Illustration by Kissi Ussuki
by Jo Murphy
Dating after divorce, the end of an intense relationship, or self-imposed celibacy can seem impossible, but getting back out there after a long period of abstinence or monogamy can be fun. Life may seem lonely post-breakup, yet if you’re truly ready to move on, it will also feel freeing. Here are a few ways to make doubly sure you’re ready to start dating again.
Get Used to Your Own Company
Before you download any dating apps, check in with your reasons for doing so. Is this something you actually want to do or feel you should do? It’s necessary to give yourself the time and space to truly get over whatever it is you’re leaving behind. “Know what your motivation is,” says cognitive therapist Jessica Boston. “If you’re simply afraid to be alone, then sit with that loneliness rather than run from it. Spending time with yourself helps you re-learn things you may have forgotten while you were with your partner.”
Take long baths or walks, masturbate, write in a journal—do whatever it takes to reconnect with who you are now, which may have changed since the beginning of your relationship. If not, you could end up running into someone’s arms and using them as a way to heal. Be mindful of any blame or unresolved issues you could be harboring. Projecting these onto someone new and repeating behavioral patterns (that are triggered by relationships) may lead to another breakup. Talk to a therapist if necessary.
Take Time to Grieve If You Need To
Boston has personal and professional experience of dealing with the aftermath of breakups. Her decade-long relationship ended the same year her father died. “I began to draw parallels between the two events, but grief isn’t a linear experience,” she says. “You don’t just move from a bad place to a good one. It takes time for your brain to catch up with all the different contexts of your new life without that person. Even if you’re not grieving, you’re in transition.”
You can also use this time to understand what you want and need so you can make space for it in your life. You may simply want sex, and lots of it, or you could be ready to partner up for the long-term. “Just don’t put all your expectations on the first person to be the answer to everything,’” Boston says, and don’t be afraid to try a few before you settle.
Don’t Hide Behind Your Online Dating Persona
Online dating can feel much safer than trawling bars. It provides a degree of separation and lets you set the pace. Take advantage of this to practice flirting with strangers, all the while assessing if you’re truly ready for this. Do keep in mind, however, that it’s super-easy for people to edit themselves and be whoever they want to be online, yourself included. Use this to explore new ways of being, but always keep in mind that lying is never cool.
“When you’re ready to date again, it can actually lead you to a place that’s better than before.”
Nor is using a dating app as a buffer against life. You can chat with someone for weeks without knowing how their voice sounds, how they move their body, or how they smell. If you’re still not ready to date in the flesh, take up a team activity or join a club where you’ll meet new people who have shared interests. This will help you get used to mingling with strangers again.
Wear An Emotional Condom
Go into this new stage with eyes wide open. “Not everyone will have done the ‘self’ work that you’re doing,” adds Boston. “They may not know themselves or what they want, meaning they could be healing, too, or fearful of being alone, or afraid of commitment. So the best way to protect yourself is to know yourself and know your boundaries.”
These are your “emotional condoms,” Boston says. Put them on at the start and don’t be afraid to reiterate them again and again. “Know what’s negotiable and what’s not, and if someone does or says something that feels like a red flag, don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and watch out for people who are a negative influence—some will drag you down to make themselves feel better.”
Don’t Be Afraid of Rejection
Know that rejection isn’t the end of the world. “Treat your dating experience as an exploration and don’t take it too seriously,” Boston says. “If someone ‘rejects’ you, they’re simply not your person and they’re doing you a favor by removing themselves from your life. If you keep gripping onto them your hands aren’t free to take hold of the right person when they turn up.”
There really is no need to settle with someone out of fear. “You will be okay,” says Boston. “Two of the worst possible things I feared happened to me in the same year, and I realized that I would survive, and I would be okay, and I was. When you’re ready to date again, it can actually lead you to a place that’s better than where you were before.”
Remember To Have Fun
Dating doesn’t always have to be super-serious and meaningful. You’re allowed to have fun and flirt. You’re also allowed to have sex. “If someone makes you laugh or feel sexy, it’s an opportunity to learn about what you like—which may have changed since you met your ex,” Boston says.
Notice the qualities you like about the people you meet and make a note of them. “Keep a list and speak it out loud to your friends, as if you’re writing a formula for your ideal person and speaking them into being,” Boston says. “I tried dating people who were like my ex and people who were nothing like him, but I noted one quality I liked in each. Now I’ve met someone really cute who has all of those qualities.”
Regardless of whether this person stays in your life, they’ll teach you something about yourself. They could be around “for one night, one week or one month,” Boston says, but ”what matters is that you’re having an interaction with another human being, and that’s a beautiful thing.”