First Date in 20 Years

The first date after divorce can be panic-inducing. Here, strategies to calm your nerves.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Q. I got divorced three-and-a-half years ago and have been busy working and raising my two teenagers, who are beginning to insist their mom start socializing. I recently accepted a blind date. He seems like a perfectly nice gentleman but frankly I’m terrified. Any tips for getting through what will likely be a very stressful evening? — Jeannette

A. Hold on. The responsibilities of motherhood are to always be there for your children; to feed, clothe, educate the little ‘uns; teach them right from wrong; protect them and put their needs before yours with a few exceptions.

Codicil A: Readiness to date. Are you getting together with this "perfectly nice gentleman" to make the kids happy or because you are truly ready to say yes to the possibilities?

If the answer is for the offspring, go back to the starting gate and take a look at why you’re so willing to put yourself into a situation that you don’t feel ready to tackle. As long as you’re taking that inner look-see, put some brain cells to work answering the question of why three-and-a-half years post-divorce you’re still wed to the notion of not dating. Not that there’s anything wrong with being alone — so long as your solitude is due to choice, not fear.

Janet Neal’s choice post-separation from her husband of 18 years was to wait 18 months to even consider going on a date, and another six months to get to the breaking-bread-across-a-dinner-table stage. The 53-year-old mother of three explains, "It was a process. I had to get over being angry at men … and to get to the place of liking myself again." Neal, founder of the New Jersey-based The Professional Women’s Center ( continues, "My next step was changing my expectations of dating, which were mostly negative." She opened herself to the possibility that those thoughts were well, wrong. For example: "Just because my relationship with my ex was draining didn’t automatically mean another relationship couldn’t be energy-enhancing."

The breaking bread evening was initially — as expected — terrifying. Worries flooded in: "What will he expect? What will happen?" She told herself to relax and stay grounded in the moment, succeeding at this dictum to the point of exchanging her first kiss with a stranger in 25 years. Was it kismet? No, but the ego boost helped combat Neal’s belief that no man other than her ex would ever find her attractive.

The tactic that finally got Doris Rainns out of the house 15 months after her husband of 10 years walked out was a "starter date." The 44-year-old St. Louis-based executive assistant began slowly, by going out with girlfriends for drinks. Then she accepted an invitation from a man who held absolutely no appeal for her. "He was short, fat, bald but made me laugh," she admits. "Not knowing him well, I met him at the restaurant figuring I could always leave." Feeling there was nothing at stake gave her the confidence to be one hundred percent herself.

Other women have handled that nerve-racking first date in decades by purposely playing mind games on themselves, blasting their noggin with some reassuring scenarios. Here’s a few that road tested extremely well: Assume the guy likes you, versus feeling like you have to "sell" yourself. Pretend your date is more afraid of you than you are of him. (Good chance he is!) Pretend you are not going on a date but re-uniting with a distant relative. This mental scenario can keep you upbeat.

For her first date in 20 years, Ellen Wein wrote a letter to her high school sweetheart. Now living on separate ends of the country, they met midway — in Chicago. The 50-year-old Pittsburgh public relations executive explains, "It’s still going strong, albeit long distance. We meet every few months. It enables me to totally devote my time to my two children but provides a lot of support and connection. Sparks still fly."

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