A client recently asked me about my love life. “How do you decide when you’re ready to start dating after a breakup?”
Instead of acting like a coach, I decided to lay out the action plan I use. Self-disclosure, when done correctly, can be a powerful and healing tool with clients. And since my last relationship ended a few months ago, I figured the Universe needed me to hear what I was about to tell her.
First, let’s address the question I'm always asked (and ask myself) after a breakup:
How long should I wait before I can date again?
People ask me this for a few reasons:
- They have an underlying belief in scarcity. They don’t want to “waste time” because they feel their chances of meeting the right person decrease with age.
- They think a rebound will help them move forward. (I blame snarky, well-intentioned friends for gems like "The best way to get over someone is by getting under someone else." WRONG.)
- They don’t feel ready and instead feel scared or overwhelmed. They wonder if/when they’ll be able to fully open themselves up to love or even be interested in pursuing a partner.
- They want to play it safe by avoiding the potential to be hurt again.
- They don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
While many of these reasons may feel true, feelings aren’t facts.
Reasons #1-5 are routed in fear. Fear forces us to focus on what we don’t want, and because of it, we wind up attracting the exact thing we’re trying to avoid.
For example, if you were codependent in your last relationship and your partner was controlling or narcissistic, you may be telling yourself “I don’t want my next partner to be like that!” You’d think this protective measure keeps you safe, but all it does is reaffirm your beliefs about yourself. It also means that you're less likely to notice the good people you do meet.
So how long should you wait? It’s different for everyone. I’ve heard generalizations about half the length of your relationship. Or add on a year if there was infidelity or subtract a year if it was mutual. But equations aside, it comes down to you, your journey, and your beliefs.
I had a client recently ask me, it’s been 3 months, am I ready to date? My response, “Let’s pretend you met a man who, like you, had been married for 5 years. On a first date he revealed he was divorced 3 months ago. How would you feel? Would you be comfortable with that?” If you are, great! If not, wait.
So rather than focus on time, I like to focus on the benchmarks of emotional availability. And that brings us to the system I use to figure out if I’m ready to date.
How I Tell If I'm Ready To Date:
1. I’m out of the headspace of blame.
I may not be over the loss of the person, but I’m not ordering a Voodoo doll on Amazon Prime (cause anger requires 2 day shipping.) In other words, it’s fine to still mourn the relationship itself, but if you’re still harboring resentments, you won’t be emotionally available for someone new.
2. I know what I want in a partner.
It sounds obvious, but people who have a fuzzy sense of what they want only get a fuzzy version of that they want in return. I'm ready to move on if I’ve revised my list of must haves, would like to haves, and won’t haves to include specifics. For example, instead of saying “I want someone who’s intelligent” I clarify what I want that intelligence to look like. Trust that when you define what it is that you want, you'll find it.
3. I’m the right kind of selfish.
My self care is a non-negotiable. It’s the Foundation for everything I do. If my self-care is not where I’d like it to be, I make sure to spend some extra time on it. Because when I’m not feeling like my best self, I don’t act like my best self.
4. I know myself.
Sometimes after a relationship, we wake up wondering “who the F$#! did I turn into?!" If that happened, I get back to the hobbies and activities that connect me to myself. I remind myself of the things that light me up and the things that piss me off. Why? Because people with self-awareness are more likely to identify a partner who's right for them, get their needs met, and find happiness in a relationship, while still maintaining independence and personal growth. And isn’t that what we all want and deserve?!
5. I’m not looking for anyone to fix me.
I’m not broken, no one is. Sure, maybe there are things I’d like to change in my life, but that’s my job. It’s not for my partner to do. Whatever you’ve got going on, ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to address it head on. Stop waiting around to be "saved" and start saving yourself.
6. I’m not trying to fix anyone.
I’ve got baggage and so will my partner. It's inevitable. And while it would be great to change people's annoying habits, I know how to accept people for who they are rather than who I want them to be. Your ability to compromise or cut ties will not only bring the right person in, it'll help you to weed out the wrong ones. Remember, you want a partner, not a fixer-upper.
7. I am emotionally and physically available.
I ask myself whether I’ve created space for a partner. No, that doesn't mean a drawer in your dresser (NYC real estate is insane!) It means I’m willing and able to give and receive love. That also means I'm not killing time with "Mr. Right Now" as I wait to find a great partner.
8. I’m okay with being flawed (even if I don't like it).
I get that as much as I may try, I can't always be perfect. This annoys me. But I am willing to open myself up, be vulnerable, and occasionally risk looking like an idiot. I accept that being myself and receiving love yields a better outcome than being someone else and walking on eggshells.
9. I’ve learned from the past.
Until I’ve taken the time to look at my role in my last relationship and address historical patterns, I’m not ready to move on. Without doing that, I’ll most likely repeat the same mistakes with a different cast of characters. Instead of only focusing on assessing your ex’s shortcoming, take a look at how you could have acted differently. In other words, own your shit.
10. I know my triggers and patterns.
While we all have blindspots, I’ve carefully considered my triggers. These are the topics that make me go 0-60 in 6 seconds flat. The things that elicit a similar reaction to when my parents ask “Are you ever planning on getting married?!” Until you know your trigger points, dating will feel like a game of Minesweeper.
11. I don’t feel like I NEED To.
Ahhh, the irony of this one. I know I’m ready to date when I’m not doing because I “should.” I’m not doing it to fill a literal or figurative hole in my life. When I feel like I can be single & happy, I know I’m ready to date.