Dating after divorce can be a minefield for the midlife woman. Perhaps even thornier than pondering what to wear on a date, where to go, who pays—not to mention how you even find people to date in this brave new world of Internet match-ups—is getting over your reluctance to take a stab at it. Why is it so hard? “A divorced woman may feel very vulnerable at this stage, in part because she used to have a spouse to ‘protect’ her and now she has to go out into the world on her own,” says Diana Kirschner, PhD, author of Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor's Guide to Lasting Love. But it's also tough, she adds, because once you’re on the dating scene you can feel like a teenager again, in that shaky, unconfident, not-sure-if-he'll-call sort of way. So how can you make post-divorce dating—whether you’re looking for a good time or a good (relationship-minded) man—less daunting? Read on for 10 tips that will help you get back in Cupid's good graces.
1. Figure out if you really are ready.
Whether it’s been one year or six since the divorce decree, you may never know with absolute clarity that you’re truly ready for another relationship. Instead, “it’s usually clear when you’re not ready,” says Susan Pease Gadoua, a therapist and author of Stronger Day by Day: Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce. That is, “when the very idea turns you off.” But you can decide that you’re ready to at least try. Once the idea of going on a date comes into your mind and you don’t want to chase it out again, you’re at least ready to start, she says. If it’s truly awful, take a step back and wait some more.
2. Feel the fear—and do it anyway.
Contemplating the dating scene, many divorced women feel not just garden-variety nerves, but “actual terror,” says Dr. Kirschner. Just remember that your fears are normal—after all, you are dealing with or have dealt with a major betrayal and upheaval—and that you don’t have to jump all the way in. “Dip a toe in at a time. Tell a few trusted friends that you’re interested in meeting people. Accept invitations to parties.”
3. Avoid negative thinking.
While it’s not unheard of for a woman wounded by a painful divorce to make statements like “all men are jerks” or “all the good ones are taken,” that’s obviously not a good mindset to have going into dating, says Dr. Kirschner. “That kind of thinking can tank your mood—and cause you to limit your chances of getting out there and finding love.” By forcing yourself to keep your negative thoughts in check, you'll soon be in the habit of thinking optimistically, which will in turn make you more ready to date again. A divorcée may also feel that there’s something "wrong" with her since her marriage fell apart, says Dr. Kirschner. If that's the case, start training yourself now to recognize self-sabotaging thoughts, and when self-doubts start to pop up, “visualize a giant red stop sign, or a voice yelling, ‘Stop!’” says Dr. Kirschner.
4. Determine your dating/love intention.
You’ve decided to start dating—isn’t that your “intention” right there? Not completely, says Dr. Kirschner. “Sit down and craft a statement of what, exactly, you’re after. Is it a partner in life? A short-term liaison that might lead to something? Just some fun for now? The idea is that you should consciously decide how you want to proceed,” which will in turn inform how you go about meeting people.
5. Rethink your definition of dating.
Gadoua, who runs dating workshops for women, asks them to free-associate words that come to mind when they think of “dating.” Not surprisingly, words like “awful” and “dreadful” come up. If you feel the same way, she offers this advice: “I suggest you try to reframe it as an adventure, or as an education,” she says. “Dating can be a way to sharpen your social skills, too.” And, of course, a way to get out of the house and have some fun!
6. Get online!
Possibly the last time you dated there wasn’t even an Internet, much less Internet dating. But if you were thinking that searching for companionship online is strictly for losers or perverts, forget it—that’s as outmoded as dial-up. “Online dating is not only mainstream, it’s one of the best ways to widen your search, rather than just hoping that you’ll meet someone in the coffee shop,” says Dr. Kirschner. And these days, there’s a site for everyone, from eHarmony and Match to niche sites like JDate. Check out " WD's Guide to Online Dating" to learn the basics including setting up a profile to taking a relationship offline.
7. …But don’t drag out online contact.
Once you "meet" someone online, it’s easy, says Dr. Kirschner, to build up a fantasy of what he is like based on his profile and the emails you exchange. “My rule of thumb is to meet in person within two weeks of making online contact.” Might as well find out as soon as you can if the chemistry is virtual—or real. Of course, when you do meet, take basic safety precautions. “Tell a friend where you’ll be and when you expect to be home, and meet for coffee in a public place,” suggests Dr. Kirschner.
8. Remember that dating is a numbers game.
“Four out of five men you go out with will disappear,” says Dr. Kirschner bluntly. It’s just the nature of the dating world. He may have seemed great, but loses interest, or is dating someone else, or has problems you will never know about. Don’t take it personally, and instead try to remember that if you’re meeting a lot of people, the number of bad apples will go up—but so will the odds that you’ll meet a few good apples, too.
9. Date around.
Dr. Kirschner recommends, at least to start with, dating several guys at the same time. For a couple of reasons: First, you are not putting all your eggs—or hopes—into one basket. Second, you can compare what you like and don’t like. Maybe one guy is very funny, but you enjoy another man’s intellectual stimulation. “You can see what you might want in a relationship going forward,” she says, even if it’s not with any of these guys. One caveat: Be honest. “Just say, ‘I’m enjoying dating you, but I want you to know that for now I’m also seeing others casually.'”
10. Don't let your kids stop you.
Hopefully it’s obvious to you that if you have children at home, you shouldn’t bring dates around unless it’s somewhat serious. That said, don’t let a fear of your children being upset or disapproving stop you from getting out there if you feel ready to. Says Gadoua, “too many women hide behind their kids as an excuse not to date.” Be upfront and respectful, but don’t apologize for wanting to date. “Most children just want their parent to be happy, and may be less likely to object than you imagine,” she says.