Things You Should Do Before You Jump Back into the Dating Pool
If someone had told me three years ago that I’d find myself back in the dating world at 35, I’d have said “yeah, and I’m going to sprout wings and fly, too.”
My marriage was far from perfect, but it had been the foundation of my entire adult life. I’d met my future husband at 20, when we were both starving college students. We moved in together within months, since it was the easiest way to pay the bills. We married at 25, and called it quits in our mid-30’s.
After being out of the dating game practically since I’d left my teenage years behind, getting back out there was both exhilarating and terrifying. There were many occasions along the way where I swore I was done with it, that the aggravation and energy it took just to end up on another bad or going-nowhere date wasn’t worth the hassle. But a combination of boredom, curiosity and hope always won out eventually, and I found myself doing it all over again.
Many of us find ourselves facing dating and meeting new people after years in a secure and committed relationship. One of the best things you can do if you find yourself in this situation is to remember that you’re a bit rusty, and spend some time preparing yourself for the experience BEFORE you start dating again.
You may be so anxious to test your wings and get back out there that you can hardly wait. Or you may be considering life as the crazy cat lady or the unwashed hermit guy just to avoid having to go through it all again. Whichever camp you fall in, take some time to do the following before you put up that online profile, ask out that cute chick in the bar, or give that guy whose been dropping hints for a while your phone number.
When you’ve been in a stable relationship forever, flirting often falls by the wayside. That’s unfortunate, because maybe some of those long-term relationships would have lasted even longer if we’d kept the art of flirting with each other alive. But it’s also a reality.
You probably don’t want to jump back into the dating game the minute your former partner becomes your ex. But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice the long-lost art of the flirt. Smile at a handsome or pretty stranger on the street. Say hello to someone who intrigues you in the store. Make eye contact. Build your ego and make someone else’s day too. Flirting done right is exhilarating, fun and adds spice to your day.
Flirting is like riding a bike. It comes back to you with a little practice. But you don’t necessarily want to still be in the “practicing” stages once you dive back into dating.
Get Over Your Old Relationship
Even if it’s been a long time since you’ve been on a date with someone new, you can probably remember a date that went sour for you when the guy kept talking about how his ex-girlfriend broke his heart. Or maybe it was the girl who couldn’t refrain from referring to her “cheatin’ pig ex-husband” at least once an hour.
One of the first guys I dated in my new singlehood couldn’t stop talking about his ex-wife, otherwise known as “Superbitch.” This mysterious creature known as “Superbitch” had thrown him out, questioned his parenting tactics, complained that he hadn’t made enough money, and had stopped doing his laundry.
On the surface, it sounds like life with a “Superbitch” is something to be pitied. But it doesn’t take most of us more than a date or two to realize that if we spend any length of time with a guy like this, we’re well on our way to becoming “Superbitch II.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been interested in being a sequel.
You don’t want to be that date. So before you get back out there, make sure you can spend an afternoon or evening in someone else’s company without constantly bringing up how much you miss or hate your ex.
The truth is we never totally forget past loves or hurts. They are an important part of the framework of who we become, in both good ways and bad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t relegate them to the back of our mental closets and not put them out on display when we’re getting to know someone new. Make sure you can save the ex girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife vents for your chats with your friends before you accept or ask someone out on a date.
Know What You Like To Do
That sounds so simple you’re probably wondering why I’d even include it here. But for someone who has existed in the role of “wife,” “husband” or “partner” for years, it is trickier than you think.
Sure, you know how you enjoy spending your free time. You have favorite hangouts for times with your family and friends. You have the little corner restaurant with the romantic lighting that was the place where you and your partner kicked off a romantic evening. But it’s been a long time since you’ve gone somewhere on a first date with someone new.
Spend some time thinking about the kinds of activities you enjoy that actually lend themselves to a dating scenario. You may love going to the local pub, but is it really the idea place for a first date? Will you be able to find a cozy corner there to get to know the girl you finally worked up the nerve to invite out, or will your local drinking buddies spoil the moment with catcalls and comments on her hooters? Will you be able to enjoy a date with a new guy in the café that was “the spot” for you and your ex-boyfriend, or will you spend the evening getting misty over the time the ex showed up with a dozen roses or irritated at the memory of the night he spent checking out your waitresses cleavage?
Know What You’re Looking For
I’m not saying you have to have a spec sheet for your Mr. or Ms. Right, or even your Mr. or Ms. Right Now. One of the reasons we date in the first place is to have different experiences that help us figure out who that person might be. Besides, even if you think you’ve found him, he may not be thinking the same thing about you, and you can’t be sure until you’re at the stage where he’s regularly using your bathroom anyway.
But you should know what your absolute musts are in terms of a potential partner, whether for casual dating or a new relationship. If alcohol makes you uncomfortable, there are many better ways to kill the boredom of new singleness than to go on a date with a woman who has won more shot contests than an entire fraternity and can’t go an evening without several drinks. If you’re in the camp that says computer gaming is only for guys who live in their mother’s basements, have less muscle mass than your cat and don’t bath regularly, then don’t waste the time of the guy who admitted to you that he lives to play “World of Warcraft.” He’s better off with a girl who thinks such things are cool, and you’re better off looking elsewhere too.
Chances are you haven’t thought about what you’d look for in a potential partner in a while. After all, you had someone, and thinking about the intellectual poet football player of your dreams just reminded you that your guy, whose poetry consisted of belching the alphabet and whose thought athleticism meant using Budweiser cans as weights, fell a bit short of your ideals. Or maybe daydreaming about a girl who could talk about current events, politics, philosophy and medical breakthroughs all day and then going home to a wife who wanted to give you a play-by-play of what happened on Jerry Springer was just too depressing.
The past is behind you and the future stretches ahead like a beacon. Now’s the time to do a little daydreaming. Don’t build standards no one could possibly live up to, but be sure you know what you aren’t willing to deal with or what your top priorities are this time around.
Also make sure to consider your goals in meeting new people. Some are content to casually date others for long periods of time, with no commitment. They date for the experience of dating itself, with no particular desire to move forward into a relationship. Others, while not expecting to meet their next partner right away, know they’d rather be part of a couple than be on the singles scene indefinitely, and date with that goal in mind.
You can’t expect to figure out whether a date has boyfriend potential on the first go-round. But if you’re trying to figure out whether someone has “boyfriend potential” and the guy you’re having dinner with says his goal for the next five years is to date as many women as possible, you’re probably not well-matched. On the flip side, if you want to avoid relationships for a while the girl who is obviously seeking her next husband probably isn’t for you.
Feed Your Ego
I have to admit it. When I was married, I was one of those women who didn’t think much about my looks. I took care of myself and did my best to look decent, but didn’t give my success rate more than a fleeting thought now and then.
When I found myself on the dating scene in my 30’s, I became rather obsessed with where I stood on the appearance scale. The last time I’d been on the dating scene I was a 19-year-old college girl. A career and a busy life hadn’t yet etched any lines around my eyes, or put any grey strands in my hair. We often put ourselves in a very harsh light when we’re seriously thinking about how others see us. On top of that, the end of a long-term relationship often makes us dwell on “what’s wrong with me,” even when the breakup was mutual.
Don’t rely on dating – either the ability to attract others or keep them coming back for more – to repair a wounded ego. Instead, spend some time before you start to date again giving yourself credit for your positive traits, both physical and mental. Think about what you’ve accomplished and what your friends and family like about you. No one is perfect, and everyone has a list of things they wish they’d done differently, ten pounds they’d like to shed, or an overwhelming desire to be a blonde instead of a brunette. Focus on what you have to offer instead of what you wish was different about you.
Be OK With Being Alone
If you’ve been in a relationship for years and years, being on your own again can feel like losing a limb. Your “us” has been pared down to “me.”
There a lot to learn when it comes to being single. Maybe you haven’t lived alone or been the sole income provider in your household for a very long time, if ever. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you slept in an empty house. You’re learning to do all the things you and your partner did together or divided up before all alone, from social obligations to bill-paying to household chores and maintenance.
You’re going to be overwhelmed and stressed. You may even feel lonely, sad and left behind. You might fluctuate from feeling on top of the world and free as a bird to desperately wishing you had someone to talk to late at night when all is far too quiet. That’s all normal, expected, and even OK. But it isn’t a reason to jump into dating.
Some people like living life without a partner. You don’t have to be one of them. But you do have to prove to yourself that it is something you can do, so that when you do agree to a date it is because you are interested in the person you’re dating and not because you’re tired of feeling lonely and willing to settle if it means you’ll have someone warm beside you in bed.
Give yourself time to adapt to your new realities and be proud that you can handle them. The dating scene isn’t going anywhere in the meantime.
All the preparation in the world won’t protect you from bad dates. Somewhere along the way, you’re going to run into the clingy girl, the guy who wants to sleep with as many ‘babes’ as possible before he dies, the compulsive liar, the one you wish would stop calling and the one you wish would call who never does. But you’ll be better able to deal with these realities and to truly enjoy the fun parts of dating if you’ve given yourself time to heal, fed your own ego, learned to be okay with being alone and thought through what you really want out of the whole experience.