By Sara Gaynes Levy
After your marriage ends, there’s probably a big, looming question on your mind: are you going to start dating again? If the answer is yes, getting back out there can be a welcome new start for some, or a terrifying return for others. “There are all different ways that people re-enter the dating world,” says marriage and family therapist Lauren Selfridge. “Sometimes people are experimenting, hoping to see what being with another person is like after many years. Some people are ready for a relationship. Some people don’t know what they want.”
Of course, there’s no one right way to approach post-divorce dating, and some folks may even feel all these feelings at once. But if you’re considering what it would be like to start dating again, there are some helpful things to know. Here’s what psychologists have to say about beginning your back-to-the-dating-world journey after a divorce.
How to know if you’re ready to date again
This is the most fundamental component, but perhaps obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to when you’ll be ready to date. “Only you can know when you’re ready,” says neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez. One way to gauge your readiness, says psychologist Jordana Jacobs, is by asking yourself: “Am I connecting to fill a hole in my life or am I connecting from a place of wholeness?” If you think you’d be dating to fill a hole, you might not be ready just yet.
Dr. Hafeez also suggests being honest with yourself about whether you’re over your ex-spouse. If you’re planning on meeting people just for casual fun, it’s okay if the answer is no, but you need to be aware of that and not waste another person’s time if they’re looking for a more serious relationship. It’s important to note that the only person who has to sign off on your timeline is you. “If a friend says, ‘oh, you’re not ready,’ well, nobody can prove that they are,” says Selfridge. So while your timeline may seem too fast or too slow to some, if it’s right for you, that’s all that matters.
Start by taking it easy
After spending time in a marriage, you may be used to being in a committed relationship. But that doesn’t mean you have to jump right back to that. Post-divorce dating can benefit from starting in the slow lane, says Dr. Hafeez, so that you have something to work up from. Going slow is also helpful if you feel out of practice going on dates—it lets you ease back into the groove of connecting with a new person. Beginning with shorter dates, like going for a walk or getting a coffee, can help set the pace.
Try to be specific about the kind of person you are looking for
If you are looking for another relationship, you can learn from your past to inform your future. “Reflect on your ex-partner: What about them could you never live with again? What about them brought out the best in you?” suggests Dr. Hafeez. Taking stock of these things will help you notice the qualities you’re looking for in your dates.
At this point in your life, you don’t need to try and forge a connection with everyone you meet— you have a strong sense of self and know what you like and dislike. Don’t go to any trouble to sanitize your geekiest interests, or shy away from your dark sense of humor if you want a partner who shares (or at least appreciates) those traits. “While dating, your job is not to appeal to everyone, but rather to appeal to a select few that may actually be a good fit,” says Jacobs. “The more authentically you present yourself, the more likely it is that your person can find you!”
Use Bumble’s features to find your match
If you’re getting back into dating and decide to get on Bumble, know that there are a few features that may help you find what you’re looking for. Bumble Premium includes Advanced Filters which allow you to search by age, distance, if they want or have kids, religion, politics, education level, the type of relationship someone is looking for, and more. You can also keep your profile private by using Incognito Mode (another Bumble Premium feature). You’ll be able to swipe normally, but your profile will be hidden from other users and only appear to those whom you’ve swiped right on.
Trust your gut
After ending a marriage, it’s more important than ever that you trust yourself. You’re your own best advocate and it’s crucial that you listen to your intuition about dating—whatever it may be telling you. “We are unconsciously drawn to certain people, in ways we can’t always describe,” says Selfridge. “So trust your interest in someone, because the more important thing is how you feel when you’re with another person.” You’re also your own best judge of how open to be with your heart, including what to share and when to share it—like when to disclose that you’ve been married before, how to bring it up if you have children, and even when to say the L-word.
Most importantly, if anything doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to call it. You don’t have to see anyone for another date; you don’t owe them anything. In fact, just because you started doesn’t mean you have to keep dating at all. “If the idea of dating sounds exhausting, you feel burnt out, or unmotivated to meet people, these are all signs you should take a break,” says Dr. Hafeez. “If dating is overwhelming you, take a break until you feel ready to get back out there.”
Bottom line? It’s hard to have a marriage end, but dating after a divorce does offer a fresh start. And this time, it’s all about doing things on your terms.