My D-day was almost six years ago. My ex-wife told me she wanted divorce when I found out. She was firm about that, and moved out a few weeks later. The divorce was final in April 2009. We have one son, who is now 11.
We don't talk or fight or even co-parent today. Just parallel parenting and as little contact as possible. We keep it brief and pleasant. She's married to the OM, but because her affair was international, they still don't live together.
I started dating soon after she moved out. Too soon for anything healthy, but the validation of being wanted after being so casually discarded by my ex-wife was intoxicating. And I needed some emotional drunkenness.
No animals were harmed in the filming of this movie.
I dated a lot, but I am monogamous. In October 2011 I met someone new. The total package. We were married last June. I'm very hopeful that this is permanent. Scary that I'd even think for a second that it wasn't. That's the damage we all understand on this web site. Marriage is what we make of it. It's her first marriage, and every sign is positive.
I feel safe again. Love again. Long removed from the drama that makes infidelity such an embarrassing and ugly experience.
But I don't want to forget. No, that doesn't mean any kind of emotion toward my ex-wife.
If there's one positive about this infidelity experience, aside from it eventually leading me to this wonderful person who shares my home, it's that in my mid-40s, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in introspective analysis of my life. This comes, by the way, in addition to the occasional wallowing in self-pity. There's a huge difference between saying, "I am unlovable" or "I don't deserve this" and taking the time to break down what happened and what roles each party played at different times.
I asked myself what life was really about. I found some answers I didn't like. And some I did.
Because I am self-employed and was so focused on building a business for so many years, I had the money to take a step back from my business and try new things. To take the time to evaluate those questions.
I'm at the point where I don't have relevant questions for the people of SI. That's not to say I have everything figured out. Of course I don't. But I've never been good at the chit-chatty stuff which gives you the opportunity to start a new item like, "what do you do when your transmission fails right after your 120,000-mile tune-up?"
I've been tempted to jump into JFO and help out. That is a great feature of SI. People give back after they've received support. I no longer trigger when I read JFO, but I can't think of anything to say other than, "get out, protect yourself, this sucks but you'll be OK in the end." That's not what people need right then. Some will preserve their marriages. Some want to preserve their marriages but need to learn for themselves that it's not possible. Some just want out and need to know how. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on.
Being male, stereotypically enough, I want to solve problems, not provide a support group.
SI is a great place for people who have just found out about an affair, or are struggling with issues related to a marriage or divorce where infidelity has reared its ugly head. I wish I could provide more help, many here are much better with those issues than I. My case was too simple. Exit affair, Discovery, go directly to Divorce, do not pass Go. My ex is not a vindictive or mean person, so I was lucky enough to have a moderately reasonable and fair divorce. I don't have any unusual insight there other than a strong feeling that each party having a good lawyer who wants to avoid court provides the best outcome for everyone involved, especially the kids.
So I thought I'd try and "give back" by writing a post-infidelity dating handbook. This encapsulates what I've learned from my own experiences. It's not an attempt to cover everything. As always, your mileage may vary; what I've learned about myself may be completely irrelevant to your situation. I hope that's appropriate here.
I spent most of my SI time in the New Beginnings forum. So my insights are probably most relevant here. New Beginnings doesn't always mean dating, but the vast majority of posts are related to new relationships.
This handbook has 23 sections and a preface. I'll put each section in a separate post. Mods, if this violates any rules (and I looked again at the guidelines and don't think it does), I apologize, and no hard feelings if you send this into the bit-bucket.
I'm told that people thought of two things when they saw my handle during the time when I was an active poster.
1) I feel strongly that multi-dating is harmful.
2) I kept a spreadsheet outlining my online dating contacts.
The former is just an opinion. I will go into it in depth in this handbook. The latter is part of the reason I feel I can write something that gives a little insight into dating. I'm always analyzing something. I've chosen a profession that requires a lot of spreadsheet work, and those strengths carry over into many arenas. I learned what worked for me because I could see, from looking at this spreadsheet, how I should approach dating.
No, I'm not anywhere along the autism spectrum. My understanding of dating is that it's a numbers game. Getting a handle on those numbers will result in a better outcome. Even if you're a firm believer in soul mates, think of fine-tuning dating behavior based on these concepts as possibly helping you find your soul mate. Of course, if you're a believer in predestination, you're probably not reading handbooks in the first place.
Most of us had a moment when we realized that our former life partner no longer wished to be our life partner. That can come in two forms. Either he or she will come out and say it, and initiate divorce. Or we will conclude from his or her behavior that he or she is no longer (or never was) properly invested in the relationship. In those cases, we initiate the divorce.
Either way, this is a devastating moment. It is also the moment that recovery begins.
It doesn't always feel like a recovery. At first, it's hard to even eat a meal. Recovery is two steps forward, one step back, one step to the side, three steps to the other side. It's a dance to music that has neither rhyme nor rhythm.
Recovery is different for everyone. The one common variable is time. Which is why the one thing most of have in common is that moment of recognition. Recovery requires time, but it's uncertain how long it takes. It's also uncertain what forms it takes. It's even uncertain what it means to say that you're recovered. I don't know if I am. All I know is that a long time has passed since recovery began and I am a different person than I was on that day almost six years ago.
Don't listen to people who believe there's a formula for recovery. Like two months for every year you were together, plus the square root of the phase of the moon on the day you first experienced a well-made whiskey sour. There isn't. There are no easy answers in life, unless you're considering taking an action that will cause someone else harm. Then don't. Physicians have the Hippocratic Oath. So should the rest of us.
One concept I want to emphasize in this handbook is that people seem obsessed with labels. To use a label recklessly myself, most recovering infidelitites (applying a label to those of us who lost our marriages or long-term relationships to infidelity) have OCD when it comes to labels.
Labels make things easier. If you apply a label to a package, you can safely file that package away in some nether-region of your brain where logic is simplistic and growth is limited.
Unfortunately, life is not so easy. This may make this handbook a difficult read, because I'm writing about concepts you may not want to read. That may start with this concept: true introspection has no place for label-makers. Remember those little machines that pressed white letters in rolls of colorful plastic tape? They had a letter wheel, and you'd press the spine and you could create a nice-looking label for a drawer or your desk. We were obsessed with those in elementary school.
If you want to get through this positively, throw that label-maker in the trash. Discard those thoughts that every member of the opposite sex fits tidily into one of several convenient packages. Stop playing amateur psychologist and diagnosing various disorders based on precious little information. Most of all, stop making excuses.
The world is complex. I use a lot of math in my work. And I learned a lot of calculus and number theory and probability in college. It all works neatly if you want to become an engineer and build something that's designed for optimal strength or capacity in a controlled environment. But it's only useful to me as an introduction to the fundamentals of numbers. My work involves millions of variables and uncertain independence and correlation between those variables. I cannot take a function from a textbook and use it in any meaningful manner. So I let the variables speak for themselves. I invent functions that apply specifically to the distributions I see in my own analysis. These functions, part of a branch of mathematics unique to me, have no practical value to anyone else. I'd be embarrassed to share them with a math professor. Yet they give my products a shape and feel that works well for my customers.
Similarly, your own experiences and interactions with people are unique. There is absolutely no shortcut for independent analysis. If you want to truly progress through recovery, learn from this failed relationship, have a happier future, then you need to throw out everything you think you know about yourself and work from there.
Please remember this as (or if) you read further in this handbook. I will stress the "no labels" concept over and over.
This question comes up a lot on our forums. Often, as soon as we enter recovery and get through that initial jackhammer of pain, we allow our minds to wander in this direction.
What is a date? It's an arrangement between (usually) two people to perform some sort of activity together. Seems pretty simple. So what is dating? Ah, there's a label. We attach connotations to dating that mean different things to different people.
For the purposes of this handbook, I'll make a very loose definition of dating. It's when there's some romantic or sexual or even emotional connection attached to a date. It can apply to anything that we would not do with anyone other than our partner in an exclusive relationship.
A date can be as simple as setting aside time to make a phone call or a series of text messages. Dates don't require physical contact or sexual expression. In fact, two people can do something together, and it may be a date to one of them and not a date to the other one.
For example, a man and a woman can go to a baseball game together. For him, it's not a date - he simply enjoys baseball and enjoys her company. He wouldn't hide this from his wife, nor would he cross any emotional or physical lines during this activity. For her, it's a date - she may want to share complaints about her husband, or she may be hoping the night ends with a couple of hours at a motel. Infidelity began, for her, the minute she contemplated or embarked upon this date. For him, it's more a matter of recognizing and avoiding danger and infidelity may not ever take place in any form.
We can certainly reverse the sexes in that example.
The point I'm trying to make here is that a dating arrangement is in your own mind and may take many forms.
So, are you ready for dating? Yes, you are, as soon as you feel like you want to share any emotional or physical connection. The question is in what form.
Yes, you're ready for dating if you ask yourself or others if you're ready for dating. Should you be dating? That's a better question.
Dating, then, needs to be defined more precisely. What is it that you want to share on this date? What emotional needs are you looking to satisfy? What physical needs are you looking to satisfy? Is this an exclusive arrangement?
Most importantly, are you being honest with yourself and with the person you're dating?
If you're offering an exclusive romantic relationship and you're still hoping for reconciliation with your spouse, you are not being honest.
However, and here's where many may disagree with me, if you are in recovery - meaning very specifically that the exclusive nature of your relationship or former relationship is broken - then you have to decide for yourself what is appropriate.
This is not an easy determination. In fact, you will make plenty of mistakes. You have to decide for yourself (or ask others) if you can be honest with prospective dates. You have to decide how to handle your desires and needs.
Jumping into a committed relationship when you're still hoping for reconciliation is hard to justify. Someone who does this is undoubtedly having difficulty with the self-analysis required for healthy dating. With time and introspection, you become more accurate in assessing dating questions.
However, I doubt that anyone is capable of being completely honest about all these questions. No two people enter a dating relationship accurately able to answer every question about needs and desires. I'm not writing this to give you permission to lie about anything, or give you an easy excuse for making mistakes and hurting either yourself or someone else. I'm writing it to underline that there are no easy answers when it comes to introspection and dating.
Should you be dating? If you can define your needs and your desires and accurately and effectively communicate them with prospective partners.
My best relationship prior to meeting my wife was with a woman who was in a very similar stage of the healing process. We bonded by talking a lot about our marriages, which is taboo in a post-recovery relationship. We were long-distance, and our relationship consisted of intense, fun weekends. We were faithful to each other, loved each other, but both knew after the initial "wow, it's wonderful to have this" stage that there was no way to merge our lives. We were simply in different places in life. So it ended, and we genuinely wish each other well.
We were both ready to date. And we were honest with each other, to the best of our abilities. Neither of us were completely healed, and we understood that healing would probably take us in different directions.
The cliche here is that "broken attracts broken." There are no rules. I don't think this cliche works - attraction is mostly independent from internal development. But what we seek and need from a relationship while we're healing is very different from what we seek and need once we're there.
Let's say you're still open to reconciliation, but you either want to teach your partner some sort of lesson or you feel that some sort of physical connection with someone outside of the relationship will give you balance and the ability to reconcile down the road.
You've done some hard work, and you feel you can accurately communicate this concept with a new partner. No lies, no pretensions.
Is this a good idea? Well, no. Ultimately, an adult is responsible for his or her own behavior. The message this sends is that anger - quite righteous anger - toward one person determines a relationship of some sort with another person. Even if all adults involved have full knowledge and this is consenting behavior, it's not behavior that's going to help you heal or develop. It's just one more complication that has to be dealt with down the road.
If you end up reconciling or open to reconciliation, then both of you have to do all the work of both the betrayed and betrayer. Revenge really isn't ever some sort of equivalency. It's a separate act that may or may not be relevant to the original injury.
I'm not a firm believer that it's wrong to date during a separation. Even if you have some hopes that the relationship can be saved if only your partner was in a better frame of mind. But if your motivation is solely based on your partner, as it is with revenge dating, you are letting your partner control your actions in a very negative way. This only adds to the work you need to do to once again become a healthy partner for someone.
Even if the validation of revenge is very helpful in the recovery process, it still falls into the category of using someone. The closest I came to using someone was quite early on in this process (D-Day plus four months). I had a few dates with a woman, and we were getting physical, and I specifically timed a date so that we could be physical on my anniversary with my ex.
When you're manipulating a dating relationship to send some sort of internal message to the place in your brain where your ex resides, that's using someone and sets up the potential to cause that person harm.
If you understand your needs and desires, and you've determined that it's time to find a new partner, where do you look?
In my opinion, one of the great uses of the internet is in introducing you to huge numbers of people you'd never meet otherwise. The stigma of online dating is pretty much gone.
These introductions add a wonderful first step to dating. You can learn a lot about someone without letting chemistry get in the way. Then, if someone passes your filters, you can go ahead and have the meet-and-greet.
When you go to a bar, or run into someone at the grocery store, or pretty much any other chance meeting, you're already in the meet-and-greet phase. Because of chemistry, you can find yourself in a relationship with someone who is completely inappropriate for you.
If your goal in dating is to have a lot of physical relationships without much emotional content and you're extroverted and good with bars or grocery stores or even your neighborhood Best Buy, don't bother with the online stuff. It adds a purely unnecessary layer of work.
But if you're looking for an introduction to someone who may be perfect for you, internet dating sites are the greatest invention ever.
They're not for everyone. You're going to get rejected more often than not, even if you have a terrific profile. Guys, if you're short or unemployed, you're going to find your choices very limited. Ladies, looks are your currency and that's shallow in its own right. Both are a sad fact in the dating world, online or otherwise. But if you put yourself out there and present yourself honestly and to the best of your abilities, you will find success sooner or later.
This is a frequent question. It might be the most frequent question people ask in dating. I actually have an answer: free sites. There, I wrote it.
Has Match produced zillions of marriages? I'm sure it has. But so have the free sites. I look at this question from the perspective of a business plan.
What's my goal when I run a free site? I want to generate lots of traffic so that I can maximize my ad revenue. I maximize ad revenue by not only attracting new people to my site, but by making them stay a long time. Successful customers become my ambassadors and generate new customers. I make money by creating a great dating service.
If I run a pay site, my goal is also to increase traffic. But my goal is not necessarily getting users to spend a lot of time at my site. I only make money if they pay for a subscription. And I make more money from those who have subscriptions and don't use them. I want happy customers because they become ambassadors. But, more importantly, I have to get their money any way I can.
So the pay sites are known for creating false profiles of beautiful people. They're known for sending a quick "hi" from these false profiles in order to get you to sign up to see why that wonderful-looking person is contacting you. They have incentive, most of all, to keep old profiles "active" so that you perceive a greater selection than you actually have. And then, when you flail away unsuccessfully because you have your heart set on something that doesn't even exist, you're more likely to stick around longer, paying for a second subscription. And a third.
On the free sites, you have a lot of dishonest profiles from people just testing things out, or maybe viewing their friends or looking for a quick hookup. On the pay sites, you may get fewer tests (though you can usually create a profile for free), but you have to weed through a high percentage of profiles you can't communicate with. Again, the goal of the free site owner is an enjoyable browsing experience. The goal of the pay site owner is subscriptions. The free site owner, once there's a certain critical mass in user base, has incentive to accurately depict which profiles are truly active. The pay site owner has incentive to do the opposite.
What it comes down to is that the free site owner is selling a positive browsing experience and the pay site owner has to turn that experience into a subscription.
You've probably heard that the free sites are full of creepers who message everyone in hopes that one person is desperate enough to respond. That's true. On the free sites, you will get more contact from truly undesirable potential partners. But they're rather easily identified. Think of it as ignoring the phone when caller ID indicates a telemarketer is begging for money. There's no point engaging with these people.
The pay sites require money to send messages, for the most part. Women, especially (sorry for the stereotype) often say it's better to hear from people who have made a financial investment. But that gives you a false sense of security. It may eliminate undesirables who have no money, but it still gives relative anonymity to creepers with money. The pay site owners don't drive to anyone's home to verify they're dating for the right reasons. The pay sites will take anyone's money.
Remember, there are no shortcuts in dating. Odds are, the first profile that attracts you isn't going to wind up being your spouse. Odds are, someone will lie to you.
What you need is the confidence and the ability to demand an honest dating experience. No dating site will give you that. These are skills you need to learn on your own. When you have those skills, you will find that the most important information you need to know about a profile is simply whether the profile is a legitimate, active profile. And the free sites have incentive to keep that information accurate while the pay sites have incentive to keep that information secret.
Your profile is your introduction to the dating world. Your goal is to attract potential partners.
One mistake many people make is forgetting that goal. A good profile will attract unsuitable or desperate potential dates. It will attract people who, frankly, would make your skin crawl if you met them on the street.
You can avoid this only by making your profile less attractive. Many do. Many shout out all the things they hate about dating, especially what they hate about creepers.
But here's the problem: when you make your profile less attractive, you are probably turning off exactly the people you most want to meet. From a mathematical perspective, your goal should be to date the most desirable person you can possibly attract. The only way to achieve this goal is to make the best profile possible.
Think of it as a compliment (or at least a mild thumbs up) when creepers contact you. There's no obligation to respond. And you can block them if they show signs of not being to handle being ignored.
The bottom line is that the only person you care about is the person you want to date. Write your profile to attract that person, not for those you want to avoid.
Nothing else matters. Rinse and repeat: Nothing Else Matters.
How do you attract someone with a profile? Avoid generic statements. Everyone likes romantic walks. Everyone thinks they are comfortable at indoor events and outdoor events. Everyone likes to laugh. Everyone is stoked to put on formal wear, then lounge around afterward in a tee-shirt and jeans. What makes you different?
Talk briefly about a couple of hobbies. Talk about your goals in life. Talk about what makes you happy. If you do this, you will attract those who can read that and see themselves in your life. And, then, if you read his or her profile and you feel the same way, you may make a connection.
Try to avoid statements that your children are the most important parts of your life. Of course they are. What kind of parent would put their kids behind some schlub they just met on the Internet? Just remember that your goal with a profile is to attract a potential mate. Which means that person seems himself or herself in your life. If that means he or she is far behind a couple of kids, maybe a dog and a cat, perhaps a rabbit or two, and maybe behind the neighbor who sometimes helps shovel your walk as well? You won't hear from many who take this game seriously.
If you tell people how special they have to be to message you, it actually works the opposite of how you expect it to work. For the true players out there, it paints a giant red bull's-eye on your nether regions. You've essentially given them the playbook they need to break through. And the creepers don't bother reading profiles and often think they're special themselves. The only people you'll turn off are exactly the people you want most - the people who read profiles and make a genuine effort to figure out if there's a potential match.
At least half, maybe three-quarters of this game is pictures. If you have an attractive picture, you'll get a lot of mail. You will hear from creepers and non-creepers, probably more of the former than the latter. It's just a fact of the dating sites - everyone wants to be attracted to his or her date. Pictures that show you smiling make you seem more attractive. You're happy, so someone can imagine being part of what made you happy. One pet picture is OK. Pictures of your children are not. Try to avoid group pictures where you have to guess which one is you. People will often guess wrong, and when they do, you're wasting your time communicating.
I'd say shirtless or sexy pictures are a bad idea if you're after a lasting relationship, but who knows? I'd say anything in a mirror is a bad idea unless you have other good pictures that show you have a life. There needs to be a reason for every picture. Present yourself positively, accurately and happy. If you are heavy, and you don't talk about it in your profile and your pictures hide it (going as far as to use extreme facial closeups to hide an unflattering chin), prepare yourself for first dates that end quickly because your date isn't attracted or even feels a little misled.
You have to choose pictures that will allow your date to recognize you when you meet, That kind of honesty is sometimes uncomfortable. So is online dating in general.
Some people go without pictures. Sometimes it's for safety reasons, though if it's that bad hopefully you're already in close contact with the police. Sometimes it's for professional reasons, though if your profile is clean and careful, it shouldn't cause problems - after all, the people who really object to online dating won't ever see it.
Women can get away with not using pictures. However, since so many men are so visual, contact can be a huge ego bruise. A few times, I contacted women without pictures on their profiles because I liked what they wrote. And we began emailing and the lack of pictures became the elephant in the room. So they usually volunteer to send pictures within a day or two. Well, what do you do if you're a man and you absolutely know you won't be attracted to the woman who just sent those pictures? There's no hiding that, even if you try and spare her feelings. That can't feel good.
Men cannot get away with not using pictures. Women will assume you're married and trolling for a good time and you simply don't want to get caught by your wife's best friend.
Ah, the dreaded red flag. The term probably comes from auto racing, where if the grand marshal waves a red flag, drivers must pull over and stop immediately. Conditions for racing are not safe.
In dating, we hear that term a lot. "Oh, we went out and it turns out he has back hair. Is that a red flag?" Or "he hasn't called in 19 hours and 23 minutes. Is that a red flag?" Maybe "she has no children and has never been married. Is that a red flag?" or even, "she has called twice in the last 19 hours and 23 minutes. Is that a red flag?"
I can't answer these questions for you. Back hair may mean you, in particular, will never be attracted to this man. You may be someone who needs to be in frequent contact, even near the start of a relationship. You may be looking for a partner who provides an instant family.
There are no shortcuts. I say this as often as I say labels should be avoided at all costs. You need to take the time to figure out what early behavior you can't tolerate in a relationship. You need to do the math yourself and figure out whether a particular trait is so unpleasant that you would rather be single than put up with it. If you're honest with yourself, you can find your own red flags.
The only easy red flags are hand-in-hand with abuse - both mental and physical. Unfortunately, there are no perfect signs of an abuser. You just need to have the confidence to get the hell out at the first actual manifestation of abuse.
If this person isn't abusive, there probably are many wonderful prospective partners out there. So stop trying to determine the color of the laundry, sit down, and figure out what you need.
Deal-breakers are a complement to red flags. A deal-breaker is more an action than a trait. So you might say that "he has an assault conviction - this is a sign he might be an abuser and so the conviction is a red flag for me." While the complementary deal-breaker would be: "He hit me. Even though he is apologetic, this is unacceptable and I am done."
Physical abuse is an easy deal-breaker, though it can be difficult to escape physical abuse because acting on it may provoke more abuse and being abused causes a lot of damage to your confidence. Mental abuse is often tough to escape for the same reasons, plus it can be harder to identify.
While abuse of any kind should be an instant deal-breaker, acting on a deal-breaker is difficult. You don't want to create ultimatums you can't fulfill. A good test is focusing on yourself and your own needs. How does continuing this relationship, despite this trait, make you feel about yourself? How would you react if your best friend told you he or she had this experience?
Deal-breakers are about protecting yourself. They aren't about control.
A deal-breaker can be relatively trivial. Perhaps a man makes a "joke" about sex before you've even had your first kiss. Continuing to date him might make you feel like you're not respecting your own boundaries or values. Or perhaps she doesn't share your religious or political views, so you feel that connecting on a meaningful level may be difficult.
The important thing is to consider the deal-breaking action carefully. Once you've determined that something is a deal-breaker, break the deal. You will rarely feel good about yourself if you take a stand, then let the person back in based on a promise or an apology.
Our goal in dating is to find the best match. If we resort to dishonesty to secure that match, we are being completely selfish creatures because we are not letting our prospective partner find his or her best match.
We all try and present ourselves in our best light. We're not going to choose a picture wearing jeans that, indeed, do make our butts look unusually fat. We're not going to admit that we found her Chicken Kiev tasted more like it was made in a Siberian glue factory. We'll try not to throw out our best Tea Party versus the Republicans rant and we definitely won't admit that our idea of a perfect evening involves curling up on the couch and watching Jersey Shore reruns while eating Rocky Road ice cream.
Presenting ourselves positively is polite. It's going to lead to more success in dating. It's respectful.
But what about lying to present ourselves positively? I was just reading the other day about a man who had looked through a bunch of profiles (probably of women significantly younger than he is). He's 46 and says he keeps the body shape of a 30-year-old. He says many of the women he finds attractive have an upper-range limit of 45. So, he said, he was going to lie about his age on his profile.
He feels entitled to correct women who say 45 is it for them. He won't respect them even far enough to trust that they know what they want in a date. He feels special.
I will say this strikes home a little for me. My wife is five years younger than I am. We met when I was 46, and I gave my correct age on my profile. She had an upper limit of 45 as well. Thankfully, I didn't notice. I just assumed I'd be in the age range for a woman over 40 and I somehow missed the part of her profile that mentioned her contact preferences. I'm very glad I didn't see them, because I probably would have respected her preferences. She responded, however. We joked a little about it on our first couple of dates. And we fell in love anyway. It turned out that preference wasn't a strong one with her.
That might be the case for the guy above, as well. But if he meets someone and they fall in love, there's going to be that difficult conversation where he admits he lied about his age. Lying probably is a deal-breaker for many of us, since it indicates both a lack of respect and a fundamental selfishness.
If your excuse for lying is "everybody else does it," I don't know if there's any real hope for an honest relationship out there. You might well find someone who shares that view, but can you form a relationship based on trust? Remember that your goal in dating is to find someone who makes you feel good about yourself. Just getting in the door is the easy part. Forming a lasting relationship is the hard part. If your justification is "everyone tells me I look younger than I am," you are almost certainly the unwitting victim of politeness. Unless you're on your death bed or you're making play dates rather than real dates, no one is going to tell you that you look your age or older than you are.
So don't lie. Use recent pictures. Don't select a body type that's not your own (I have friends who have driven 50 miles for a date, only to turn right around and drive back after two minutes because the guy used 15-year-old pictures on his profile). Use your real age.
You've exchanged a message or two and you think to yourself, "hey, this one has potential." What do you do?
Some people want to meet right away. They have this down to a science. They have a favorite coffee shop. They set aside one hour. Not 45 minutes. Not one hour and 15 minutes. It's a timed evaluation. And if the date passes this test, a relationship is possible.
Some people want to conduct an entire relationship in email or text message before meeting. They know what they're looking for, and they want to make sure it's there before they venture forward.
The key, with either approach, is not to invest too much or too little in a first date. With the first approach, you run a high risk of a false positive or a false negative. With so little time invested, someone might get in the door for the wrong reason - usually chemistry.
With the latter approach, you might well be too invested by the time you meet. You might think you know the person when you really don't. You might miss easy deal-breakers.
Either way, what you're trying to fix is the proverbial broken picker. If you think math gives you the perfect formula for when to meet and for how long, your picker is broken because you have no confidence in your ability to make an intelligent decision from what's presented in front of you.
When is it right to meet, and for how long? I can't answer those questions. I've done this in just about every way imaginable. I do not think the one-hour coffee meet-and-greet is a good idea. I've never had a good experience. Just pleasant exchanges that for mutual reasons don't lead to a second date. I see it as a form of presenting a profile that lists what you *don't* want in a date. And that first date is an in-person continuation of that concept. You're looking for reasons to reject rather than learn.
I think it shows respect to offer an evening for a first date. Since this process can be anonymous, choose a public place for your first date and meet that person there.
It's a good idea to be concerned with the comfort of your date - both in terms of when and how you meet, and in your expectations of how the decision to meet is made. Having hard-and-fast rules when your sample size is obviously very limited is a poor solution from a scientific perspective.
What is chemistry? There's an entire industry of solutions to this question. As a guy, we hear that a woman makes a decision as to whether or not you will ever see her naked within the first five minutes of meeting.
I don't know that this is true, but I don't think I've ever had a dating experience that would violate that assumption.
My understanding is that chemistry is a formula. It's certainly a complex formula, but it's made up of expectations, mood, attractiveness and a few pieces that are completely under your control.
What's under your control, then? First - how much you talk and how much you listen. Someone will feel good about you if you find a way to make him or her talk a lot about what's important to him or her. How many times have you had a complete disconnect about a date? Someone calls you for a second date. You would describe the first date as tedious. He or she simply wouldn't shut up. You couldn't get a word in. You figured there's no way in the world that person could think you enjoyed yourself. Yet your date probably had a great time and thinks you're on your way to relationshipville. He or she calls you the next day, to your great surprise, and then seems quite upset that you don't want to meet again.
That is the out-of-control part. But if you can steer the conversation and keep that person talking and it's rather interesting, you can create a measure of chemistry. Second, make a lot of eye contact. Chemistry actually is mostly formula, and eye-contact is the most essential ingredient. Third, find specific attributes (physical or otherwise) to genuinely compliment.
Pull all three of these off, and I guarantee that if chemistry were possible in this date, you made it happen. You can use this power to great benefit, or you can use it to add notches to your bedpost.
The point being that feeling chemistry on a date is natural and controllable. If you wait until you feel fireworks during that first meeting, you will connect with people who know their pyrotechnics. There is no substitute for doing the hard work necessary to get to know someone. No relationship fairy is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, "hi there, baby, this is what you waited for."
We've seen this in the movies if not in real life. A couple celebrating 50 years of marriage holding hands, and the man says, "I knew from the moment I met her that we would last a lifetime. It took some convincing, but it was meant to be." And she smiles and we smile and maybe some cartoon bluebirds do their little cartoon bluebird dance routine.
We've also seen the whiny jerk who thinks you owe him a long-term relationship because you answered his 40th email - if only to say, "sorry, it's not a match."
Why is the former considered romantic and the latter considered creepy? I guess because it worked in the first case and it didn't work in the second case. Two people who want a relationship with each other will find a way to have a relationship with each other. Tortured Jane Austen plotlines with a twist of the modern soap opera and maybe some Romeo and Juliet issues aren't reality.
But let's say you did have a decent first date or two. And he or she is effusing like you're the best thing ever to wear sneakers and boot-cut jeans. Somewhere between Jane Austen and Jersey Shore this became a bad thing.
You should be careful not to reject someone because they seem too happy about you. Maybe they are being unrealistic, but that's their problem, not yours. Maybe they know what they want, have done the hard work necessary to know themselves, and you're it. There's no substitute for that work, and you shouldn't avoid it because the other person seems certain. But it isn't a good red flag in the other direction, either.
This leads me directly to...
It's natural to want what we can't have and it's natural to stop valuing what we do have. After all, our egos have already been boosted by past accomplishment, and our egos constantly crave more food.
Internet dating gives us opportunity. And that makes this problem far worse, because if you try incessantly to find someone better than humanly possible, you will continually reject those who accept you. People change from flesh and blood to commodities.
So you naturally either find absolutely no one worth the trouble, or you constantly bounce from partner to partner. This is what the excuse-ologists mean when they say that mankind is not designed for monogamy. What they really mean is that learning to let our superegos control our ids is essential in building and maintaining monogamous relationships.
Keeping your ego in check is the key to controlling the urge to constantly look for what's shiny and new on the dating scene.
Think of it like an dilettante who has a full wardrobe, yet constantly is buying new clothing because she doesn't think she has anything to wear. Once she has made the purchase, the clothing no longer has value to her. She sees the flaws of each piece - a color that's not quite right for the season, a tiny pucker in a seam, a pattern that's no longer entertaining.
The instinct for not settling for less than perfect is a good one. That instinct out of control is too much of a good thing. You find lasting, monogamous relationships in the balance.
How does this relate to the search process in internet dating?
We've all noticed how so many people (men and women, but men especially) seem determined to find someone much younger. They complain that they send out 100 emails and don't receive a single response. They neglect to mention that the 100 targets all have relatively pretty pictures, and are 15 years younger. Then they get one response, put everything they have into the image of forming a permanent relationship based on that one response, and wind up even more embittered to the process. Wanting these pretty young things is natural. For women, the image of a well-paying job seems to encapsulate the same catnip. These are stereotypes.
The point is that when you let your ego control your selection process, you're setting yourself up for frustration. Look for a partner who meets your needs. If you're constantly searching for something better, you're feeding your ego and not being terribly realistic about your search.
Leggo your ego.
We all have a self-destructive instinct when it comes to ego. We get far more concerned about protecting ourselves from ego damage than real damage. It's an easy mistake, and it interferes with our dating lives.
Your job is to protect yourself and your family. Basics, like not giving out a lot of personal information in public forums, not putting pictures of your kids on dating sites, meeting early dates in public places, and a host of other rules and observations.
Too many of us work just as hard to protect our precious egos. We get far too upset when contacted by a creeper. As if any kind of contact with someone "beneath" you transfers a certain number of ego cooties.
We also create lots of useless red flags to protect our egos. We look at potential relationships through the eyes of a faceless mass of disapproving peers. The only way to protect your ego through that faceless mass is to elevate yourself above any potential date.
Protect yourself, not your ego. This will open you up to realistic matches, not an obsession with young beauties or wealthy benefactors. Find what works for you, not what works for your mythical peer group.
How far, how soon? It's a question I read a lot. It's not a question I can answer. It depends on your goals in dating, and it depends on the situation and it depends on a host of other factors, including safety.
If the idea of a random hookup excites you, and you're careful and prepared for the emotional aftermath, sex on the first date can be terrific. And as long as you're honest about it, it can be terrific for the other person, too.
Many people talk about a "third date" rule. The first date is to pass the test. The second date is to get to know someone. The third date is to get to know someone with his or her clothes in a pile on the floor. Many people have that expectation.
I think that rule is a load of garbage. Have sex when you're comfortable having sex. If there's potential for a real relationship, and you're approaching the process honestly, then there's absolutely no rule for when sex occurs.
Now sometimes this is a deal-breaker, especially for men. That's just tough luck. If sex is so important to someone that he must have it on the third date, then he is the one deciding to sacrifice the potential relationship.
Once you've gotten comfortable with someone, a little sex talk is normal, as long as both are taking cues from the other. If you can't communicate about when sex is appropriate in the relationship, there's no way you're going to be able to communicate about truly difficult relationship issues.
I can't say I've ever experienced this third date rule myself.
Before you have sex, though, you should be prepared for a change in the relationship. This goes back to the concept of ego. Once the first sex curiosity is satisfied, people can become less interested or less attentive. This may end up killing the relationship.
So sometimes your ego will get bruised. Sometimes you'll get rejected after sex. And that's painful. But it goes back to the last section - are you in this to experience life and protect yourself, or are you in this to protect your ego at all costs.
Sometimes you make mistakes and that includes having sex you may regret later. He or she has "one up" on you. Let the ego take a bruise and have enough confidence in yourself to get past it. The alternative is either avoiding dating entirely or becoming a dater who consistently turns off suitable prospective partners.
The dating sites are filled with people in the recovery process. Most of us have had the experience of a first date with someone who just couldn't stop talking about the ex. While it's interesting at first, after a couple of stories you begin to wonder if there's any room in there for you as a potential partner.
In these cases, it's obvious that he or she isn't ready to date and it's best to let that person down as gently as possible.
But what if the person seems like a potential partner, despite needing to recover a little? Now, as I wrote, I started dating early on. I believe I was honest about my situation and I had mostly very good experiences dating.
What if I had met someone truly compatible in the first year or two after separation? Is it worth not having perfection right from the start because there's still some of the recovery process to work through?
Generally, people who like monogamy and like being married will get married again. Some sooner than later. I was married five years after D-Day (four after my divorce was final). I met my wife a year and a half earlier. When was recovery complete for me? Who knows? It's sort of a logarithmic curve, where the last 5% may take longer than the first 95%.
A couple of months after the divorce was final, I started conversing with someone on a dating site. We sent long, really imaginative and deep emails. I broke my rule about putting too much stock in email before even knowing someone and started thinking there was real potential there. We talked on the phone. About an hour in, she asked when my divorce was final. When I said two months earlier, she abruptly changed her tone and became a little abusive. Obviously, neither of us wanted to meet after that phone call, though it was a bit of a letdown.
She controlled the situation, and she avoided breaking her own rules. That's fine. For her needs, she may have made a solid decision. But if someone is a good potential match, he or she is not going to stay on the market all that long. It may be better to take a chance, because those who wait a certain amount of time for expected recovery may find out that the opportunity is entirely gone when time expires. As we all know, much of the dating scene is made up of perennially single people. If your choice is between someone partway through recovery and someone who can't sustain a relationship, which choice requires taking more of a chance?
And if that chance turns into dust, because he or she clearly isn't ready to date or is still holding a candle for the ex, well, it's only an ego bruise.
Your children didn't ask for a world where mommy and daddy are living in separate homes. You're still responsible for feeding them and keeping them safe and making sure they don't turn into wolves or serial killers.
So, how do you date when the needs of your kids come first. It's not easy, especially if the kids are young and you're the primary parent.
Accept that there are many potential partners who don't want to enter that situation. It's not because they're bad people. Maybe they're wonderful people, and they respect you enough to understand that they can't handle being a distant second in your life. You also have to watch out for potential partners who are too interested in your children.
Don't give up on dating, even though the dating pool is quite a bit smaller. Spend a little more time getting to know people before having dates. Try to find a little bit of alone time to spend on your search (maybe a half-hour a day after the kids are in bed, or before they wake up). Sometimes, potential partners aren't as much not wanting to date someone with kids as they are not wanting to date someone who can't even find ten minutes to answer a phone call or return an email (though if they don't understand there are many times when responding is impossible, then that's a probable deal-breaker). If that's the way things are, well, they can respect the level of commitment to the children, but they don't see room for themselves in the picture and it's more than a little creepy to jump into an instant family situation.
How do children handle dating? It depends. Children don't want to be introduced to every casual date you have. That's confusing and sometimes upsetting. But if you wait until you're practically married to even introduce the kids, that can be threatening and confusing as well. They need time to adjust, and they're more perceptive than you think.
Age is an important consideration. Smaller children are more accepting, but have greater needs for your dedicated time. Older children can handle themselves while you go out, but they're more aware of what dating is, and can feel threatened more easily. There's a sweet spot in the middle when they're discovering they like to play on their own, but they have no idea what a boyfriend or girlfriend is.
I don't want to claim I'm an expert here. I don't have primary custody of my son. He never met most of the women I dated. He's in that sweet spot. He's also a very calm kid. My wife is great with children, even though she has never had one. When I told him we were going to be married, he liked the idea. We've had far too easy a time with this situation for me to provide anything more than generic advice.
When you're on the dating sites, contact is never what you expect. You can go a month without even a semi-realistic prospect. Then you find two great prospects in one day. However you feel about multi-dating, you will have to multi-communicate. More importantly, you will have to hone your contact skills quickly.
In order to make online dating work, if you're looking for a relationship, you have to learn to evaluate profiles and very early communications quickly and effectively.
That's where my spreadsheet came in. I tracked age, education level, location, number/age of children and a few other minor basic details about everyone I contacted and who contacted me. This may seem like a huge endeavor, but it wasn't. Just a few minutes a week sufficed.
What I found was startling. First, I found that age is by far the most important criterion in dating. When I stuck within three years of my own age, my rate of response improved dramatically. It reached close to 50% when I added in education level. When I branched out to women out of that age range, my rate of response dropped to around 10%.
There are exceptions to every rule. My wife is five years younger than I, and, as I wrote before, said she didn't want to go beyond four years in her profile.
For me, education turned out even more important than age. I think you need to match your education level with your partner. Life isn't a gothic romance where a college professor will rip bodices with a hunky construction worker with a heart of gold who dropped out of high school. Again, there are plenty of exceptions. Especially since there are plenty of socially maladjusted people with advanced degrees. But I found communication difficult with women who didn't have a college degree. This isn't just frustration with poor grammar. It's about values and goals in life. That's not a value judgment - there are many great women who never finished high school. It's not an assessment of intelligence. It's more having a shared experience and shared expectations of how we meander down our life paths.
When the spreadsheet became large and it came time to run the numbers, I was surprised to find how strong the correlation was between education level and good communication. That's what led to potential relationships.
So, my advice to those of you having trouble with quality of contact is to focus your search on your own age group and on a similar educational level. You also need to spend time on this search. If your approach to online dating is "I'll open up a profile and see what happens," you'll get out of it what you put in. Sure, you may win the lottery on your first contact, but, worse, you might think you've won the lottery when you really haven't.
Embrace your inner nerd and spend some time sorting through profiles and making evaluations. Spend time communicating when you're contacted. Eliminate those who resort to "winks" or just write "hi" in their messages. If they have nothing interesting to say to you, that's certainly not going to improve once you're past the chemistry-fueled stage of dating.
I found it best to limit myself to one or two first contacts per week. I felt if I did this, I'd have a better rate of positive response. While this led, at times, to a month going by without a date or great potential contact, dating and communicating all the time is exhausting, and you need a break every now and then. You are far better off alone than spending time with someone with no potential.