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Dating After Divorce

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Since I published my New York Times bestselling memoir Perfection in 2009, readers have asked me for dating advice in the aftermath of betrayal. In my own early days dating online, I met a divorced father named Darren Marshall. We weren't meant for each other as a couple, but he made me laugh during a sad time and he's got that charming Hugh Grant accent that makes everything sound smart. Darren became a true pal, who gave me no-nonsense advice on how men think. We both did okay after some stumbling -- he's remarried and I'm in a committed relationship of eight years (Yup, I know you're asking -- I'm a bit allergic to remarrying.) We're not professionals but we've been there, right where you are now. Send us your letters! Darren and I will discuss and post our guaranteed thoughtful, compassionate, hopefully useful, and, when appropriate, humorous replies. -Julie Metz

To Darren and Julie:

I never dated before I met my ex at 19. I was loyal and faithful the whole way -- even though he wasn't and the relationship wasn't always good. It's just how I'm built and how I feel about marriage and a committed relationship. After his affair, he left me for the other woman and is now marrying her. I was devastated and in shock. I grieved for a while, but threw myself out there to experience what I had never before and to figure out why it happened and more about who I was and what I wanted out of a relationship and life. Through each date I learned more about myself, more about men and more about interpersonal and intimate relationships. I was positive about it, not looking for a long-term gig, but rather to know myself and to experience men and life.

Now, after a period of that, I have slowed and would like to meet someone to spend time with, to share our lives and thoughts, to be intimate with, to experience and to explore with... but, my question now is: How do you know when you are ready? Will the right person just come and I'll know? Will I feel so comfortable with him and so natural that I'll just let myself go with it and give myself fully? After what I experienced, how can I be sure what is best suited for me at this stage?

--Not Quite Ready

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Dear Not Quite Ready:

Julie: You pose a whole lot of great and important questions here. Like you, I hadn't been much of a dater before I got married and then I was in a relationship for fifteen years. I think your strategy of just going out on dates was smart and self-protective. But after a while, you really do want something more meaningful.

Darren: Good point, Jools. I was married for twelve years and hadn't dated a lot before that, so I definitely needed to date to see what type of person I really wanted. However, with guys of course there's also the element of just wanting the sexual side -- a bit like a camel finding an oasis after a long dry spell. Watch out for guys in this phase. But you need to get all that exploring out of your system before you are ready for Stage 2, which is Transition Person.

J: Personally, I'm a list maker. Grocery lists, to-do lists and lists to help me make big decisions. So one thing you could think about doing is making a list of what kind of person you'd like to be with. Dispense with the superficial stuff. He doesn't have to be tall, dark and handsome. No offense to Darren here, who is tall, dark and handsome! We won't hold that against him.

D: Note to readers: tall is relative... and tall relative to Jools is 5'3, not 6'3, like me.

J: And I swear I'm shrinking. Anyway, whoever he is, he does have to light your fire and be someone who really sees you and appreciates you, a guy you can have fun with and who will help you through tough times. He should be a good kisser if you like kissing. He should like kids if you have them. Or poodles or llamas, if that's what you're into. Everyone has a different list. You'll never find someone who fits perfectly, but I think this can be a good way to start. A list, in order of priorities. For me it was 1: someone kind, caring, and smart with 2: a cute tush, as a motivation to stay in shape, of course.

Your list now will be very different than it was when you were 19, or even when you first started dating after your divorce.

D: Hmmm... guys hate lists of all kinds (most especially "honey do lists"), so don't share its existence if you do one.

J: I agree. The list is for you only!

D: I think at this point you're ready for Transition Man. This is someone you meet and fall for as the first serious relationship after you start dating. You go out for three months, he meets the kids, your family. You even say the L word. Then you might figure out that he was trying to be someone he wasn't (like a man who loves kids) or was hiding something (money problems, anger issues) and you end it. I certainly had my Transition Woman. She was a drop-dead gorgeous law professor who turned out to be bankrupt and a deadbeat mom... quite the combination.

Sometimes Transition Man turns out to be The Man. You certainly should hope that's the case so it isn't a self-fulfilling prophecy, but sometimes it's the final way station before you find The Person. At that point you'll feel more comfortable, though after a divorce it's natural to have some trust issues even a few years into a relationship. If he's a good guy he'll understand and earn your full trust over time.

J: I think what Darren's getting at here is that at some point you have to open your heart a bit more and take a chance. You shouldn't wait for it to magically happen. You do have to put yourself out there in the world and create opportunities, as you've already been doing since your divorce, just with a clearer idea about what kind of partner would be a real companion for you.

D. And don't get down on yourself if it takes a while and a few disappointments. Both Jools and I had several of those along the way to finding our partners (though Jools would have had way fewer if she had actually followed my advice!). Approach every new person without long-term expectations and a sense of humor and you'll be more than fine.