How to Date After Five Years of Celibacy?

She left an abusive marriage. Can she muster up the courage date again? Our dating expert answers.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Q. I’m 45 and since my divorce 5 years ago I’ve been totally celibate. After 10 years of being married to an emotionally abusive alcoholic I opted out of the whole dating mess. But after lots of therapy and the healing power of good friends and a fulfilling career, I am edging toward getting back out there. However I’m skittish. I’m afraid even any mildly negative experience might send me scuttling back into my shell. Can you help me open myself into the possibilities that love is possible?— DianeA. Listen to someone who’s been there. Lisa Lockwood, a self-styled "reinvention expert", sees her own struggle as an important step forward in her life: "My gift of being married to an abusive alcoholic taught me that I cannot change someone else. I either accept the person as they are or move away from that person."Diane, five years ago you made the frightening but life-affirming choice to move away from this person causing you so much pain. You also wisely chose not to race into a new relationship; instead you worked hard at the healing process.It is natural to be frightened that taking such a big step forward can result in two steps back. However, you don’t want the anxiety to cripple you. The purpose of your inner work these past five years has been to unpack the baggage from your marriage and to get in touch with yourself.Are you ready to date again? How removed are you from the woman who went into that marriage and stayed with an abusive man for 10 years? Pinpoint the roots of this skittishness you are currently feeling. Are you experiencing pre-risk-taking jitters, or something more acute? Is there a fear that you will lose yourself in another relationship? How strong are you in your core; how comfortable being alone? Do you truly believe that you are lovable, worthwhile, worthy of respect? "Take as much time as possible to become thrilled with your life," suggests Mary Jo Fay, RN MSN, author of The Seven Secrets of Love. "Take up belly dancing. Learn to scuba dive. Go to Belize — alone. Only when you truly understand who you are and what you’re about should you invite a man into your life."Love is very possible. There are many wonderful men out there. But go slowly. This will allow you to feel in control, be comfortable and continue checking in with yourself to make sure you feel safe. Let a potential partner know you’re a little raw from your previous experiences and need someone who has patience. Don’t agree to any activity unless it is something you truly want to do.And when you do start dating, have fun! Melissa Galt, an Atlanta-based life coach says, "Have a sense of humor. If dating weren’t occasionally entertaining, it would be tragic!"More information on the sources quoted in this article:Reinvention expert Lisa Lockwood Author Mary Jo Fay, RN MSN Life coach Melissa Galt Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?E-mail Sherry at and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.E-mail Sherry About Sherry AmatensteinSherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.Schedule a one-on-one coaching session with Sherry Buy Love Lessons from Bad Breakups Buy The Q&A Dating Book

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