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Getting Back in the Game


Dear Dr. Warren,

I was in a long-term relationship for many years, and it ended about six months ago. While no breakup is ever completely “pleasant,” I feel like it was for the best.

I feel like I’m ready to date now, but I’m surprised to find myself a little nervous about “getting back in the game.” It’s not that I don’t think I’m ready, it just seems like I’m out of practice, if that makes sense. Is that normal? And what can I do to be more confident?

Josh in Phoenix, AZ


Dear Josh,

Thank you for writing in with your question. Getting back to “being single and dating” after having been in a long-term relationship is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, an eye-opening experience.

Right from the start I want to commend you for taking some time off after your prior relationship ended to make sure that you felt ready to head back out in to the dating scene. Each person has his or her own healing time, and it is great that you are aware of your own needs. Being self-aware is a skill that is so important in life. Without it, it can be easy to go from person to person without ever really knowing what you require to be happy in a relationship, and undoubtedly when a person is still caught up in the emotional hurts from another relationship or from multiple relationships they tend to be emotionally available. Both partners should be healed as much as possible from past relationships so that they able to truly enjoy the person that he or she is dating for who they really are, and not for a projection of another from one’s dating past. (Should you have any doubts, I urge you to review the following tips in this article.)

Next, let’s address ways that will help your self-confidence. Beyond healing from your prior relationship, here are three essential areas to keep in mind when beginning to date again:

Accurate self-assessment builds self-confidence
Entering the single world again after an end of a relationship is a transformative process. The loves we experience in our lives transform the notion of the world around us, and the notions we have about who we are as individuals. As painful as it can be to separate from a relationship with someone for which we had strong feelings, but for which it was the right decision, the good news is that you are in a position of opportunity to recreate who you are in a sense. While the core of us doesn’t change much, throughout our lives we are all in constant states of change. The lessons and observations from past relationships and experiences become a part of the new you as you look at yourself in any given moment—our experiences become who we are. So it is important to get in touch with yourself when you come out of a relationship.

Spend some time in quiet reflection and ask yourself the following questions: Who are you now in this very moment? How confident are you? What are your areas of strength? How about areas of weakness? Are there aspects about yourself that you’d like to see change for the better? In the answers to those questions are the keys to your self-confidence. The point of self-discovery is to increase self-confidence and create an accurate picture of your best qualities, as well as areas that you could improve upon. Some people like to “reinvent” themselves somewhat after a relationship ends. Even simple changes can have a profound impact on self-acceptance and self-confidence. Perhaps try updating your wardrobe or finally pursue an interest that you’ve always wanted to know more about. Or, on that note, get in touch with activities that you haven’t done for a while that you once enjoyed. This is your life—enjoy it! Create the life you would like to live given the tools that you have.

Nervousness can be a tool for success
Now, you mentioned in your letter that you have some nervousness. I want you to know that fear is a normal, adaptive process in our lives. It can drive us to new heights of achievement by amplifying our senses just enough to prod us in to controlled action, such as the nervousness that an athlete or performer experiences at the moments just before doing what they do best—it can keep them on their toes. Or, it can be maladaptive in our lives by keeping us from going after or doing what we suspect would make us very happy in life. Fear of change while being unable to come to terms with parts of our pasts can keep a person with good intentions for success immobilized in his or her life.

In matters of dating and looking for love, it’s perfectly normal to want to avoid suffering rejection or, ultimately, a broken heart, but Josh, I want you to know that a small amount of nervousness when dating again is not only normal, but can help you, just like an athlete, to prod you in to action toward a satisfying outcome. For instance, imagine a scenario in which you’re just about to approach a woman to finally ask her for her phone number or to see if she’d be interested in going out on a date with you. Your nerves are probably heightened, and thoughts might be going through your head such as, “Is now the right time?” or “What if she says no, will it change things for the worst?” At the point that you decide to go for it and approach her, you have decided to take a chance and “see what happens.”

Believe it or not, no matter what the outcome—even if she declines your invitation—you have taken a giant step toward overcoming your fears, so that the next time you find yourself in a similar situation your level of nervousness will be lower because as it’s been said, you’ve “been there, and have done that” before.

Practice brings you closer to your desired outcome It’s not just a cliché: Practice does make perfect! You’ll find that by getting to know many great women, even if they don’t work out, your self-confidence will rise from the interaction of seeing that there is life beyond your past relationship. Whether sending messages through the Internet, talking on the phone or dating in person, try to view each woman you communicate with as an opportunity to not only see which qualities really synch with yours, but also as practice for honing your communication skills with women. (On a side note, you can brush up on your non-verbal communication skills here.)

Josh, all in all you are in a great position to step out in to the new to create a new and exciting life for yourself. The nervousness you are experiencing is perfectly normal, and you are on the right path to self-discovery and meeting quality women. By keeping your fears in perspective by approaching and communicating with women, you will find that each new experience will bring you one step closer to what you’re looking for.

Dr. Neil Clark Warren