By Stephanie Spillmann 2/9/18
Six Great Tips for Dating After Divorce
A divorce had never been in the plan after my 20th anniversary. Substance abuse does terrible things to plans. And the longer I stayed, I was showing my girls the opposite of how a woman should be treated in a marriage. When I decided it was time, no one could have convinced me I’d eventually be ready to date after divorce.
Once the dust had settled, and my girls and I were living in a peaceful, cute little rental home of our own, I made the declaration….I will NEVER be interested in a man again! Ha…never say NEVER. Fast-forward about a year.
I enrolled in a phlebotomy training program, and loved every minute of it. My classmates were wonderful and funny, and I felt alive again after so many years of being a caretaker for everyone else. I finally got to be myself, and I LOVE school and learning, so I was definitely in my element.
One of my classmates found out I was divorced and not yet dating, and urged me to try the online dating site, Plenty of Fish. He’d had great success finding his wife there, and told me it was free…so why not?
Oh boy — online dating. To say I felt like a fish out of water or that I was in a parallel universe would be a serious understatement. Dating was up close and personal in the “old days” — no cell phones, no computers…nowhere to hide! It was a long and tedious process.
I signed up with Plenty of Fish and prepared to lurk and just check out profiles. What I didn’t plan on was how interesting and fun it was to peruse dozens of bios and imagine what these guys would be like in real life. It became addicting to check my messages and see if anyone had reached out to say hello.
Eventually, I befriended Will. He was a big-shot engineer who easily made six figures, was a Christian guy, and seemed very witty. He seemed like a great place to start. We texted back and forth for what seemed forever, and he finally agreed to meet in person.
Lesson #1: Not all online “daters” really want to meet in person
I found that A LOT. Many guys like the safety of the screen because they’re not really ready to get back into the game, or they don’t want to commit to a real relationship. This was the case with Will.
He certainly made me laugh a lot, and he was my first smart phone/texting buddy. Yep, my first (used) smart phone was in 2012, and it was a splurge for myself after the divorce. Since Will and I mostly had a texting relationship, every time I heard that tweet, my heart would jump and I’d get that nice rush of endorphins.
I soon felt like some twisted version of Pavlov’s dog — a case of classical conditioning at its finest. The phone tweets, I get a rush. Pathetic and kind of fun…especially after many years of feeling less-than. Here was an awesome man who texted me constantly.
Will agreed to meet in person after I’d had enough of the behind the screen stuff. It was surreal to go on my first real date in over 2 decades, but I was giddy with excitement. Our time at the coffee shop was awkward and disappointing. My funny friend Will didn’t show up… he was serious and resentful Will. He talked quite a bit about his ex-wife and the things he’d gone through.
Lesson #2: Try not to talk about your ex and all of your baggage on the first date
It’s very important to know someone’s story for sure, especially if you decide to get involved for the long term. But the first date — try to keep things light and friendly. Will and I decided we weren’t a good match after all. He hated cats — I had four at the time. And I supposedly talked too much for his liking. Funny… since he talked quite a bit about himself and his wife. Oh well.
I met David a few months later. He had his own business and seemed very intent on actually wanting a real-life relationship. On our first few dates, he was very chivalrous and made it clear he wanted no physical contact so we could get to know each other without the distraction. Score!
Fast-forward about a month (we saw each other about once a week), and he wanted me to come over to his place for dinner near Valentine’s Day. I was over the moon. This man wanted to make ME dinner — and he was a pretty good guy so far.
Lesson #3: When a guy asks you over for dinner, find out if he expects you for breakfast
Dave fully considered me his girlfriend at that point, and was expecting me to spend the night. It was such an unwritten expectation that he failed to even make that clear to me until I mentioned how the coming snowstorm may make it tricky to get home.
He impatiently stated that he didn’t expect me to be going home. I indignantly stated that I had four teenage girls to consider, and it would be inappropriate to stay over with him. He was clearly irritated and said this wasn’t what he was looking for, and we ended it on the phone right then.
I was sort of crushed. This nice, old-fashioned guy I thought I’d found was looking hard and fast for a replacement for his wife — and physical companionship above all else. Funny enough, I saw that he’d gotten married about six months later. I even spotted him a couple years later at the Taste of Colorado in Denver after I’d been dating my now-husband for a year. Small world.
Lesson #4: Sometimes, if you stop searching, the right person will find you…at just the right time
After that experience, I was pretty much done with online dating. Instead, I followed the wise advice of a single friend of mine. Find fun things to do that interest you, and join a group of people who enjoy doing those things.
The perfect answer to that is Meetup groups. Most cities have hundreds of groups that are categorized by things people love to do. There are hundreds of hiking groups, dance groups, craft groups, business and entrepreneur groups, movie groups, dinner and wine groups…you name it, and there’s a group for it. I’m a huge fan!
The name Meetup kind of screams “singles”, but it’s not really about that. It’s a way to socialize with all kinds of people in a setting that’s just your thing. I joined a couple of dancing groups and had the time of my life. If I hadn’t stopped searching for a relationship, I wouldn’t have ended up on that dance floor where I met my husband.
The Grizzly Rose is a famous country/western dance club in Denver. They have free dance lessons every Wednesday night. Having been to a few Meetup dances, I found myself brave enough to walk into that huge honkytonk dance hall all by myself one Wednesday. I had discovered that a group from my church regularly meets there on lesson nights.
I found the table with the church group, introduced myself, and headed to the dance floor where the free lesson was starting. I hadn’t done any two-stepping since junior high in Texas. I was determined not to make a fool of myself, so I took this lesson very seriously.
It was one of the best evenings of my life. I don’t think I’d smiled that much or felt more like a woman in years. I ended up dancing with all the guys that were in the group as well as several regulars from the Rose that night. The patience those guys have with new dancers still amazes me. I was hooked. Maybe I didn’t need dating after divorce — I found dancing!
Photo credit: Jamie Fischer Photography
Lesson #5: Dance lessons are one of the best things you can invest in after a divorce
A single friend of mine told me her dance nights were the highlight of her week — it filled up her tank with safe touch. That’s the perfect way to describe dancing with a partner. Safe human touch — and no commitment needed.
I brought my friend Niki one week, and after dancing with Daniel she pulled me aside. “There’s something special about that Daniel…I hope you’re thinking about him.” Yeah, I was thinking about him. He’s Swiss, with a mesmerizing, thick Swiss-German accent. And he can dance. When I put my hand in his for the two-step or waltz or anything else, it was like I belonged.
Our first official date was at a ballroom in Boulder for an evening of swing lessons with live Big Band music. It was magical. We chatted through most of the songs, and it felt like we’d known each other for years. That was the beginning of our story. Our dance nights were the highlight of the week since we lived an hour apart.
Lesson #6: A little long distance isn’t a terrible thing
We dated for over a year living an hour away. That meant our weekends and dance nights were really special. Living far apart meant we couldn’t just pop over to each other’s house every day. This gave us both space and time to get to know each other more deeply.
We talked for at least an hour a day. Since we didn’t have instant access to each other in person, it also kept the physical side of things in check. Intense physical attraction is really hard to balance with growing on a deeper, personal level.
Let’s face it…anyone can have sex, but making sure things are right for the long term takes more than that. Talking about anything and everything, and building really good communication skills is the ticket to a successful relationship.
Dating after divorce in your 40s is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts — and there’s a big learning curve for those of us who’ve been out of the game for several years. Spend lots of time with people and activities that bring you joy, and don’t try too hard to find love. When you’re least expecting it, maybe it will find you.
Photo Credit: Jamie Fischer Photography