Divorced dads know how tough it is to survive the divorce and its aftermath. Those who were blindsided by the split or who put a lot of effort into saving the marriage likely have scars from the experience. They may be sensitive to the prospect of romance in general or nervous about jumping back into it. A divorce can do a number on self-esteem as well. Figuring out when and how to start dating after a divorce can be a real dilemma for a divorced dad.
Many dads take a long time to recover before they are ready to date again; and some are ready within a few weeks or months. But whenever you become ready to start dating and developing relationships again, be sure to steel yourself against the many bumps in the road because the dating scene is loaded with pitfalls.
So, if you have decided to jump back into dating, just how do you go about finding someone to date? Here are some guidelines.
- Networking still works. If you visit job search sites like the one at About.com, you will find advice about finding job openings through networking. The same rule applies to dating. Let your friends know you are ready to date again, and ask them to be thinking about people with whom you might be compatible. Sure, divorced men sometimes resist blind dates, but having friends invite you and a women friend of theirs over for games, drinks, or coffee can make sense and be a positive experience.
- Get active in your community. You don't have to be Mother Teresa, volunteering everywhere to get the attention of others. Think of a few of your passions and find public events or places where you can meet like-minded strangers. If you enjoy helping the less fortunate and want to find someone else who shares this passion, look for soup kitchens or homeless shelters to volunteer at. If you love gardening, consider helping at a community garden. Maybe you have a passion for film or entertainment—your city probably puts on screenings that require event volunteers to help out. Who knows: in deepening your love for your passion you may fall for someone who shares it.
- Start more conversations. Not everyone is receptive to a stranger's conversation in a random place, but this is an excellent way to make a quick connection. And if they are willing to chat, it's most likely that their guard is down, meaning that they will give it to you straight without sugar-coating how they feel. You may have a suggestion for the person perusing the produce section at the grocery store, or have a relatable complaint as you wait in line at the mall. Don't push people to talk to you, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to make an impression—and how others may make an impression on you. (Unprompted compliments are more creepy than you think, so try not to open with a comment on their appearance.)
- Be careful of the bar and club scene. As a general rule, bars and clubs are not great places to meet people looking for relationships. The environment is simply not conducive to getting to know someone; this means that most singles that go out are looking to make a transaction, whether that's drinking, dancing, or going back with someone for one night. Go there with some friends to get your feet wet with starting conversations, but don't let it become your only source for meeting people.
- Internet/app dating. There are many internet dating services that will help match you with a compatible dating partner. Some paid services will allow you to fill out a thorough profile to help the algorithm find you the best matches possible, but free apps will be entirely up to your discretion. Be aware that dating apps are typically meant as brief hookups, but with the right screening and conversations, you may be able to find someone who would fit in your life.
- Don't over-communicate with a potential partner. Depending on your preferred form of communication, there is an upper limit on how much you contact a potential partner. Four emails each way is a good rule of thumb before arranging a face to face meeting, or a few days of consistent texting. If you speak over the phone more often, just one meaningful conversation (excluding logistical calls about the details) would be enough to make plans for an official date.
- Plan to only spend 30 minutes at the first face to face. If you don't click in person, half an hour is a reasonable time to spend. And if you do connect, then it just whets the appetite for longer dates later.
- Beware of dating people at work. The annals of the nation's courts are full of lawsuits stemming from workplace romances. You have to tread carefully in this area to avoid being labeled a sexual harasser if the relationship goes sour or if your partner is a subordinate. And even if your relationship is good, your conduct may make others in the workplace uncomfortable, which also causes problems.
Now that you have made the leap into the search for a new partner, the next challenge will be juggling courtship, your kids, and the rest of your life. Often the hardest step is connecting with someone new. Once you've done that, it is smooth sailing. Keep in mind that when you are dating, you want to impress a potential date with the best you that you can be, rather than trying to hide essential parts of your personality.
One of these details would be that you have children, but as with everything, there is a time and place to start that conversation. Here are some tips on pulling in a date at the start of the process.
- Be positive and upbeat. Many divorced dads tend to spend dates dwelling on the negatives of their lives. You don’t want to be a downer for your date. Pick some interesting activities for dates—not just dinner and dancing. Consider golf, stage plays, a board game night, and so forth.
- Don’t dwell on your ex-spouse. This is one of, if not the most common faux pas committed by divorced dads. Even if your date asks, don’t go there. You need to look forward, not back, and it is an easy way to destroy an otherwise positive evening.
- Take it slow. No matter how much you miss sex or physical affection, commit yourself to developing friendships first. It is important for you, and for your children, that you start the dating process slowly and that you don’t have overnight visitors.
- Don’t get competitive with your ex-spouse. Your ex may already be dating. She might even be ready to remarry. But don’t let her readiness determine yours. You need to start when you are ready, not when she is.
- Don’t get serious on the rebound. All of us probably know men who have gotten married, engaged or had a live in lover on the rebound after a divorce. It is a natural thing to want to put your affection somewhere, but it’s important to watch out for the rebound process. Just knowing it’s likely to occur makes it easier to resist.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection. Let’s face it—you will have to date lots of people before you find another long term partner. And that means that you will reject some, and some will reject you. If you are afraid of failing, it will be harder for you to try and keep trying. If you get rejected, take it in stride. Understand that it is part of the process.
One of the more difficult parts of the process of getting back into the dating scene is dealing with your children. Kids seeing their divorced parents beginning to date again often feel their own brand of rejection. They fear that Dad will stop loving them if he loves someone else. They may be used to having you all to themselves on their weekends (or at home if you are the custodial parent) and may worry about being replaced or alone.
Remember, the kids are usually the innocent victims in a broken marriage and family, and it is our first responsibility to meet their needs and take care of them. So it is important to be sensitive to their concerns and fears. Here are a few ideas to help you deal with the kids once you decide to date again.
- "She is a friend." We talked earlier about going slowly in the dating process. You should not be looking for a love interest at the beginning, only for friends of the opposite gender. Keep the friendships at that level, and you can honestly talk to the kids about your new friend long before she is a girlfriend.
- Don't introduce them to everyone or too early. As you "play the field" at the beginning, leave the kids out of the equation. Wait to introduce them to your friends until the relationship has developed a little-like the fifth or sixth date. You don't want to hide things from them, but if they are aware and introduced to everyone you date, then they will be confused.
- No overnight visitors. This is a cardinal rule if the kids are with you. Once relationships begin to deepen, don't bring your date home for the night and for breakfast the next morning. This level of intimacy would be very disconcerting to the kids and would communicate all the wrong messages.
- Talk and listen a lot. You may become aware of concerns, objections or fears on the part of your children as you begin to date again. Make sure you create opportunities to talk and listen with the kids individually or as a group. Remember the rule of active listening - seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.