How do I know when I'm ready to try again?
January 18, 2011 12:22 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when you should start dating again?

I was in a 20-yr marriage and it ended in a messy divorce. It's been over 3 years now. I have moved on, got a new job, done new things, moved to a new city. I sometimes miss having a guy (I'm a girl) and sometimes there's an opportunity to date someone. But I don't, because my thoughts on romance/dating are still tied up in baggage with my ex, and I don't think it's fair to a new person to come to a date with all that baggage. Like a new person doesn't have a chance with me when I'm still mourning my ex. But then people tell me, of course, I will never forget my ex anyway, its impossible, so I should just date and move on. Maybe I'm not ready to meet someone new. But maybe I just need to do it, fake it till I make it like. Some people have told me "you won't be ready for a long time, but when you are, you will know". How will I know? Does the feeling lonely mean I should date? How many more years will I have to go through this? I am in my 40s and not getting any younger.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Everybody has baggage. Get out and date.
posted by The World Famous at 12:25 PM on January 18, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think the feeling lonely probably means you should try dating, yes.

As TWF says, everyone has baggage. Everyone you will be dating is also going to have baggage. The trick is to try to keep moving.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you seen a therapist at all? Twenty years is a loooooong marriage. It sounds like you could really benefit from talking to someone who can help you work through the baggage you are carrying.

Another thing to consider - a date is just that. A date. You aren't making any promises. Start slow. If you like someone, have coffee. See how it goes.

After a certain age, no one dates with a clean slate.
posted by amycup at 12:29 PM on January 18, 2011

Feeling lonely does not mean you should date. Lonely is lonely, period.

But I think you should try. It it still is too early, you'll know directly. Also: you maybe never forget your ex, but the mourning gets less, much less.
Bottom line: go for it but listen to yourself.
posted by Namlit at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2011

You say it yourself, you are in mourning. You must take the time to mourn not just the marriage, but also the dreams for the marriage that you had. If you do not, in your heart of hearts, believe that those dreams are gone, then you will hold back from any new relationship. Those dreams and hopes really are gone, and you must accept them as gone. Once you've done that, you'll be ready for a new relationship. I'm presuming in this answer that you fear to date because you don't believe a new relationship can take the place of the ended marriage.
posted by artlung at 12:38 PM on January 18, 2011

Baggage, schmaggage.

I started dating someone more or less seriously about a month after my marriage broke up. The marriage was well-and-truly DONE, had been going downhill for a long time, so getting out there with someone else was interesting, to say the least. I'd been open with my new guy from the start, but I often found myself saying things like, "I don't know why I'm acting like this. I usually act like ____."

Finally the guy stopped me and said, "Look, I hadn't met you before we got set up by [friend]. When you say, 'I usually act like ___' I don't know what that means. I only know what you act like right now, and I don't care if you've acted like that before or not. So just go ahead and do what you're going to do, and let's have a good time."

You were with someone for 20 years, so of course most of your memories and habits are going to involve that person. It's impossible to compartmentalize your life. Even if you never speak about things that involved your ex, YOU are a different person because of the things you've gone through. You still have a lot of processing to do. Anyone who doesn't understand that doesn't belong with you.

You'll also realize that a lot of the pain you feel from your relationship with your ex doesn't actually have to do with your ex at all, but with yourself, the way you treat yourself and the way you let the rest of the world treat you -- your family, friends, coworkers, whatever. It just gets magnified via your closest partner. Definitely look into some therapy.

So, yeah, resist the urge to compare a new person to the ex, or try to figure out if something is "just right." Chances are that you'll feel like you're back in junior high, and it'll suck sometimes. But get out there into the dating world with a clean conscience, even if your ex is still at the forefront of your mind. And don't try to maneuver other people into thinking of you in a particular way; let them discover that for themselves. You're a different person, and this is a great chance for you to learn from other people instead of teaching them.
posted by Madamina at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm younger than you and haven't had time to have a 20-yr relationship, much less have one end in a messy divorce, but I have had my share of horrible breakups and other traumatic relationship events. There are a few exes towards whom I still have incredibly complicated emotions. But I've had good dating experiences since then, and I'm now in a very happy marriage. I've never "felt like I knew when I was over someone" when I loved them deeply and things ended badly, because experiences like that change us -- they aren't something to "get over" like a common cold or a case of writer's block. So my take on things is that it's fine to have fears and insecurities based on past experiences. It's fine to be a little bit scared to take the chance on dating. It's fine to still be sad that your marriage didn't last forever. What isn't fine is to assume that men are a monolithic construct, or to use your partners as a sort of surrogate or punching bag for your ex-husband.

So, as long as you are at a place where you can look at a new partner or a new relationship as just that -- something new, not a sequel or reprisal or runner-up to the past -- go out and date. The only people without baggage are the people who haven't done any serious traveling.

On preview, Madamina's comment rocks. What she said.
posted by kataclysm at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

When you want to date, or meet someone you want to date, it's time to date. Dating doesn't mean you are #1-A+ certified dating material. It means you want to get to know people and maybe have a relationship.
posted by theora55 at 12:58 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dating also doesn't necessarily mean getting into a serious relationship. If you want to meet someone interesting and have a good time then by all means do so.
posted by vilandra at 1:09 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I started dating shortly after my divorce papers were signed. That may seem awfully soon, but we had been separated for about 4 months. And living like roommates (yes, I slept on the couch) for a while before that. It was painful, but not messy.

I did feel conflicted about dating. I thought I was the "mf" in dtmfa. I thought I would be dumping a lot of crazy and lot of expectations onto whoever I went out with. Was I lonely and desperate, or was it my way of moving on? And I thought I needed to fix everything wrong with me before dating. But as a friend wisely put it, if everyone waited until they were perfect to date, no one would ever date. But I understand where you're coming from — I'm 41 and had spent basically half my life with this person.

I went on a handful of dates that were nice and fun, but didn't go beyond that. And then I met an amazing and wonderful woman (via OKCupid). We've been together for 6 months and it is wonderful.

(feel free to memail me with further questions)
posted by O9scar at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2011

I vote for give it a try - the worst that happens is that you find out you're not ready.

Everyone has baggage of some kind. It's nice to be considerate and try to keep your collateral damage to a minimum, so good for you for doing that. But you can't let the possibility that you might hurt someone paralyze you - if we all lived according to that standard, nobody would date at all.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're dating someone who is also 40, there's a pretty good chance they are also going to be divorced and will know exactly what you're dealing with.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2011

I don't think you know if you're ready till you try, either. My first experience with dating after a 14 year relationship/marriage convinced me I needed at least a few more months to deal with some things. But before that I thought I was ready.

One thing to keep in mind is that you will (hopefully!) dwell on your ex less when you have a new person to be excited about. I found that to be true, and fell back into thinking about my marriage more after that relationship ended.

And everyone has baggage/issues, so let the other person decide if it's fair or not. Don't make it harder on yourself than it has to be.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:42 PM on January 18, 2011

You're ready to start dating when you meet someone you want to date.
posted by yeolcoatl at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Remember not to talk about your ex too much on dates because that's potentially putting bad juju on new endeavors!

Do get out there and start moving forward, even if it takes a long time to find someone you really "click" with. It's OK if it awkward getting started, just do it. Do it for yourself. You'll learn a lot along the way. Eventually you'll find someone new and worthwhile.

It's worth the effort!
posted by jbenben at 3:03 PM on January 18, 2011

Madamina: "Baggage, schmaggage."

I laughed out loud here, you got me, Madamina -- what a concept! Definitely NOT what we're used to here in askmefi, we get all frowny and serious faced and gaseous and rub our chins and stuff but sometimes it's just "Baggage, schmaggage." Thanx!

That said ... It was 20 years; don't think you're not gonna think of your ex or whatever. Plus you married fairly young, maybe didn't have lots of experience prior, so this *is* your collection of experiences and memories. That old saw: however long the marriage was, half that amount of time to let it all go -- well, that's probably hokey, way out of touch with reality, Madamina will set us straight on that. But it does take us some time to air everything out.

Any of us who've been around more than twenty minutes are carrying around our baggage, everybody's gotten creamed a time or three, you're not going to surprise anyone. I wrote once in another thread somewhere that one of the comforts of love is being able to talk about past loves reflectively, tell them how it was, why it stung so bad, and then look at them and tell them damned if they aren't just pretty, really, really pretty, and how lucky I am to be with them tonight, and then touch their skin and stuff. It's human. It's real nice.

I'd want to date you -- you know how to hang in with someone, probably you're not going to run first time the toilet seat is left up or whatever, you've got a good track record. Don't put up with any hogwash from mopes trying to run a game on you, if this happens just wave them goodbye and head on to the next. Forties is fine, you're not an old maid, times have changed, 40 the new 26, or something.

Get out there.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 4:16 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I once took 2 years off after a breakup, and was told by a shrink afterwards that "1 year is normal; 2 years is something to be concerned about."

Looking back, I regret waiting so long. It was boring and pointless.
posted by coolguymichael at 6:02 PM on January 18, 2011

Date when you WANT to date. Do you want to meet a lot of strangers in a romantic context? Does that sound like a lot more fun than not dating right now?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:15 PM on January 18, 2011

I think sometimes dating is exactly what you need to help you recover from a relationship that went bad. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the way guys will find you interesting and attractive if your marriage and divorce beat up your self-esteem a bit. You'll rediscover how fun dating can be, how lovely men can be. 3 years is plenty of time after a divorce to be sure that you aren't just rushing into a new relationship because you don't know how to be alone.

I think the key is to have enough distance from the old relationship to have an idea of where your sore spots are so that you can be careful of them. I got together with my honey when we were both on the rebound (he had only been separated for two months or so, not even divorced yet) and it works because we're so right for each other and we've worked to be careful not to overreact to things that push our buttons.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:51 PM on January 18, 2011

My marriage fell apart rather spectacularly about a year ago, I didn't really see it coming, and it was pretty traumatic. However, I chose to see this as an opportunity - do I mourn the old relationship? Sure, and I'm sad, guilty and sorry for the difficulties that my daughter went\is going through. But life goes on, and you can worry about the past, or grow into the future.

I was just thinking about dating again when I happened to meet someone through a mutual friend. It's been wonderful. There are more kids involved and there will be complications in the future, undoubtedly, but this is a typical side-effect of 40+ dating.

I'm not getting any younger either, so I've made a conscious decision to have fun, enjoy living in the moment, do things that I wouldn't have considered before, maybe go a little wild on occasion. I feel I owe it to myself and I'm sure you do to. Get out there.
posted by nicktf at 10:55 AM on January 19, 2011

Here's a secret: people with baggage are more interesting. And sometimes having had long terrible relationships makes having a brand new one feel like discovering a new kind of food. Wait they make corn tortillas? And green chili? Yes, yes they do, and that shit is delicious.

It's the flip side of experiencing all that pain, now you get to feel like a teenager again. Enjoy it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:09 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are tortillas other than corn? Heresy.
posted by yeolcoatl at 4:10 PM on January 21, 2011

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