If you have recently been through a divorce or if you have experienced the end of a significant relationship, dating again may be the last thing on your mind. And that is ok. It may take months or even years before you feel ready to meet someone new. But if and when you do – how can you do so with confidence? The following five questions might help you to identify whether you are ready or not and help you to prepare to date again.
1. Have you grieved your last relationship?
The end of a relationship is for most people a traumatic experience and in many ways feels similar to bereavement. And as with any significant loss, it is important to give yourself the time and space to grieve for what has gone.
Some people are tempted to block out the negative feelings or try to bury them. But unhealed hurt, resentment or anger may have a negative impact on your emotional health and also on any future relationships.
Grieving isn't an easy process but it does help – it will help you to heal, to move forward and to find hope once again.
It is important to have good support around you during this time. Spend time with good friends, or family who can offer help, prayers and support.
2. Have you learnt from the past?
It may take weeks, months or even years but eventually you will hopefully reach a period of adjustment and start to find a new 'normal'. This is when discover you can look back at the past more objectively, and you are able to celebrate what was good and recognise what was bad about your last relationship.
Try to be honest with yourself about your part in the relationship's failure. Did you make a poor choice of partner? Did you overlook their bad behaviour or react in an unhealthy way? Did you shy away from conflict or pick fights too often? Did you allow your partner to trample all over your feelings or did you ignore theirs? Take time to think about what you would want to be different in any future relationship.
It might help to think about your dating history as a whole and see if you can spot any negative patterns. Laurence, a single Christian in his early 40s, realised that some of his behaviour had led to the failure of quite a few relationships, "I am an extremely impatient person and I am far too aware that this stems from my innate insecurity – a need to be constantly 'recognised', 'applauded' and 're-affirmed'. It's a hard journey to learn to 'lay yourself down' for others in a healthy sense and not be the victim. But I am learning to change and take responsibility for my behaviour".
3. Have you practiced forgiveness?
As you look back it may be necessary to do some forgiving – both of yourself and those who have hurt you. Forgiving doesn't mean excusing what the other person has done or saying that it didn't hurt. It won't be easy, but if you can forgive, it will free you from any bitterness and resentment and will leave you in a better position to meet someone else and to have a good and healthy relationship in the future.
If you were the one who caused hurt to somebody else, forgiving yourself and, where possible, asking your ex for forgiveness will hopefully help free you from any guilt that you may be experiencing.
4. Are you being honest about what you are looking for?
Once you have examined the past, you will be able to know what you want for the future. What kind of relationship are you looking for? Are you just hoping for a bit of fun and something casual or are you looking for a long-term committed relationship? Do you want children and marriage or are those a definite "no, no"? Be clear with yourself and honest with those you date – it will save a lot of heartache further down the line.
Looking at your relationship history will also help you to decide what kind of person you would like to date. What are your "deal breakers"? Deal breakers are anything about a person, which would make you unwilling to have a relationship with them. For example, perhaps you wouldn't be happy being with them if they were not financially solvent, they were a smoker or if they have commitment issues. It may be a foundational issue or might seem unimportant to others, but if it is something that you can't get past then why start dating them?
Write down a list of all your deal breakers and then determine not to date anyone who has any of them. It may help to show a friend your list and ask them to remind you of it in case you are tempted by that good looking person at the bar with the flirty eyes, the cute smile... and the gambling addiction.
Think also about what qualities you would want in a date or a long-term partner. Is it important that they share your faith, or want to live in a specific place or that they like children? Then make sure these are the type of people you are dating.
But try not to be too specific or fussy about what you are looking for in a person. Does it really matter if they like contemporary furnishings, reading crime novels or eating curries? Try to work out the things that really matter to you and then be flexible on the rest.
5. Are you ready to take the plunge?
No one else can tell you when you will be ready to date again – only you will know when that time has come. And don't be surprised if you feel apprehensive or nervous, that's normal.
Helen went through a very messy divorce fifteen years ago. Recently – for the first time – she felt like dating again. "Because of my experience I kept telling myself that you have to give up too much of yourself and lose your freedom to stay in a relationship. For years I felt that it wasn't worth it and that I was better off on my own. But more recently I have worked through the issues that I have had with my Dad and my ex-husband and now I feel in a much more positive place to have a relationship. For me, it has been a long journey".
If you answered "yes" to all the above questions you are probably in a good place to start dating again if you'd like to. Now is the time to pray and then set-up or say 'yes' to the first date. Next week in part two of this article, I'll look at some things to avoid as you rejoin the world of dating.
Sarah Abell is the author of Inside Out – How to have authentic relationships with everyone in your life (Hodder 2011).
You can follow her on Twitter @nakedhedgehogs