Open Heart, Open Mind

We’ve all been there. Well, at least many of us have, given the current divorce statistics.

You’re recently single, and some well-meaning relative or friend has a truckload of dating advice or, worse, is trying to set you up with someone they know who will be “perfect” for you.

Take a deep breath and one step at a time. It’s going to be alright.

If your ex still figures prominently in most of your thoughts and conversations, you’re still feeling emotional about the divorce or you’re only accepting a date to please your mom/best friend/sister, cut yourself some slack. You’re obviously still in the healing stages; be kind to yourself and give it a little more time. Divorce occurs in many stages, so “feeling single” won’t happen at the same pace for everyone. For example, when a spouse dies, some surviving partners don’t feel single for years. The same thing can happen with divorce.

“Becoming single is a process. It doesn’t just happen the day your legal decree comes through,” notes clinical psychologist Judith Sills, Ph.D., a highly regarded expert on the business of relationships. An in-demand speaker and consultant, Dr. Sills is the New York Times best-selling author of several popular psychology books; she maintains a private consultation practice in Philadelphia.

As Sills points out, some people may not feel single for years after the legalities are finalized, while others feel emotionally free even before their soon-to-be ex has moved out.

Despite what may or may not be apparent to observers, there are a number of inward markers that will tell you how single you really are—or are not—whether you were divorced last week or several years ago. Some important milestones in the process of becoming single include:

  • Feeling separate from your ex-spouse (less emotionally attached and focused on them, what they’re doing, who they’re with, etc.)
  • No longer focused on your anger with your ex (It may come up from time to time, but it’s not a central preoccupation.)
  • Becoming more focused on your own interests
  • Making positive changes (going out with friends, new wardrobe, different haircut, taking steps to make the house “yours” not “ours,” etc.)
  • Trying things that take you out of your “comfort zone” (a trendy new restaurant/club, different activities, taking a class or starting a hobby that has interested you, etc.)

“Depending on where you are in this process will determine how ready you are to date,” says Sills. “It’s such an individual thing. One person may go to a singles bar when their mate is moving out the toothbrush, while another can’t even think about dating for three years. “

You’ve seen the commercials. You may even have friends who met their significant other online. But is it for you?

With such a vast array of dating websites out there, odds are there’s at least a few where you’ll feel comfortable. Many people set up profiles on multiple sites, and although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, be aware that the whole online dating thing can be time-consuming, so keep this in mind before you decide to join several sites at once.

“Many people meet online, and assuming you use a reasonable amount of prudence, it’s no more dangerous than meeting any stranger on a blind date,” notes Sills.

“The dating rules have not changed in this technology-saturated age, but the experience of using technology comes with its own challenges,” she adds. “What is different is that people are less accountable because of the anonymity of being online. The way websites are set up is that the amount of ‘shopping’ is pretty vast. Everyone will tell you they’re looking for a relationship, but they may be lying to you—and to themselves.”

Sills says one smart way to protect your heart and your time when dating online is to meet sooner rather than later.

“People get tremendously invested in email relationships. You email someone every day and after two or three weeks, it feels like you have a relationship. Then they disappear, which hurts and is very upsetting.

“Meeting in person is a huge reality check because inwardly you think ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ within seconds,” she explains. “Meeting soon will keep you from putting in too much time with someone who isn’t who they say they are.”

And when you do meet for the first time, avoid the “first date interview.” Skip questions like, “What are you looking for in a relationship?” “Do you want kids?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“Instead, have a conversation about the here and now,” Sills suggests. “Ask about their day, what happened at work, share about a funny movie you saw recently. Talk about the same fun things you’d have in a conversation with a friend.”

As for background checks, Sills is all for them.

“We live in a world with all this information available; it doesn’t make sense not to avail yourself of information on any important subject, so yes, do a background check when you meet someone.”

Dating after divorce hasn’t been smooth sailing for Nicki Belfoure*, 43, a single mother of two from Ocala who works in the medical field. The fact that she has two daughters only adds to the challenge.

Nicki, who has been divorced for over seven years now, wasn’t even interested in dating for the first five years after her marriage ended.

“I had kids and I just wasn’t interested. I’ve always been independent and I didn’t have any need for dating,” she says. “You need to find yourself before you go out and find a relationship with someone else. If you’re not happy, they’re not going to make you happy. That’s not being pessimistic; that’s my realistic point of view.”

As a mother, she was extra careful who she introduced to her daughters.

“I’ve kept guys away from my kids,” she says. “When you have kids, especially girls, you don’t want to bring any weirdos around them, and there are a lot of those out there.”

Once she started to dip her toe into the dating pool, Nicki discovered what many other singles have found. Many people aren’t honest, and some are downright deceptive.

“One guy I went out with, I found out was still married,” she says. “Then a friend of mine ran a background check on another guy I started dating and found out he had a felony charge. If something tips you off, listen to your gut feeling; it’s always right. Early last year, Nicki met a single dad who has full custody of his daughter who is the same age as one of her girls. The two started off as acquaintances, became friends and have now been dating for about eight months.

Her hard-won advice? “Don’t get too wrapped up in one person too soon and definitely take your time getting to know someone.”

“Dating, especially if you’re a mom, will have a tremendous impact on your kids,” says Sills. “You will need to make a judgment on how to shield your kids from that impact.”

Although some women with young kids just swear off dating until their children are older, say high school age, Sills says that’s not necessary. But you must consider how your social life will affect them.

“Some people are less protective of their kids than others and will be dating right away, but you should shield the kids from your romantic and sexual life when dating just like you do when you’re married,” advises Sills. It can get tricky if a parent decides to live with someone—or even just have them “sleep over.”

“This is not putting the kids first,” says Sills. “Shielding them is harder on you but better on your kids.”

If you decide to engage in sexual activities with the person you’re dating, do so when someone else is watching the kids. Sneaking someone in and out or lying to your children complicates things and sets a poor example. And ask yourself: How serious do I want to be with someone who doesn’t care about how our situation affects my kids?

I came across a saying while writing this article: “Love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.” All I can say to that is, phooey. Does anyone really know they’re 100 percent “ready” to fall in love?

From what I’ve seen in my friends’ lives and experienced myself, love tends to come along in its own good time, whether you’re ready or not.

Everyone has a different approach to dating after divorce. I chatted with a couple girlfriends, who both ended up happily remarried but took very different roads to get there. Perhaps their successful stories will inspire your own venture into the post-divorce dating world.

After moving to Florida at the age of 59 to be closer to family, Gwen Randle, of Morriston, Florida, took proactive steps toward meeting men. Sometimes that worked better than others.

She attended a singles dance once a week in The Villages. She found the atmosphere a little “intense” at times but met an interesting variety of men, including one she dated steadily for about 18 months before realizing his unreliability was due to alcoholism.

Gwen, who was busily working as a graphic artist at the time, decided to try online dating.

She ended up corresponding with several different men and followed some guidelines to stay safe, such as asking for their number instead of giving hers and only calling from her cell phone.

A few of those conversations were memorable, such as the man who told her in the first phone call that he couldn’t urinate without a catheter, the man who claimed he and his ex-wife only had sex twice in their 20-year marriage and that he stayed because he liked his in-laws or the guy who confessed he was still trying to reconcile with his wife.

“I started an email chain with an interesting gentleman who was in Florida half the year and the Midwest the other half. I had almost agreed to meet him in person but balked at doing so at a nudist colony,” Gwen laughs. “I was reluctant to be naked the first time I met someone, so declined the invitation and never heard back.”

It wasn’t until after the nudist that she heard from a different man who sounded intriguing, but Gwen was so busy with work, it wasn’t until about a month later that they met one afternoon at a public park where Gwen, who plays guitar, and her friends were jamming.

Turns out the gentleman played the mandolin, although he hadn’t brought it that day. They went to dinner and discovered another mutual passion: horses and riding. Charlie and Gwen kept dating, eventually got engaged and, in 2016, celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary

“You can meet a lot of strange people online,” admits Gwen, “but once in a while, there’s a gem.”

“After my ex-husband and I split, I had sworn off men and wasn’t interested in dating at all,” recalls Martha Pullian of Hernando, Florida.

One of her friends, a man she’d known through her job as a restaurant manager, was looking for a roommate. He was a supportive friend who was sorry her marriage had broken up, and when Martha found out he still needed a roommate, she thought it might be a solution. What clinched the deal was that Don was fine with Martha bringing her dog. She moved in the week before Christmas 1999.

Although both were busy working, they occasionally did things together as friends—eating together if they were home at the same time, riding bikes, chatting about common interests.

“Then my dog died, which was horrible, but we went through the whole thing together, and that made a really strong bond,” says Martha. “I still wasn’t looking for a guy, but the traumatic death of my dog, who was my best friend, kind of turned the tide. I saw this side of Don I didn’t realize was there, the kindness and little things he would do. It wasn’t a physical relationship to start with; it was a friendship, so that laid a good foundation.”

The friendship evolved into dating by the end of January; the couple married March 10, 2001.

“There’s a quote from Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman’s wife,” says Martha. “’Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.’ That’s so appropriate and true for us. Don’s the greatest guy in the world, and our marriage has just gotten stronger over the years.”

You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” As these stories remind us, there’s plenty of truth in that sentence.

“When we’re dating, we put a tremendous amount of time into thinking about it as if we have control over it,” Sills says with a laugh.

“It’s great to talk to your girlfriends, make a list about what you don’t want and so forth. This is all good anxiety reduction and makes you feel you have control, but in real life, you hope to meet someone meaningful and fear that when you do, he will disrupt your life. Because of course he will.

“Dating is a risk. Love is a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking,” says Sills. “Don’t be so hard on yourself as to assume there’s a ‘right’ way or a ‘wrong’ way. It’s good to remember that romance, even bad dates, and falling in love with someone who never calls again—all of this is being alive and out in the world.

“It means you’re off your couch and out in the arena. Nothing that interesting happens at home on your couch—unless you’re there with someone special!”

Whether you’ve been “set up” by friends or are meeting someone from online, a little planning can ease first date jitters and keep you safe at the same time.

  • Meet in public. It should go without saying, but don’t give someone you don’t know your home address. Meet at a public spot with your own transportation.
  • Keep it short. Plan to meet for coffee or a walk in the park, something that won’t take more than an hour. You can always extend the time if you “click,” but if not, you won’t be stuck there for hours.
  • Have an escape plan. Tell a trusted friend where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Ask them to call or text at a certain time to check in.
  • Do a background check. In this era of instant technology an online background check is easy and inexpensive. If you think this makes you suspicious, reassure yourself that you’re just being smart. (It may not be necessary for a first date, but definitely if you think the relationship has the potential of progressing into something serious.)

*name has been changed to protect privacy

Posted in Marion Features

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