A cartoon-like representation of a break-up was recently doing the rounds on social media. In it, a committed relationship is shown as a nice, secure box with the couple sitting inside; following the break-up, the heroine finds herself on the outside of the box looking in, she’s knocking and trying to get back inside. Anyone who’s ever been through a break-up will know this feeling of wanting to go back but also knowing deep down it’s over. Then comes the even scarier part of entering, or returning to, the world of Tinder and uncertainty. There’s nothing like the prospect of a terrible first date to make you wish you were back in a relationship – no matter how bad.
Psychologically speaking, break-ups can take a heavy emotional toll on us; studies have shown that in the aftermath we can expect to go through everything from depression to loneliness, distress, and a loss of sense of self. This is why it’s imperative to take time out in between the loss of a relationship and dating again in order to process your feelings.
So, once the worst is over and you’re ready to face the world of dating, how do you get started? We speak to experts to get the lowdown on how you can best prepare yourself following a break-up, and how to navigate this new foray into single life while figuring out what you want from a new partner.
Before you start dating again
We all have a friend who can’t be single – someone who drifts from relationship to relationship with little or no time in between. The tears caused by her previous partner have barely dried and she’s already dating the next guy – and she’s sure he’s ‘the one.’ By doing this, though, she is missing out on a valuable opportunity to do some self-reflection and reassessment before moving on. There is imperative groundwork that should, ideally, be done before starting to date again.
It is important not to get into the negative mindset of believing you’ll be alone forever – a trap that’s all too easy to fall into when you’re newly single. In her book The Soulmate Secret: Manifest The Love of Your Life With The Law of Attraction, Arielle Ford says that you’re able to find true love at any age as long as you’re willing to prepare yourself to become a magnet for it. The love and relationship expert says you can make it happen by spending time each day focusing on all the love you already have. “The Law of Attraction states that we draw to us the people, places and experiences that match our state of being. If we are focused on the love that is ‘missing’ from our lives and are having a pity party because we’re single, all we will attract are more feelings of loneliness and missing.”
To counteract this, Ford says that you should make a list of the friends and family who love you. “Drop into your heart and send them feelings of love, appreciation and gratitude. This fills you with love and turns your heart into a magnet for romantic love,” she explains.
Having a healthy sense of self-worth and self-love is something that is regularly advocated, for both those who are single and in a relationship, and for good reason. In the book Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life, author Akirah Robinson says that by bolstering your sense of self-worth, you become better prepared to participate in healthy romantic relationships. Robinson explains, “In Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood says that seeking total fulfilment from a romantic relationship is like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach and throwing everything and anything into the cart. We do this instead of looking for what we really want and need. I believe that when we’re not striving towards being as healthy as possible on our own, we can become distracted or needy. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to settling in our love lives.”
Robinson recommends that before you start dating, you should start taking really good care of yourself. Engage in hobbies you enjoy and surround yourself with positive people. “It’s important to really get to know yourself – it’s easier to meet your own needs and desires when you are fairly aware of what these are,” she explains. She also points out that loving yourself is ideal, but can be a tough objective to achieve. She says that, instead, you should be open to the idea of loving yourself some day and do what you can do to work towards that goal. “Treat yourself as you’d treat someone else you love. Faking it until you make it can be effective sometimes,” she adds.
Once you’ve mourned the loss of your relationship, says Dr Sheetal Kini, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia in Dubai, make some time for self-reflection in order to see what wasn’t working with your previous partner. “Sometimes it’s comforting to think sourly of the past and move on, however, in order to truly move forward and find the right relationship for you, self-reflection is essential.”
Dr Kini recommends thinking about the aspects of your relationship that you appreciated, the ones that hurt you, the traits of the man you were with, as well as the traits he brought out in you. She also says it’s very important to assess how happy you were in the relationship in comparison to how much suffering there was. “If there was more suffering than authentic happiness, it’s important to reflect on what kept you in the relationship for so long – fear of loneliness, attachment, lowered expectations, etc. Likewise, if you find you were happy in the relationship but your partner wasn’t, then it’s important to contemplate the times when you may have missed signs of discontentment or altogether dismissed concerns that they brought up,” she says.
As for how long you should wait before dating, Dr Kini says this depends, as the stage of grief varies for each person. “I would recommend that you wait as long as it takes for you to be able to fully reflect on the relationship and learn from it before going back out there – especially if you’re looking for a serious relationship,” she advises.
Getting back on the scene
So you’ve finished reflecting on your past relationship and you’re ready to dust off your dating profile. For some, this may bring up feelings of dread and even frustration at being back to square one. So how is this phase best dealt with?
Before you go on your first date, Dr Kini says it’s worth making a list of ‘non-negotiable’ traits that would be completely unacceptable in a long-term partner. For example, for some women, a non-negotiable trait would be a short temper, while for others it could be jealousy or possessiveness. “When you start dating, I would advise you take the time to suss out whether or not this person has any of these non-negotiables as opposed to looking out for men who have ‘ideal-man’ traits,” she explains.
On those dreaded first dates, Robinson says it’s important to have as much fun as possible by staying in the moment and enjoying it without worrying too much about the future, as putting too much pressure on every date will very quickly stress you out. “I think women should view dates as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and what they’re looking for in a partner. Consider who might fit well and how you can also be a good partner,” she advises.
Dr Kini advocates staying open-minded, as you may be surprised to see that some prospective partners are very different from the type of men you previously dated. “Don’t be judgemental and don’t fear judgement. The first few dates are often packed with anxiety about how someone perceives you, and whether or not you’re saying the right things or presenting yourself in the right way. It’s important to remember that your date is feeling the same way.
“Being judgemental as well as fearing judgement is what keeps people from being authentic – the sooner that you are able to be yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to get to know this new person in your life,” she says.
Dr Kini adds that it’s important that you don’t compare your date to your ex, because a lot of women make the mistake of putting their exes on a pedestal. “Sometimes when you reflect on a break-up, you’re only able to remember what you miss about your ex. It’s important that you don’t compare your new romantic interest to an often-idealised version of your ex. Be appreciative of what this new person has to offer and you will realise the refreshing change,” she explains.
Red flags to look out for
Often when we look back over a past relationship we realise that there were plenty of red flags from the beginning but that we either failed to notice or chose to ignore them. Robinson says that during those first dates there are a number of things to look out for, such as someone who goes overboard in showing affection, gives a lot of gifts and performs over-the-top gestures.
She says that someone taking things very seriously too quickly is also a red flag – someone who wants to see you all the time, know where you are all the time, and wants to be your boyfriend really soon. Someone who has a life that isn’t as full as yours is also something to watch for.
“The most important one to look out for is someone who does things that make you feel uncomfortable,” according to Robinson. “When something doesn’t sit well with you, don’t ignore it. Pay attention to your gut feelings.”
‘I am searching for mr right in a city of mr wrongs’
Nata Taylor, a 31-year-old Ghanaian living in Dubai and working as a content writer and social media executive, split up with her ex-partner in April. She’s now back on the dating scene and has met someone she’s enjoying seeing. Here’s her take on dating again after a break-up…
“I was expecting the break-up, as all the signs were there, but I was in love, so I didn’t want to accept it. I was terribly crushed, but I realised I deserve better. I didn’t let the break-up deter me from dating again, so after three weeks I got back into the game.
“Dating in this city is like a full-time job; you put in a lot of effort to make things work, but it’s never straightforward. After so many failed relationships I realised it’s wise to have a proper dating strategy. Also, when dating in Dubai, it’s important to try not to be fooled or easily swayed by looks and luxury…
“I used to make good use of Tinder until I realised that chivalry is dead because Tinder killed it. This dating app, along with others such as eHarmony and OkCupid, have enabled some men to throw all etiquette out of the window. Whatever happened to getting to know each other slowly?
“I’ve had quite a few nightmare experiences. I was dating one guy who insisted we take things slowly. He asked me if I was ready to date a busy, hardworking man, and my answer was ‘yes’. He then made sure he was busy for 90 per cent of the time. Work was always his excuse for not showing up to planned dinners or activities. It got so bad that I felt I was dating myself; when I found out he had a profile on Tinder and was talking to other women, I decided enough was enough and I walked away. Before I ended it, he told me he never said he wanted anything exclusive, which was a lie.
“I’m currently dating an amazing guy, but I’m moving like a snail in the relationship. I’m taking all the time in the world to get to know him better – I have no desire to be a man’s one of many.
For now, things are sailing smoothly – he’s a gentleman and he makes me feel like a lady.”