I recently entered into very new territory: the short relationship.
Other than a teenage holiday romance, all my relationships have lasted for years.
Having been through a long process of healing and gaining closure from my last breakup, this summer I was ready to put myself back out there again to find love.
I initially thought the way forward would be a dating app but before I even managed to make my first match, the Universe intervened with other ideas and sent me a stranger out of the blue who asked me out. In Real Life!
I spent around a month seeing this man (let’s call him Mr. P) and while my romantic disposition and desire for a life partner would have loved that I had immediately found “The One”, it did not last.
But this ending was in no way a failure and today I’m going to share why, by letting you in on 7 lessons I learned about getting back into dating.
1. Get clear on what you want before you start to date
Back in the spring I had revisited Katherine Woodward Thomas’s amazing book Calling In The One. The book not only helps you work through the emotional blocks to creating love but invites you to set a foundation for what love will look like in your life. Because, if you don’t know what you are seeking when dating after a breakup, how will you know when it shows up?
By the time I met Mr. P, I knew what I wanted and what I definitely did not want. I was willing to be open to how new love might show up, but I held strongly to the core values I had set for myself.
Get clear on what your non-negotiables, warning signs and positive green flags are, so that when a person shows up in your life, you are truly considering whether they could be right for you rather than simply getting swept up in the hormones or the hope for a fairy tale.
2. Don’t be afraid to share what you want
At the beginning of dating after a breakup, we might be reluctant to say that we are looking for love or a long-term relationship in case it scares someone off. This is because we are usually more preoccupied with being chosen than considering whether we would choose this person.
I wanted to be open about the fact that committing to love is important to me. I made a point of asking on our first date whether Mr. P was open to marriage – because why would I risk falling for someone who was only looking for a casual fling?
Likewise, it’s vital to be able to state your needs as well as values in the early stages of dating. Asking for what we want is not something many of us are used to and can feel scary or even impossible. In fact, many people I’ve worked in therapy with find it incredibly difficult to even articulate what their needs are.
This is where doing your own personal growth work before looking for love becomes so important. If you don’t give yourself a voice, you leave the other person making assumptions about what is OK in your interactions.
So, whether it’s a conversation about safe sex, a need for time and space boundaries or simply letting them know how you like your cup of tea made, own it and share it. Their response to your request will tell you everything you need to know about them.
3. Be prepared to learn about yourself
If you are a deep self-reflector like me, you will be on high alert at the start of dating someone new after a breakup. While it can be exhausting to always be in your head rather than simply be able to go with the flow, it can provide a rich opportunity for learning.
Use your ongoing reflection to notice your reactions, feelings and triggers as you get to know this person.
One of my biggest revelations was learning the way my introvert nature plays out in relationships. I have always known myself to be introverted, but only really noticed where it applies to my work and social settings.
Meeting Mr. P, who was at the other end of the scale to me in his level of energy and the way he processed his thoughts, suddenly gave me a huge “aha” about myself and my temperament.
With this awareness I then had a choice: try to be someone other than who I was in order to be accepted, or keep showing up as my true self, even if it meant risking being rejected.
It’s common in the early stages of love to disown the parts of ourselves that we think won’t appeal to someone else. I knew from past experience where this abandonment of the self leads (i.e., to a broken heart), so I chose not to do that this time.
Be open and curious to learning as much about yourself, as the other person. Whatever you uncover will make the dating experience rich and worthwhile for you, even if the relationship doesn’t last.
4. Stay Present. Have fun!
After all this heavy advice about self-awareness and growth, here is something else I want you to remember: Don’t take it all so seriously!
Dating a new person should be a time to enjoy finding out about them, embracing the time you spend together and doing fun new things.
- Enjoy dressing up and going for a meal – or dressing down and going for a swim in the sea.
- Share your ideas, your musical tastes, your cooking.
- Flirt; dance; get as physically intimate as feels right for you both; make each other laugh.
If you begin to date and find yourself spiralling into “where is this going?”, do what you can to take a step back and acknowledge how you feel in the moment. If it feels safe and pleasurable, enjoy it! However, if it brings up anxiety or any other feelings, address it.
I felt lighter when I began to just enjoy each date as it came, instead of projecting myself a week, month or year into the future.
5. Check your intuition
Something many of us struggle with is telling the difference between a genuine gut feeling that something isn’t working, and the habitual “mind-chatter” anxiety when faced with a new situation.
I had a mixture of both during this short relationship. There was definitely some old, redundant fear based on past issues. I was fortunate enough to be seeing someone that I felt comfortable talking these things through with.
However, I also felt the differences in our natural personalities, which was constantly a quiet, gut-rumbling anxiety in the background. I chose to override it because I could see potential between us. Opposites can, and do, have amazing relationships – but both people have to truly be onboard for the ride.
If I’m honest, I could intuitively feel Mr. P’s hesitancy as to whether we were deeply suited. But there was a very real attraction and we wanted to get to know each other better, so we continued to date.
In the end, he called it out – warmly and with integrity. But if he hadn’t, I know I would have been forced to address what I knew to be true.
I’m aware I have this trait of eternal optimism; a belief that everything can be fixed as long as you throw love at it! But sometimes you have to listen to what your intuitive self knows deep down.
6. Use the end for deep reflection
It’s important to remember that even when there is no future for the relationship, the time is never wasted. There will always be valuable lessons, so spend some dedicated time at the end to take stock and reflect.
I work best through journaling, but you may have your own way of processing. I asked myself searching questions such as:
- How did I approach dating after a breakup?
- How did I honestly feel about the ending?
- In what ways am I proud of how I was in this relationship?
- In what ways am I disappointed in myself?
- Can I recognise where I’d grown from my previous relationships?
- What can/will I do differently in the future?
- What are the positives I can take away from our time together?
- In what ways was this ending a blessing?
It’s so important that you do this evaluation with self-love and compassion. If there are ways you feel you could have behaved differently, instead of harsh self-judgement, simply recognise that you were acting from old wounds and use this awareness to tend to them.
7. Be gracious at the end
Whether you ended it, or someone let you go, it’s important to act with kindness and grace. In this situation, Mr. P made the call to end things but did so in a way that made me incredibly aware of my value as person, even though we were not a good fit for each other.
In turn, having let myself feel sad about things not working out, I was able to genuinely share with him my appreciation for our time together and wish him well in finding the woman who was right for him.
I know that in dating it is all too easy for things to end badly. Actions such as shutting down, ghosting, lying, blaming, or feeling victimised are common. If someone has ended dating in an unpleasant or hurtful way, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to cut contact and work on healing any painful emotions.
Distressing endings happen when we haven’t learned to communicate authentically, or we are acting and responding from previous unhealed pain.
As far as possible, make sure you are going into dating with self-awareness, having done some inner growth work. This way, if things don’t work out, it will feel far less messy.
Your perspective is everything
My short and sweet experience left me with mixed feelings. Immediately afterwards I was naturally despondent. I felt heartsore because I’m a romantic who feels emotion deeply, but I was not heartbroken.
After weeks of daily messaging, it felt strange not to be in contact anymore. But if my previous breakups have taught me anything, it’s the importance of having a full, rich life as a single person. I felt a sad absence but not a gaping void.
Mr. P was an interesting, intelligent, passionate man but he wasn’t The One and that’s OK. The fact that we didn’t work out says nothing about my inherent worth. That, in itself, has been a phenomenal lesson for me.
I feel pretty blessed to have had this encounter. In a tiny space of time he gave me an opportunity for growth and expansion in a way that other relationships have not.
I’ve chosen to see this short romance as a practice ground for love. Rather than feel disheartened, I have been shown that opportunities for relationships can come from out of the blue. Instead of wanting to withdraw and stop trusting, I find myself wondering what it will be like to connect with someone new.
I met the right person at a time when I was ready to explore the necessary lessons. Choosing to see it this way has left me with no regrets at all, and I invite you to get curious in a similar way for your next experience of dating.
With love and support.