When do I start dating? Am I ready? How does it happen? These are the inevitable questions that start to percolate after a divorce. And they should be answered with some real thought and consideration. I believe that self-awareness is a big key to life, and for those newly dating, it is of the utmost importance. You must know who you are and where you are in your post-divorce evolution. After the emotional pit of a divorce, some people want nothing to do with the opposite sex -- they're not ready. Many try to tip-toe into the dating pool -- they're getting there -- and some cannon-ball in with no fear, often looking for too much too fast.
In my saga of post-divorce dating, I have learned to recognize -- in myself and others -- the signs that you are not ready to date. If you are exhibiting any of the following, you may want to stick with girls/guys nights out for a little bit longer:
1. If you are still married, you are not ready to date. Your relationship may be over, you may feel ready for companionship, you may be enduring the divorce proceedings that seem like they will never end, but you are not ready to date. Legally, like it or not, you are committed to someone else. And being married, no matter the circumstance, precludes you from being able to fully commit to even just one date. I know people who have, for some reason, just not gotten a divorce and lived like they were single. This is a big red flag because if it's over, end it. Not ending it tells me that there is a reason you are not ending it. If you are in the midst of divorce hell, that is not attractive to anyone and it's not fair to expect someone else to shoulder that burden with you. Wait until you are really free.
2. If you still feel married, you are not ready to date. This seems obvious, but I went on a date with a man who kept saying, "My wife, I mean ex-wife." He further proceeded to tell me that by sitting there with me having coffee, he felt like he was cheating on his wife. If you have not yet made the clean emotional break from your ex, take a little more time to heal.
3. If you have not been divorced for at least a year, you are not ready to date. I know, many are convinced they are ready sooner, but I tried dating a few recently divorced men to see if I was wrong. I wasn't. No one just divorced has regained the requisite self-awareness to know that they are not yet ready to date.
4. If you have written an online profile in which you list all of the things that you don't want in a date, you are not ready to date. When you say things like, I don't want liars, cheaters, manipulators, addicts, etc., you are telegraphing the things that happened to you in your last relationship. This tells potential dates that you are not over it. It comes off as angry and bitter, and you don't want your date to think you are either of those.
5. If you are not past gross generalizations, you are not ready to date. If you are in a phase and think "all men/women are liars," stick to movie nights at home. Until you are able to realize that what happened in your marriage was a unique event in your life, chances are you will project generalizations on your date -- who is likely completely innocent of that behavior. How fair is that?
6. If you cannot have a conversation on a first date without mentioning your ex more than once, you are not ready to date. The first date or two or three is not the time to talk about your ex. The focus should be on getting to know your date and allowing them to get to know you. You are not defined by your divorce. Only when you know that is it time to date!
7. If you are still angry over your divorce, you are not ready to date. To me, anger is the single most destructive emotion to a relationship -- dating, married or otherwise. Anger over specific events is one thing. Generalized anger either at your ex or at men/women in general is an indication that you need more time to heal. Anger tends to be taken out on those with whom you spend time. Don't let it be a date.
Everyone takes a different path to healing. I have friends who jumped into dating as quickly as they could, and others who can't imagine dating several years post-divorce. The key is to know where you are on the path and to recognize your readiness. There is a time when you first start to date in which you are ready to go on dates, but not ready to be in a relationship. That is fine, as long as you are honest with yourself and your date. If you are self-aware, you will not lead yourself or your date on. And when you are ready for more, you will know it.