Sex and dating after a long-term relationship breakup can be nerve wracking. The dating scene has changed a lot (hello, internet!) and you have to come to terms with your new life as a single person. To add even more confusion, you may not be sure what you’re looking for in a partner, or if you’re even ready for a new relationship.
So where do you start? Sydney Sex and Relationships Therapist Amanda Joy Robb knows a lot about sex, dating and relationships. Amanda has counselled hundreds of individuals and couples, and, as a lecturer in psychosexual therapy and sexual health counselling at Sydney University, is an expert in the field.
Here, Amanda gives some stellar advice to help new singles build their confidence and emotional health after a long-term relationship breakup, and navigate the new dating rules. Here’s her tips …
Take time out to heal
Anyone who’s recently broken up from a long-term relationship knows how emotionally scary facing a new life – sans your ex – can be. You may feel nervous, lack confidence, and if you have children, the thought of having a new partner or dating again can seem overwhelming and much more complicated. But all of these feelings are completely normal, says Amanda.
“It’s common for people to feel nervous,” she explains. “When you’ve gone from being ‘two’ to ‘one’ and you haven’t been alone for a very long time, it’s difficult to reformulate that sense of self and do things on your own – or with a stranger. Dating can be very nerve wracking!”
Amanda says there’s also a bit of grief that comes with getting back on the dating cycle as well. “It’s normal to feel grief that you’re in a different life stage,” she says. “I encourage anyone that is feeling this way to get themselves into an emotionally healthy and empowered space first. Determining your sense of self, who you are now and who you want to be can all contribute and help in the journey to meeting someone. It’s really important to have a reset after a breakup and take the time to deal with this life change.”
Adjust your dating expectations
If you’ve been in a relationship for 10 or 15 years, the dating scene is going to look a lot different now than it did back then. And your expectations are going to be very different too.
“Some people go back into the dating game with expectations of what it was like in their past,” explains Amanda. “But dating looks different now – it feels different and there’s a different culture around it. Be mindful that if you are dating someone, they might also be dating other people. At the same time, this means you can date as many people as you like.”
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“Not only will your expectations be different, but you’re also going to want different things, particularly if you’ve come out of a relationship with children. You may not necessarily be looking for that again. You might be looking for companionship or intimacy, so it’s really important to reset and ask yourself what your purpose is going back into the dating scene. How do you want your new relationship to look? What are your expectations? How have they changed or how can you change them?”
Amanda says the key to adjusting your dating expectations is to do your research. “Get an idea of what is going on now,” she says. “For people who have never done online dating, or for people who might be a little bit older, it can be really daunting. Look at what the norms are of dating now. If the online world is too scary, then there are different Meetups and community experiences you can do.”
“I always suggest ‘dating yourself’. If you always wanted to be a runner or take up a movie course, sign up and meet people with similar interests. Go out and do all the things you wanted to do. It will help you feel more confident, more social and allow you to meet you people with similar interests. You don’t have to date other people, you can date yourself!”
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Enlist ‘single life’ support
If you’re single and all your mates are happily loved-up, broaden your support network.
“Sometimes transitioning from breakups and back on the dating scene can be difficult,” says Amanda. “You don’t need to avoid your married friends, but you can’t expect them to go out clubbing with you if they have kids and a husband at home. Try and seek out a buddy who is in a similar situation. It can feel less isolating if you can chat to someone about your experiences, they understand, and you can debrief together. Sharing stories with friends who know you as ‘a married mother’ can feel deflating, uncomfortable and sometimes even judgemental. You need to feel comfortable with where you are at in your life stage. Create a support network that’s going to encourage you and support you during this life stage. Meetups in your area will allow you to meet other people who may be in a similar situation and experience new things.”
Juggle your kids, career and time wisely
Life after a breakup can look pretty busy. You can no longer split the domestic duties, and for many people transitioning through kids custody issues, juggling kids, work and, well, life, can be tough. But Amanda says if there is a way to manage your responsibilities and find time to meet new people.
“Anything you want in life is an investment,” says Amanda. “So if finding a partner is a serious thing that you are after, invest the time, finances and emotions. If that means getting a babysitter for a couple of hours, or asking a family member to look after the kids, or arranging a date when your partner has the kids, then do that. You can also meet up for a coffee while the kids are in school. Dating isn’t necessarily all about going out to a pub on a Friday night anymore. With the accessibility of online dating, people are quite happy to meet up during the week for a coffee. Don’t see these responsibilities as obstacles – they are just different things to consider when you are meeting new people.”
Brush up your dating skills
Dating may have been scary when you were 18, but it can be even more daunting when you’re a grown-up and have ‘forgotten’ how to date. How should you communicate with potential suitors? Should you mention your kids or ex?
Amanda says coming out of a long-term relationship can often mean we need to look at how we want to represent ourselves. “I don’t think you should have anything to hide – if you want to mention you have kids, or you’ve come out of a long-term relationship, that is fine,” she explains. “But it does depend on what you are after. If someone is dating purely for sex, fun and flirting, there isn’t a need to give away too much personal information. You may want to remain relatively anonymous and just have a good time.”
“If someone is looking for a long-term committed relationship though, it’s better to be upfront and transparent. It’s pretty common to be going through a divorce and you should feel ok about mentioning this. But remember, whatever information you share can’t be taken back. So rather than thinking about how to tell someone your life story, ask yourself if they really need to know this information. Thinking this way can be more empowering and validating of where you are in your life. It can also alleviate any anxiety you may have about what they think of you if they know you are living back with your parents and kids while you sort out a divorce, or whatever your situation may be.”
Choose safe dating conversations and avoid politics!
If you’re stuck for conversations starters, Amanda suggests asking them questions. “Safe topics can be questions like, ‘what do you like to do to have fun? What are your interests? Who are the people in your life that are important to you?’ The conversations doesn’t always have to be about work, or if they have kids, or have been married. In fact, it’s better not to ask them if they are divorced or have kids. They’ll tell you what they want you to know. Start off slow and get them to give you a description of who they are in a way that they feel comfortable.”
And avoid controversial topics!
“What’s not ‘date suitable’ is disclosing all the messy details of a break up,” says Amanda. “Or how it’s a struggle sharing custody of your kids – people don’t need to know those details on an early date. Also, stay away from sensitive topics like politics, religion and sensitive topics!”
Consider what you’re looking for
Tall, dark and handsome may have been your check list mandatories when you were 20, but there’s a fair chance your values and wants have changed since then. Although pinpointing exactly how they have changed can be tricky. So what if you don’t know what it is you’re looking for in a partner? And how do you identify if someone has similar values to you?
“It’s ok if you don’t know what you are looking for,” says Amanda. “Sometimes you just need to get out on the dating scene to see how it fits with you. If that is the case, keep your expectations really open. If you’re not sure what you are after, then you can’t expect to meet someone that’s going to be your next partner. Just keep it light and look for someone you are interested in spending time with – and enjoy their company. A lot of people don’t know what they are after, so just enjoy the moment for what it is.”
Avoid dating and relationship pressure
If you aren’t entirely sure you want to dive into another relationship, that’s absolutely ok says Amanda. “Some people won’t know if they are ready for dating or a relationship until they place themselves in that environment,” she explains. “It’s important though that when you are dating that you have formulated your own guidelines or boundaries. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t feel obligated to stay and continue the date.”
So should you tell a date you’re not sure if you actually want a relationship? Amanda says yes. “Be honest and transparent,” she suggests. “It’s ok to say you don’t know what you’re looking for. Be upfront and tell them that you’re not ruling a relationship out, you’re just not sure if you are ready or not. Then ask them if they’re still happy to go on a date.”
“With online dating, a lot of people cover their bases before they meet. They say upfront that they’d like to go on a date but they aren’t sure if they are looking for a relationship. And if the other person is ok with that, they can go out.”
Make sure you’re emotionally ready for sex with a new partner
Many women take a hiatus from sex after a break – you need time to reset yourself and focus on you. Of course this then means you’re facing a double nerve wracking whammy – you haven’t had sex in eons and you’re nervous about having sex with a new partner. So how do you manage this daunting experience?
“The safety elements are always most important,” says Amanda. “Do you feel safe emotionally and physically with someone to practice safe sex with? You need to feel comfortable. Sometimes humour can alleviate the nerves and anxiety. Say it like it is – that you haven’t had sex in a long time and that you are nervous. There’s no black and white advice – you just need to make sure you are in a situation that you feel comfortable with. Don’t ever have sex because you feel pressured to, or to overcome a fear, or because you feel you have to because you haven’t had sex in a long time. Do it because you want to and make sure you have the choice.”
Have the last word!
“Have fun with it!” says Amanda. “Bad dates make awesome stories! See the shitty dates as great opportunities to laugh with your mates.”
Did you find this article helpful? Have you got any tips for other people back on the dating scene after a long-term relationship breakup? Share your comments below …
This article was first published on FRANKIxo.com