By Dr. Kristin Davin
After the last page of the divorce papers have been signed and the divorce has become final, one of the most common questions asked is, ‘when will I be ready to date?’ Now, the short answer is only you can make that decision, but there are many things to consider to help you get there.
So, as you traverse down the dating path after divorce, first remember…
Everything you ever wanted, is on the other side of fear, so face your fears and do it anyway.
For starters, having a really good understanding of who you are, where you are, where you want to be, and the challenges you have in front of you, helps provide a foundation that will guide you down the dating path.
So, to help you feel less overwhelmed (because don’t we all!) and help you answer the question, ‘when will I be ready to date after divorce?’, pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or wine and consider the following…
The happiness factor
Learning how to create happiness in your life and becoming a contented person – by yourself – is key. Happiness starts at home. Other people simply enhance our happiness. Because you can create happiness on your own, you will be more likely to choose a healthy partner. You have learned to be happy alone, and thus be happier together. And cultivating a life of your own, that you call your own, and on your own terms, stretches your ability to love another person in ways that matter.
READ MORE: 4 Steps to Attract the Love You Deserve
This helps you get to a place that is gratifying and fulfilling. Ask yourself, what makes you happy? Unhappy? What are your interests? Do you have friendships? If not, why not? How would you like to define your life as an individual, outside of being a couple? Often when we are married, we define ourselves in terms of being a couple. When we get divorced, learning how to be a party of one takes time. Give yourself the bandwidth and the time to find your happiness factor. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Being emotionally available.
We often want someone to be emotionally available, but are you? Sure it would be nice to have a partner who is available and has the ability to talk and be present and in the moment. But are you able to do the same thing? Do you show up and are you present or are you still pining after your ex-spouse that no longer exists? When it comes to sharing your emotions – the good and the not so good – can you be available for the other person or do you hold back because you have not reconciled some of the emotions attached to your divorce and/or ex-spouse? Are you still grieving the loss and the sense of death from your divorce? If so, you cannot expect something from someone you cannot deliver as well because if we are asking these things of someone else, we should also be asking these very same things of ourselves. Work through your emotions, name them, and acknowledge them. Learn to move through your emotions so when the time comes to date, you are all in.
You have done the work.
Learning how to break old patterns of behaviors that often lands us in the same type of relationship is critical to deciding if you are ready to date again. Dating after divorce means you have to identify your triggers, the things that set you off. For example, is there something about your ex that resonates with you? What are your triggers? What are your red flags? It is not enough to identify your triggers and red flags you must also acknowledge them, learn from them, so you can move past them. Have a plan when they come up. Don’t settle. Learn to listen to your gut! Often times, especially women, we ignore this most important aspect of ourselves. But it is key. If something feels off, often it is. And when this happens, call it and don’t be afraid to walk away.
Rediscovering and embracing trust in self.
Divorce creates mistrust. Not just of our partner, but ourselves. We start to doubt our decisions when things don’t work out. We challenge our thought process and wonder how we made that decision? How did we end up divorced? And that’s OK. But, learning to understand and ultimately embrace how you came to trust your decisions puts you in the driver side of reality. For example, often times people look at their decisions and wonder how could I have been so stupid? How could I have trusted that person? What was off about me? But truth be told, we usually analyze our feelings of mistrust based on our current feelings and the knowledge and wisdom we have now. But that’s not it works. You have to go back to that time and place and understand who you were at that time and why you not only trusted that person but trusted yourself and the decisions that you made. Rediscovering and embracing trust in yourself will allow you to once again rebuild trust within yourself and ultimately allow you to trust another person. Trust is the foundation that springs greater intimacy and openness.
You start to feel excited about dating again.
You are excited! You are hopeful. You are open to being vulnerable, excited, fearful, but cautiously optimistic. You know you have done the work and are excited about what the future holds for you. You recognize that there will be ups and downs and not perfect, but there is someone out there for you, that will be the person you are looking for. You are making decisions for the right reasons, not the wrong ones (feeling lonely, settling). You are on to something. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not an upcoming train.
You demand more from yourself and from others.
Demanding more from yourself and others is not a negative thing nor do you have lofty expectations. What it means is, if you want a different life, then create a different life. Ask yourself, what do I want from my life, from my next relationship? Am I bringing my best self to my life so I can do the same for another person? Setting goals and having realistic expectations of ourselves brings us down a path of greater self-actualization – meaning the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, considered a drive or need present in all of us. In essence, know your worth and go after it.
You have moved through negative feelings
Having negative feelings is normal. Being apprehensive and fearful of the future is also normal. Let’s get that out there. The feelings that we bring with us from our divorce are also normal and experienced by most people. But, moving through and getting on the other side of them helps you accept that with positive feelings also comes negative feelings. And truth be told, we need both of them in life. We cannot appreciate the positive without the negative and vice versa.
Anger doesn’t solve anything, or build anything, but can destroy everything
However, what we do with those feelings is critical. What you choose to do with your feelings and that anger is up to you. Staying ‘wedded’ to negative feelings beyond their expiration date, is simply your choice. Holding on to your negative feelings like a BFF, is simply your choice. But, moving through them – not pushing them off to the side or ignoring them – is how you will learn to get on the other side of them. In essence, acknowledging they have a place in your life and that’s ok. Sitting with them.
But by the time you start dating, harboring negative feelings, resentment, and anger from your previous marriage will undoubtedly keep people – and possibly people who may be good for you – running for the hills. Why? Because people sense it. Don’t you? Don’t you feel when someone is in a negative place or a Debbie Downer complaining about their ex or their life? Do you want to be around them? And truthfully, is your ex-spouse worth all that? Doubtful. Put those negative feelings in a balloon (figuratively or literally) and let go of them. Move on. Embrace all the positive emotions that will come your way once you do this.
In the end…
Many times people hop back into a relationship without taking the time to examine who they are, what and who they are really looking for, and what parts of their life need to be unpacked so they don’t bring that set of luggage to their next relationship. Don’t do that. Get rid of the old, battered, worn out luggage so when you decide to start dating again, all you have is a small overnight bag to bring with you. Because we all need a small overnight bag…
Learning to open your heart, love again and embrace all the possibilities of a new relationship that will enhance your already fulfilling life. And remember, the fact is you are not the same person you were when you were married, so taking the time and the necessary and often painful but necessary and worthwhile steps to recover from the trauma of divorce so that you can become the person you want to be.
And you will know when you know.
About the Author
Proactive and approachable, ‘Dr D’ has been described as a ‘straight shooter.’ She helps people embrace change, cultivate healthier relationships, and become more effective communicators, both personally and professionally. Her areas of focus are: divorce, marriage, dating, life transitions, and relationships. By tapping into a person’s strengths, she helps people maximize their life and live authentically. For advice and suggestions on how to navigate your life, follow Dr D on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.