The first date after the divorce can be a stressful experience when it should be exciting and fun. Months before I decided to date again, I made a pledge to myself that the only way to get through the first date and back into dating was through kindness; to myself.
It took all my nerve to actually push open the restaurant door. It was my first actual date in almost ten years, and I was scared to death. I had so many negative thoughts in my mind. What if I spilled my drink? What if he didn’t like me? What if I ended up talking about my divorce the whole time?
So, at the door, I took a deep breath and mentally reviewed the strategy I had set up months before – something I called the post-divorce dating strategy. After calming down and taking a breath, I entered the restaurant to employ the following.
Thinking of Myself as an Out-of-Shape Athlete
When I was ready to date again, I thought of it as training for an athletic event. Someone who has not worked out in a long time will not be able to run a marathon or do a triathlon their first day back at the gym. Unrealistic expectations for myself would have only made me feel overwhelmed and discouraged from starting an exercise routine. With exercise, the most logical step when returning to the gym would involve baby steps – walking on the treadmill for ten minutes; the next time, walking for twenty. Eventually, someone in this situation builds endurance and fitness to run for an hour.
I reminded myself that post-divorce dating would be the same. I would need to go on that first date, much like an athlete needs to take that first gentle ten-minute treadmill walk. In life, goals are achieved by working steadily and slowly. I told myself if I approached dating the same way, it would not be as overwhelming.
Striking a Balance
Before the date, I was self-conscious about mentioning the “d” word, although I had disclosed it on my online dating profile. I was so worried that I would end up monopolizing the entire conversation talking about it. So, during the date, I told myself that it was okay to bring it up because it was a part of my life but that it was not the only part of my life. It was about striking a balance.
I reminded myself that I was also a traveler, a dog lover, and a foodie. Why not discuss those things instead? When I internalized this logic, I was more comfortable, and the conversation flowed. As women, we have a tendency to focus solely on insecurities and fail to acknowledge all the wonderful things we have to offer. Celebrating those attributes and discussing them made for a stressful date.
Acknowledging that I Would Probably Be Awkward
And that was okay. For years, I was a perfectionist and hyper-critical of myself. I thought that I would always need to say the right thing, act a certain way, or that everyone would see me as a charlatan. Going through the divorce helped me realize that when it came to dating again, the only thing that really mattered was being kind to myself.
Before I even accepted the date, I had made peace. I accepted that yes, I would crack a joke that probably would not be funny. Given my sense of humor, it would probably be inappropriate and offensive. I would probably fall off the barstool or spill a drink or an entree on myself or my date. Something would probably happen that would make me look totally uncouth and unglamorous. But that would be okay. I had to remind myself of the goal – to just be kind to myself and accept that I may be awkward or silly. The world would not end if I was human and made a mistake.
Much to my surprise at the time, I ended up having a good time on the date. Nothing came of it, but that was fine. Looking back, I know that I got through that first post-divorce date reminding myself that the most important thing to remember when dating again was the overarching themes of kindness to ourselves, and not the hypercritical negativity and fear we choose to control us.
I managed to get through that first date because of self-acceptance and kindness – two things that had disappeared during my divorce. I recognized that the first date was the beginning, and that small steps, much like someone returning to the gym, would be more successful than setting forth unrealistic expectations.
I assured myself that it was okay to accept divorce as part of my identity and not chastise myself if it was brought up in the conversation, but also recognize that it wasn’t my entirety – that I could have a great time on the date if I allowed myself to be defined by my other interests.
Finally, I accepted the fact that I might be awkward and silly on the date, and that was okay. It all went back to being kind and not holding ourselves to unrealistic expectations and criticism. For those of you looking to date again and feeling nervous about it, I would encourage you to employ a similar strategy – taking the baby steps, acknowledging everything you have to offer, and embracing that you’re being human. I would love to hear how it goes!