Before you even consider dating again, you need to make sure you’re past the “walking wounded” stage following your relationship breakdown. Here are some clues to let you know you’ve arrived:
- the thought of your ex no longer generates intense feelings of anger, hatred, or grief;
- you no longer feel the need to talk about him/her ad nauseam to whoever will listen;
- revenge fantasies just don’t excite you anymore;
- you’ve noticed that days/weeks/months go by when you don’t think of him/her at all.
If you have truly laid your last relationship to rest, congratulations! Assuming you’re interested in doing so, you may be ready to dip your toes back into the dating pool. There may be one more crucial obstacle to hurdle first, however: your relationship with yourself.
The New You Requires a Healthy Level of Self-Esteem
During and after divorce, your self-esteem can take a real beating – especially if the split was your ex’s idea. If you don’t think you’re a pretty great person with lots to offer the world (at least most of the time: no one can maintain this level of self-confidence and perkiness 24/7), you need to work on rebuilding your self-esteem before you go out in search of a soulmate.
You may have heard that you have to love yourself before others will love you. Although this is a very good idea (for reasons I’ll outline below), it isn’t, strictly speaking, true. Even if you totally despise yourself, you can always dig up a few poor souls willing to love you – or at least, start a very unhealthy co-dependent relationship with you. If the sucker you’ve attracted is a genuinely nice person, you’ll end up despising them. “After all,” you think, “I am a completely unattractive, useless excuse for a human being. If this person loves me, he/she must be a total idiot. What a loser: choosing someone as awful as me!” The only person you’ll fall for is someone willing to treat you as the abject failure you consider yourself to be. And you can imagine how this emotional S&M relationship will unfold. Don’t even go there!
So the first thing to do is when creating the New You is to restore your self-esteem to a healthy level. At the same time, you should work on discovering your new, single identity. One of the opportunities offered by divorce is the chance to re-invent yourself: either as the person you were before marriage, or the person you’ve always wanted to be. You need to find out who you are now before you can start looking for someone to date.
Who Are You After Divorce?
During your marriage, you probably made some accommodations and compromises for the sake of the relationship. Let’s say you used to love to dance/race motorcycles/go white-water rafting, but your mate strongly disapproved, so you stopped doing those things. And maybe your mate thought golf was the only game worth playing, so you’ve been playing golf for the last 10 years. You now need to look at how you choose to spend your time and make new decisions based on your own desires. If your mate was exceptionally controlling, you may no longer even know what you like. So it’s time to get to know yourself again: to discover the New You after divorce.
20 Questions to Get to Know the New You
Pretend that you’re a fascinating person that you’ve just met and would like to get to know better. Ask yourself some questions. Start small, then work up to the big stuff. For instance:
- What’s the best thing about me?
- What’s the worst thing about me?
- What makes my heart sing?
- What makes me really angry?
- Is there anything/anyone I’d die for?
- What situations do I find intolerable?
- Do I want children? How about stepchildren?
- Do I have deep religious convictions?
- As a romantic gift, would I prefer a personal love poem and chocolates or diamond earrings/cufflinks?
- Do I enjoy working out, or do I do the bare minimum in order to remain healthy(ish)?
- Would I prefer a 5-star hotel in New York or a beach hut in Bali? What is my dream vacation?
- Do I really like to cook, or would I eat out every night if I could afford it?
- Is going dancing my idea of heaven or hell?
- How do I feel about extreme sports (e.g., BASE jumping, parkour, or wingsuit flying)?
- Would I ever buy a $3 bottle of wine? How about a $100 bottle of wine?
- Do I prefer Country, Death Metal, or Pop music? None of these? Favorite musician?
- What kind of books do I enjoy? Favorite author?
- Would I rather go to live theater or Netflix and chill?
- Would I rather go bowling or horseback riding?
- What is an absolute dealbreaker for me in a romantic partner?
Don’t reject ideas because you haven’t tried them: just because you’ve never been hang gliding doesn’t mean you aren’t interested. And don’t look to your past relationship for clues: “Well, my ex always said Eminem was our favorite musician, so I guess I like Eminem.” It’s perfectly OK to like Eminem – just make sure it’s your own choice, not your ex’s.
If you do this exercise right – with affection and a genuine desire to uncover some of those dreams you suppressed during your marriage – you’re sure to learn that you’re a pretty darned interesting person. You may find there’s a new spring in your step and smile on your face. You won’t give people tacit permission to treat you like a doormat because you know you’re not a doormat: you’re a person who likes bungee jumping, SCUBA diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and you play a damn fine hand of Poker!
The New You is Self-Reliant
Another interesting side effect of getting to know this fabulous person who’s been hiding inside you is that you’ll discover you no longer desperately need to find a new romantic partner. You’re no longer a blank canvas waiting for someone to come along and paint a beautiful picture, or to make you whole. In other words, you aren’t needy.
And when you’re not needy, the world’s your oyster – and incidentally, you tend to attract a better class of mate.
A word of warning: not everyone in your life will like the new, self-confident, self-reliant you. Some of them may prefer you remain a spineless doormat. Insist that these people start treating you with the respect a fabulous person like you is entitled to, or drop them. Really! You need all the positive reinforcement you can get, so prune those users and misery-makers from your life. Your true friends already think you’re marvelous, and they’ll be thrilled to see the new you blossom. Any “friend” who isn’t happy for you may no longer be someone you need in your life.