If you’re divorced, or have ended a long-term relationship, well-meaning relatives and friends may encourage you to start dating again soon. But how will you know when you're ready for a new relationship?
“This wildly varies from person to person,” says Judith Sills, PhD, a Philadelphia-based psychologist and author of Getting Naked Again: Dating, Romance, Sex, and Love When You've Been Divorced, Widowed, Dumped, or Distracted. “Everyone ends a relationship by grieving the emotional investment. For some people, that happens before they move out. Others are still emotionally married after the divorce is final.”
Dena Roché started dating while waiting for her divorce papers to come through.
“It helped, because I got to see what 'normal' looked like,” Roché says. “I also saw that my ex wasn't the only guy who would want to be with me. It bolstered my confidence for dating.”
Claudia Barnett needed some alone time to heal before seeking a new relationship.
“Your marriage has died; you need to grieve that loss,” Barnett says. “To move forward, I had to be whole emotionally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. After I accomplished some set goals, I knew it was time.”
Here's what experts say you should consider before dating:
Go by your feelings, not the calendar
Some people are ready to date after 2 months; others may need years. Don't rush. It's important to experience the emotions associated with divorce.
Give yourself “a little time to think, a little time to grieve, a little opportunity to find someone else,” Sills says.
The ex factor
If you're still thinking about what your ex is doing or whom he's dating, you're too distracted to begin a healthy relationship.
“Some people date and even marry to try to prove something to an ex,” says Edward M. Tauber, PhD, a California-based divorce counselor and co-author of Find the Right One After Divorce. “You wouldn't date somebody who's still tangled up with an ex emotionally. Why offer that to somebody else?”
Are you open to new experiences?
If you were in a committed relationship for a long time, the idea of beginning a new romance may seem scary. If you've recently tried other activities that bring you out of your comfort zone, you could be ready to date.
“Have you done something that's an affirmation of yourself and your life -- made a new friend, taken up a new sport, gotten a haircut?” Sills asks. “You open your heart to new relationships when you're resilient enough to endure the minuses of dating to get the pluses.”
Accept yourself as an individual
Your identity has nothing to do with your dating status. Rather than jumping into a new relationship to avoid being alone, give yourself a chance to explore life on your own terms.
“You can't heal unless you're on your own,” Tauber says. “You need to find single friends to have a social life with.”
Things have changed since the last time you were dating
Not only have you changed since you were last single, but so have your social life, circle of friends, and routines. You might meet a new partner through a friend or by clicking with a mysterious stranger -- but you may also want to consider online dating.
“The advantage is you have a pool of people who are looking, like you are,” Sills says. “When you drop off the kids at school, there might be a single person there, but you don't know them.”
Dating is an adult decision
Some single parents don't date because they're worried about the effect it may have on their children. You don't let your children make other decisions for you, so don't let them keep you from dating if that’s something you want to do.
But be careful.
“Do a very slow introduction of a new partner,” Sills says. “It should be a serious person with the potential of a long-term relationship who comes to dinner or the zoo as mom or dad's friend.”