19 May 2004

Dating after divorce needn’t be hell

It's been a few months now, the dust has cleared and you and your ex are on a reasonably civil footing. You’ve given priority to the kids’ physical, financial and mental well-being. Now what?


It's been a few months now, the dust has cleared and you and your ex are on a reasonably civil footing. You’ve given priority to the kids’ physical, financial and mental well-being. Now what?

Whether you’re 30, 40 or 50, getting back into dating again might feel completely alien, and more men than you’d expect feel intimidated by it.

Here are a few tips to help you ease back into the pool.

Start gently
Some blokes can walk into a crowded pub, strike up a conversation with a nubile patron within five minutes and leave with her – or at least her phone number – not long afterwards, with an aura of quiet accomplishment. Other blokes will leave alone, slightly drunk, discouraged and redolent of nothing more than beer and passive cigarette smoke. Moral of the story? Start with somewhere you’re comfortable – the Friday-night shark tank at your local watering hole might not be the place.

Don’t look desperate
If a 40-year-old man walks into a club frequented by 19-year-olds, red lights start flashing over the doors. If he arrives dressed in clothes like a 20-year-old, sirens go off and a space miraculously clears around him. Why? Because he’s forgotten that he has time on his side. The Brits would describe him as sad – pathetic and desperate. On the other hand, if you feel brave, step out of your comfort zone – you could get lucky. The rule of thumb? If you’re feeling confident, it’ll probably show.

Keep dates short
There’s an excruciating scene in Sea of Love, where Al Pacino meets dozens of women while trying to find out who’s been killing men in the area. He gives each one a few minutes of his time before ending the date, to the dismay of several and the relief of a few others. Once he has their fingerprints on a wineglass, it’s over. You needn’t be that mercenary, but keep your first date short, even if you plan to meet again. It’ll retain a sense of mystery about you, and you should know within about 40 minutes whether you’d like to see this woman again.

Know your turf
If you met your first wife at the ice rink on the top floor of the Carlton Centre, don’t expect to return there with similar success. The world has changed and so has the ice rink. You might be better off joining some social club where you won’t immediately be labeled as Single Dad On The Prowl. There are plenty of these groups around, which go hiking, cycling, running, washing oil-soaked penguins, skydiving – take your pick. This serves a two-fold purpose: it breaks the ice (This is true in the case of the penguins’ beaks, so wear gloves), gives you something to talk about, and it narrows down “the field” to someone who has similar interests to yours.

Don’t rebound
So you’ve got a date. Don’t obsess, as the Americans say. It’s just a date. Could be the beginning of something, but don’t read too much into the smile in her voice on the phone. If you were married for years, then hurt, you might subconsciously be looking for a new relationship to mimic the best aspects of your old one. It won’t happen. It might be something wonderful, but it’ll be different. Accept it and embrace the prospect.

Don’t talk about your ex
Be straight about being divorced, but meticulously avoid going on about how much it hurt and how you now struggle to trust women - you’d fare better with spinach between your teeth and halitosis that could stun an ox at 40 paces. The chances are that it you hit it off, you might be tempted to go on about the pain of the divorce while she nods sympathetically. Drop it. Learn to listen again.

Keep your options open
If your prospective date isn’t ready for the hot-air balloon trip and champagne over the savanna at dawn, opt for a jog on the beach together or a stroll around the art museum. You need to appear interesting as well as interested, as in “I’m not JUST interested in kissing you good night. That’d be nice, but let’s have an enjoyable evening too.”

Explore new options
Divorce may have turned your social life on its head. Suddenly you can’t go to a braai without the crowd being divided into your friends and your ex’s friends. We mentioned clubs and interest groups, but you can also try dating agencies. This sounds sad, but many blokes have had great success with internet dating. Be adventurous, but don’t do anything silly. - (William Smook)



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