01/04/2011 12:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Post-Divorce Dating Mishaps

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't know much about marriage when I said "I do" the first time, standing in the Rocky Mountains in my Frye boots and beaded and feathered faux-suede dress just a few months shy of my 21st birthday.

After almost four years in that marriage, one might think I knew more when I said "I do" the second time, standing under an ancient balboa tree -- this time in a white lacy thing -- in San Diego's Balboa Park a decade later.

I didn't know more, although I was convinced I did.

But as unprepared as I may or may not have been for marital bliss, it was nothing compared with what was ahead for me in my life as a middle-aged divorced mom of two. So, there's no surprise that I blundered my way through a fair share of questionable post-divorce decisions, especially when it came to men. Dating as a middle-aged divorced mom is not the same as dating as a 20-something single gal. And as my friends one by one became middle-aged divorced moms, too, I began to see that I wasn't the only one who was relatively clueless about navigating this strange new world. As they say, mistakes were made.

Blunder No. 1:

I didn't date for the first year after my divorce because I was trying to figure out my crap and be present for my kids. Plus I just wasn't emotionally ready for it. But when I met a man I was attracted to and he started to woo me, I was once again a starry-eyed teenager, just without the zits. After we slept together on the mythic "third date," I never heard from him again -- my first experience with what I assumed was a "player." It made me realize just how naïve I was. From that point on I understood that dating is just dating and sex is just sex and you have to keep any expectations in check. It was a good lesson to learn right away.

Blunder No. 2:

Once I recognized that the rules of dating had changed -- Starbucks dates, anyone? -- I became a savvier dater. I took ownership of my sexuality and decided that the three-date-rule wasn't something I had to buy into. But regardless of when sex entered into the equation, the issue of safe sex was still somewhat muddled. Asking a guy you barely know -- and after three or four or five dates you barely know him -- if he's disease free, and demanding to see his most recent test results is awkward, even if we know we should do that. So, many new divorcees practice almost-safe sex -- we'll talk about STDs and then have unprotected sex anyway. I feel lucky I escaped anything ugly; others weren't so lucky.

Blunder No. 3:

I was on one of those Starbucks dates -- except it was, thankfully, at a funky indie coffeehouse -- with a musician I met at a party. I not only liked his look, but also his music and worldview. But I was still a dating newbie. When he asked what I was about, much of my self-disclosure wasn't so much about who I am but about my divorce; well, more precisely about my "failed" marriage and my ex. This was not enthralling getting-to-know-you banter. No wonder he dumped me. There are a handful of people who'll indulge that kind of that kind of talk for any length of time -- your parents and your very dearest friends. And even then, there's an expiration date. But it has no place on a first date, even a Starbucks-like one.

Blunder No. 4:

Part of my dating savvy was becoming an expert in recognizing ASAP a guy's so-called red flags, especially if they were anything even remotely related to my former husband's bad behaviors. Someone who drinks too much, someone who blames everyone else for everything that's wrong, someone who is OK fudging the truth -- I met men who had as many red flags as a full-dress ship. But you can sabotage yourself by focusing on the stuff that reminds you of your ex and not seeing a new person for who he is and a new relationship for what it is -- something my now longtime boyfriend had to remind me of numerous times in our budding relationship. "I'm not your ex," he'd say. And he's right; he's not. Thankfully!

Blunder No. 5:

When I was young, I had an idea of what a relationship "looked" like. She liked him, he liked her, they hung out, got married and at some point there was a baby and a mortgage. That was the autopilot thinking that drove my early post-divorce dating -- that it was going to lead to "something," that we were "going" somewhere. After a few months, though, I had a mini-epiphany -- at age 40-plus I was way past baby making, not to mention that I already have two kids and didn't want more babies anyway. Ditto with a mortgage; I have that, too. So eventually I had to ask myself exactly what was I looking for in a new relationship and whether marriage was the only way to be happily ever after. I am no longer on autopilot and am OK not knowing where I'm going.

If you are newly divorced, you might want to avoid similar blunders, and there's no better time to resolve to be smarter than now; how convenient that it's New Year's to boot.