I’ve written a great deal about dating over years, since hitting the scene shortly after my divorce. I’ve offered all sorts of advice to middle aged singles, from how to avoid getting scammed (Reverse Image Search is your friend), to how to manage a first date (keep it brief, have an exit plan), to how to reject someone with minimal fallout (tell them you’re just not feeling a connection).
Like any advice, it is there to take or to leave. There are no real rules in dating. Everyone must find their own way.
Still, if there is just one piece of advice I could impart to the newly single, it is to not rush onto the dating scene. Take some time to regroup after your separation. Stop, pause, breathe.
I have seen countless people jump onto dating apps mere weeks – and, sometimes, days – after exiting a long relationship. They do it because they want distraction, or because they’re scared of being alone. They do it for validation, or for comfort, or for revenge. They do it because they want sex, or they want love, or they want an escape, or they want to be rescued from their distress.
And I get it. Divorce can be almost cataclysmically painful. It can take months or years to establish a new normal, and until you do, life feels chaotic and scary. And it is hard to with that kind of discomfort and fear. It’s so tempting to load up a dating app, and focus instead on swiping left and right.
Here’s why you should hold off:
Divorce is a process. It takes time to separate from someone emotionally, even after you’ve separated from them physically. It takes time to sort through the mess of the separation, to cut or loosen the ties that bind you to your ex. It’s not fair to bring all this to a new partner, and it won’t be a healthy foundation for any new relationship.
When you date to escape yourself, or when you’re terrified of being alone, you’re not going to make good romantic choices. When you’re desperate or vulnerable, you’ll latch on to whoever rocks up. You might end up with someone who doesn’t meet your needs, or, worse, who is downright toxic or abusive.
Dating can be rough! Of course, it’s possible you’ll immediately meet the next love of your life. More likely, however, you’ll go on some really bad dates, be rejected once or twice, and have some excruciatingly awkward sex. You need to be emotionally robust enough to deal with it all, to laugh it off, and to not take it personally. When you’re still bruised and battered after a recent separation, this is almost an impossible ask.
Finally, it’s truly worth trying to be single for a while, and to get to know yourself out of the context of a relationship. Marriage involves so much compromise that you can forget who you are, what you enjoy, and what you think, as an independent human being. This is a chance to develop a relationship with yourself, before you slide back into coupledom and start compromising again.
So how do you know when you’re ready to date?
Well, you don’t need to be baggage free; after all, no-one gets to midlife without baggage. You do need to have your baggage securely stored, and be reasonably sure that it won’t fall on your head. You need to have moved towards establishing a new lifestyle, and forging a new identity as single person. Ideally, you will feel like a whole person again, and not a jagged, raw half of a separated couple.
Of course, by then you may not feel like dating at all. You may want to embrace your single status, and relish the freedom it brings. And as someone who is leaning into being single, I can tell you: that’s an excellent outcome to achieve.