Dear Sherry and Rosie,

When do you feel it's okay to get into a new relationship after divorce? I've been divorced almost 8 months, after a five-year separation. I was married for many years, and my children (who are grown) are concerned that I've been alone too long. I don't want to wait too long to date, but I wonder if I'm ready.

I would like to meet a decent man and have a relationship, but I'm also scared of making a mistake. I was heavily betrayed and mistreated in the past, and my ability to trust is pretty low. On top of that, it's hard for me to meet men on my own. I've gone out a few times, but dating is very hard because of all of my concerns.

Sometimes, I feel very sad and anxious, even close to feeling suicidal. But I would never hurt myself. I want to have someone in my life, but I'm afraid of making a big mistake. On top of that, my ex is pressuring me to hurry up and find someone new. Talk about insensitivity!

What do you think, should I be dating now? If so, how can I make it easier?

Alicia

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Alicia,

Thanks for writing to us. Like you, many newly divorced people wonder about whether they're ready to start dating again. The answer to that question doesn't depend on how long they've been divorced or separated. It depends on how they feel about themselves, their situation, and their emotional readiness for a new, healthy relationship.

Most of us are hardwired to want be emotionally connected to other people, and that desire for closeness makes us want to have a close connection and to feel lonely when we don't have one. However, when we rush into dating because we're desperate to blunt the pain of loneliness, we don't always make the best choices. That can also happen when we rush into dating because we believe being in a relationship will validate our sense of self worth, or show our ex that someone else thinks we're attractive and desirable.

These "rebound" relationships may feel good in the short term, because they give us something to do in our lonely hours, give us a chance to enjoy another person's company and attention, and let us feel that we're getting back to normalcy. However, the person we're dating often isn't someone we can connect with on a deep level, or isn't right for us for the long term, and we can experience new hurt on top of old hurts that haven't yet healed. It's even more hurtful if our rebound dating doesn't even turn into a short-term relationship; that can reinforce our feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

That's why we recommend waiting to date until you ask yourself the following questions and can answer "yes" to each of them:

Have I let myself mourn the end of my marriage? The disappointment that your relationship didn't last, the sense of failure, feeling the loss of your married status, missing being in a relationship, feeling betrayed....these are all intense feelings that take time to process. You may have dealt with these feelings while you were still together, or while you were separated and waiting to be divorced, or even after the ink on the divorce decree dried. Each person has her own awareness of feeling healed "enough" to be able to date.

Some aspects of healing you can look for include: feeling optimistic more often than feeling depressed; not grieving for what you no longer have; being able to let go of your more intense feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness; and not being preoccupied with thoughts about what was or what could have been. Above all, it's vital for you (and the children you may have) to feel that you've developed a new equilibrium and are relatively comfortable in the routine you've established for your lives.

Do I feel good about who I am? Divorce can take a huge emotional toll, destroying self-confidence and self-worth. You may feel ready to love and give to another person, but it may take a while for you to believe that you're worthy of being loved and respected. If you want to be in a healthy relationship, one that's built on a foundation of mutual caring and respect, you have to be able to feel that you are a valuable and deserving person. It goes without saying that you'll want to meet a man who'll be attracted to these qualities and will want his future partner to have them.

One aspect of valuing yourself is recognizing how important it is to take care of your health, your appearance, and your social life. Many of us neglect ourselves, but we'd encourage a friend who's rebuilding her life to eat right, get the medical care she needs, sleep enough, exercise, and pay attention to her personal grooming and the way she dresses. We'd urge her to go out with friends or invite her to a concert or lecture she'd enjoy. We have to be our own friend and practice that very same self care.

It's also important for you to feel good about who you are as a "solo" woman – that while it you may want to be in a relationship, you don't feel defined by one and can have a rewarding life whether or not you're "attached". You can feel empowered by the way you've adapted to your new life and are meeting its challenges. You can be enriched by your work, being involved in your community, using your talents, pursuing hobbies, connecting with friends, spending time with family, and helping others. Making a full life for yourself can actually help you feel more self-value and confidence and at the same time help you heal.

Do I have a vision for my future? In the aftermath of divorce, it can take time to transition from feeling as if you're just getting by to having a good general idea of the direction you'd like your life to take and where that path will lead. They'll help you feel grounded, even though some of them may evolve over time. You should also figure out why you'll be dating – to find a new marriage partner, a casual connection, or someone for companionship until you feel ready for something long-term. You'll probably find that it's easier for you to connect with someone whose goals, values, and reason for dating are closely aligned with your own, and for any relationship you develop to continue for the long-term.

Do I feel ready for an emotional connection, to give to and receive from another person, and to allow myself to gradually trust again? There's a difference between feeling ready to go on a date and feeling ready to make an emotional connection with another person. If you're still overwhelmed by the adjustments you and your family are making to your new lives, or you don't want to take on the responsibility of being in a mutually caring relationship, wait a while longer to date. You may need more time and more healing before you're ready to become emotionally available. Perhaps you'd benefit from a life coach to help you bring order to the many adjustments you're struggling with, and to guide you through the steps of developing your plans for your future.

Or, you want to work with a professional therapist to help reduce the bitterness, guilt, sense of betrayal, or other emotions you haven't been able to deal with on your own. Therapy can also help you proceed through the mourning process if you think you're "stuck", and to help you learn to value and take better care of yourself.

If you think that you need more time or a bit of help to be able to answer "yes" to these questions, we hope you'll be able to live as full a life as possible while you strive toward that goal. If you feel you're ready for dating, you'll want to let friends, relatives, and neighbors know with an upbeat "elevator pitch". "I've decided to start dating again and hope you might know a good man for me to meet." Describe 3 or 4 appealing qualities about yourself and 3 or 4 traits you're looking for in a partner, and see where the conversation leads. You can read some of our past articles about networking to find out how to get the good word about yourself out to more people.

We wish you the best of luck,
Sherry and Rosie