You are at the end of your divorce process. The paperwork is signed, and your divorce attorney informs you that you are officially and legally single again.
Friends might be urging you to “get back out there” or declaring they “know the perfect person for you,” offering to set you up. Even if you are excited about the possibility of dating, you may also feel nervous. It’s natural to question whether you are ready or to worry about returning to this aspect of single life. Let’s look at some things to consider before you start dating.
First, here are some indications that you may be ready to explore the dating scene:
1. You No Longer Feel Grief
Divorce is a significant upheaval in your life that naturally brings some grieving. Once you no longer feel considerable grief, you are likely ready to put an end to that chapter of your life. Even after fully processing your feelings about your divorce, you may still feel an occasional pang of sadness, frustration, or anger. But when those emotions are no longer part of your everyday feelings, it is safe to say you are over your grief.
Without grief as your daily companion, you are healed enough to let someone else into your life in a meaningful way once you find the right person. You are through the worst of the pain, leaving you open to experiencing love again.
2. Romantic Feelings for Your Ex Are Gone
For some people, their Ex will always hold a special place in their hearts. Others may have primarily negative feelings when they think of the person they divorced. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, there will be a time when your romantic feelings for your former spouse have dissipated. When you think of them, you will no longer feel romantic love or yearning. At that point, you’ve made space in your heart for love toward a different person.
Going out into the dating world when you still have strong romantic feelings toward your Ex isn’t likely to end well. When you assess your feelings and find that your emotions toward that person have faded, you will probably be able to enter into a healthy relationship with someone else.
3. Your Children Have Accepted the Divorce and Support Your Happiness
Seeing mom or dad get romantically involved with someone other than their other parent can be difficult for children. However, when they have accepted the divorce and processed their grief, they may be in a place where watching you date isn’t too upsetting. While they may never be enthusiastic about the idea, they can accept it. In some cases, they may see how much happier you are after leaving your relationship. When they reach a point where they see that your happiness is more important than having their parents stay married, that’s a solid indicator that they may feel okay with the idea of you dating.
Pointers for Entering the Dating Pool
Once you’ve decided you are ready to date after your divorce, there are several things to keep in mind.
Consider double dates or group activities at first. That way, you have other people around to support you and fill in any awkward gaps as you remember how to date and get used to being with someone else.
Look for dates that involve activities or built-in conversation starters. These activities can feel less intimidating than dinner, where there is nothing to fill awkward pauses or guide conversation. Dating is a skill you haven’t used in a while. You may find yourself a bit rusty at first.
Allow Yourself to Explore
Remind yourself that not every date has to lead to marriage. Consider saying ‘yes’ to dinner or a hike with someone you enjoy but with whom you probably won’t end up in a serious relationship. Reminding yourself that it is just a date and doesn’t have to lead to anything more can remove some of the pressure.
It’s also okay if a date goes badly. If a date doesn’t live up to your hopes, remember that this is all part of the process. You are learning about yourself and what you need in a companion after being with your Ex. Even bad dates can teach you something.
Prepare for Emotions
Be patient with yourself. You may feel excited, anxious, sad, or sentimental. Perhaps you thought you were ready, but your first few dates left you feeling overly emotional. It’s okay to step away from dating and go back to healing.
Give yourself permission to change your mind if you decide you aren’t ready yet. Whatever you feel–and that may vary from week or week or date to date–be compassionate with yourself and listen to what your heart is telling you.
This applies in several ways. Don’t rush to find “the one” and get into a serious relationship. Try to let things evolve naturally. That can help ensure you are with someone because they are a good match and not because you want to be in a relationship again.
Take your time integrating a new person into your life. It’s nearly impossible to take a step back in a relationship without killing it. Ease into significant decisions like moving in together or even more minor decisions like traveling together or bringing them to a work event or a family wedding. As things get more serious, you might consult with your alimony attorney to see if moving in with a new partner affects your payments.
Consider the Kids
Finally, exercise care when introducing a new person to your children. Before bringing them around your family, ensure you know the person well and that the relationship is healthy and serious. Once you’ve brought the kids and the new romantic partner together, talk with your kids about their feelings and give them space to express their thoughts. Encouraging them to ask questions or express their feelings or concerns can decrease their anxiety and make the process smoother for everyone.
Dating after divorce can feel intimidating, exciting, scary, or even all those. Don’t let well-intentioned friends or your own expectations force you into it before you are ready. Assess your feelings and proceed only when you think it is a healthy time to take that step. Allow yourself to change your mind or take things slow. There’s no magical formula that will tell you when you are ready, but when you are, dating again can be fun and exciting.