Off the Couch

Thoughts about the therapeutic process, and the dynamics of client-therapist interactions.

8 Ways to Find Love after a Break-up

A different relationship for a different you

“I can’t believe that I’m trying to start dating again at the age of fifty-three.  My niece signed me up for an online dating service, but I don’t have the stomach for this.”

“This time around I’m going to be picky. I want someone who understands me.”

“I just want a friend.”

“I just want a sexual partner.”

Divorce, no matter who asked for it or whose fault it might be, is almost always an injury to your self-esteem. How did your marriage go wrong, you ask yourself, and even if you are sure it was your partner’s fault, you may secretly – or not so secretly – blame yourself as well. You also may not feel so good about yourself physically. Maybe you got a little heavier or a little out of shape during the marriage. Certainly you got a little older. You probably worry about being rejected by anyone you might find attractive. So one of the things that you probably are doing, that we all do, sometimes without even realizing it, because it’s a natural reaction to feeling hurt or in danger of being hurt, is to draw into ourselves. Without meaning to, maybe, you have probably put up all sorts of defenses to protect yourself from being hurt again. Which of course makes it a little – well, a lot – harder to be open to new people, new experiences, new relationships – even when that’s the thing you want most in the world.

Add to this the fact that, just by being a little (or a lot) older than you were the last time you were dating, you’re not quite as starry-eyed, don’t believe in happily ever after anymore. As a friend who is on her third – and best – marriage puts it, “when you’re young, you’re looking for a perfect life partner. When you’re older, you’re looking for someone who can hang in there with you, despite all of your own imperfections.”

So the goals are different after a divorce. We want someone companionable, a good sexual and life partner, and maybe different in very specific ways from our previous partner.

Whether you’re going the online route, or trying to meet someone through more traditional methods – blind dates, church or synagogue gatherings, taking a class or volunteering at something that’s important to you (and where potential dates might also be hanging out) – here are some useful suggestions to guide your search.

1. Be honest.  This does not, of course, mean revealing all the gruesome details about your marriage, your life, or yourself on a first date.  But try to share truths about yourself in a positive light in the beginning of any relationship.

2. Be upbeat . This might be hard when you’re depressed, anxious and feeling hopeless about getting your life back on track. But it’s still worth the effort. A positive outlook, even for an evening, is more likely to mean that your date will enjoy him or herself – and you may be surprised to learn that so will you!

3. Be yourself.  I know. I just said be upbeat even if you’re feeling down. It’s actually okay to share that you’re not feeling quite up to par just yet, even on a first date. Or that you’re nervous. Just don’t dwell on it. Put it out there, and then go back to #2 (and on to the next suggestions).

4. Be adventurous. Try something you’ve never done before (although always keeping in mind #6!). It might be sky-diving, but even something a little (or a lot) less risky can be adventurous – if you take yoga, maybe try a different class. Even small changes in a routine can be exciting and scary – and the evidence is that they can create changes in your brain’s chemistry that will make you feel better and more open to other possibilities.

5. Be careful. Try to make sure that you are still being honest and true to yourself, even while you’re trying new things and new people. This can mean that you have to check in with yourself on a regular basis. What does your gut tell you about this person? And even harder, can you ask yourself whether or not you’re just going for someone who appears to be the opposite of your last partner? The search for an opposite is very common; but it frequently doesn’t work because, unconsciously, you may have chosen someone who still has characteristics like your ex. Or you may have ignored other warning signs because you were so focused on the ones you know can be problematic. Or you may have forgotten some of the good, early parts of the relationship, which really do not need to be jettisoned along with everything that went bad.

6. Be open. This one is so important. Not only do we put up defenses against possible future danger when we’ve been hurt, but also – and this is not always easy to recognize – at the same time we often unconsciously look to repeat the same experience again. Psychodynamically, this may be because we’re trying to make it come out right this time, or because we think we deserve the same punishment again, or because we simply don’t believe that what happened did happen. The point, though, is that in some way or another, you may unconsciously be trying to repair or repeat the previous situation, which will actually most likely not work. Now is the time to try to meet a different kind of man. But always remember #5 and 7.

7. Be safe. Sometimes when we’ve been hurt, instead of putting up more defenses, we let down all of our safety guards. This isn’t helpful. Try to pay attention to your feelings and to take care of yourself. Better to err on the side of safety than to worry too much about hurting someone else’s feelings. 

8. Have fun. The more you genuinely enjoy yourself, the more you are likely to meet someone you genuinely like – and who likes you as well. This means that sometimes, as they say, “even if you don’t find your prince, you can have fun at the ball.” Finding a new partner isn’t everything. You might find friends, companions, new activities, and even new work during this search. It’s all good.  

 

Teaser Image Source: http://www.sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/820786/How-to-deal-...

F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and author in private practice in New York City.

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