Real talk—the thought of reentering the dating scene and starting your love life over from scratch after going through a divorce is the worst. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Most people who enter into a marriage have no intentions of being a part of the singles scene ever again, but we unfortunately have no way of knowing what the future holds.
With the stressful divorce process finally in the rearview mirror, however, comes a slew of new opportunities for your happily ever after 2.0. That’s a whole lot easier said than done, we know, and you might not be ready to dive back in as soon as the ink dries on your divorce papers, but with the right advice, you’ll get there. That’s why we asked Kala Gower, a dating coach with Relationship Hero, a Silicon Valley start-up, for help.
1. Take Your Time
Being newly single affords you the freedom to start meeting new, exciting people. True. But what’s the rush? Make sure you’ve given yourself the time and space to truly appreciate this major life change before moving on to someone new.
“Every relationship, whether you’re married or not, takes time to heal from, regardless if ending it was your idea or not,” Gower tells us. “But marriage, of course, comes with this expectation of a life together and things you planned to do. So it takes a while to unravel all of that and process all those feelings of loss. The loss of a relationship comes with the same process of grief, as if you’ve lost a loved one. There’s no time frame on how long that should or could take, but you have to allow yourself the time to work through those stages of grief.”
2. When in Doubt, Make a List
There’s no right or wrong time to start dating after a divorce. Your ex might be ready next week, and it might take you over a year to agree to go out for a drink. But how do you know when you’re really ready to get yourself out there again?
“What I advise is waiting until profound acceptance; when you wake up and you realize you don’t even remember the last time you even felt any emotion—good or bad—regarding your ex,” Gower says. But that kind of clarity likely won’t sneak up on you all on its own. It takes real reflection to grow from such a dramatic event.
“In the meantime, though, you shouldn’t just be lying around, waiting for that acceptance,” she continues. “You should be encouraging yourself to process those emotions and allow yourself to learn the big lessons of your last relationship. I often advise clients to write down pros and cons of the relationship dynamic, of the traits of their ex, what they did well and what they feel they could have done better, to be able to really learn from those lessons. That processing helps the healing come along much faster.”
3. You Come First
There are a number reasons why a marriage ends. Sometimes you just fall out of love. When it’s particularly ugly, however, (we’re looking at you, infidelity) the pieces of your personality that were a prime target during the breakup, like your self—esteem and confidence, need a little TLC before you can move on.
“You should make sure you’ve fixed those things before you ever enter the dating pool again or you run the risk of being used by people who may want to exploit that vulnerability,” Gower advises. “Finding and entering a relationship should come from a healthy place. Whoever isn’t at their best when starting over is just going to pull their new partner down and the relationship will be unhealthy from the start.” Use this interim time between marriage and a new relationship to go out and enjoy your life as a single person.
“Go to the movies by yourself or hang out with friends,” she says. “Re—learn who you were as a person [before your marriage], since relationships often change that.”
4. …But Use Protection
Guarding yourself from potential health risks when you decide to take a new relationship up a notch (if you know what we mean) is a no brainer, but protect that heart of yours, too.
“Dating should be fun and is about learning more about another person and yourself, too,” Gower says. “If a woman wants to just explore and have fun—as long as she communicates that with whomever she’s dating—then she should go for it. If she is looking for something serious, then go with what feels right, but also make sure the other person is on the same page, with the same expectations, before having sex.”
But if what you’re looking for has a bit more substance to it, Gower says to make that crystal clear. “If you feel you are invested and putting in the effort, and you trust this person to treat you fairly, then there’s no reason to restrict yourself to any rules,” she says. “All that said, it does take time to establish that trust and understanding so it’s unlikely that a first date would be the right time.”
5. Get Over Your “Type”
Ain’t nobody got time for types—especially after a divorce. You thought you knew who or what your type was the first time around, right? Time to throw that way of thinking out the window.
“Experiment!” advises Gower. “Give someone that you wouldn’t have given a second look before a chance. Keep it within reason, of course, with your morals and personality expectations, but what you see on the outside is usually just the tip of the iceberg of who a person is.”
Part of the beauty of this time in your life is that you now have free reign to go on dates and if you don’t like what you find, “then keep it moving,” Gower says. “Just try not to settle for the first ship that sails into your docks after your relationship ends.”
6. Fire Up the Apps
Dating apps probably weren’t a part of your pre-marriage single life. They can be intimidating, and the horror stories some of your friends have shared are pretty deterring (Tinder Nightmares is a thing for a reason). But that doesn’t mean those experiences will be yours–especially if you’re on the right sites.
“Research which apps are most popular in your area to get the largest selection of other singles,” Gower says. “But if you’re looking for something serious, steer clear of Tinder and Bumble and try something paid like Match.com. If you can’t afford it, OKCupid is decent as well and you actually learn a bit more about the person than the superficial stuff before swiping. People who use those platforms tend to be more invested. That said, if you are just looking to explore and have fun, Tinder and Bumble can be great resources. Bumble tends to have higher quality men; and since women message first, you can better avoid the sleazy messages.”
7. Happy Mom, Happy Kids
Finding time to date when you have children can be difficult, but that’s why you moved so close to your own mom, right? Just remember: The happier you are, the happier your kids will be, too.
“Try and remember that just because you have kids, your life and happiness aren’t put on hold for them,” Gower says. “Make sure you are investing that time wisely in people worth the effort before setting up those dates, though. There’s no perfect time for when to introduce the kids, but there’s a nice balance between ‘way too soon, they’ll get attached,’ and ‘I’ll be hurt if I have to end it because they don’t mesh.’”
You might not want to take your ex’s feelings into consideration here, but he or she will certainly still be a part of your life for a good, long time if there are kids involved. Avoid a potentially sticky situation and factor them in when you start thinking about introducing your new partner to your kids.
“Be a good co-parent,” Gower advises. “You don’t need your ex’s permission, but talking about it with them ahead of time—if you have a healthy enough relationship—is the courteous thing to do here.”
There are a lot of things you’re going to have to get used to about your new life post-divorce. While some aspects will be less thrilling than others (hello, single income household), dating should not make your cons list. Have fun, be safe, you’ve got this.