Too Busy to Date

How can a time-strapped member of the sandwich generation find the time to date? Our expert offers some solutions.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Q. I’m 46 with three children under 18. I have a demanding job and my elderly parents require a lot of care. I’m in the middle of a bruising divorce with my ex, which admittedly isn’t making me light and gay and trusting of men. But I would like to get back in the social scene. So how, with my crazy schedule, am I supposed to find time to date? — Anita

A. If you build it, he will come. In other words, when you’re ready the time needed to get out there will materialize. According to Daniel L. Buccino, LCSW-C, BCD, "The fact that this woman is in the middle of a ‘bruising’ divorce reflects her ambivalence about making an effort to meet men." Buccino, an assistant professor in the psychiatry department at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, adds, "Just as someone who is genuinely serious about losing weight must make time to exercise for one hour every day, someone looking to date must make it a point to be in places where she is likely to meet men…. Yes, really."

This is not to denigrate your many caretaking commitments solely as excuses to stay at home. But many single women in the "sandwich generation" hide under all these hats, finding time for everyone but themselves. Why? There is something safe in the martyr role. One can feel virtuous and also protected from putting oneself into emotionally risky situations.

Then there are those who take the plunge. Diane Dobry, 51, juggles a fulltime job with the responsibilities that come with starting a wine import company. Oh, she’s also a doctoral student. Packed schedule? Yes. The 51-year-old New York divorced mother admits, "There are plenty of nights and weekends I am sitting home alone because my friends have significant others and I do not. My feeling is that if I don’t make time for dating now, the next thing you know I will be a decade older with no relationship." Her solution: Come what may, she reserves at least one night a week for dating.

Dobry relates to the "I don’t trust men" mind-set. In five years of online dating she hasn’t found the one. And sure, there have been plenty of clunkers along the way. These disappointments could lead her to never venture out of the house, but she prefers to dwell on the positive. "I’ve met many interesting men and look at it as a chance to meet new people instead of staying home."

How do you start to build the right mind-set for dating? Deal with the fears and insecurities that hobble you. Buccino suggests, "Amplify your sense of being an excellent and valued daughter, mother, and worker as you start dating so that you can gain confidence in your judgment and decision-making abilities."

He will come when the time is right. That time might not be now. Until your divorce is final both legally and emotionally, it’s probably better to get involved not with a potential partner but in group situations. Take Diane Dobry’s directive: Prioritize at least one night a week to find social activities that turn you on, e.g., ballroom dancing, tennis, political groups. Dreading the prospect of dating is enervating. Loving what you are doing is energizing — which somehow helps you magically free up weeknights and weekends on your schedule.

So the secret to finding time is to seek passion, only not necessarily the kind that comes courtesy of two-legged, sometimes balding creatures.

Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?

E-mail Sherry at datingexpert@more.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.

About Sherry Amatenstein

Sherry 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.

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