One of the most common questions asked within both the widowed and divorced communities is, "When is it appropriate to start dating again?" The quick answer is, "Only you can make that determination."
However, there is a far more important question that not many people ask -- and it is a vital question; one that is far more important that that of "appropriateness" and a question that you absolutely must ask of yourself prior to dating post-loss or post-divorce:
"Am I even READY to begin dating again?"
Have you asked yourself that question? If not, you should... and then review the following 10 ways to help determine your dating readiness:
1. You Have Reclaimed You
During what may very well be the worst or most challenging time in your life is not the time to jump headlong back into dating. Like it or not, you must first recover from the divorce from or death of your spouse and you cannot accomplish that kind of recovery in hurry-up fashion. Embrace the fact that you are not the same person that you were when you committed to the person no longer by your side and that you must take the time and patience with yourself to sufficiently recover from the trauma that you have endured. In other words, you must truly get to know the person that you are today, right now, this minute.
2. You Realize That You Are "Not Guilty"
When you have been functioning in life as one-half of a couple, you understandably become conditioned to thinking of yourself in those terms. Whether by divorce or by spousal death, you are now on your own; yet your emotional being is still in the "one-half of a couple" mindset. When you subsequently find yourself attracted to someone or you make a decision to resume dating, you may feel guilty, as if you are "cheating" on your ex or late spouse.
(...And your children and your spouse's family and your friends and the world at large.)
While feelings of guilt are perfectly normal, that same guilt can unnecessarily hold you back. You are entitled to live a life filled with happiness and if you choose it, that happiness can and should include another love by your side. You must realize and accept that there is no reason to feel guilty about dating and/or seeking companionship once again.
3. The Absence of Anger
It is absolutely normal to feel angry at whatever circumstances ended your relationship. For example, you are likely to be angry with an ex-spouse who was abusive or unfaithful. You may likely be angry at the circumstances surrounding your spouse's death. After all, you are a good person and you did not deserve the pain that you are going through. Sadly however, many choose to stay "in the angry" or "in the bitter" to the point that they are unable or unwilling to move forward from a place of pain to a place of peace. The resolution of lingering anger is an important step before the resumption of dating.
4. The Ability to Leave the "Ghost of Relationship Past"... in the Past
We all tend to have "selective amnesia" when it comes to our previous relationships; remembering only the good in the people no longer in our lives and the wonderful memories that we will have always. That's fine of course -- but don't use the previous person as a "yardstick" against which you are measuring prospective dates. For example, it is unfair to start sentences with, "Joe always used to..." or "Mary would never have...", because absolutely nobody "always" did something right or "never" did anything wrong. By all means, honor, keep and treasure the beautiful memories that you have; however, in order to both be fair to and enjoy someone new, you need to be able to put the Ghost of Relationship Past in its proper place.
5. Are You Happy On Your Own?
Are you content with yourself on your own without being one-half of a couple or dependent upon children to fill up your time? This means a life that is yours alone; a life that is individually gratifying in its own right. Do you have your own career, your own hobbies, your own pursuits, your own set of friends with whom you play sports, lunch, drink or dine? When you sincerely enjoy your life as an individual, you are genuinely ready to begin the dating process again. Rather than simply trying to fill the huge void left by a spouse; you are instead opening your heart to the possibilities of a new relationship that will complement an already-fulfilling life.
6. Can You Go Out Alone and Have Fun?
The companion element to being happy on your own is the ability to go out alone and enjoy yourself. Have you been out to dinner by yourself? How about a movie, a concert or a comedy club? It really isn't as scary as it sounds. As a society, we are accustomed to either traveling in packs or with a spouse or significant other; however, you must be content with your own company both within your four walls and in the outside world. This contentment will enable you to make wise decisions in your dating choices and when you do choose to introduce someone new into your life, it will be for all of the right reasons.
7. Are You Emotionally Available?
I once dated a man who had not recovered from being broken up with in high school -- 30 years earlier. This gentleman made a conscious decision to be emotionally unavailable to anyone else because of one prior bad experience (in high school, no less).
Your emotional availability will have everything to do with two things; the amount of time that you have spent recovering from your divorce or the death of your spouse and your willingness to make yourself emotionally available. Examine yourself carefully and ask yourself if you are capable of making yourself emotionally available to another. If you do not feel quite ready yet, take a step back, remember that "today" does not mean "forever" and take more time out for you.
(...but please don't take 30 years.)
8. Are You Capable of Trusting Again?
We have all been cheated on, lied to, taken advantage of and otherwise treated shabbily by those who lack integrity, honesty, moral decency, gainful employment or good hygiene. Should you learn from your past experiences in order to avoid repeating history? Definitely. Should you automatically suspect everyone you meet in the future based upon what has happened in the past? Absolutely not. To make the unilateral decision that, "All men lie and cheat" or "All women are gold-digging opportunists" unfairly condemns an entire species because of the actions of a few losers. Do you believe that most people are inherently decent, loyal, loving and are looking for you just as ardently as you are looking for them?
As hard as it may be, and while you certainly should not trust in a blindly haphazard fashion, you must have the ability to trust the people you introduce into your life, rather than judge them on any wrongdoings of those in your past.
9. Are You Allowing Analysis Paralysis to Stop You?
There may be several factors that are holding you back from the resumption of dating. Otherwise known as Analysis Paralysis, these factors may include the fear of experiencing another loss by divorce or death, the fear of intimacy and vulnerability or the fear of being hurt again. It could be something as silly as the "last ten pounds"... because of course, the key to absolute lifelong happiness is the loss of those last 10 pounds.
Back to reality.
Once you have isolated, identified, honestly addressed and moved forward from whatever it is that might be preventing you from dating again, you will then be able to enthusiastically jump into the dating world in a positive way.
And PS: Absolutely no one cares about the last 10 pounds.
10. When You Are Ready... You Truly Will Know
What do you do when the people around you start badgering you to "get back out there"? What do you do when it feels like everyone is trying to push you into dating and you feel like these same people are trying to instead push you over a cliff? How do you cope when it seems like everyone's very happiness depends on whether or not you permit them to fix you up on Saturday night?
Take the "bruise test".
Have you ever had a really nasty bruise? What is the first thing you do? You push on it -- constantly. In time, it looks like the bruise is cleared up, yet when you push on the spot, it still smarts. Similarly, there is a "bruise" of sorts on your heart that has been left as a result of a painful loss. As with a bruise, push on that spot in your heart from time to time. If it's still too painful to think about dating again, quit pushing yourself -- and don't allow others to push you either! It just may not be quite time for you to begin dating... yet.
You really will know when the time to begin dating is right, if you simply listen to and trust in yourself -- and just as with a bruise, eventually, that tender spot in your heart does heal.
And so will you.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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