A dear friend of mine had a bad break-up with her boyfriend of several years and we talked about when (and whether) she should date again.
Negative and toxic aspects of the relationship had been escalating and, with the sudden revelation of illegal activities he’d been involved with for months, she kicked him out.
This was very difficult for her to do. But it was a very wise decision.
After a Bad Break-up, Take a Breather Before Dating Again
Also wisely, she decided to take a one-year break before even thinking about dating again.
She knew that she needed to heal, concentrate on herself and, frankly, enjoy living alone without having to consider someone else.
But she couldn’t help looking back at past relationships, trying to figure out why they didn’t work, and why she hadn’t found someone right for her.
She came to the realization that her relationships kept failing because she was choosing the wrong men.
Perhaps like many of you, I could relate. I had the same slowly dawning realization when I was first dating in my late 50’s. I was attracted to men who weren’t right for me, and perhaps weren’t right for any woman.
I was one of those women who fell for “bad boys” who were distant emotionally. They shielded themselves with sarcasm, and weren’t capable of having a mature relationship.
For my friend, at the beginning and for a while, things seemed great with her boyfriend, although she was hesitant at first because he was 15 years younger.
But they shared a number of the same interests. He was good to her. Overall, there were a lot of positives. Even so, she had some nagging doubts.
Problems started creeping in and eventually she found herself once again in the position of care giver for a partner, helping him deal with physical and emotional issues.
She understood that this was her pattern, her nurturing side kicked in and the relationship shifted in a way that was unsatisfying and unhealthy.
Women often fall prey to this. The nurturing instinct is strong. We want to help our men get well. We think we can fix what’s broken in them.
Figure out why you keep making the same mistakes.
Before diving back into dating after her bad break-up, she knew she needed to look inward and figure out why she hadn’t had successful relationships. Why she kept picking men with whom a healthy, happy relationship was doomed.
When we got together later, she told me with some despair that she didn’t think she’d be able to determine what kind of man was right for her.
I advised her that she didn’t need to worry or even think about all that now. She should take the year, as planned, NOT thinking about men.
But I added that when she was ready to date, she’d need to think long and hard about what things were important to her and what things would be deal breakers.
She also told me she hoped she wouldn’t have to do online dating, because it didn’t appeal to her.
It would make her feel like a loser . . . that she couldn’t meet someone the “normal” way . . . and she was kind of afraid to do it.
Again, I could relate. Initially, I was afraid of online dating, too. I thought there were bad people lurking everywhere on these sites. I didn’t have a clue about how it worked, or if it was worth doing.
But I took the plunge anyway, after talking with another close friend who had success using eHarmony and recommended it to me.
When Is it Time to Start Dating Again After a Bad Break-up?
There is no right or wrong time. Everyone heals and readies themselves at their own pace.
Whether or not you instigated the break-up, you’re experiencing a bereavement and it takes time to get over.
If you’re dating again (or thinking about it) for the following reasons, wait:
- To ease or cover up the hurt and loss you’re feeling because of the break-up
- To confirm to yourself that the relationship is really over
- To prove to yourself that you’re still desirable
- To make your ex jealous
- Because being single feels wrong to you or you hate being alone
All of these are signs that you’re NOT ready. You still have healing and introspection to do.
On the other hand, if you truly want to date just to have fun, with no urgency to actually land a life-long partner, go ahead. But be sure you’re both on the same page.
Pay attention to things going on in yourself and your life right now
Licensed counselor Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D. suggests you ask yourself this question to see if you’re ready to move on after a bad break-up:
How does my body physically feel when I think of saying “yes” to a date with a particular new person?
If you’re nervous because you’re excited about going out with this new person, that can be a good sign—you’re imagining a new scenario, not dwelling on what was. Butterflies in the stomach suggest that you may be attracted to this person, but if the thought of going out with someone makes you feel repulsed or cold-all-over, it’s probably not time to date—or at least not the person you were considering seeing.
According to relationship therapists, you should have these things working for you, before dating again:
- You have your own hobbies, friends, and life goals
- You use healthy coping strategies when you’re stressed or upset
- You don’t compare new dates to your ex-partners
- You can identify the pros and cons of past relationships
- You have clear goals for your dating life
Practice self-care and self-love after a bad break-up
WebMD offers up these tips to help you prepare to start over and date again:
- Focus more on yourself
- Find space for yourself
- Stay active
- Share with supportive family and friends
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope
- Engage in physical exercise and get regular, quality sleep
And they suggest other ways to get through a bad break-up:
- Jot down what you are feeling or thinking
- Try not to blame yourself
- Acknowledge that breakups are part of life and dating
- Don’t stop having faith in relationships or individuals
- Avoid holding on to the hope of getting back together
- Avoid taking revenge
My Advice to Mature Women Re-entering the Dating Game After a Bad Break-up
Here are some of the things I shared with my friend, based on my own dating experience:
Don’t be afraid of online dating, but proceed with caution.
No doubt about it. Some bad people are lurking on online dating sites.
But online dating actually has benefits over dating people you meet in real life:
- It opens you to a much bigger pool of eligible men than hoping you’ll happen upon them in your daily life.
- Reviewing online profiles gives you the opportunity to research all different kinds of men. In and of itself, regularly reading profiles helps you understand what single men in your age bracket are like.
- Online dating comes with a lot of actual dating. It’s good experience. It helps you get a handle on what’s really important to you, and what you really want and need in a partner. The more experience you have getting to know even a little about potential partners, the better prepared you’ll be to find someone who’s right for you.
Then again, there are bad people out there everywhere . . . in the online dating world AND in “real life”. Someone a friend sets you up with can be a no-goodnik, just as likely as someone you meet online.
In both situations, play it safe.
I’ve outlined some do’s and don’ts for online dating safety.
A final note about why I highly recommend online dating. If I hadn’t overcome my fear of diving in, I never would have met Cosmo, even though he had been living across the street from me for several years.
Don’t let your age keep you from trying to find love. Don’t give up hope.
I didn’t find the love of my life (Cosmo) until a few years ago, when I was 63.
I had my share of bad relationships and a disastrous long marriage.
Then I slogged through a year and a half of mediocre and downright bad first dates to get to him.
But I could tell that, even though those men were wrong for me, most of them were good people. They would probably be good prospects for other women.
Quality men who are sincerely looking for a woman to love far outweigh the scammers, players, narcissists, and other poor relationship material.
Don’t settle. Stick to your standards.
Be prepared before you start dating. Do the revelatory work that will help you understand who your ideal partner is.
Know which things are absolute deal breakers, but understand that we all have shortcomings. Know which negative things about your dates you’d be willing, and able, to accept . . . and which things you’d never be able to tolerate.
Get it out of your head that you’re going to change a man you’ve fallen for.
People DO change, but only because they decide to . . . not because you keep trying to get them to change.
Let’s say you meet a great guy who doesn’t take care of himself, for instance. He:
- Is severely overweight
- Smokes like a chimney
- Drinks excessively
- Has poor eating habits
. . . and these are things you can’t and won’t tolerate. Say something like “thank you, but I don’t feel we’re a good match”, and move on to someone else.
These people have to decide they want to change, and get their lives together. You’ll be miserable if you wait around for them to change . . . and it may never happen.
Keep intense physical interaction to a minimum for the first few months, to keep oxytocin (the sex hormone) at bay.
Having sex, and even prolonged heaving kissing, can cause oxytocin to set in. When you’re ruled by hormones, you’re more likely to make hasty decisions that you’ll regret, or that may be dangerous.
That feeling of love at first sight isn’t necessarily an indication that this is “the one”. It could just mean that you’re incredibly attracted to them.
Be smart. If, after a few dates things are looking good, have a talk about moving the relationship to the next level physically, and agree about when and how you want to make that move.
If you can’t have that kind of a discussion with them, be worried that either you’re not capable of a mature relationship . . . or they aren’t.
Before Cosmo and I met, each of us had decided we’d wait 3 months before having sex with anyone. We stuck to our rule, and we still talk about what a good decision that was.
We took the time to get to know each other, and decide whether this was “it”.
Remember, the first few months of dating are an assessment period. If sex is on your mind and driving your interactions with each other, you’ll probably forget about all of your deal breakers and must-haves, and bind yourself to someone who may not be good for you.