It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married 2 years or 20, having to go back out onto the dating market after splitting from a partner you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with is incredibly difficult. Whether it’s dealing with the stigma of being divorced, having to figure out all of the “new and improved” dating sites and apps that may not have existed before your marriage, or simply narrowing down your updated checklist on a future mate, having to get back out there and start the process again from scratch can certainly be a cause for worry and concern at the very least. Regardless of how old you are or what your current status in life is, there are things we can do and behaviors we can adopt to help us navigate the exciting and oftentimes scary world of modern dating post divorce. Let’s find out how.
Go Into Your Dates with Minimal Expectations
Before we can even get started on actually going out on dates, it is extremely helpful for us to get into the proper mindset. One of the biggest issues people have with romantic relationships is that once we tend to find someone whom we fancy, we tend to place unrealistic expectations on them, whether it be romantically, emotionally and even sexually. In our minds, we want to have that perfect storybook relationship immediately after meeting our date. We expect everything to be perfect, with no arguments or disagreements. We expect our partners to always shower us with adoration and praise, even when we mess up.
In reality, it’s hardly ever like that. You need to remember that no one is perfect, and no relationship is perfect. Not every date you go on is going to be the Absolute Greatest Experience Ever™, so if you have expectations that every date is going to be an overwhelmingly positive experience, you will undoubtedly end up disappointed at least some of the time. So how can we make the most out of our dates, even though a good chunk of them might not be that great?
The key is to not enter your dates with a mindset of, “What can I get from this person?” but instead, “What can I learn from this experience?” Look at your first dates with new people almost as a fact finding mission; a way to find out more about an interesting person. By looking at your dates this way, you can take some valuable lessons away from every date that you go on. You might also learn something interesting about other people, as well as yourself, along the way. Take stock of the good and bad experiences that you have on your dates, and use what you’ve learned from your interactions on future dates, so you don’t keep making the same mistakes. When you go on dates without placing so many expectations on the other person or the date itself, you will naturally find that you are calmer and more relaxed. As a result of that, you will find that your date will go more smoothly, which is ultimately good for both of you.
Don’t Let the Stigma of Divorce Define You
The period when you first decide that you want to date again will be the most vulnerable emotional time for you. You will most likely be feeling a mix of emotions, ranging from sheer excitement about meeting new people, to utter despair, wondering if the fact that your marriage failed means that somehow you are now unloveable or “damaged goods.” You may be laying awake at night panicking over the idea of potential partners on online dating apps passing you by or “swiping left” when they see the word “Divorced” next to your relationship status, branded onto your profile like the proverbial Scarlet Letter.
It’s very easy to get lost in shame and guilt when thinking about your divorce. “If only I had been a better husband/wife, then I might still be married.” This kind of negative self talk will only serve to bring you further down emotionally, and will ultimately end up being counter productive in your search for a new partner. Instead, try to think of all the people who have been divorced who have successfully found love again, and realize that the fact that your marriage didn’t work out does not mean that you are condemned to a romantic death sentence. Divorce is more common and socially accepted than it was 50-100 years ago, when the very thought of splitting up from a spouse was seen as much more taboo than it is today. Most people who get divorced will go on to form new relationships and marriages, both with other divorcees, as well as with people who have never been married previously.
So if you’re worried about people overlooking you as a romantic prospect because of your relationship history, try to relax. Most people, if they are exposed to the true and authentic version of you, will be able to overlook that part of your past. If they can’t, then why would you want to be in a relationship with them in the first place? They’re doing you a favor by selecting themselves out of your dating pool, helping to clear the road for you to find someone who will be more accepting and open.
Know and Appreciate the Authentic You
When you’re ready to date again following a divorce, it’s easy to think that you need to change or act like somebody different on dates. After all, the last time you were being your true, authentic self in a romantic relationship, it failed miserably, right? So it only makes sense that you need to change things up and be somebody “better” than who you are, so that you don’t end up in the same predicament as before.
As tempting as it is to make yourself appear more sophisticated, sexy, spontaneous, extroverted, or wealthy than you really are, in the long run, this may end up harming you more than it helps. Remember, the authentic version of you is what attracted your previous spouse to you originally, as well as all the other long term relationships you’ve had in your life. The problem with your marriage not working out is most likely not a result of who you are at the core of your being (unless you are a violent, abusive or an otherwise all around negative person, in which case I would suggest professional help), but instead it’s usually a result of several different factors bubbling up to the surface after a long period of time going unaddressed. Sometimes it’s as simple as the two of you evolving in different directions, and you no longer relate to one another. Whatever the reason, it’s generally not a good idea to act like somebody different on your dates, even if you think the authentic you is not worthy of respect or love. By doing that, you run the risk of attracting people who are attracted only to the qualities you are displaying at that time, not the qualities that are genuinely you. Know who you are, appreciate it, love it, and own it, and you will be able to attract the right kind of people and keep the wrong ones at bay.
Have a Firm Idea of What It Is That You Want (And Don’t Want)
After going through a marriage (and most likely several long term relationships before that), we tend to be fairly confident about what we want in our next relationship, both in terms of our partner’s physical qualities as well as their personality and character traits. As much as we’d like to think that we know what we want, it will definitely benefit us to re-evaluate what is truly important in our next relationship. This is because, firstly, we are not the exact same people today as we were when we first got married, and also, our marriage should have taught us that certain qualities we thought were positives are not actually so. Of course, there may be certain qualities that your ex had that you definitely want again in your next relationship, and others that may not have been important before, but have become important as we have grown and matured. It is imperative to make a list of all of the important traits that you would like to have in your new partner, and then set out to find people who display those qualities.
Having said that, you need to be careful that you don’t fall into the trap that many relationship seekers find themselves in, where you have a checklist that is so impossibly long that finding your ideal mate is a like trying finding a needle, not just in an average-sized haystack, but one that covers the entire state of Alaska. We need to balance any idealism we have about our potential mates with a healthy dose of realism about what’s actually out there. How can we hope to achieve that balance?
What I like to tell my clients is to take out a sheet of paper and write down all the positive qualities you can think of that your next partner should have. Then, on the other side of the paper, write down a list of all the negative qualities that you don’t want your next partner to have. Next, take out a new sheet of paper, and create four columns. The first column is titled “Must Haves.” This column should list those positive qualities from the first page that are the most important for you. In other words, this column contains your deal-breakers, things that your partner absolutely must have if your relationship is to move forward. It is also important that this first column contain no more than five (5) entries. Again, we don’t want to overload our column with too many deal breakers, as this will make it extremely hard to find a suitable person to date if we are being too restrictive. The second column is titled “Should Haves.” This column contains all of the other positive qualities from the first page which are not in our “Must Have” column. These “should haves” are qualities that would be nice for our partner to have, but we are willing to budge and make a compromise if they don’t have them. The third column is titled “Must Not Haves.” These are the negative things we listed from the first page that our future partners must not have. Again, try to limit this list to five (5) entries. The last column is the “Should Not Haves,” which will contain the remainder of the negative qualities that are not in the “Must Not Have” category. Once your chart is completed, you should have a much better idea of which qualities are important to you. Use your chart as a guide to help you in your search for finding your next ideal partner.
Open Yourself to New Possibilities
This is related to knowing what you want and don’t want, but just as it is important to know what our deal breakers and must haves are, it is also important to remain flexible and open with the traits we have put into our “should” and “should not haves.” If our date doesn’t have a certain quality that we put in our ‘Should Haves,” then we should try to not penalize them for it, and maybe take a chance and see how it goes. You might be surprised at how enjoyable a date it can be. For example, if a woman lists in her “Should Haves” column that her date should be at least 6′ tall, but her potential suitor is actually 5’11, then it might be a good idea to take that date, as she may be pleasantly surprised when he turns out to be a great match for her.
Keep Your Distance and Avoid Getting Too Attached Too Soon
After the pain and hardship of going through a divorce, it is easy to get swept away when someone new enters into our lives and shows us interest. We immediately want to shower them with attention and affection, and spend all of our moments trying to build on that potential new relationship. It’s also ridiculously exciting to feel the rush of adrenaline and hormones that come from being “in love,” especially if they’ve been lying dormant for many years in your marriage.
It is important to keep in mind that this surge of endorphins is only temporary. It’s not exactly “best for business” to be making key relationship decisions about your future together during the early stages of a new relationship. Getting too attached too soon can be trouble, especially if it gets to the point where you new partner is freaking out when you’ve only been dating for a couple of weeks, and here you are talking about having kids and moving in together. As tempting as it is to go “all in” on this person, you need to remember to give the relationship time. Take time to really get to know the person as a human being, and allow time for the initial hormonal rush to taper off, so that you can make an more informed decision as to whether this person is going to truly be someone you want to invest the time and effort into. Remember to think rationally, as difficult as it may be.
Finally- Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously!
Whether we’re dating casually or searching for a new life partner, we tend to get caught up in the seriousness of it all. We want to make a great first impression, after all- our egos are on the line! If our date rejects us, it can literally be painful. We also want to make sure that everything is perfect, and that our dates are worth our time and energy. Therefore, we tend to go into “interview mode” – asking question after question, like an FBI agent interrogating a most-wanted suspect, with the implication that if he or she answers the wrong way- they’re out!
Dating is not a job interview. It is a fun, exciting way of getting to know new people and learning about what they’re about. If we find we gel well together, awesome! If not, no big deal. At least we got a chance to meet an interesting person and find out more about their life story. When we stop looking at dating as a chore and look at it from the perspective of being a relaxing way to interact with your fellow humans, it becomes a much more enjoyable experience.
This was part 1 in a series of post divorce dating focusing on mindset. In our next entry, I will be discussing how newly divorced people can dominate the new and exciting landscape of online dating apps. Stay Tuned!