QUESTION: I’m a middle-aged guy who has been divorced for about 6 months, and want to start dating. But, I’m scared of getting burned again. Got any suggestions?

ANSWER: Eventually, after having healed from the divorce, especially in learning to love self in the midst of the rejection of the other, a person then may choose to gradually date so as to hopefully remarry. As the man who wrote this question decided he was ready, here are some things that I told him to consider.

1. IS SHE DIVORCED? It is unwise to date someone who is separated, but not divorced. Why? Because she may go back with her husband, leaving the tread marks of unsuccessful dating all over your heart. She may still have unresolved feelings for her husband, whether those be love, anger or sadness. Until those are resolved, you are taking a considerable risk in dating her, not only because you may be hurt, but your children will also get hurt if they get too close to her.

2. CAN SHE LISTEN? Communication is all too often viewed as a battle to determine who is right and who is wrong. Couples interrupt to make a point, get defensive when constructive criticism is offered, and try to win an argument instead of gain intimacy. Therefore, a key question is whether your date can really listen? Does she not only pay attention to what you are saying, but also seem to understand how you feel? Does she demonstrate empathy and understanding? If not, then growth will be a one-way street going in the opposite direction from you — all give and no get.

3. CAN SHE TALK? She should not only be able and willing to listen to your thoughts and feelings, but also reveal her own. Someone who wants to only take care of you, but not show their own clay feet, is probably hiding behind a mask of being a motherly caregiver. But, you want a wife, not a mother, which requires an equal relationship where each person is open to growth. After all, being married to Superwoman is boring. She never needs anything.

4. HOW DOES SHE ARGUE? When the first big argument erupts, do not get discouraged, or throw in the towel on the relationship. If she expresses anger by yelling, being sarcastic, or giving you the silent treatment, then honestly tell her how her behavior affects you. If she apologizes, and then changes her behavior, you are dating a mature woman open to growth. However, if she either apologizes but then does not change, or does not apologize at all, telling you that this is the way she is and that you should “take me or leave me,” leave her.

5. LOOKING FOR CINDERELLA? If you are squeamish after your divorce, and so continue to look for the perfect person, then you will die a perpetual bachelor. No matter who you find, she will be human, loaded with foibles and imperfections. The only thing that matters is whether she is open to growth through interaction with you. So stop thinking of dating as going to the “Interpersonal Aisle” at Shop-Rite, and look for someone who is mature enough to take off her mask and be herself.

6. LOOK IN THE MIRROR? Please realize that all of the above also applies to you! The purpose for getting married is not to avoid loneliness, but rather to spark the growth of one another through an intense, exclusive, creative, and loving relationship. So, while looking at the speck in her eye, don’t forget the plank in your own.

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