Our resident therapist answers your queries about life and relationships
Q: I recently came out of a marriage and I would like to meet someone and settle down again. I am 46 and I met my husband when I was 26 — drunk in a nightclub like most people my age. I have never dated as such and have no experience. The thing is, I am at a loss as to how to go about this. I have had a few dates with men I met online but they didn’t want to see me again, even though I really felt I clicked with one or two. I feel rather desperate, I hate to say, and I’m more concerned with finding someone who likes me. It feels to me that it is a man’s world when it comes to dating and I would like some advice on how to date without feeling so desperate and needy. Can you help?
Allison replies: I think your question is going to resonate with many. Modern dating is a vulnerable place filled with complex and constantly changing rules set unfortunately against a cultural backdrop of the disposable ‘swipe next’ mentality. Even if technology is opening doors, it hasn’t caught up emotionally with the human drive and desire for authentic connection. The need to be loved isn’t desperate, it is universal, even though it feels vulnerable.
A heart that has been through a break-up may already be carrying some new and old emotional scars. Let’s gently explore these first. Looking back over the past 20 years, can you identify what you feel the core issues were from your marriage?
Look at how these showed up in your life, what were the triggers? How were they dealt with or resolved? What was that like for you? Did you experience conflict that felt gridlocked or stuck? What do you think contributed to that? What beliefs do you have around romantic relationships?
Write all these answers out and let the questions simmer in the background. If anything comes up for you over the next while, write it down. Take your time with this. Before you go back out dating, spend some time with yourself on this. Some questions may feel like an affront and it can be easy to feel defensive at first.
Check in and catch yourself with compassion if you find that happening and be curious as to why you are having a strong reaction to certain questions.
Write ‘desperate’ on a piece of paper and then write down anything and everything that comes to mind. Leave judgement off the page. Did anyone ever say to you, ‘be careful, you don’t want to come across desperate’ by say a parent, friend or your husband? Look back and see if you can find a first time you heard that mentioned in relation to how you ‘should’ be in a relationship.
Again, is there a cultural piece that this was more a warning to women to not act or appear desperate? Digging a little deeper, what is beneath that message? Is it, ‘you should be grateful if someone likes you’? This a pervasive and damaging message as it knocks out a key player in a healthy relationship — you and your needs and desires.
Conditioning happens in those small, hushed comments that warn against the assumed danger of being desperate. Where you learn if it is safe to say what you like and what you need. The healthy expression of those needs is often quashed by the D word.
What is severely lacking from a basic education point of view is a straightforward understanding of how to be in adult romantic relationships. Where a lack of understanding of baggage carried quite unconsciously from your idea of what the norms are within a relationship that were modelled in front of your young eyes as a child.
Turning historically with this, check out some of the spoken and unspoken beliefs, values and norms you saw growing up. Twenty-somethings are severely lacking in the dynamics at play in relationships which maybe isn’t ok anymore. Owning and knowing what you want isn’t desperate, it is healthy and essential.
There is an annoyance and a sense of unfairness when you say, ‘it’s a man’s world in dating’. Does this feeling seep out any further than that? It hurts when the dates seem to be going well and you feel you have clicked to be then met with rejection.
This isn’t facetious, but they weren’t for you. If you can’t be yourself and meet someone in a mature and open way, then don’t feed into that game. You deserve better, game playing needs to be left behind. A strength you have is the ability and choice to choose what is going to work for you.
Make a list of what you like in a man, what qualities, attributes and values work for you. Make another list of your non-negotiables, these can’t ever be ignored. Now you have a baseline. How would you like to be treated? For the next while I’d like you to treat yourself the way you would like someone else to treat you.
Buy your favourite flowers, go somewhere special, make, or go out for a gorgeous meal. Keep asking yourself this question daily — what do I like, what do I need, want and wish for? If you feel it’s a man’s world, maybe take a leaf out of their book and begin to think what you would like first. You have needs, and this is not a dirty word. Delve into what they are and seek them out.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column email firstname.lastname@example.org