THE BLOG
11/07/2013 10:55 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2013

The Post-Divorce Dating Game: Tips to Make Your First Couple of Dates Fun Rather than Dysfunctional

I realize you've dated before but I also know it's been a while -- and that might make you a little nervous. Not a lot has changed out there -- a fact that's both comforting and disappointing. I know you're going to do fine with this, but there are some stylistic and attitude adjustments I want you to make to maximize the chance that your first couple of dates will be both fun and fruitful. They are as follows:

Don't discount online dating out of hand. The longer you were married, the higher the likelihood that you will have a skeptical view of online dating. It's time for you to update your impression. You managed to push passed any reservations regarding email simply because it was the relative newcomer in the communication arena. The same thing goes here. Online dating is a viable way to meet people. It's fine to decide it's not for you. But make sure you're vetoing it for legitimate reasons and not a baseless aversion.

The most obvious advantage of online dating is this: Rather than leaving it to chance that you might meet someone through a friend or at the grocery store, online dating provides a pool of people who are interested in dating. An additional advantage is you can get to know a lot about a person before ever having to meet -- and based on what you find out, you can decide whether you want to meet at all. True, people can present a false front but that's not a risk exclusive to online dating; pretending to be someone you're not is as old as dating itself. You should exercise caution and discretion when meeting anyone new, whether the introduction is virtual or face-to-face.

Be yourself. The onset of any relationship usually involves a fair amount of image crafting by both parties, and that's understandable. It's only natural to want to make a good impression, but be careful not to do this at the expense of being yourself. It's one thing to be open to trying new things; but it's another to pretend you like things you don't. If you want to be the best "you" possible, go right ahead. But if you are trying to be someone you're not, you're not doing anyone any favors.

It's a date, not a sales call. Because many women have been raised to think "catching a man" is their top objective, women often approach dating as a prolonged marketing campaign. Under this mindset, each date becomes a sales call, success is defined as getting asked out again, and the ultimate goal is sealing the deal by walking down the aisle. When you view dating in this manner, it costs you the chance to take advantage of the real opportunity presented by each date: an occasion to see if you actually enjoy this person's company. By spending your time trying to sell, you forget to consider whether you're interested in buying.

Look for a partner, not a prince. After a bad marriage and a nasty divorce, some women come away with the idea that they are going to hold out for Prince Charming next time around. The problem with this goal isn't only that it is outdated and unrealistic; it's lopsided and one-dimensional, too. You want someone who will see you for the multi-faceted person that you are and value that complexity, not someone who is looking for a superficial Disney princess. And to get all of that, you have to recognize and value the same complexity in others. If you want to be valued rather than rescued, look for a partner not a hero.

It's about your future, not your past. Dating is the last step in your divorce-recovery -- a step you shouldn't take until you are done working through your divorce and ready to move forward with your life. Nothing says you're not there yet like spending your first couple of dates droning on about your previous relationship. I'm not telling you this because I'm trying to help you make a good impression, I'm telling you this because I want you to have a good time. Start where you are today and move forward, not backwards. Initial dates are chances for both of you to figure out if you enjoy spending time with each other. If you do, you will likely see each other in the future, which means there will be plenty of opportunities to fill each other in on things that happened in your past. There's no need to waste your first couple of dates on that.

Keep an open mind. Most of us have preconceived notions of what we're looking for, but try to keep an open mind. It's one thing to be clear and upfront about your personal deal breakers; but it's another to count something as a negative simply because it's different than what you expected. For example, if you are a yellow dog Democrat, dating one of Ted Cruz's staffers is not likely to be your cup of tea. But if you always assumed you'd date someone close to your same age, and you find yourself going out with someone older or younger than you expected, that doesn't necessarily have to go in the negative column. There's no point in continuing to see someone you know is not a match; but if a date ends up being a mixed bag of things that you like and things you're not sure about, there's no harm in giving it a little more time.