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Divorce is one of the most traumatic events we go through, and when we reach the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel," many of us feel that little spring in our step and start to think about dating again.
So how can you start off on the right foot when you're just beginning to dip your toes back into the dating pool? Here are 15 essential tips to follow:
1. Be psychotically optimistic about love.
Psychotic optimism is my philosophy on love, which I’m spreading to everyone who will listen. It means this: “Love will come to me — it’s a WHEN, not an IF. I’m in it to win it, not in it for a minute.”
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2. Make sure you are HEALED before you start dating.
At this point, I hope you’ve done the "inside work" necessary to find a healthy relationship. Do you understand what went wrong in your relationship? Are you aware of your role in the marriage’s demise? And, have you made as much peace as possible with your ex and the divorce?
Dating from a place of anger doesn’t usually lead to good choices. Don’t skip the counseling sessions — they will help tremendously down the road.
3. Create a marriage map.
Can you identify what a new, good, happy relationship looks like to you? If not, beware. Human beings are usually creatures of habit. We do what is comfortable instead of what is right.
So, if you were married to a narcissist, without the knowledge of what a narcissist acts like in the beginning, you may find yourself on the same dysfunctional merry-go-round again.
Make sure your past is legitimately in the past, so you don’t end up choosing the wrong kinds of people again and again for the wrong reasons. I coach all of my clients through a “marriage map” exercise to create a road map of a partner that will make them happy, which is necessary to start picking the right people.
4. Start doing things that make YOU happy.
What makes you happy? Many women stare blankly at me when I ask this question, because they’ve been so busy taking care of everyone else around them that they’ve totally lost sight of what makes them happy. Make a list of five to 10 things that bring you joy, and start to do them again.
5. Develop your “dating village.”
Dating after divorce isn’t easy, and will require a great group of people surrounding you to keep you motivated and inspired! Maybe it’s your buddies from work, school, your family, neighbors or kids.
If you don’t have the built-in village, consider enlisting a professional, someone who can help you maintain enthusiasm and set and achieve goals. The dating village should be filled with people who support you and will bring you up, instead of bringing you down.
6. Understand that character and compatibility count the most.
Once you have a road map of a partner that makes you happy, give attraction and chemistry a chance to develop, even if it takes five or more dates to figure it out. After you feel the chemistry, look carefully for the “interior” traits that count, like kindness, reliability, consistency, honesty and intelligence first.
Ask questions like: Are you compatible? Is this person willing to accept you, your complexities, maybe your children? Do you want similar things in life? Are you on the same page with regards to finances, parenting, living situations, marriage or more kids?
7. Know that your future mate will come to you, but in a highly unexpected package!
Don’t rule out someone who is a little taller, shorter, skinner, heavier, a different color, older or younger than you “think” is your type. You should be attracted to the person, as that is so important for the long term! But be open on your idea of “the package.”
8. Get online, and do it the right way!
You need to have excellent photos (starting with a great smiling headshot). That includes great head-to-toe shots as well as of you and only you! No kids, grandkids, pets or friends.
9. Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
As women, we often feel like we just want to date one person at a time. This is a big mistake for many reasons. Dating should be like a horse race — you need many horses to make it a race! The horse that’s winning on the first lap might break its leg and might need to be taken out of the race.
When I say "date," I'm referring to the old-school style of dating — not sleeping together or hooking up. Have a good vetting process and keep the pipeline filled.
10. Go to groups and events where you can meet like-minded people.
If you’ve always wanted to take up photography, find a group that welcomes new budding photographers. Joining groups is a great way to dip your toe back in the water and start making new friends — and maybe new dating connections!
11. Text, but be in control.
Texting is OK as a “heads-up” method of communication, like, “I’m running five minutes late.” But it shouldn’t take the place of all communication, and texting too much can lead to premature intimacy. If you feel that someone texts you too much, suggest that you chat by phone instead! There’s no better way to get to know someone than talking and spending time together.
12. Practice “sex-clusivity."
In a new relationship, you should be “exclusive” and feel good and secure in your relationship. Sex can be great but, had too early, can cause the demise of a relationship as we are caught in a fog of oxytocin, estrogen, testosterone and dopamine.
Sure, there are a few couples that had sex early on and it turned into a happy marriage, but those are pretty few and far between. Waiting until you are exclusive is a great way to stay the happy course!
13. Understand what a good dating trajectory looks like.
Fast and furious usually flames out. Beware of going out five times in a week with someone you just met! One date per week within a few weeks turns into two dates per week, and then three dates per week. Within two months, you’ve had “the discussion” and have defined an exclusive relationship!
14. Know that you cannot fix anyone!
You do not want to date a fixer-upper. The only person you can change is yourself. The only way another person will change is if he/she wants to change himself.
15. Be patient.
Dating is a process. As much as you’d like it to be super efficient and speedy, it’s usually not, nor should it be. There will be ups and downs, weeks where you have many dates, and weeks where you have none. Keep going no matter what. Patience, perseverance and positivity are crucial.
Bela Gandhi is a contributor to TODAY and the founder of Smart Dating Academy, a coaching service that helps you to find healthy, happy love that lasts a lifetime.