Following a major breakup or divorce, the initial fear of dying alone surrounded by cats is often compounded by the comparisons to other people’s lives. When you suddenly find yourself single, it appears the entire rest of the world has someone. It feels you are alone, in being alone.
Once the divorce dust settles and the dating scene becomes visible, it’s easy to see fairly quickly that there are many other people who are also looking for the right person. But then just when you’ve decided you’re ready to jump back into the field with a quick round of speed dating, a bizarre thing happens.
You Stand In Your Own Way.
Self confidence is quick to erode after splitting up, which leads to uncertainty and anxiety about dating.
I recently had a conversation with a divorced woman I’ll call Kari. Divorced for several months, she was excited about her upcoming date. She wanted it to go perfectly but her confidence was shaken, and her excitement was being taken over by the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
“I want to be myself. I don’t want to be self-conscious, nervous and pretend to be or want something I am not, but I’m afraid he won’t like me and I really like him!”
“So because you like him, you feel you have something to lose and therefore you get nervous? But right now, you don’t have the relationship you want, so you have nothing to lose by being yourself, even if it doesn’t work out with him. Trying to be someone else, who you THINK he might want, will only prevent him from loving you for who you really are. Even if he accepts this fake person you create, you will never be happy because it’s not you. He will never love the real YOU. And then you haven’t gained a thing. You still have not found a real, loving relationship”.
Even though Kari said she agreed with what I said, she still found it difficult to accept in her heart as easily as she could in her mind. This got me thinking about the root causes of self-doubt. People do lots of things contrary to what they know intellectually to be true. For instance, everyone knows that a good diet and exercise will keep them healthy and in shape.
There are lots of reasons why people can be self-conscious. When you think about all the ego-bruising experiences you’ve been through in life, the protection instinct can be to wall-off and hide parts of your personality. Yet that only serves to isolate, and ensure we remain cut-off and alone.
In my experience, self confidence stems from self acceptance.
In order to accept yourself, you need to first know yourself. So who are you? Who are you right now, without your ex?
Years can go by quickly in relationships, and a lot happens in that time. Who are you now, compared to way back when your relationship began? How have your interests changed?
After my divorce, I found it challenging to reconnect with my authentic self. It can be hard when it’s all new territory and you don’t know how to begin. There were many things I did automatically without question. Through a combination of my psychology studies and a lot of online research, I came up with a plan to unwind my identity from his.
Our brains are not set in stone after we become adults, they retain their plasticity, i.e. older humans CAN learn new tricks. Creating changes in emotions, thoughts, behaviors and habits will happen through repetition and forming new neural pathways. I like this article on resilience.
After I read through a bunch of psych science and medical studies, I thought, “Ok great, I can retrain my brain!” That’s very nice and good, but how do I actually go about doing that in the real world?
When I learned the brain physically changes as new neural pathways are formed, the first image that came to mind was an old road, where wagons rolled down over and over until they wore muddy ruts deep into the dirt. The only way to keep from falling into the same old ruts is to start forming new ones. How?
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT EVERY DAY.
The fastest and most effective way of I found to detour my brain away from its old ruts was by learning and trying as many new things as I could. I began by doing seemingly insignificant, small things, and moved on to accepting every invitation when friends reached out to me, and finally seeking out different experiences on my own.
There is no “correct” amount of time that it takes to do these steps, because everyone is different. And not everyone may want or need to start small. If not, just skip it and jump to the next step.
1) Starting small:
Examine each part of your day, from the time you wake up until you go to bed. Find and practice with little things that are simple and easy to do. Brush your teeth with the other hand. Towel-dry off in a different order than your usual post-shower routine. Do something totally unusual for lunch. Read a book for 10 min before bed, or meditate. Do 5 min of bedtime yoga.
2) Say yes:
When new opportunities land in your lap that you normally tend to decline, do the opposite. If your friends invite you to a party, just GO. Even if you are tired. And it’s raining. And you don’t feel like it. You never know what the universe might have in store. You might actually have fun, learn something new, or meet someone interesting.
3) Lead the way:
After allowing all sorts of new experiences into your life that come your way, you will begin to feel a pull in some direction. Maybe you will decide you need to join a rock climbing group, or travel to Iceland, or take classes for a new career. Something will spark your interest, and you will realize the desire or interest is coming from YOU. Once you recognize your inner voice, you only have to practice listening.
Despite the difficulties, the more new things we allow ourselves to experience in life, the more we begin to see that change is nothing to fear. Learning and trying different things helps identify old limits and external expectations you didn’t even realize were there.
Ending any long-term relationship is hard. Beyond the heartbreak, there is a deep attachment to the life we knew, and the identity we had in that connection.
Reconnecting with your real self will do even more than boosting your self-confidence and minimizing dating anxiety. It makes it possible to live your life in the way that is right for you, and to create the life that suits your unique definition of happiness.