Dating is a complex, emotionally involving, and hopefully fun experience for many, whatever their age or situation. But those getting back into dating after a divorce face some specific challenges that can make getting back out there tougher in some ways but more fulfilling in many others. To understand those challenges, we spoke with a handful of relationship experts who shared their tips for dating post-divorce. And for more changes to look forward to, here are 21 Surprising Things Married People Secretly Miss About Being Single.
One of the biggest mistakes someone can make after divorce is to direct all the complicated emotions they are going through into the search for their next partner, before they’ve had time to really understand how they feel about what happened with their last partner.
“Dating can be difficult. It can trigger emotions from past relationships and often brings the experience of rejection,” explains Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, premarital counselor, parenting coach, therapist and life coach with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. “If you’re still reeling from the divorce or constantly fighting with your ex, it is going to make dating difficult and potentially put you into a relationship with someone that isn’t good for you. Make sure that before you date, you reconnect with your single self.”
Small also advises spending time doing things that make you feel confident and complete before you start seeking to get these positive emotions from others.
Stephania Cruz, a relationship expert at Datingpilot, echoes these sentiments, explaining that “only after you have healed, processed, and learned from your previous relationship” should you dive into searching for another one.
“This healing process also brings about self-discovery, as you learn from your mistakes and might have a clearer picture of what it is exactly that you want in a partner,” she says. “This self-discovery and healing will not be attainable if the person rushes into a new relationship right after a divorce, as a new relationship will serve merely as a distraction and a temporary Band-Aid.” For that reason, Cruz explains, you should “take all the time that you need” before wading back into the dating pool.
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Once you’ve sorted out your own complicated emotions and processed things about your previous marriage, you will want to be prepared to discuss it—but not in too much detail—with whomever you’re dating, should they ask. It can be tempting when hitting it off with a new potential partner to open up about your last relationship, especially when the emotions are still fresh. But you’ll need to keep this urge in check and exercise some self-discipline when discussing your divorce.
“Can you safely go on a first date for two full hours, with only two drinks, and not mention your ex?” asks Tammy Shaklee, relationship expert and founder of H4M Matchmaking.
She recommends practicing at home before going out on a date, maybe getting a friend to help you practice a short statement of one or two sentences when asked about your ex or divorce. “Have your statement prepared, and the quick segue on to the next more interesting subject,” Shaklee advises.
“When someone first meets you, they want to know if they like you enough to continue spending time with you,” says Kathy Nickerson, PhD, MS, a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert. “Most people prefer someone who is kind in their recollections of the past and optimistic about the future. So find a positive way to spin your divorce; focus on lessons learned. Then talk about what you’re looking forward to in the future.”
After leaving a committed relationship, your perception of yourself has likely been shaken or otherwise impacted by your partner. So, as you get back into dating, you should be clear about what it is you are looking for and what it is you have to offer.
Ellen Kenner, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and co-author of The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason, says that a recent divorcée can take what they’ve learned about themselves from their last relationship with them into the dating scene.
“If your spouse was not affectionate and you long for hugs, words of endearment, and a playful quality to the relationship, then that is a deep value that you will be looking for in a partner going forward,” Kenner says. “If your partner lied, then obviously, you want to look for someone with better character.”
In these ways, those returning to dating following a divorce are at an advantage compared to those who have yet to go through something so intense. They understand what they are seeking in a relationship with much greater depth than someone who has only casually dated or has yet to go through the difficulties of the breakup of a marriage. This extends to what you could have done better in the relationship.
You want a partnership of equals, not a partnership where you become the watchdog or therapist to your partner. That does not make for a stable, loving relationship.
“You also want to know how you might have contributed to bumps in the marriage, not as an opportunity for beating up on yourself with endless regrets, but to learn and grow,” says Kenner. “You can grow from discovering things you want to improve and will be valuing yourself.”
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There’s a tendency to group people into “leagues” when it comes to dating, as in someone is either in your league or out of it (i.e. more attractive or high-value than you are). Simone Collins, co-author of The Pragmatist’s Guide to Relationships and The Pragmatist’s Guide to Sexuality, recommends tossing out this way of thinking and instead think about dating in terms of market value and individual value.
“Market value is the average price a fish will sell for at a market, while individual value is how much I am willing to pay for a fish,” she explains. “Your goal in dating is typically to find an individual who has a much higher individual value to you than their market value. The higher this ratio, the more stable your relationship will be.” Collings offers the typically short-lived celebrity relationship as an example. “[A celebrity’s] market value is essentially as high as it can possibly be, so no matter what their individual value is to a partner, the ratio is always unstable,” she says.
Thinking about meeting your match in these terms also gives you a greater sense of flexibility. Value fluctuates, and with just some small modifications you can raise your own value to make you a more appealing prospect for others.
No matter how long you’ve been out of the dating scene, things have changed, in some cases dramatically. You will likely need to adjust your expectations for how dating will play out today compared to how it was even just a couple years ago, let alone a decade or more.
“Maybe you were accustomed to dating and getting to know people one person at a time even when there is no exclusive relationship established,” says Kevin Darné, author of Online Dating Avoid The Catfish!: How To Date Online Successfully and Pump Your Brakes! How To Stop Having Bad First Dates. “In the dating world of today there are dating apps and casual dating [and] ‘shopping around’ before committing is oftentimes the norm. Just because you’ve had a couple of great dates with someone or maybe even have had sex doesn’t mean they’re not keeping their options open, and so should you.”
He adds that this is especially true if you meet someone online, where becoming emotionally invested too quickly with someone you barely know is rarely a good idea.
Jason Silver, a dating coach with AttractGreatGuys.com advises that anyone getting back into dating take some time to learn about online dating before diving into it.
“Many people who are dating now after a divorce have little to no experience with online dating and jumping in head first can be very overwhelming,” he says. “Spending just five minutes searching on Google about the best dating sites for your age group and how to use them will allow you to enter the online dating world with confidence.”
He urges recently divorced daters to adjust their expectations to a different pace for modern dating in which people are quick to judge and move on.
“Don’t let this discourage you. The dating world now is more prosperous than ever and you can more easily and quickly find the love of your life than ever before,” says Silver. “You just have to be aware that things happen fast and if you ever feel overwhelmed, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break.”
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