When you first start dating—whether it’s in high school, college, or beyond—everything about it is exciting. The feeling of another person’s body heat as you sit next to them at the movies, the anticipation of the first kiss (and all the other firsts that follow it), the dizzying happiness of waking up to a “good morning” text from someone you’ve been dreaming about all night…It’s easy to love whole heartedly when you’ve never been hurt before. But after heartbreak, dating is harder—especially when that heartbreak comes from a divorce.
Getting back out there after divorce—regardless of whether you’re looking for a casual fling or something more serious—can be intimidating. Not only is there a devastating hurt in your rearview mirror, but it might have been a while since you’ve actually been on a date with someone new. The dating landscape may look different than it did before you got married. (All these apps!) Then there’s the whole issue of when to tell a potential partner you’ve been married before.
To help make tiptoeing back into a new relationship a bit easier, relationship therapist Amy McManus, LMFT, offers up some helpful—and super relevant—tips for dating after divorce. Keep reading for her intel.
Knowing if and when to start dating again are two big questions that may be looming in your mind. Despite what your friends, parents, or various Reddit threads say, McManus says the decision of when to start dating again is 100-percent dependent on the person in question. “Some women have felt emotionally distant from their partner for years and are ready to start dating soon after divorcing. Other women need time to process the grief over the loss of their relationship, and can take a year or two to feel ready to date again,” she says.
As with all daters, it’s important to think through what exactly you’re looking for. Do you want something casual? A relationship? If the latter, McManus suggests asking yourself, Am I ready to be open to the possibility of a new relationship, and will I be able to emotionally engage in that relationship when I find the right person? “You don’t have to be completely ‘over’ your ex, but if you are still consumed by anger or self-recrimination, then it would be a good idea to work on those feelings before you start dating again,” she says.
If you find yourself struggling to let go of anger, rejection, and hurt feelings, McManus says talking to a therapist can be helpful. “You can work with a good therapist on moving past some of those destructive emotions so that you are ready to date again, but nothing provides opportunities for growth like another relationship, so don’t feel you have to be perfect before you put your profile up on a dating site,” she says.
Throwing your hat in the dating ring, so to speak, after a long time being off the market can be stressful and anxiety-inducing for anyone, especially if you’ve just gone through a divorce. Guess what? This is totally normal, McManus says. “The best thing you can do is be yourself,” she suggests. “The person who sees your realistic photo—okay, with good lighting and a cute outfit!—and reads your honest profile and really likes it, is the only person you want to spend your precious time and energy getting to know,” she says. “Think about it—you don’t want to spend time with someone who is interested in you because of things that aren’t really authentic. Ultimately, you want someone who [appreciates] you just the way you are!”
The same advice applies when you have that first date on the cal and the jitters start creeping in. All you can be yourself, flaws and all, and if that means you aren’t a good match with your dinner or drinks companion, then, you’re not a match. It’s okay!
Unless the person you’re out with knows before-hand that you’re divorced, it can feel like you’re dating with a big secret. But McManus says not to let it stress you out; for most people, divorce isn’t that big of a deal. “As far as disclosing things about yourself, being divorced is probably of much less interest to potential dates than you might think,” she says. “Bring it up when it comes up organically, and don’t stress about it,” she says. “Everybody has a history, some good, some bad.”
However, McManus says that you should absolutely be up-front about having kids. “If you’re using a dating app, be sure to mention it on your profile,” she says. “You do not want someone to fall in love with you in spite of the fact that you have kids. “Rather, you want them to appreciate what a great [parent] you are and be attracted to that as well as all the other wonderful things about you!”
As far as when to tell your kids you’re dating again, this is very individual and depends both on their ages and the type of relationship you have with them. In general, dating after divorce doesn’t look the same for everyone. Keep checking in with yourself, stay true to who you are, and remain hopeful. It may not feel like dating that first time around, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as sweet—and exciting.