Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Start Dating Again After Divorce?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in a situation where I just don’t really know what to do, and could use some advice. Six months ago, I got divorced from my wife, who I had been with for just under ten years. It was her choice, not mine, and I was heartbroken by it, but I’m now at the stage where I think I’d like to get out there and meet new people.

The problem is, I don’t know where to start. I’m in a small city, but I don’t know anyone here, as when we split I made a conscious choice to go further away and start again. I enjoy my job, but my colleagues aren’t really interested in being my friends, so I don’t have any real social circles with which to meet people.

I’ve joined OK Cupid, but I’ve no idea how to sell myself (and I don’t like the idea of Tinder, plus I don’t have a Facebook so I don’t think I can use it anyway?) and, well, I sort of don’t even really know who I am anymore. Over the ten years past, I changed myself a lot for her – so I’m now in a situation where I don’t even know who I am anymore. I’m 37, so most of the folk on OKC are looking for guys younger than me, but I don’t have the money to spend on a bigger site at the moment.

I’m obviously not putting the divorce on the profile (as I don’t want to scare people off) but if anyone does make contact with me, when should I tell them that I’m recently divorced? I’m still in contact with my ex – the split was amicable, and there are still legal things that need done here and there, so it’s not something I could entirely hide (and I don’t like lying to people either).

There’s also the fact I’m not really sure what I’m looking for – initially, something casual and fun would be ideal, but I get the feeling women see “casual” form guys as meaning “just want to get laid” and that’s not who I am either.

Is there any advice you can give for an aging geek who simply doesn’t have any idea what to do anymore?

– Wasteland Wanderer

DEAR WASTELAND WANDERER: First things first, WW: stop treating “being divorced” as the scarlet letter. This isn’t a thing to be ashamed of, it’s just a relationship that came to an end; the only difference between this and other break-ups is there’s more paperwork involved. All that’s happening right now is you’re starting over in a new city under new circumstances. Right now, you should probably focus on rebuilding your life in this new area more than anything else. Getting to know the city, finding your niche within it, building up your new Team You… these are all more important than worrying about when to tell someone you were married once.

Take a little time and get back on your feet and get comfortable. I get how hard it is to make new friends, especially later in life, but you’ve got resources out there if you want to take them. The best thing you can do to meet new people – whether potential friends or lovers – is to leverage your interests. What do you like to do? What sorts of things interest you outside of work? You want to find ways to indulge your interests and passions in ways that bring you together with other people who have like-minded interests. MeetUp is great for this – finding organized get-togethers based around particular interests are a great way to find folks who share your interests. Other things like volunteering, amateur sports leagues (especially less “serious” ones like kickball or beach volleyball) or even just going out and practicing being social while watching the game at your local bar are ways to get to know people and slowly build your social circle again.

As for OKCupid: I’ve written a lot about how to sell yourself in your online profile and there’ll be a cool new product for folks interested in making the most out of their online dating adventures coming up in the very near future. But the two things you want to keep in mind is that a) you’re selling yourself like you would sell a product and b) you want to let people see your good side. Being down on yourself, self-depricating humor, “why am I even on here” comments are all going to be sending “stay away” signals. So too will advertising bitterness, resentment and entitlement. You want to position yourself as someone who’s confident, fun and approachable. Yeah, you’ve had a rough time of it lately, but the best thing you can do is be positive and upbeat with your dating profile. Don’t be ashamed of wanting something casual – all you’re asking for is something low-commitment and low investment for right now. Being up front about it will help filter out the people whose desires will be incompatible with yours.

Similarly, don’t worry about “disclosing” your divorce – it’s not like it’s some deep dark secret, after all. Unless it’s immediately relevant, it shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. If someone asks about your dating history (odds are they won’t) and you feel like answering, you can just say “I was married for a while, it didn’t work out,” and leave it there. You don’t need to elaborate or explain and, honestly, it’s better if you don’t. It’s one of those areas where strong emotions can throw things off; if you come off as resentful and bitter about your ex, you’re sending an unappealing message about your relationship history. If you turn it into a feelingsdump about how sad you are about your divorce, it betrays a lack of social calibration and leaves your date feeling like she’s suddenly your therapist instead of a possible romantic (or sexual) interest.

Your biggest issue is that you’re overthinking things. You’ve got a lot of understandable anxiety over being single again and the dating world has changed since last you had to explore it. But ultimately, it’s not that different and if you give yourself some time to heal and adjust, you’ll find that you’ll be able to navigate it again. And remember: you were with someone for more than a decade. You’ve experienced just about every conversational situation with someone of the opposite sex that you can imagine. You’ve got all of this experience that will serve you well if you let yourself breathe, settle down and go with the flow. It’s not nearly as bad as you think.

You’ll be OK.

So, TL;DR version: prioritize getting settled and building a new social circle over dating. The more secure you feel in your new situation, the better you’ll do on the dating scene. Don’t stress the divorce; it happens and people will understand.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 20 year old college student who until recently had zero experience with women. After the end of classes, I went out to a bar with some friends, mainly just to be social (I’m not a big bar guy). I was already pretty drunk from an earlier party, and one thing led to another, and I ended up first chatting with this girl, then dancing with her, and then going home with her. This was pretty exciting. Anyway, we get to her place, and as it happens, once we’re both naked and making out, I can’t get an erection. I’m enough of a biology nerd not to be bothered by this— I was very drunk, and alcohol acts as a circulatory depressant— and I was more than happy to have gotten so far in my first ever experience with a girl. Anyway, I’m a 20 year old guy; I have no worries about my ability to get erection under non extremely, extremely drunk circumstances.

The worry I have is that the girl I was with began pouting, and saying how she was sorry she didn’t excite me, and just acting like she was at fault. I tried to reassure her that it absolutely had nothing to do with her, but as I say, I was very drunk, and not at my most persuasive. I like this girl just as a person, and even though I probably won’t sleep with her again, I’m really worried that she is getting the totally wrong idea— that she was failing to arouse me— when in fact, she couldn’t have possibly been sexier. I’m really bad at this emotional stuff, and I hate the idea that I’ve inadvertently made her feel bad for what was just a fact of biology. What should I do in this circumstance?

— Irrationally Afraid of Upsetting People

DEAR IRRATIONALLY AFRAID OF UPSETTING PEOPLE: Everyone with a penis has or will have an occasion when things will fail to rise to the occasion. Sometimes this will be because of anxiety. Sometimes this will be because of illness. Sometimes this will be because you didn’t get enough sleep last night. Or it could be blood-flow problems, lack of genuine arousal or any number of other issues that cause your junk to throw it’s hands up and go “NOPE!”

What I’m saying is that penises are goddamn prima-donnas and will fail to do their thing for pretty much any reason at any time. They are the genital equivalent of Lucciano Pavarotti: refusing to perform if they decide that circumstances are not exactly as they insist it should be.

This is a fairly simple issue: you give a grin and say “Sorry, I think I drank too much”. And then you go down on her like you’re drowning and the last available oxygen tank has been hidden between her thighs. Or you use your hands to get her off. Or you reach into your drawer and pull out a vibrator and go to town with it on her. Or you make out like crazy, go to bed, then wake up the next morning when the booze has worn off and bang like a screen door in a hurricane.

(Don’t worry; orgasms are a great way to get rid of headaches.)

But that’s for future occasions of genital betrayal. What about now, when you’re absolutely convinced that your hook-up thinks that you weren’t as into her as you claimed to be? Well to be honest, a lot depends on how likely you are to see her again and what kind of relationship you have outside of your fumbled assignation. If it’s a case of “never going to see her again”, then just accept that it’s a learning experience and try to not get as drunk next time. If you’re on “say hi if you see each other but that’s about it” terms, then just you can always say “hey, sorry about the other night. I was having a great time with you, but I’d had too much to drink.” If you’re good terms, you could then offer to go out on a date, maybe some dancing since she clearly dug that, and see if the magic is still there… just without as much booze this time.

But honestly, you’re overthinking things. The occasional less-than-satisfying encounter happens to men and women; it’s part of the dating experience and most people are going to run into it at one point or another. It’s a safe bet that you haven’t destroyed this person’s self-esteem or that they think you don’t like them.

If this woman is someone who’s either part of your social group or someone you see on the regular, continuing to treat them as you normally do will do more to disperse the awkward moments. You’ll be fine.

Good luck.

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