Get back into action

If you’ve been married or in a long-term relationship (or maybe just enjoying a long stretch in the big house), you might be a little nervous about reentering the dating scene. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to get back in the game after being on the sidelines for an extended period of time. Maybe you’ve been injured in a tough relationship and don’t want to get beaten up like that again. You might be unsure if the rules have changed since you’ve been out of action. You may even be petrified to find out if anybody still wants to play with you. No worries! We asked a couple of relationship experts to lay out the perfect game plan for folks who want to get back in the action with minimal emotional injury… and to have some fun!

Strategy 1: Pace yourself

Rushing into something before you’re ready will open yourself up to repeating past mistakes and aggravating recent emotional wounds, says relationship expert and psychotherapist JoAnn Magdoff. “You need to take a little bit of time to process what went wrong with your past relationship,” she says. “It takes self-reflection to recognize the mistakes that you don’t want to repeat.” Dr. Edward Ratush, a psychiatrist specializing in relationships and addictive behavior, concurs — but only to a point. “Time heals all wounds, and you probably want to be over the hurt before you start interacting with new people. But if you’re just looking to meet new people with limited emotional expectations, by all means get back up on that horse. If you’re not diving in too deep, this could actually be helpful to the healing process. And it puts you back into the game.”

Strategy 2: Know your motives

Some people are so insecure about their own value on the marketplace that they grab the first opportunity that comes along. They fear getting left behind. This often takes them to very disappointing and inappropriate emotional destinations. “If you’re operating out of fear, you’re bound to mess up,” says Dr. Ratush. “If you’re genuinely into someone, by all means pursue it… even if it is your first post-breakup relationship. But if you’re in it simply for security or sympathy, this will lead to disaster.” Dr. Magdoff agrees with this perilous prognosis. “There’s a huge difference between a positive relationship and the absence of a negative one,” she says. “If it seems that your new partner simply fills the role of being the caregiver nursing your wounds, that well will dry up very quickly.”

Strategy 3: Don’t bring your past out with you

The last thing a potential new partner wants to hear about is your old one. “If you dwell on your past relationship, even if you focus on the negative aspects, you’re saying to someone; “My mind isn’t really here,” says Dr. Ratush. “It sends a terrible signal and is a complete turnoff to most people.”

Strategy 4: Don’t repeat your mistakes

A lot of people look for new partners who have similarities to their old ones. That’s OK if you’re attracted to specific qualities; just make sure they’re the good ones. “Sometimes people seek out partners just like the ones they had in a failed relationship,” says Dr. Magdoff. “This happens particularly with people who are trying to deal with some unfinished business. People are afraid of letting go of self-destructive cycles. If your new partner reminds you of negative patterns of behavior from past association, you need to get out. If they remind you of the good behaviors of your ex, then that’s great. You don’t have to link the good you’ve just lost with the bad that came with it.”

Strategy 5: Play in your comfort zone

If you want to maximize your potential for a match, put yourself in situations where you’ll find folks with similar interests and desires. “My best advice would be to do the things you would like to do yourself, and if you meet someone in that environment, you’ll know that you have shared affinities and you’ll already be one step ahead of the game,” says Magdoff, who recommends joining organizations and activities in areas of interest to you, such as golf or tennis clubs or even volunteering for charities and political campaigns. “A lot of people bond over similar political positions or concerns. It’s a great place to explore common interests and ideas.”

Strategy 6: Log in to find love

The Internet has made finding, meeting and getting to know people easier than ever… and taken away a lot of the stress associated the old-fashioned bar scene. “Suddenly you’re with hundreds of other people online who are mutually in pursuit of an interaction with the opposite sex,” says Dr. Ratush. “And you can virtually determine whether you’re a good match before you ever meet. You have the time and ability to interact online and if it’s obvious that you’re not a good fit for each other, the process makes it much easier to say goodbye without hurting each other.”

Strategy 7: Take the pressure off yourself

Dating isn’t a death match. When somebody says no… it’s not a referendum on your personality, looks or overall appeal. It may not even be about you at all. “The people who enjoy the dating scene the most are the ones who don’t put too much emphasis on every attempt to make a connection,” says Dr. Ratush. “If you just go out there, carefree and genuinely looking to meet people without expecting or demanding one particular result, you’ll really enjoy yourself. It’s absurd to want or expect to have sex with everyone you meet. But it is reasonable to expect to learn something from everyone.”

Strategy 8: Toughen up

Most relationships end. That’s a statistical fact. If you’re reentering the dating scene after being in a long relationship, you should know that better than anyone. So don’t expect all your new connections to last forever. “Make sure you’re ready to be rejected… or ready to reject someone else,” says Dr. Magdoff. “The odds are that people will break up,” Dr. Ratush agrees. “That’s OK! You don’t have to hate a person because both of you have changed. Love yourself for recognizing it and move on to explore new opportunities. Sometimes you learn more valuable lessons about yourself from the non-matches. Remember, you gain from every experience… whether it works out or not.”

Strategy 9: Enjoy yourself!

You’re back in circulation and experiencing new things and different kinds of people This should be fun, not frightening. Look at it as an experience and not a task. And remember, this is one game without a clock. “Give it time and make dating a part of your life and not an obsession,” says Dr. Magdoff. “It’s OK if you don’t find the right person in the next month… and you might as well have fun while you shop!”

Mike Hammer is the former editor of Stuff and Shock and is a freelance writer for a wide range of national publications.

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