1. Keep your sense of humor
Choosing a life partner is a serious affair, but unless you bring some humor into the situation and relax, you’ll be too stressed out to make good decisions. One of the things that makes people feel stress is the belief that there’s a timeline or deadline that has to be met. While it’s great to have someone in your life who gives you love and support, and the comfort of knowing you’re not alone, take a minute to think about this question:
Who in your life is already giving you those things?
You don’t have to rely on just one person to get the many things that a relationship provides. You get love from your children, support from your friends, and hopefully a family that is always there for you with the reassurance that you aren’t by yourself. If you got through today without a husband, boyfriend, or partner, you’ll get through tomorrow, too.
When you’re able to see the humor in life, and stay relaxed and stress free (read this article for some tips on that topic), then you’ll be able to enjoy your days as they are, without putting all your focus on dating and relationships. When the right person comes along, you’ll be ready – and you’ll be a happier person until that day.
If you need a boost of humor in your day, and a funny look at the dating game, try reading one of these books:
- Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays (Cindy Chupack)
- Around the World in 80 Dates (Jennifer Cox)
- My Blind Date Went Blind!: And Other True Stories of Dates Gone Wrong (Virginia Vitzthum)
- The Science of Single: One Woman’s Grand Experiment in Modern Dating, Creating Chemistry, and Finding Love (Rachel Machacek)
- I Love You, Nice to Meet You: A Guy and a Girl Give the Lowdown on Coupling Up (Lori Gottlieb and Kevin Bleyer)
2. Act confident, even if you aren’t
Some people attribute that advice to famed businesswoman and 1960’s author of “Sex and the Single Girl,” Helen Gurley Brown. She was still editor of the magazine “Cosmopolitan” at age 70 (and still wearing miniskirts!) and her life is a source of inspiration to single women everywhere. She had the dating experience required to write her book and to take charge of a magazine that’s famous for its dating tips, and didn’t get married until she was over 35 years old – but that marriage lasted for 50 years.
You don’t have to settle down right away, and you don’t have to settle for second best. Have confidence in yourself. Be confident that you’re strong enough to be happy without a relationship, and your strength and inner happiness will attract people to you. You’ll get more friends in general, even if it takes a while to find that one person in particular.
It might be hard at first, especially if it has been a while since you’ve gone out on a date, or gone to a party or other social event by yourself. That means it’s time to go out by yourself! Naturally, your first priority is to find a babysitter, but your second priority is to practice making easy, relaxed conversation with people you don’t know, or only know slightly. Here’s where to start:
- If you can get a friend to look after your kids for an hour or two after work (or if your children are old enough to be home alone, or in an after-school program) then go to a nice pub or casual restaurant between Monday and Thursday. Avoid trendy places with happy-hour crowds. It will be quieter, and you’ll be able to chat easily.
- Order something at the bar – even a diet soda with lemon – and spend a few minutes talking to the bartender, the waitress, or another person standing there. If the bartender’s not busy, he or she should be happy to chat for a minute or two.
- Look for someone else sitting by themselves, and see if they’re interested in sharing their table with you. Remember, this is time to practice simply talking with people, so you can approach another woman, a man, or even two people together (if it doesn’t look like they want privacy, that is).
- Sip your drink slowly and stay for at least half an hour. Most important of all, don’t look at your phone all the time! Don’t surf the web, pretend to be busy, or answer e-mails. When you’re head-down with your smartphone, you’re sending the signal that you don’t want to talk. And what if that perfect date just happens to be in the same bar, diet soda in hand, looking for someone to practice chatting with right now?
3. Remember that there are benefits to being just friends
Those happy couples who say that they’re each other’s best friend? They know what they’re talking about. Long-lasting relationships are built on friendship, and that’s true even if friendship never turns to love or marriage. Scientific studies have shown that the more friends people have, the happier and more emotionally balanced they are. When you focus on finding new friends, you’ll open yourself up to all sorts of possible relationships you didn’t even realize were there.
When you’re honing your social skills (see above), don’t just pick people who make you think “I’d like to marry him!” Pick someone who looks like they might have something interesting to say. Even better, pick someone who you think looks uninteresting! You’ll get more practice in making conversation, and you might be surprised to find that Mr. Blah is really Mr. Bling, once you start chatting.
You don’t need to limit your search to bars and pubs, of course. Look for opportunities to make new friends wherever you go.
4. Use your conversational skills to get the information you need
As mentioned above, there are a lot of sharks in the dating sea. There are people out there who want to take advantage of you, and you need to protect yourself, and your children, by making sure you’re not giving those people the chance to create problems in your already-complicated life. When you’re talking to someone that you’re looking at as a potential date or even partner, really pay attention to what they’re telling you – and what they’re not telling you. When you’re comfortable making conversation, you’ll be able to find ways to get the answers to the following questions, either directly or indirectly:
- Is he polite to you, to the waitress, to the bartender, to other people around you?
- Does he appear polite to someone, but then say negative things about them later?
- Do you think he has a sense of humor? Does he make you laugh? Can you make him laugh, or does it sound faked?
- Do you share the same interests?
- Does he have children, and do they live with him?
- Can he support himself with his current job, or does it look like he’s a drifter who just manages to get by without a steady income?
- Do you, in any way, think that he’s only talking with you because he wants to have sex with you? You can usually trust your instincts on this, and remember – you’re a confident and deserving woman who doesn’t need to settle for a casual fling, unless of course that’s what you’re looking for as well.
Just as important are the things he tells you that you might not really want to know. On the other hand, these can be signs that he’s not the right person for you, so if you get too much information like this in the first few minutes of your conversation, it’s time to move on and find someone else to talk to.
- Did he bring up how much he earns, or how important he is at work? He might be a CEO or a janitor, but bragging about it points to a level of insecurity. On the other hand, he might be rightfully proud of what he does. You’ll be able to spot the difference.
- Did he go into the details of his past marriage or relationship before you even finished your drink? Watch out for people who are still dealing with issues in their past before you think about inviting them into your future.
- Speaking of drinking, how many has he had – and can you tell? Substance abuse can often lead to domestic violence, and pose a danger to you and your children.
- Does he look at you while he speaks, or does it seem like he’s always scanning the room for a “better” prospect? It’s not you, it’s him. And he’s not worth your time.
5. Don’t rush into making it a family affair
So, you’ve spent time chatting with someone, you’ve gone out on a date or two, and you think it might be getting serious. What do you tell your kids – and when do you tell them? How do you make sure you’re able to combine your personal life and your family life without making someone unhappy? Unfortunately, you might not be able to avoid problems and conflict, but there are things you can do to minimize it. Here are some tips:
- Don’t make your children feel as if they’re required to love, or even like, this new person right away. The more natural they are, the better, so it’s best to avoid saying things like, “now, be nice to him.” Being children, that might actually make them more prone to act up at that first meeting!
- Do give your children a chance to meet your potential partner in a casual, non-threatening situation. In other words, don’t invite him to the next parent-teacher conference. Look for things like neighborhood barbecue parties, or multi-family park play dates, or other situations where your kids will be part of a big group, with other children, and old friends they feel comfortable with. They’ll be able to approach your new friend at their own pace, in their own time.
- Be ready to reassure your children that you have plenty of love to share, and that new people in your life doesn’t mean that you’ll start ignoring them or giving them less love and affection. If they’re concerned about whether they’ll be getting a “new dad” then you need to find ways to help them understand the situation. This will depend in part on what their relationship is with their real father, and how close they are.
- And when it comes to your ex … you don’t need to advertise the fact that you’ve started dating again, but it’s probably not a good idea to hide it, either. If you’ve got a troubled past with your ex, then having him learn the news from a casual mention by your children of “Mom’s new boyfriend” might trigger a reaction that would cause difficulties in your divorce or custody situation.
- Whatever you do, keep the communication going: between you and your new love, between you and your children, and – when the time is right – between your new partner and your kids. Of course, if he has kids, too, that can make things even more complicated. But that’s a topic for another time!