Men: Dating after divorce?
As any newly single-again guy can tell you, dating after divorce requires a major shift in mindset. Here, we sat down with Robert Murray Davis, Ph.D., who’s the author of Mid-Life Mojo: A Guide for the Newly Single Male. He opens up about his own post-divorce dating experiences and shares his thoughts on what all men who are out there looking for love again should know.
Q: After your divorce, what was your attitude about finding love again?
A: At the beginning, I think I was in denial about my impending singlehood. For six months, I thought I was separated, and for about four of those, I hoped that my relationship with my ex could be repaired—against considerable evidence to the contrary. My realization that my marriage was over came the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the holiday season was a drag. I felt almost empty—the first night alone in the new apartment was bearable only because I was numb. It was an out-of-town trip for Christmas that snapped me out of my funk. I had a conversation with a divorced friend who was joyfully involved in a new relationship, which gave me confidence that getting back on the dating scene could prove joyful for me too. So I jumped in.
Q: What did you find surprising about dating in mid-life? What wasn’t so surprising?
A: The most surprising realization was how much easier the process had become in the 20 or so years since I had last been involved in it. The second time around, it was much more obvious to me whether a woman was interested in me or not, so that a lot of the coy dancing around the issue had disappeared. In fact, as I look back, I can recognize that there were several women who sought me out, and I was too stupid to realize it. Also surprising was that I felt much more comfortable with dating and with myself than I had been before. The positive reactions of attractive and intelligent women to me were very flattering; it made me feel so much more attractive than I had in my early twenties. This may have been because I was established professionally and had that reservoir of confidence.
Really, the whole scene was new, interesting, and, for the most part, enjoyable. With one woman in particular, I did hiking and other activities that I hadn’t done in years, and in general I saw a great many more movies than I had when I was married. Meeting a woman after one of us answered a singles ad, talking on the phone, and meeting for the first time always got my adrenalin pumping, and although none of these worked out, getting to know someone and comparing stories was interesting. And, frankly, some stories showed me that I was better off than I thought I was.
Q: In your opinion, what are some common mistakes men at mid-life make when dating?
A: Probably the most common mistake is moving too fast to try to establish a relationship — any relationship — since recently divorced men seem to flounder not only emotionally, but also in dealing with the simplest practical details of managing their lives. This can lead to settling for a less than ideal or even workable relationship, as the divorce statistics for second marriages show.
Some men — myself included — seem inclined to try to replicate the qualities of their exes. While this may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it’s not entirely a bad thing, since she must have had qualities that seemed attractive at some point. However, too much similarity of a new love to your ex — especially when it comes to the reasons why you’re no longer married to her — can lead to trouble. Another common mistake is not being aware enough of how important suitability in age, income, tastes and expectations can be. There are dozens of others, too, including taking what’s offered too quickly and not paying attention to warning signs. Remember: “Why not?” is not a good enough reason to be with someone.
Q: Why do you feel that’s a particular issue for men at mid-life—the “Why not?” factor?
A: Many middle-aged men who return to dating seem to be, at least initially, more desperate to couple again than younger men do. I think this is because they assume that time is running out and they’ll never be more attractive to the opposite sex than they are right now. Additionally, the fact that they have failed at the most important relationship in their lives does nothing for their self-confidence. Because of this sense of urgency, men often make poor choices — at least initially — when returning to dating. As I said in Mid-Life Mojo, a good rule of thumb is to never sleep with anyone who has more problems than you do. Fortunately, not every woman does.
Q: What are the best pieces of advice you can offer to mid-life males who are about to begin dating again?
A: I’ve heard some women say they won’t date a man who has been divorced less than a year, and some say two years. I think men should probably follow the same guidelines; someone who is hung up on the pain of divorce isn’t going to be a good listener or a good companion, and it sometimes takes a while to get to this point.
I recommend avoiding women who obsess about their exes, their children (a problem younger men don’t usually have to deal with), their looks, their finances, what other people (especially women) think about them and about re-making you into an ideal mate. Anyone who wants to do major makeover on you isn’t looking for a companion but a project. One woman told me that I was the first man she dated who didn’t own a tuxedo, and I should have run right then. Avoiding someone with these preoccupations is essential to prevent falling into a relationship with lots of problems.
Q: In closing, what is the one piece of advice you’d like to give men who are dating again at mid-life?
A: All in all, the best piece of advice is to relax. It’s a very large pool, and better-stocked than you might expect. To help yourself make good choices, another good rule of thumb for mid-life single men is to never sleep with anyone they wouldn’t want as a friend. Men fear the “friends first” suggestion because that’s code for “no sex for a long time.” However, stripped of that connotation, it’s not a bad guide. It’s good for men to have women friends—and easier as one gets older. Even if the romantic relationship doesn’t continue, you’ve established another link to her that can be social, emotional and/or intellectual. Some of my best friends are women, and not all of them are former lovers. Plus, you never know to whom she might introduce you!
Chelsea Kaplan is deputy editor of thefamilygroove.com and appears regularly on XM Radio’s “Broad Minded.”