Last month MiddlesexMD advisor and psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini shared some advice about how to restore your sense of sexual self after divorce. That conversation led to another, about some of the unexpected challenges we face when we re-enter the world of dating after an absence of… well, it could be decades!
My first advice for people getting back into dating after a divorce is to tread slowly. It’s a whole new world out there, and if you’ve been married for some time, the dating scene is sure to overwhelm and frighten you. You’ll know you’re ready to begin when you no longer feel like you need a partner, but would like to enjoy another’s company. When you’re lonely and riddled with pain, you don’t make a good partner; that’s not the time to look for someone. Sacrificing your own physical and emotional health to get a “fix” of feeling desired again is never a good idea. But be assured that time is only a temporary patch.
When you’re ready to start dating, tell friends and colleagues you respect that you’re looking or open to meeting new people. People you respect have respect-worthy friends; they’re usually your best option for getting a date with someone you’ll like. If you don’t have many friends, you might start by searching out groups you could join to meet other single people. Cooking classes or groups, poetry readings, church groups, plays, and sporting events all provide opportunities to connect with others who appreciate the same things you do. Being with others helps build your confidence and provides feedback about how you present and appeal to others. Being married may have enabled you to not focus on your looks, your mannerisms, and your lifestyle. Dating forces you to evaluate all of those qualities that you may have taken for granted or not explored.
Lots of people have been trying out online dating. It’s great for letting you “date” on your own time, ask a lot of questions, and get to know someone in the comfort of your own home. It’s scary because it can provide a “cover” for someone to lie, take advantage of you by saying what you want to hear, and to serial date without you knowing. You need to be cautious and smart. Online dating does give you a chance to experience dating, though, before you take a risk and actually dress up and meet up. I encourage women to focus on the experience rather than any specific outcome. I date online only vicariously—as a relationship psychotherapist—but here are the things I see helping my patients avoid problems:
- Stay anonymous with your user name, personal information, and phone number—until you and only you decide you’re comfortable giving out that information. Once it’s out there, you can be harassed and pressured. If you don't know a person enough to trust him, don’t.
- Make decisions cautiously. Don’t move too fast; one conversation is not enough to commit to meeting someone in person. The same behaviors that work well for physical dating are valuable with online dating.
- Look at several different photos. Who is the person with? Is anyone cut out of the photo? Has it been photo-shopped or otherwise altered? Why? Ask questions. I would like to say it doesn't matter what we look like, but that would be a lie. Most people cannot trust someone until they see a photo.
- Talk on the phone at least once—hopefully more—before you meet someone. A voice tells you a lot more about a person. Online dating is a little bit like putting a puzzle together. The pieces of a person's life should make sense when you see them together.
- Take your time before meeting—one of the great assets of online dating. When you decide to meet, do it at a public place. Tell your best friend or several people where you’re going and your date’s name and phone number. Trust your gut when you see the person. You can always back out at the last minute. If the person tries to pressure you or argues with you in any way about meeting you, that’s a red flag. Don’t go.
- Always take yourself to the meeting place. Never let them pick you up and don't have someone drop you off unless they can come at any time to pick you up. This is not the time to be vulnerable. If you are meeting someone from another city, state, or country, make your own travel plans. Don’t tell the person where you are staying or your travel details. Set a meeting time and place and meet there.
- If, at any time, you feel you are unsafe with this person, call the police. They will give you counsel in regards to what you should do. One of my patients decided to meet someone she met online in Colorado. She became frightened when, after dinner, she went to his place and he wanted to have sex. He was into asphyxiation and almost killed her. She told me she had a bad feeling in her gut when she met the guy, but she didn’t honor it.
Dating after a divorce is all part of the journey you find yourself on after signing the papers. It isn’t easy, but it’s an opportunity to grow and explore. Stay open, and allow yourself to really experience what happens. Dating when you’re older has its advantages. You are wiser and understand the fragility of relationships. You no longer need a person to fulfill you; you are looking for one to share your life with. Take your time, and enjoy the experience.