By Carolyn Tate
I was always bad at dating. I hated the awkwardness of it, so I was always keen to fast forward to the being in love part. That bit seemed so much more appealing to me than sweaty palms, waiting for the phone to ring, and wondering if I have spinach in my teeth.
That anxiety made me look past all the signs telling me to run in the opposite direction. The signs telling me the man in question was not the right one for me – and that I was not the right one for him. It made me blunt my edges and keep my quirks and high maintenance side a secret, lest I scare him off. And it wasted a whole lot of everyone's time.
I've always been a serial monogamist, with a five-, eight-, and 10-year relationship pretty much filling my teen to adult years, and not much time left in between for casual flings and being alone.
But when my marriage fell apart five years ago, I saw it as a chance for a do-over. To avoid ending up with the wrong person again, if I could at all help it. I was determined to embrace the dating scene and to have fun doing it.
As it turned out, it was easier to do than I expected. After taking a year or so out to lick my wounds and spend some much-needed time alone, I found myself back out there again. And who would have guessed, dating turned out to be actually really fun, precisely because it came after divorce and heartbreak.
Why? Well, I've narrowed it down to five key reasons.
1. I was unashamedly high-maintenance. Last time I was out there dating, I was young, insecure, and a chronic anxiety sufferer. That juicy cocktail made having fun while dating next to impossible.
I'd grown up in the When Harry Met Sally era, when we were all taught to believe that there's nothing worse than a high-maintenance woman.
In my youth, I made it my mission to be low-maintenance and not to cause any trouble, which of course led to much unhappiness on my part. But, now in my forties, I am unashamedly high-maintenance, and I also know I'm totally worth the effort.
2. I only dated men who'd got their sh*t figured out. The guys I was dating had been on their own voyage of self-discovery and if they hadn't, they didn't make it to second date status. It made for rich and interesting conversations, and a whole lot less BS.
3. I wasn't scared of getting hurt. I knew nothing was going to break my heart more than the realisation that I couldn't make it work with the father of my children. Anything after that could potentially be sad, but I knew I could survive. I had concrete evidence.
4. I wasn't looking for anything serious. My child-bearing years are behind me, and I have a busy life and great friends, so meeting someone would be nice, but it wasn't crucial to my happiness.
That meant that dating could go back to being low-pressure fun – someone to have dinner with, or see some live music. You don't need a soulmate for that, just someone who can hold a decent conversation and pay their way.
5. The choice! When you've been out of the dating world for a while, dating apps can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of them, they are a whole lot of fun. And if someone you liked isn't the right fit for you, there are literally dozens of others lining up, so it's hard to be sad.
Of course, as it invariably happens, when I was happy on my own and having a lot of fun getting out there, I was relaxed and the best version of myself. I met some great guys, including several that the old me would have tried to build a life with, even though they weren't quite right for me (nor I, for them).
Eventually, I met someone more perfect for me than I could ever have imagined, which has been a revelation. Who knew relationships didn't have to be hard, and that they could actually make your life easier, better, more fun?
I spent years trying to make a marriage work that was just not meant to work. Allowing it to break, so I could pick up the pieces and move forward has been the best thing I've ever done. And it's also been one of the most fun.
- Carolyn Tate is a journalist and divorce coach at Champagne Divorce Club, where she helps women going through divorce get the support they need so they don't have to do it alone.