It’s one thing to scope out the dating scene when you’ve never agreed to happily ever after, and another when you’ve ended a marriage. For those who were with a partner for decades, putting yourself back out into the pool of eligible singles can feel like an uphill battle, especially as so much has changed in the seeking-love society in recent years. From the emergence of dating apps to a no-strings-attached mentality that comes with swiping right and left, you can easily feel like a duck out of water.
Depending on why your relationship came to a legal ending—infidelity, loss of connection or other emotional reasons—you now have quite the baggage to carry, too. As psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. explains, going through a divorce can have a painful, damaging effect on a person’s psyche and well-being, impacting their sense of self and esteem. Though this might not be an simple uphill battle, plenty of people meet worthy companions—and even get married again. If you think you’re ready to give someone (and yourself) a chance, consider this your guide to easing back into the vast world of dating in the 21st century.
Consider therapy before you start dating again.
Your partner had an affair that blindsided you. Or one day, came home and decided he or she didn’t want to be with you anymore. Perhaps they gradually pulled away, leaving you with more questions than answers. Or you spend the vast majority of your relationship arguing over every little thing. Even though you’re free from this toxic environment, you’re still suffering from the aftermath of all of those afflictions and experiences. Dr. Thomas says before you attempt to partner with another person, it’s important to have dealt with your feelings about the end of your marriage and the loss of your spouse. This ensures you approach a could-be new love with a healthy attitude, and that you bring your full self to the table, rather than an unstable version of yourself. For many, this requires a period of downtime and seclusion, as you process. Sometimes, working through the mourning with a psychologist can help one get sufficient closure, Dr. Thomas shares. If you feel as if you need it, check with your insurance company for approved therapists in your area.
Take your time.
If your relationship felt loveless and void of any vulnerability or physical connection, it’s utterly tempting to focus your attention toward someone who will give you those warm vibes. However, Dr. Thomas warns against rushing too quickly into a relationship—or into bed—since that could lead to unwarranted feelings of attachment. As she explains, many people fear being alone post-divorce, and seek the approval of another person to make them feel attractive, sexy or lovable.
“Newly divorced individuals need to be careful to not rebound with a new significant other since it may be very difficult to differentiate which of his or her feelings are towards the new person and which are still tied to one’s former spouse,” she continues. “Rebound situations like this tend to be unfair and unhealthy all around.” Instead, it’s smarter to start slow with group interactions, casual dating or set-ups with friends, or even swiping without meeting in person, as you practice chatting with a person you’re into who isn’t your former partner. All of these are proactive, but safe ways to explore your new single status.
Ask for help with dating apps.
If you haven’t given a second thought to Tinder, Match or eHarmony, the learning curve could be steep, not only in setting up your profile but adjusting to how people interact within inboxes. Most post-divorce singles become easily frustrated when it takes time (and lots of browsing and failed attempts) to actually find someone who is what they are looking for. “Dating apps have made finding a partner much more accessible from the convenience of your couch. While this convenience is great, you may also notice the people you match with seem less invested in getting to know you and seeing where things go,” relationship psychologist Dr. Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., explains. “This is the result of having endless choices for dates via the internet and it unfortunately leads to the feeling that there is always someone better around the corner.”
Don’t be disheartened—but do ask for help. From your children, your grandchildren or a friend who has already hopped on the tech approach to matching. More people than you realize have opted ‘yes’ to apps, and are more than willing to help you navigate this new world of romance.
Start out by having fun.
And we don’t mean friends-with-benefits, unless that’s what you’re looking for. Rather, Dr. Thomas says it’s more about your mindset. Instead of focusing solely on pairing yourself with a new individual, you should keep your priorities geared toward fun and doing the activities you’d normally enjoy doing. When a marriage goes sour, plenty of people lose themselves within the mess, and forget those things that bring them joy. Whether it’s running, volunteering, reading at a coffee shop, traveling, hiking or a mixture of all of the above, you should first seek someone who shares your interests and can be your adventure buddy. A love might grow from there, but more importantly, Dr. Thomas explains you’re pursuing your own happiness. And hey, there’s nothing as alluring as someone who exudes positivity. “Perhaps that means joining a group that does activities you are interested in or taking a trip with other singles to a place you love or have always wanted to visit,” she continues. “if you are newly divorced, it can be very healing to have some lighthearted experiences doing things you enjoy or have wanted to try—and with the addition of doing this with other single people.”
Reconsider your deal breakers and priorities.
If you’re honest with yourself, you changed significantly in the time you were married. You also probably learned more than you realized about what you want, what you like, what drives your crazy and what makes you feel giddy. Now that you’re single again, you shouldn’t expect to date like you did before. Dr. Thomas explains to give value to those lessons you cultivated in your past relationship, and allow yourself to reconsider the qualities that matter the most to you, and redefine what you’re looking for. “Maybe you used to think enjoying some hobbies together was most important in a love relationship, but now you realize that compatibility in more fundamental ways such as sharing similar values and beliefs actually is essential with a significant other,” she gives as an example. You could find value in journaling your thoughts, chatting with a trusted friend or even talking with an expert about your new relationship deal breakers.
Give people a chance.
It’s easy to hold a grudge toward the person you used to be married to when they hurt you deeply and broke your trust. Or you feel so incredibly disappointed from the entire act of marriage, and how it turned out completely different than your expectations. As painstakingly difficult as it is to remind yourself that no two relationships are the same, Dr. Thomas explains it couldn’t be more essential to dating post-divorce. Even if your ex was horrific to you, you can’t group together every person or you’ll never find a new partner. In other words: give people a chance. “Try to be cognizant of giving any new prospect a chance to be seen for who he or she is, instead of assuming or typecasting that person because of negative baggage you may be consciously or subconsciously carrying along with you from your marriage and/or divorce,” she continues. “Counteract this by asking the person questions, get to know him or her, and open up a little at a time in the attempt to see how he or she responds as you share as well.” As Dr. Thomas notes, the bottom line is to try and see—accept and love—people for who they are, not what your fears are telling you they could be.
Be curious and honest.
And don’t be afraid to talk about your divorce. Chances are high that whoever you pair with has likely gone through the same ordeal you have, and is just as nervous about putting themselves back into a vulnerable position again. While you may doubt your ability to date, or for someone to feel attracted to you, Dr. Schewitz explains it’s better to be honest and curious, rather than judgemental of another dater. Much like you don’t want to compare them to your ex, you also want to ensure you are true to what you want and you don’t waste your time. She says you can say something like “I’m getting the vibe you aren’t that interested in carrying on the conversation. Is that how you are feeling?” How does this help? “This opens the door for a much more authentic conversation and also has the added benefit of weeding out the wishy-washy time wasters who just want to message without ever actually going on a date,” she explains.