After being in a long-term relationship or marriage, it can feel like a big adjustment to date again – or maybe even for the first time. Are you ready to start dating again? I’ve been through it too and would love to accompany you on your journey.

Dating and sex are often part of moving on and working out who you want to be. Dating may feel unfamiliar, scary and vulnerable but it also can be exciting, fun and a great new learning experience! 

Immediately after a break-up, you may feel too down and anxious to think about dating and sex. Others experience a resurrection of sexual desire, which is often connected with the euphoria of reinventing yourself or rediscovering parts of yourself that were buried in your last relationship. And many of us have both – sometimes wanting to be alone and enjoy independence, and sometimes craving emotional and or sexual intimacy. All of these are perfectly normal!

Many people rush into dating as a way to numb the hurt of the break-up.  There are pros and cons to this. It can stop you processing, grieving and comforting yourself and set back your recovery. It can also make you more vulnerable to choosing the wrong partner, or repeating old patterns without having worked out what’s good for you in this next stage of your life. But given some time after adjusting to your new life, connecting with new people may be exactly what you need.

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready, here are some questions to help you decide.

How long should I wait after separation or divorce before I start dating?

This depends on a number of factors: who made the decision to break up, how long you were thinking about breaking up before you did it, how much you’ve processed it with trusted friends, a coach or therapist, what your living arrangements are (and childcare if relevant), how much time you’re spending on financial/legal/practical matters relating to the break-up.

Many people (especially those who live alone) start dating about six months to a year after separation. Others wait until the divorce is finalised; others a year after that.

Do I want to date?

If dating after divorce fills you with horror, give yourself more time.  You may need to get your confidence back by making new friends first, and allow yourself more time to grieve.

On the other hand, it is natural to be anxious about a skill-set you have not exercise for a while (or ever). You may have a fear of rejection, betrayal or abandonment if that was your experience. Many people lose confidence in their judgement about a suitable dates or partners, or feel unlovable. You may have heard lots of horror stories about dating from friends or in the media. If, perhaps with the support of a coach or therapist, you can be relaxed and accepting of these fears and anxieties, you can learn to tolerate some of this discomfort. A dating coach can help you get a more balanced view of how people behave when dating, too – remember other people are much more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones!

Do I have the time and energy?

Arranging and fitting dates into your schedule can be challenging, as well as the mental preparation beforehand and analysis after! There’s going to be a trade-off between that and the benefits of meeting new people, which can be ego-boosting and life-affirming and reduce feelings of isolation, which is excellent for your physical and mental health. You may have to go on a few dates before you can do a cost-benefit analysis. And remember if you’re doing online dating, on average people spend about 30-60 minutes a day browsing profiles and messaging.

Do I have a strong support network? 

You need a good social network of friends and family before you are ready to date again. This is likely to be more helpful to your recovery than the support of a date who doesn’t share history with you. A dating coach or therapist may give you a more impartial perspective than friends and family when it comes to discussing dating: they may have their own fears and biases.

Am I using sex/dating after divorce as a way to numb the pain from my past relationship?

Be honest here! It makes sense that you’d want to get away from the pain, but in the long-term it needs to be processed. It may also not be fair on the people you’re dating – even if you tell them you’re still getting over your ex.

What have I learnt from my last relationship?

It is important to have reflected sufficiently on your past relationship and future goals to know what you want from your next partner, and how you want to be treated on dates. What patterns do I want to avoid repeating? Where did those patterns come from? What did I learn from my childhood? How will a relationship reflect my values, passions and dreams, as well as meet my needs and fit with my personality? What is essential and what is just desirable? (My workbook may be a useful resource here.)

Have I got a healthy approach to dating?

At this stage, it can help to think of dating as a chance to get to know new people who have different life experiences and perspectives rather than meet a soulmate. Are you looking in places you’d like to meet someone that reflect your values and lifestyle? Are you treating your dates as real human beings with their own needs, goals and personalities? What are the emotions driving your dating – fear, anxiety, loneliness, or curiosity, energy and excitement? Of course, we all feel all of these sometimes – but which is dominant?

Am I emotionally resilient enough right now to handle dates not working out?

It can take a while to harden yourself to the world of dating. You may take things very personally at first. You may need to build up some resources and tools to deal with the ups and downs of dating after divorce. Do you have a self-care programme?

Do I really need a shoulder to cry on?

The first few times you open up on a date you may find you currently need or expect a lot of emotional support, which they may or may not be able to give. Friends, family, a therapist or coach, a pet or teddy bear may be better for this. On the other hand, it’s a great way to find out if your date is emotionally responsive and comfortable with emotions!

Am I at the stage of feeling emotionally self-sufficient and good about myself?

A healthy relationship with yourself is attractive to others and allows you to enjoy the dating experience without getting too involved and then getting hurt.

Do I know what my eccentricities are?

If you’ve been in a relationship a long time, you may have developed some little quirks or ways of relating that your previous partner just put up with, but that you need to change. For example, you’ll have to keep any critical comments to yourself for quite a few weeks or even months – as well as your irritations, family arguments, hygiene habits and digestive behaviours!

How will my children deal with me dating after divorce?

It’s probably best not to reveal new relationships to your children (or the rest of the family) too quickly. The intensity of a new relationship may very well wear off after just a few weeks or months, as we find out more about the new person. Be very cautious. Often, people wait until about the three-month milestone to decide whether they want to call it a relationship and then they introduce each other to family members. On the other hand, it’s a good test to see how they get on with your friends (and perhaps siblings) earlier on: your date may be wonderful on a one-to-one, but not what you envisaged in social situations.

With children, depending on their age, they will take one to two years to adjust to their parents being separated – older children take longer. It’s very important that you regularly reassure your children that you love them and that having new friends or dates doesn’t affect that. Children may see your dating as a threat to their relationship with you. The loss of safety, familiarity, routine and seeing both parents every day has a very significant impact on children, and they need to experience those cues of safety and connection with you very frequently. Responsive, attentive, warm, safe caregivers are essential to healthy development, so make sure that isn’t compromised, when you plan how often to see your date and then later when your children are around too.

A good solution might be at, say, the six-twelve month stage, to tell your children that you’re dating but without them meeting your dates. Then when you’re in a relationship that’s lasted, say, more than three-six months and feels like it’s serious, introduce them.

At that stage, you will also need to discuss the role your new partner will play once they meet your children. Research shows that a role similar to an aunt or uncle or adult friend works best. Prepare for an unpredictable response from your children. They may be afraid that in liking your new partner that they are betraying the other parent, so it’s important to discuss that regularly and reassure them that this isn’t the case. They may also feel very threatened and jealous if they see you showing affection to someone new. You will need to make sure they are getting enough affection too.

Will I ever be ready to date?!

Despite all of the above, you don’t need to be 100% ready to start dating after divorce or a long-term relationship. You may never fully “get over” your ex or your past relationship. They will always be a part of who you are, and it’s ok to be sad about the end of the relationship even twenty or thirty years later. We all process at different rates and we’re on a lifelong journey of self-discovery and growth.There will be days where you want to enjoy your independence, and other days where you feel lonely and want to be close to someone. That is perfectly normal.The solution might be pacing yourself: not committing to anything serious just yet, or taking things very slowly, or experimenting with getting a balance of doing your own thing and dating.

So get some support and then I hope you will take first steps into the wonderful adventure of dating!