Let's agree from the start that once you're ready, dating after divorce is a wonderful way to reconnect with FUN, which is basically what life is (supposed to be) about, right? And fun is not the first word that comes to mind when describing the last few years of your divorce recovery, is it? So you're probably feeling more than ready for some. (Fun, that is!) The trick is in the "once you're ready" part of the equation. Are you ready for life after divorce yet and how can you tell? Take a look at this dating guide.
So you've done all of your recovery work, faced your demons, dragged your self-esteem out of the gutter, and developed a good relationship with yourself. Check.
RULE #1) IS DO NOT BRING ANYONE HOME TO YOUR CHILDREN until you are absolutely certain that this person is someone who will be in your life for a long time to come. If you take only one point away from this article, please let it be this. Your children are in the midst of an enormous adjustment that affects them on many levels. The scope of your children's world is smaller than your own, which means that ANY changes within that realm have greater significance. Divorce has already turned your children's world upside down: Let them become comfortable with their new lives before introducing another unknown - which, frankly, is exactly what a new partner will be! Your dating life is a double whammy for your children. They are likely to see your dates both as threats to their relationship with you, and as rejection of their absent parent, who they are still secretly hoping you will remarry. You don't want to open that can of worms just yet......
Only you will know for certain when you are ready to learn how to start dating after divorce. But these are a few good signs that you are approaching readiness to start a new life after divorce:
- You enjoy being alone. You feel happy and fulfilled with yourself. In other words, you aren't looking for a partner to fill any voids - remember: that's your job, not anyone else's. If you need someone else to fill significant areas of your life, you are only setting yourself up for failure, or even disaster.
- The major pieces of your life are in order. You have a decent job, free time, friends, hobbies and interests, and a good relationship with your children. You need to get the basics taken care of before you're ready to move up Maslow's hierarchy.
- You've figured out why you were in your marriage in the first place. That ex you've been badmouthing had something to teach you. If you have been so busy blaming him for whatever went wrong, you're missing the point. What did you need to learn from the experience and have you learned it? Was he in your life to teach you to speak up for yourself, to listen to your intuition, to step out of denial and into the real world? Only you know for certain. Have you learned the lessons and moved on?
- When you monitor your internal dialogue, it includes statements like "Wow, I handled that situation really well" and "I appreciate what a good job I'm doing under tough circumstances." It does not include statements along the lines of "He would never like me because......" The nature of your internal dialogue is a good indicator of the quality of your relationship with yourself. And you'll need to have a good relationship with yourself if you expect to have a good relationship with your new partner.
- You are able not to take things personally. This will prove invaluable when you finally email your photos to Online Man X, only to (gasp) never hear from him again. Will your response be "I need to lose ten pounds" or "He doesn't know what he's missing?"
- You recognize your inherent worthiness. The more work you do on yourself before getting back into a relationship, the greater the odds are that the relationship will be a good one. Think of it as an investment--an investment in yourself so that you will find the wonderful partner you deserve. Because--news flash here--you deserve to be treated well! Someone who doesn't think highly of himself isn't capable of treating you well. The higher your own self-esteem, the more likely you'll attract a partner with high self-esteem as well. And please don't confuse self-esteem with ego--they're practically opposites. People who value themselves know that in order to feel good about oneself, you need to treat others well, too. Call me a naive optimist, but I believe that deep down inside, deeper for some than others (and often obscured by life experiences), we all want to be kind. It's human nature. Have you discovered that about yourself yet? Once you see the good in yourself, it's much easier to distinguish it in others!
Chances are, post-divorce, that you've been through hell and back and you don't want to make the trip again so you likely welcome dating tips and advice. You want to make different mistakes this time around. And that brings us to one of the most exciting aspects of starting to date after divorce. Remember that feeling when you were in your marriage looking forward, and saw no light at the end of the tunnel? You dug yourself out of that hole and, voila, here you are, out in the light, contemplating your myriad options. Congratulations! You've come a long way. And when you start dating after divorce, you embark on the exciting new round of your life known as "a second chance."
This time, you get to do it right. At the first sign of trouble, you're not going to bury your head in the sand, you're going to pay attention. If someone is not treating you well, you're going to walk out that door long before you have a ring on your finger, much less a mortgage and kids. If he likes to vent, let him become an HVAC engineer, not your husband. If he doesn't know how to listen, he doesn't deserve you. As a single friend of mine in her early forties likes to say, "It's better to be alone than to wish that you were alone." And chances are you've learned this lesson the hard way.
Remember to pay attention, don't rule anyone out for superficial reasons, and most important, listen to your own internal guidance. Feeling ready? Hurrah for you! Celebrate how far you've come and then get back out there and have some fun. That's what it's all about, remember?!