Dating can seem like a frightening prospect after you've been divorced. Chances are that you have the disadvantage of not having been in the dating scene for many years -- and the rules and customs are constantly changing. Our fast-paced, busy work world today leaves us with little time to search seriously. And then there's the fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or just disappointment -- especially if your marriage has just ended.
The good news is that there is somebody out there who will be thrilled to share your life. You just have to expand your search to new areas. Finding a new partner is a numbers game: the more potential partners you meet and the more you date, the more likely you are to find the one who's truly right for you. So it makes sense to broaden your social life and focus on meeting more people, making new friends, and setting up more dates. This will take time and courage (you'll be facing awkwardness, frustration, or even heartbreak), but in the end, when you find your soulmate, it will have been worth it.
Bear in mind that this article is geared toward readers who are looking for a serious, committed relationship that's emotionally as well as physically satisfying. If what you're looking for are one-night stands or short-term, non-committal physical attachments, that's all well and good, but you need some different advice.
Ironically, some of the most common ways people attempt to meet serious potential partners are some of the worst ways. For example, it's not a good idea to look for love in a bar: the loud music makes it difficult to hear each other, and the alcohol distorts your judgment -- as well as the other person's behavior. Somebody who seems smart and appealing now may be far less so once the beer buzz wears off. Besides, most people who hang out in bars aren't looking for deep personal relationships.
Another popular method is having your friends set you up with someone. This may seem like a good idea, but frequently, it turns out that your well-meaning friends are basing their judgments on what they want, what they think you want, or what they feel you should want in a partner. No matter how well your friends know you, only you know for sure what kind of person's right for you. This is not to say that you shouldn't give friends' setups a fair chance -- but be prepared for disappointment on your and/or your friends' part.
The same goes for old-fashioned family set-ups; somebody they believe is a "good catch" may have little or nothing in common with you.
Some people still believe that "fate" or "destiny" will bring them and their soulmates together, and they use this belief as an excuse not to go out and meet new people. Others are so desperate for a mate they'll accept the first willing person who comes along. And if you're oozing desperation, what sort of mate do you think you'll attract? This brings up Rule One: do not start dating until you've recovered from divorce and are happy on your own. Only then will you have something to offer a new partner.
When you're ready, recognize that it takes time to find your most compatible partner -- and it also takes a willingness to actively explore, make mistakes, and not give up. Have some faith and patience in the process.
Here, there, and everywhere
So where should you start looking? Everywhere. Because Mr. or Ms. Right could come along when you least expect it: at the store, at the bank machine, at a party, in a class, at a ball game, on the bus... There's no point in limiting yourself. So it's a good idea to be ready at all times to meet someone, which means looking, acting, and feeling your best as often as you can. Remember: first impressions do count for a lot.
Rather than leaving everything up to chance, however, a great way to accelerate the process is to get involved in social activities that correspond to your own unique interests. Sharing a common interest or hobby is a great way for new couples to meet and bond, whether the interest is artistic, athletic, scholarly, political, or religious. So join a club, group, or community populated by potential partners. For example, Nick is a poet who frequently reads his work aloud on literary open stages -- and meets many people who attend the same venues. His last two girlfriends have also been writers, and his current, serious partner is a published novelist. His involvement in the local poetry scene introduces him to women with similar interests whom he wouldn't be as likely to meet anywhere else.
You can also expand your roster of potential partners by being open to getting to know different types of people. If you're one of those men who are only willing to date women with a certain look, or a woman who'll only go out with men of a certain income or height, you have no idea what you're missing. Many people fall into the trap of creating artificial standards, limiting their search to what they think is the ideal. You should know by now that a pretty face or deep pockets can't satisfy your longing for deep connection. Shared core beliefs, dreams, and interests create the possibility for lasting love, so look beyond the surface to see if you're a match.
Occasionally, a romantic relationship will even develop out of a long-term friendship between two people. Cathy ended up happily married to her closest male friend of 15 years after they both realized how compatible -- and attracted to each other -- they really were. Because she didn't entirely rule out the possibility of a friend becoming more, she found the deep, satisfying union she was looking for.
So the world is full of wonderful, available potential partners you probably aren't aware of yet. Of course, knowing this means nothing unless you go over and make your move, or at least say hi! Strive to overcome whatever shyness, fear, or cold feet you have and put yourself back in the game.
Advertise your desire for a partner
It wasn't long ago that matchmaking services and personal ads were unfairly considered a sign of desperation. But times have changed. Dating services -- both matchmaking and the do-it-yourself methods -- are now more popular than they've ever been. Because many people are busy with careers and/or single parenthood, they just don't have much time to go out into the social scene.
Internet and telephone personals allow you to browse profiles of potential mates while keeping your identity anonymous -- all from the comfort and safety of your own home. "The traditional circle of meeting people at bars or parties is a very inefficient process," says Paul Gallucci, the CEO of Lavalife, which offers phone and web personals. "But on Lavalife, you search for a certain type and look at a person's profile before deciding if you want to converse. Your identity is still unknown, and it's up to you if you want to take things further with someone. If you don't want to continue, it's easy to disengage, whereas it's awkward to do so in real life. You've got that control." Another advantage is the large number of people -- all of them available and looking -- at your fingertips. "Your chances of success are increased by the geographic horizon. At a party, there's only a group of local people there, but here it's unlimited and you can define how wide you want your search to be."
Gallucci advises people to be true to themselves in writing personal ads and profiles. "Describe who you really are. Write exactly what you're looking for and what makes you unique. You don't have to put up a facade here. Every one of us is special and interesting in some way. Bring out the interesting facts and traits -- things that will make people want to know more about you." If the service allows, definitely include a good picture. "Put up a fun picture in which you're smiling and engaged in an activity that reflects who you are," he adds.
If you join a dating service, whether by phone or online, it's a good idea to take your time in browsing and meeting people. Again, the process takes patience: don't expect to find your perfect match immediately. "Don't rush," Gallucci says. "People sometimes rush through it and get disappointed, and then think the process doesn't work. If you haven't taken enough time in the introductory process before meeting the person face-to-face, it can be a letdown." But if you're patient, as well as astute in your questions and answers, things are more likely to go your way.
It's a match!
If the "do-it-yourself" approach doesn't appeal to you, consider a matchmaking or introduction service. Generally, you'll work with a company consultant who will attempt to find close matches for your personality profile -- which includes your attitude, your emotional maturity, and social skills -- and provide you with detailed information and phone numbers of appropriate matches.
"I screen everyone that we see. I get to know all new clients when I meet them and even visit their homes," says Ruth Claramunt, who runs a successful Toronto-based matchmaking service called Hearts (www.heartscanada.com). "After I meet with a new client and learn all about him or her, I match the person up with somebody based on similar interests, goals, and lifestyles. It's a very comfortable way to find a partner."
Both parties are notified, so that either can initiate the first phone call. "I suggest that they talk briefly on the telephone and then meet somewhere for a drink or coffee," Claramunt explains. After the phone call and possibly first date, each of the members calls the consultant to provide feedback. Based on the feedback, further referrals may take a slightly different approach.
Love knows no borders?
With the advent of the Internet, it has become very easy to contact and get to know other people living far away, even in other countries. After a while, you may think you've exhausted all possibilities in your own city or state/province and expand your search beyond the borders, meeting faraway relationship prospects "virtually." While it's true that the occasional long-distance relationship has been known to work out well, there are good reasons why you should be cautious -- or at least approach long-distance relationships with healthy skepticism.
Bob is a 30-year-old divorced man and a frequent Internet user who meets a world of other people via chatrooms, bulletin boards, and online journals. For several months, he had a "virtual" relationship with a pretty graduate student in Belgium named Katrina. Although they'd never met in person, they seemed to click wonderfully: they had a similar sense of humor and political views, and they also shared a passion for classic movies, jazz, and French food. When Bob had saved enough money, he caught the first plane to Brussels to meet her. But once they'd spent some time together, they both realized that something wasn't quite right. Bob, a homebody by nature, had trouble keeping up with Katrina's active, restless social lifestyle. There was also a religious discrepancy, which they hadn't realized before: she was a devout Protestant, he was Jewish. And although she never mentioned it, Katrina was very disappointed that Bob wasn't as tall or handsome as he looked in his online photos.
The point is that you can't know someone well until you spend time with him or her in person. It's too easy to present only your best side -- or the side most compatible with the other person -- when you're limited to web communication. People misrepresent themselves online (often unintentionally), or they neglect to mention aspects of their lives or cultures that would clash with the other person's lifestyle.
This doesn't mean that long-distance relationships are out of the question. But make sure you know what you're doing before you shell out for that $1,000+ plane ticket!
You can't hurry love
There's a standard cliche that the minute you stop looking for someone, the perfect person comes along. This is not precisely true: you're unlikely to find your soulmate while sitting on your couch watching SNL reruns. Get out there and start enjoying your life: whether that means poetry reading, ballroom dancing, or bowling. You'll broaden your circle of acquaintances and friends, and you'll be more fun because you're having more fun.
"The best advice I can give on meeting somebody for the first time is just to be yourself," says Claramunt. "Look at it as though you're just meeting a new friend, and go out and have fun." She adds that entering the dating scene again after divorce is very difficult, and the best way to begin is to open up your social circle. "I give divorcing clients support and guidance in doing that."
Make dates with people you're attracted to, but don't expect to find your soulmate right away. Time and patience are required for that, but in the meantime, you can enjoy meeting new people and trying new activities. If you start looking for love in places you haven't even considered before -- from new social circles to current friends, from your local neighborhood to other cities or even countries -- you increase your chances of finding that love.
How to meet
Personal or companion ads in newspapers/magazines