another person to feel whole is not sustainable. It will deprive you of an essential growth opportunity to gain wisdom, strength and trust in yourself. Learn to stand on your own and let people’s affection and attention be the icing, rather than the whole cake.
Next you need to think about what you’re looking for in this next stage of your life. The first man I dated asked me to take the Five Love Languages Quiz. I remembered taking the quiz when I was married, and as I answered questions from my newly single perspective, I had the realization that I had no idea what was important in a relationship this time around—all bets were off. I wasn’t looking for someone to take care of me or to have children with or to be accepted by my family. There were no rules, no societal expectation or reputations or worry about. I could date whomever I pleased.
Spend some time thinking about what has changed in your life in terms of your priorities, interests and lifestyle. Becoming single in mid-life can be a wonderful opportunity to reinvent yourself. You can explore things that were not part of your marriage or your self-concept when you were married. Think about the kind of life you want to live—what activities do you enjoy or want to learn? Looking at what you value in your close friends can be a clue as to what characteristics you may want in a partner. Also, don’t wait for a partner to begin these things. Be who you want to be now.
You also don’t need to be perfectly healed in order to start dating. In fact, it is through the process of dating that some of the healing will take place. You will gain perspective on your marriage and yourself, and learn about things you want and don’t want in a relationship this time around. You also will learn how to be a girlfriend/boyfriend rather than a spouse, which will take some time, especially if you spent a good part of your adulthood in a marriage. And at some point, even if you’re nervous about it, you just need to start: leap and the net will appear.
The next stage is to launch a profile and enter into the brave new world of online date shopping. This is a fertile ground for seeing how your process of dating can be your own worst enemy or your guide to fulfillment, seeing where more growth and healing lies, for discovering who you are and are becoming—and for having a lot of fun, too.
[image: via shutterstock]