Dating is hard enough when you’re young and barely have any relationship baggage. But add divorce to the mix and putting yourself out there can seem downright overwhelming. “You may feel frightened, cynical, inadequate, or just sad because your marriage didn’t work out,” says Sherrie Schneider, co-author of The New Rules: The Dating Dos and Don’ts for the Digital Generation. “But one of the best ways to get over your divorce is to date.” Learning how to get into the right mindset and dive back into the pool before too much time passes is key, and we’re here to help you do it with an attitude of calm, confidence and openness that will make everything way easier—and way more fun. Get your notepad, ladies.
Get back out there. While it’s important to get over your ex and take time for yourself after a divorce, beware of waiting too long. Dragging your feet can lead to getting stuck in a rut, which makes moving on even harder, says Ellen Fein, co-author of The New Ruleswith Schneider. “Dating is like exercise; you have to just do it, not think about it.” Some experts say it’s perfectly healthy to wait a few months, while others say six months is a good timeline—just check in with yourself to determine what honestly feels right. And if you feel you have important issues to work on in therapy, that’s cool—but don’t allow that to be your excuse. You don’t have to (and likely never will) feel perfect to have a cute guy buy you a drink, so do yourself a favor and don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.
Try online dating. Say hello to Match.com, OK Cupid and Tinder, because it’s time to learn how to swipe right. Research shows that not only do one in three Americans now meet their spouses online, but those marriages are also more satisfying and less likely to end in divorce than those that began in more traditional ways. So how do you craft the perfect profile? Keep it light, breezy and not too personal, says both Schneider and Fein (think your favorite flicks, foods or sports, not the harrowing details of your divorce). No matter what happens, don’t take the process too seriously—for every Catfish, there’s a nice guy looking to meet an amazing woman (that’s you). And thank your iPhone for working nonstop for you—by spending just a few hours online, you could probably line up a date every week for the next month. Need proof? A recent Match.com Singles in America poll revealed that online daters went on an average of 4.2 dates in 2014, while offline daters averaged just 2.8 dates in the same time period.
Re-find (or reinvent) yourself. There were probably parts of your single life pre-marriage that were not so glamorous—frozen pizza for dinner and sleeping in granny panties because no one was going to see you—and awesome, luxurious parts that you never thought to miss until you got married (like staying out for a few too many drinks with your friends, or four-hour Scandal marathons). Think back to the fun stuff and revive those traditions—or at least grown-up versions of them, like martini Thursdays or ladies’ night spin classes. “After divorce, people should take time to fall in love with themselves again,” says life coach and dating expert Sandy Weiner. “That means identifying your strengths, finding hobbies you may have neglected, spending time with supportive friends and enjoying your newfound freedom.” And consider investing freed-up energy into your career so you can gun for a big promotion or raise. It’ll make you feel great and you’ll be more attractive to potential partners: The same Singles in America poll found that 87 percent of men would date a woman who makes more money, is better educated and is more intellectual than them.
Don’t air your dirty laundry. There’s a time and a place for the serious stuff, and it’s not in the early getting-to-know-you phase of dating after divorce. “Don’t tell him your whole life story, don’t put down your ex, and don’t get into the nitty gritty of your marriage,” says Schneider. It’s none of his business—at least not yet. Take your time and be choosy about who you share the details of your previous marriage with because over-sharing too soon can lead to freaked-out dates (nobody likes a constant complainer), as well as regrets on your part. Consider that information sacred until your new partner has earned it.
When it comes to sex, listen to your gut. He doesn’t have to be your soul mate for you to sleep with him (heck, a one-night stand is fair game if that’s the level of intimacy you’re ready for), but make sure you feel secure in your connection—however you define it. Why? Research shows that the oxytocin release you experience during sex can lead to getting prematurely attached, which isn’t really something you need if you’re unsure of how far you want things to go. “You should feel comfortable and that he is making you a priority,” says Fein. “Sex is only anxiety-producing when you don’t know where you stand emotionally.” Weiner suggests you ask yourself if you’re feeling respected, valued and understood for who you are. If the answer is yes, go for it. But if you’re not quite there yet, hey—a little anticipation never hurt anyone.
Keep your kids out of it. Unless you’re getting serious about a man you’re dating, let your dating life and your parenting role remain separate. It’s unhealthy and unfair to expose your kids to a revolving door of men, says Weiner. So avoid introducing your kids to a guy until you’ve developed serious feelings for one another, and he’s expressed an interest in meeting them. Talk to them first about the new guy in your life so you can hear their questions and worries, and keep the first meeting short and sweet so you don’t overwhelm them. Use common sense and be sensitive to your kids’ needs. “Respect their privacy,” says Schneider.”Your kids are not fodder for your dates—in fact, they are really none of his business until he talks about a future.”
Keep an open mind. One key thing to remember: Over the years you’ve acclimated (consciously or subconsciously) to your ex’s tendencies and your dynamic as a couple. That said, the novelties and quirks of new men may baffle, enthrall or bug you—and it’s natural to compare new men to your ex—but keep in mind that what you wanted in a man back then likely doesn’t hold true today. “You’ve changed, and what you’re looking for has changed, so appreciate that you have a blank slate to start over,” says Schneider. Your ex might have favored old-fashioned steak dinner dates, but the hippie-artist who wants to cook chili and play guitar for you has his own brand of charm. Have fun going out with lots of different types of people and doing different things—things you may have never considered trying before, like rock climbing or glass-blowing. And while you’re at it, avoid making assumptions. “Remember that each new man you date is not the one who hurt you,” suggests Weiner. “So be open and compassionate with each one, while still protecting yourself and being aware of red flags.” After all, you never know where it may lead.
Love and Relationship expert for Redbook Mag