by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Part 1: Readiness and rejection
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After The Big Breakup discusses the 5 R’s – Readiness, Rejection, Recycling, Rebounding and Retreating.
They are commonly experienced bumps along the dating road when you go back out after healing from a big breakup.
But LONG before you’re ready to date, you have to deal with the idea of rejection and reject the notion that it has ANYTHING to do with your self-worth. So even if you’re NOWHERE NEAR READY to date, please read the REJECTION part of this and the book. It is VERY important.
Not everyone experiences them but most experience a few and some experience all of them! Knowing that it’s normal and what to do with each will make it easier for you to handle.
You’ve done what you were told you to do in order to heal “properly”. You didn’t fall right back into a relationship after a breakup. You gave yourself time to heal. You did the work and took your time. You’ve suffered alone even when your ex ran right into a new relationship. You resisted the urge to prove you’ve “moved on” and turned down the invitations and potential fix-ups. You’ve resisted smiles and interest from cute, nice people. You’ve been all about being alone and learning from the breakup. You have made you and your new life a priority. Yes, you’ve done all the right things.
It’s been x amount of time and everyone is asking you, “Well? When are going to start dating again?” You are beginning to feel embarrassed and unsure. How do you know when you’re ready?
- Don’t force yourself out into the dating road without even considering if you’re ready. Don’t allow others to pressure you. Develop a few good responses to nosy Nellies who want to know “what’s with you?”
GBOT suggests saying, “I appreciate your care and concern, but I’m not ready yet. When I am, I’ll let you know.” or “I’m thinking about it. I’ll let you know.” If they push, “What are you thinking about?” you can respond, “I’ll let you know.” Keep the non-answers coming and they will get tired of asking. Sometimes people seem to think that a single person’s love life is anyone’s business and it’s NOT. To set a boundary with really pesky people who won’t take no for an answer, ask, “What is it about me not dating that bothers you so much?” Usually that will make even the most persistent person back off.
Pressure can also come from within. If you’re not interested after months of being alone, you may start to wonder what is wrong with you. While you want to be honest and be true to yourself, you may not be able to really gauge your level of readiness. It’s hard sometimes to know if you’re not ready because you’re still working through or because you’re afraid of being hurt. Take some time off and think about it. If you’re still working through, that is okay. You can check back in with yourself a few weeks from now.
- You need to know exactly what kind of dating experience you’re ready for. Some people only want to date when they’re ready to look for someone who is interested in a long-term relationship. Others are ready for a “let’s see what happens…” and others are looking for fun in a short-lived fling. Whatever it is you’re ready for, you should define it clearly so that neither you nor someone else gives or gets mixed signals. If you’re signing up on dating websites and getting responses only from those looking for a physical relationship or only those looking for serious romance, review your profile and make sure it’s sending the right message. If you’re unsure of yourself, your profile will reveal that ambiguity and a mish-mash of people will be filling your inbox with crazy emails. It’s not just important to know if you’re ready but what you’re ready for! It’s also okay not to know (see below about “see what happens.”)
- Think about your first few dates out. It’s usually easier to make them informal, meet for coffee or lunch dates than to put pressure on both of you by making it a Saturday night date for dinner and a movie. Keeping first dates light and short will go a long way in calming your anxiety.
- Think of dating as research. Many people think that having a “let’s see what happens” or “whatever happens happens” approach is wrong. It’s not.
Even though the advice above states to know what you’re ready for, it’s okay if you don’t know BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) ONLY IF you can handle “whatever happens happens.” But THAT has to be an affirmative decision that you make, not something that just happens because you’re indecisive. The difference is a) you go out not knowing what you want and not liking what you get and wondering what is wrong with the situation or b) you know you have no idea what it is you want and you’re cool with that…you’re going to go out and just “see what happens” and you GET that your ambiguity is going to lead to incredibly mixed results. Make sense?
In the event you think you can handle whatever happens, make sure you still have standards you will not lower. If people approach you JUST for a physical relationship, know whether or not that is okay with you. Think about the consequences (like an STD) and if it’s worth it. Every single decision you make during the “whatever” phase still has to be carefully crafted by you. You still have to be in charge of the whatever.
If you have a casual attitude just to gauge what’s out there and how you respond to it, you will do better than if you’re uptight and scared. If you go out not knowing what you want but understanding that might lead to some pretty strange goings on, you should be okay. Don’t put too much stock into ANYTHING that happens when dating, except making sure to keep yourself safe and enjoying yourself. Yes, I said ENJOY yourself.
If you stop trying to gauge if you and your first date mate can bond and become an instant couple, you might end up having a good time. Perhaps this isn’t a romantic interest but maybe this person can become a friend or a business contact. Keep it light and breezy and think of it as something you do to put your finger on your emotional and mental pulse and to check out what’s going on in the world. Use this attitude when you’re not sure what you’re ready for but you think it might be fun to find out. If you’re not someone who can be that casual about something like dating, this might be the perfect opportunity to let down that guard and try to have some fun. And remember, water seeks its own level. So don’t be surprised if you don’t know what you want and wind up with others who don’t know either. If that gets to be too much, pull back.
Don’t take dating personally (more about this in rejection) and take it as it comes. If you’re not ready, you can go back to not dating any time you like. Just take it down a notch in overall importance and you’ll have a pretty decent time.
- It’s okay to not be ready and pull back (more about this in Retreating in Part 2).
Before you go back out there, know you will reject and be rejected. It’s part of the process. And it means NOTHING. Don’t take it personally. Yes, I said DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Be sure to toughen up before you put yourself in a position to be scrutinized. Make sure you’ve done your affirmations as suggested in Getting Past Your Breakup (GPYB) and GBOT and you have a new view of rejection. A continuing mantra must be, “I only want to be with people who want to be with me.” You must know you are a worthwhile person who deserves to be loved and cared for and if someone doesn’t value you, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even about you. Even if they’re wrong. If they don’t want to be with you, guess what? They’re wrong about you and for you. Be grateful you know it early.
- Not everyone is going to want to be with you. That means NOTHING about what you are worth. One man’s trash is another’s treasure. Not everyone is going to like you in this world. If you’ve ever looked for a job, you may have come across the situation where the exact same resume for the exact same job receives a “Sorry, you’re not what we’re looking for.” from one company and then a “We are so glad we found you!” from another. Dating is very much the same thing. When you get feedback that someone is not interested in you, you may be used to feeling rejected. You may start to feel sorry for yourself and imagine that no one else is every going to love you again. All because someone who doesn’t know you doesn’t want you. You have to start to understand, that is ridiculous.
- Many times rejection is not about what is wrong with you but what is right with you. As it details in some of the client stories in GBOT,sometimes you give the clear impression that you’re a no-nonsense kind of person (at least you should be if you’ve worked through Getting Past Your Breakup!) Someone who is about playing games is going to take a pass.
People with commitment issues don’t want someone looking for a long-term commitment but many times they will date them anyway. A client of mine was a serial dater and confessed he didn’t even know if he wanted a relationship though he was on sites that attracted people looking for serious relationships. For him, it was about the thrill of the chase. I’m sure that many a woman went home from a fantastic date thinking she’d hear from him again. She didn’t. She may have wondered what was wrong with her even though the lack of a next date had absolutely nothing to do with her. You have no idea what is going on with your date. You don’t know if they’ve been honest with what they are looking for. Don’t take it personally.
- If you’re so afraid of being rejected you may turn yourself inside out for the wrong person or miss valuable information that you need to have in order to decide if this person is right for you. Most people treat it like a job interview, “I’m applying for this job because I really want this job. Please hire me.” You think you know enough about a company to go work there, but often we wind up working for the wrong people. We can always quit. But in relationships we have to treat it as if WE are the ones holding the interview. Don’t approach it with this, “Please hire me.” attitude. Instead, approach it with, “Do I want to hire you?” If the person rejects you, you don’t want them anyway.
- When you enter the world of dating, you agree to judge and be judged. Many times people make snap judgments before they even know much about you. Other times you may have had 3 or 4 wonderful dates and think you are heading somewhere with this person who seems to feel the same and then, WHAM, they decide it’s enough for them. Even after just 3 dates, you can feel devastated and have the sting of your last breakup come back. You can feel horribly rejected by the end of what you thought was a budding romance.
Remember, you want to be with people who want to be with you. Don’t spend time trying to figure out how someone can have such a great time with you over the course of a few dates and then just turn off. There are a million reasons and sometimes no good reason. It happens. It’s not about you and it’s not your problem. Turn the page and move on.
- Know that what you call rejection is simply someone making a decision that the two of you have no future. It has nothing to do with your value as a person or as a partner. It usually has more to do with them than it has to do with you.
Lose any kind of desperation you have about not being liked or thought of as attractive. This is not a judgment as to your worth as a person or your attractiveness in looks or personality. It’s about the fact that it doesn’t quite fit. You and this other person are just not a match and that is FINE.
If you’ve done the work in GPYB, you have learned that you do not get your value from someone else, you get it from you. You know you are valuable and worthwhile and this experience cannot and will not and must not take that from you.
You don’t need the whole world panting after you or wishing they were with you. That could get very messy very quickly. Don’t think you need to be better looking or younger or richer. Good looking people think people are only there for their looks, the rich for their money, the young for their youth. Everyone is insecure to some degree. Stop wondering, “What was it about me that didn’t work for them?” It doesn’t matter.
You don’t want to be dragging people into relationships that don’t want to be there. You don’t want to spend time convincing people you hardly know that you are worth their time. Once they make the decision you’re not, they are not the one for you. Move on.
Finding the right person is about finding someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them. Don’t take rejection personally; take it as a sign you dodged a bullet or that you are still standing and not enmeshed in a bad relationship.