Dating is always tricky, period. It was overwhelming in high school, complex in college, and even more complicated as an adult—and that’s if you’ve never been married before. If you’re a 30-something navigating dating after a divorce, then meeting someone new can come with an entirely different layer of challenges.
“The average age for first-time marriage in the U.S. is 27 for women and 29 for men, so people can stigmatize someone for being in their 30s and already divorced,” says Kelly Campbell, a psychology professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “This stigma could cause a person to wonder whether there is something wrong with them for having divorced at a young age, and their self-esteem could suffer.”
But the issue of possibly being judged for a previous marriage isn’t the only one that this group has to face. Campbell also notes that it’s more difficult to meet someone period, since the number of available partners has diminished by this age, and coupled friends are less likely to go out to help you meet someone. “Having friends who are mostly in relationships can also feel lonely because there aren’t people in your cohort who can relate to you,” she continues. “So you may spend more nights home alone than you’d prefer.”
At this point, it may seem like dating after a divorce in your 30s is a hop, skip, and a jump from a mopey Bridget Jones impression. Campbell says that it’s challenging—as dating is, of course—but it’s not impossible. We asked her to describe the mindset and approach someone in this position should have if they’re ready to start dating again, and her tips should make a tricky situation feel more manageable.
What Mindset Should You Have?
“People who have gone through divorce should work to ensure that the issues they faced in their previous relationship are not affecting their outlook on subsequent relationships,” she says. “When people avoid or bury the pain, there is a risk that those issues will continue to affect them and their relationships in the future. So, the best way to make sure they are ready to date again is to process their feelings and experiences in real time and often with a therapist.”
People can use divorce as an opportunity to grow and become a better partner for the next relationship.
“Those who process the pain in real time are more able to make sense of their experience and live more fearlessly. They also know they can handle the pain and can move forward,” she continues. “It is also important not to feel like a failure. Divorce does not equate to failure. So much can be gained and learned from both the marriage and divorce. People can use divorce as an opportunity to grow and become a better partner for the next relationship.”
How Should You Approach the Subject of Your Previous Marriage?
“When people approach the topic of their previous marriage, they should do so without feeling ashamed. The divorce is a part of who they are, and if a prospective dating partner can’t accept that, then they aren’t a good fit,” Campbell says. “I’d recommend the topic be raised during a first date. People don’t have to force the topic, but whenever prior relationships naturally come up in the conversation, they should mention their divorce.”
“If they’ve properly processed their feelings and experiences and are truly ready to date again, then this won’t be a sensitive topic for them to bring up,” she says. “They should be able to talk about the experience in matter-of-fact terms, knowing what led to the breakup, what they learned, and what they will do differently in the future. If the divorce resulted from something like being cheated on or abandoned, it is especially important to process feelings, ideally with a therapist, so that when it’s time to date again, their self-esteem is high. They should feel confident in what they have to offer a new partner, and they should set appropriate boundaries and expectations in their next relationship.”
What Should You Keep in Mind When Starting to Date Again?
Work on yourself. “This is, by far, the number one thing people should be doing as they date again,” Campbell says. “They may have lost touch with who they are as an individual while they were married, so they need to reconnect with themselves. They should do things like eat right, get in shape, and pursue important interests and valued goals. These things will boost self-esteem. When self-esteem is high, they will naturally feel attracted to people who treat them in accordance with their self-worth.”
Create balance. “They should be making time for work, hobbies, friends, family, and themselves,” she says. “As they start dating, they need to maintain this balance because otherwise they risk investing too much into the new relationship and losing themselves again.”
Avoid making lists. “I would avoid making lists of what type of partner they want because lists can limit who they allow into their life,” she says. “But what I would recommend is to know personal values. If someone doesn’t respect those values, they are not a good match.”
Keep an open mind. “Allow yourself to experience new things, and don’t stay stuck on one type of romantic partner just because that’s what you sought in the past,” Campbell adds. “We can learn about ourselves by getting to know others. Don’t close the door because someone has interests that differ from your own or because they don’t fit your idea of what a partner should be.”