Conducting a rigorous self-examination to help determine my own readiness for dating.
Let’s talk about joy for a second. How do you recognize it? When you see a joyful person do you gravitate towards them? Certainly we can spot the absence of joy a mile away. Steer clear of the hottie in the black dress with the angry eyes and enhanced frown. She’s packing heat of a variety we’re much too familiar with from our 11 years of marriage, six of them happy.
As a divorced adult, we have been freed of all (most) of those constraints. Now, instead of suffering through the bad times, we can just move on. When a few too many red flags come up early in a relationship, it’s OK, at this stage in our lives to just say, “Later. And good luck.”
The closer we get to our own innate joy (even when alone) the more we are able to recognize the same joy in others. And it’s a process—we don’t emerge from divorce happy and hopeful. We might think we are, we might hit the ground (dating sites) running, for example, but most likely the divorce process, the recovery from divorce, will take a number of years. I’m sorry to break that news to you if you’re just emerging from an unhappy marriage, but relationships, even starting out, take work. And when you are still reeling from the collapse of your marriage, you might be ready for some free love, but the completion of the work needed to actually enjoy it is still a few months or years down the road.
For me, it was indeed, several years before I was ready (am ready) to enter into a joyful relationship. Before that time, I was interested in a relationship, but I was not bringing a full and healthy person to the table, so to speak. I was showing up, smiling as much as possible, and telling my happy tales, but I wasn’t able to fake it ’til I made it. I just wasn’t very good at covering up the real emotions that were still wrestling within me. It’s OK. It was actually better for me NOT to get what I wanted. It was necessary for me to spend some time alone, to sort through my regrets and triumphs and decide from a balanced perspective, what I was looking for in “next.”
So, maybe by examining and sharing some of the joyful things I look for in a woman, I can better understand my motivations, and you can better understand the male sex impulse that is often troublesome and misguided. But first, let’s get one thing straight: I am not an apologist for men and their bad habits. I am a thinking and feeling man in search of my next relationship. I’m not clear on what exactly that means, and I am clear that I don’t know. But I do know what I will and will not tolerate in my search for Ms. Lovejoy.
Here are five signs I’ve identified that the man you are looking at is more of a fractured soul than he is letting on.
ONE: He’s too positive.
Everything is great! My kids are great! My ex is great! And my, you are great too! I’m so happy I could sing the Pharrell song all day long. I’m the most positive person most of my friends have ever met. I just radiate positive energy. “You can feel it, right?” Stand back from Mr. Yes. I’ve been this dude. And while I do profess to have a very positive and happy outlook on life, I know that I can overdo it. I once floundered in a lopsided dating experience, because I was so damn positive I was going to be able to shift it from the friend-zone to something more intimate. I was wrong. But even the woman mentioned, “You’re one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.” Yeah sure, I thought, just kiss me then. We never really kissed. And after a few months, I woke up and smelled the coffee. She was not ready for any relationship beyond just holding hands and a sweet peck on the lips at the end of a snuggly evening. Fine, but that’s not what I was looking for. It too me a while to get beyond being so UP. But when I sense it in someone else now, I put up some more awareness filters and look to see if it’s covering up something that’s deeper and unresolved. For me, it wasn’t really about unresolved issues, but I did let a distant dating relationship go on for a long time, thinking my yes-mind was going to convince her to sleep with me. Nope. When the person is too happy, move along.
TWO: He’s too accommodating.
“Oh sure, we can reschedule,” I texted her for the third time in a month. We’d not been able to work out the first “hello” date. Each time there was some event that came up. And all of them about an hour before we were scheduled to meet. I was accommodating even after the third, “I can’t meet this morning. Sorry.” But I was too accommodating perhaps, and denying that she was giving me all the signs she was not ready at all for a date. When it’s too easy to move the date, you might be looking at someone who’s desperate. Even though she was resetting and I was being accommodating, I was ignoring my own over-accommodating tendencies. And I realize, just as I’m writing this, that she’s a disaster waiting to happen. If she’s reset three times, and within an hour of our meeting … Why do I think she’s going to be a different person in actual relationship. Um … Oops. I’m too accommodating sometimes. I need to move on from this one.
THREE: He’s too eager to listen.
“Women really want you to listen.” It’s advice you’re going to get from both men and women when you start dating again. And the premise is correct. Listening is something we’ve become less and less adept at over the years, and with the increasing pace of life and technological interruptions. So slowing down and paying attention to what the other person is saying, IS important. But it can be over done. When the listening is too animated, too connected, you need to gauge whether someone is being attentive for their own needs or as a strategy. I listened like a therapist. I listened to women complain about their marriages. I listened to them talk about how great their kids were. I even listened to their funny online dating stories. And I listened too much, and too long, when I should’ve ended the “going nowhere” date. But I didn’t. I was trained to listen to women. Almost as a technique to satisfy my marriage, a counseling recommendation, “Just listen. Quit trying to respond before you’ve heard what she’s saying.” Yes, that’s true in relationship, but in a dating, and early dating situation, you need to listen, but do it lightly. When I catch myself listening for overtones and hints, I try to stop. I try to just listen lightly, respond naturally, and just have a conversation. I am not a therapist. And when I listen hard, like I am a therapist, I am really just trying to get you to love me, or to trust me, or to sleep with me.
FOUR: He’s touchy-feely.
I’m a hugger and a toucher. It’s my love language. I express myself through touch. And I feel most loved when I’m being touched. So if I go in for the arm brush too early, be aware that I’m feeling you out for your touchy-feely level. And if I’m too touchy I might be showing my own emptiness or hunger. You might not be ready to be devoured. Are you responsive? Do you recoil when I touch you? (We’re talking first dates here, so either way it’s OK, but it’s giving me a lot of information.) Do you touch me back? Do you lean into the touch? I can tell a lot from a first intentional touch on your shoulder. Sure, I am illustrating a point, but I’m trying to sense out your touchy-feely scale. Are you a 10 like me? Or does touch/hugging/kissing/sex come with deeper reservations? I admit this is a learned technique. And when I touch you, it IS casual, but I am looking for clues to how you will react later on. I’m not doing it in a creepy or manipulative way, but you need to know I’m doing it. And if you are a touchy-feely person as well, we’re going to hit it off wonderfully. If you’re touch-adverse, I’m guessing you’ll give off these clues fairly quickly.
FIVE: He makes smoldering eye contact.
When I was in my early, and very passionate, months of trying to date, I tried to convey my seriousness and earnestness with my dark and smoldering eyes. I wasn’t trying to affect them. I was just peering out of very emotional eyes and I wanted you to see and notice how sensitive I was. How deeply I felt things that you were saying. And how deeply I wanted to drink you in. That hunger is evident in the eyes. My pools of reflection were deep, and I thought I was showing my deep feeling. What I was doing was using my “honest feelings” as a way to hook you. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it didn’t ever really result in the date I was looking for. But I was deep, deep, I’m telling you. When you see an infinite and sensitive soul in your date, you might sit back a bit and see how desperate that searching feeling gets. Being a pussycat, I never pounced with this dark killer instinct, but I knew I was not 100% ready for what I might get had I leapt into the frenzy from this wounded place.
What’s the Solution?
Now, most of these things are not tactics. They are simply how I am in real life, only exaggerated about 10X. I do have deep and sensitive eyes, but I shouldn’t really be lasering you with them on the first date. When I’m doing that I’m too hungry, I’m too aggressive, I am too enthusiastically in pursuit of you. And asking me to back off is going to give me the signal and information I’m looking for anyway. When the chemistry is right between us, it’s possible that these clues, or tells, are going to resonate between us. That’s happened a couple of times. And while none of them turned into the long-term relationship I am ultimately seeking, I learned a lot from every experience.
And really, that’s the message I want to get across. We are learning. We have no idea what life is supposed to be like after divorce. And dating and relationship building are things we last thought about in our twenties. The world has changed quite a bit. And our expectations and what we will and will not tolerate have changed quite a bit as well. I am aware of my tendencies towards obsession or over-thinking. When I am free of these habits I am more confident that I am actually ready to try for a relationship again.
Be aware of your seeking patterns and when they are out of balance, or overblown, you might dial back your intensity a bit and examine what’s going on for you. In my case, when I find I’m hyper-extending any of my dating super powers, I try and spend some time not dating, so I can recenter on my goals and needs. With a date in sight, and the potential for sexual intimacy, I’m less able to make rational and self-centered decisions.
When I am clear, I can make rational and appropriate decisions. When the chemistry is ON but the warning signs are also shining bright, I can walk away from the temptation. I don’t want surface relationships. I want whole relationships. Or a single whole relationship, that’s my ultimate goal, one relationship. But I’ve got a long way to go before settling down. And I promise I won’t settle for less than awesome.
When you’re dating again after divorce you’ve got to remember to remain a bit more self-centered. You’re not in this next relationship to compromise. You’re in it for the win. Sure, we’re going to fail, we’re going to make mistakes. But knowing where we play games, or where we accentuate our own desires, the better we can adjust and get more real about what and who we want to be with next.
The Off Parent
back to On Dating Again
- Casual Sex. What? I Have No Experience with This…
- Vengeance Dating Syndrome (a Post-divorce Pattern)
- The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray
- Burn the Maps!
- Little Turnoffs: On a First Date with a Woman
image: bliss dance, rulenumberone2, creative commons usage
Let’s dig a little deeper into OK Cupid’s DNA, and what we’re looking for when we go online to find a “partner” a “hookup” or “a relationship to last the rest of my life.” (Start here: Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 1) )
They offer a little “What’s my best picture” service that delivers some interesting feedback about the demographics and the types of women who find your pictures attractive. Well, it’s not a very scientific process, as most of my raters were in their early 20’s, and pretty far from my desired demographic. But the data is fun anyway, and heck, they picked my main profile picture for me, so that’s good. Here are my top three photos and the fuzzy data that goes with them.
So in my demographic of 31+ girls (eh hm: women, thanks) here are my big winners. These are my rater’s self-identified types. I’m glad conservative and stoner fell right off my map all together.
Nerd < maybe
And sure enough the picture of me as a parent (with daughter) doesn’t even register with the 18 – 22 yo girls. Okay, fine, so the man as an artist appeals to my demographic. Fine.
But it all really boils down to who I’m interested in. And I’d say my top types are in alignment with my tastes, so we’ll go with that photo for now. And let’s see how it’s worked so far, in my two weeks back on the site.
OKC reports I get about 5 views a week. Hmm… That sucks. I’ve been sending out emails and “Hellos.” Again, I’m guessing a lot of women are using the A-List paid option to NOT show up in my visitors list. Oh well.
Yep, a few have responded. And a couple I’ve gotten to texting with. That’s a higher form of intimacy, because it requires the exchange of phone numbers. I don’t think you’d give a creep your phone number. And it usually takes a bit of emailing first to establish a mutual appreciation. And then you move to the quick and telling text exchanges. You can tell a lot about someone’s self-expression. How do they respond to jokes? Are they playful? Are they friendly? Are they tech-savvy?
One of the best reality checks I’ve come up with for online dating is to send a real-time selfie. If the person on the other end is overly self-conscious they won’t be able to send one back. They’ll send something else or ignore your request all together. The selfie is the lowest common denominator of glamour shots. If they radiate in a selfie, you have pretty good odds that their profile photography isn’t photoshopped or glammed into unreality.
And really that’s all we’re trying to establish at this point. Is this person real? Are they authentic in their behavior (texting and responding) and their appearance (if you can get a selfie)?
And next can you move it to an in-person meeting? How smooth is that transaction? Time and place? Do they reset the date several times? Do the postpone? Often it has been my experience that a postponement (even if they say they are sick) really means they are having second thoughts. Or they have started up with someone else and are hedging their bets. The longer the postponement, the more likely it will not happen at all. And that’s okay, you don’t want someone who’s sort of in and sort of out.
The most frustrating near-miss is the one with someone who’s not sure what they are looking for. If they are on a dating site, shouldn’t they be interested in a relationship? Or is the R-word scary? Maybe they really just want to “date.”
And one of the things we can be sure of, none of us has the answers. What does dating after divorce, or dating as a single parent look like?
There are a few controls built-in that help buffer the startup process, in my opinion. If we both have kids and ex’s in town, we will be navigating a fairly complex scheduling process. And you can get a feel very quickly if it’s going to be easy to negotiate or a pain in the ass. If it’s really hard to find the time to get together, it’s probably not a fit. Or perhaps the other person is scared to get in a Relationship. No problem, move on.
Here’s what you want, regardless of what you call it.
- Time together.
- Both people making efforts to come up with solutions to the scheduling issues.
- Laughter and easy-going conversation.
- Fascination beyond the physical attraction.
- Sexual chemistry.
- Emotionally and mentally stable, as far as you can tell.
- Deals with changes and uncertainty easily.
And in my estimation those qualities in ONE PERSON are hard to find. Don’t rush through it, if you’ve started to make a match. Slow. Keep building on the friendship. (Does that sound cliché? It might, but really, you get over the “let’s just have sex” part of relating to someone pretty quickly. And I’m pretty sure most women would not be okay with every date night having us say, “Let’s just stay in and do it. I’ll bring Chinese.” It doesn’t work that way in the long-term, and it shouldn’t be your focus in the short-term.)
If you get too far ahead of yourself, thinking about pairing up, or how they would do as a step-parent, you might need to take a time out. This is no longer a race against time, it’s a race with time. You’ve got limited time. You need to make the most of the opportunities you do have to meet and greet. If there are a lot of signals that “this is not working very easily” you might consider resetting expectations and going back to the dating pool.
If you find it’s working. That might be even more frightening, for both of you. What if… So don’t go there. Slow down. Take it easy. Enjoy each other’s company, in and most importantly out of bed. And then just bask in the time you do find to be together. And see how flexible you can be with the idiosyncrasies of life as a single parent. There is a long way to go before you need to begin planning.
So don’t set your expectations too far in the future. Stay in the moment and see how compatible you are, how close your friendship can become. See, for me, part of the problem is I was drawn in and captured by the beauty and sex thing before I really got a deep understanding of the person I was committing too. Don’t make the same mistake again. There’s no hurry to move into the next stages, and in fact, just mentioning them might freak both of you out. When you hear yourself talking about (enter your freak out here: moving in, marriage, step-parenting) just take a deep breath and drop back into the moment, into the presence of this cool person, who happens, if things go well, to think you’re cool too.
For now, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I like you. I like hanging out with you. And that’s enough.
Do you know what’s enough for you? I know my ideas change all the time. But I keep coming back to the smile, the joy, and the friendship.
The Off Parent
back to On Dating Again
- Sex is Fun: Should You Settle for Apathetic Sex?
- Negotiating Love and Desire
- Burn the Maps! Do You Think You Know About Dating After Divorce?
- Online Dating Undercover Revelations: OK Cupid (Pt. 1)
- All Kinds of Women and the Sparks of Desire
- Little Turnoffs: On a First Date with a Woman
- Agua y besos: How Do We Gain So Much Energy from Love?
- The Sensual and the Sexual: Dating After Divorce
- Divorced and Dating Again: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
image: she is my drug, bryan brenneman, creative commons usage
I’m beginning to get tired of online dating. Like “real tired” of it.
Here are a few observations I had while checking into my online dating profile this morning.
Thumbnails can tell a lot about a person.
- Too plain (maybe they don’t have friends or advisers who can help them spruce up)
- Bathroom mirror shots (maybe they don’t have friends or a modern smart phone to make a proper selfie)
- Too radical (if they are trying really hard in their profile picture, they are hiding something)
- Too glam (too much makeup and flash and that’s how I’m going to think of you – puffed up)
- Too many tattoos (I find tattoos kind of sexy, but if it’s your lead story, you’re probably a dancer or a roller derby star)
- Too Annie Hall (it was cute back then, but frumpy is just not sexy or intriguing)
The rest of your pictures.
- There’s usually that one picture that’s a bit more realistic – like what you really look like. You can either hide these or show them as a way of weeding out the misses. Cause in person, the real you is going to show up. You can’t keep your profile in perfect perspective in real life. I currently am employing the “here’s a wakeup photo” method. When we finally meet, you’ll already have a good idea of what I look like. As in RIGHT NOW.
- Pictures that are from ancient times. You can tell when someone’s using a picture from college. It’s obvious. Make sure your photos are real, and up-to-date. If you’re trying to inflate how you look now, you’re going to spend a lot of time in disappointing first dates. When I see you across the room and notice you look nothing like your photos. Um, is that really what you want?
- Pictures of your beautiful smile that show little or nothing else of your frame and figure. (Um, what are you hiding, exactly. The answer, actually, is often quite a lot. I was a few dates in with a woman, before I really got a good idea of what the rest of her body looked like. OOPS. It was an uncomfortable situation. I’m not saying you should show your flabby whatevers, but don’t present yourself as a runner and “thin and athletic” if you haven’t worked out since high school.
- Pictures with kids are okay. I’m sure they will weed out the non-kidded prospects, but that’s probably a good thing, if my experience is any indication. If they don’t have kids and you do… There’s a disconnect immediately. They simply won’t understand about half of your life. They can say, “I love kids.” But they didn’t put them as a priority in their lives. And they probably won’t understand you putting your kids before them.
- Pictures with drinks in your hand. Fine, we all like a (some of us) like a drink ever now and then. But if you’re leading with you interest in drinking, well, you might be indicating more than you know. I am happy to share a glass or bottle of wine. But it better not be the formative activity in the relationship. That leads to disaster.
Language in your profile.
- Stay away from Jesus references, unless that is the only type of guy you are considering: the Jesus guy. Because I am spiritual and believe in God and some-variations of Jesus, might not mean I’m ready to be with a Jesus-girl. It’s okay if that’s the priority in your life. And if that’s the case, be sure and be up front about it. But if you’re simply saying, you like to go to church and pray. Leading with your faith, is a bit of a turn off.
- The words “drama” and “easy-going” are antonyms. But you don’t need to disclaim your dislike of drama. Who really looks for a “scene?” We’re all looking to make life a bit easier. And for some reason we’ve each turned to online dating to try and fill that last little, but critical, tidbit in our lives. The drama, or easy-going-ness will be apparent as you begin to engage with a potential date.
- Too recent in your divorce trajectory If you indicate you’re “recently” divorced, I know a lot of us are going to avoid getting involved. Who wants to experience all that turmoil. Call me when you’ve got a few years under your belt. I supposed the contrary is also possible, opportunists who see “recently divorced” as vulnerable and potential objects for bootie calls. The opposite is probably more likely. But if you did hookup with the newly un-married be ready for a lot of drama. The emotional roller coaster is real. I prefer for things to be a little more even keel.
- Too much “follow your bliss.” Yes divorce is a HUGE opportunity to re-invent yourself and rediscover your priorities in life. But if you’re too far out there in the “exploration” mode you’re probably ignoring some of the basics. Like: do you have a job, are you happy with your job, are you happy with your life, and what else do you do for fun. Too much “ready for the stars” language sets up an expectation of fireworks and flightiness.
Again, these are my opinions. I’ve stripped my OKCupid profile of a good portion of my story. I have the “telling” picture in my set. I’ve decided this time around NOT to answer any of the questions. This creates a 0% match, 0% friend, 0% enemy. And that’s okay. Often I found myself getting worked up, or intrigued by women’s answers to the questions. Really, I just want to get a good picture of who you are, what our potential might be, then I’d like to move towards meeting in person. All this dance before meeting is exhausting and not all that productive.
Finally, my current approach is to only pursue 100% awesome. If there are obvious flaws or misses in the categories above, then I’m out. NEXT.
And that’s also a problem. There are currently ZERO women of interest on my OKCupid radar. That’s okay, I’m more interested in the current rising star. (see: It’s About Time) But at the same time, I know it’s important to keep farming, keep looking for options and information about what I do and don’t want in my next relationship. That’s my part of the equation. Putting all of my eggs in any basket before the hatching begins is just bad farming.
The Off Parent
< back to On Dating Again index
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)