Linda Franklin gives us an in-depth look at what dating entails when starting over...
The thing is with dating again at this age and stage is that you know one date can open out onto a whole new life and myriad possible new ways of being - or it can lead to feelings of dejection, irritation and a knowledge the whole thing was just a complete waste of make-up - or shaving lotion or whatever... So it's vital to get yourself 'date-ready'. This means not only deciding the amount of preparation you want to put into getting yourself looking your best, but also psychologically girding yourself up for whatever the assignment involves.
There are two main schools of thought on the first, ranging from a quick swipe under the armpits with a baby wipe and a hopeful smile, to checking yourself into a spa for a couple of weeks to lose two stone, ten years and all trace of the former you. Now obviously how you pitch it will depend on your degree of determination to be part of a couple again and how hopeful you feel about your prospect. But personal style comes into play here.
A friend of mine keeps it very low key with the attitude she's checking them out first and foremost - and if they like first date with her then they'll be bowled over on the second when she'll pull out all the stops. The only problem is that - presenting herself so poorly at the first date - she in fact rarely gets a second opportunity...
Meanwhile another friend of mine - a guy - says he uses every date as a means of making him keep up his grooming schedule. No matter how unpromising the prospect the thought of being inspected at close quarters forces him to pluck eyebrows, deal with ingrowing hairs, exfoliate, do a face pack and manicure and make sure his hair is all it should be and his clothes are in perfect nick. Even if the date was ghastly he rationalises that at least he's upped his personal game on the grooming front.
And it is worth mentioning here, by the way, that what is acceptable in the loose standards of a marriage is not acceptable on the dating scene. A new woman - if she's attracted at all - will be looking at male hands and fingernails and wondering if she'd like them on her... My personal 'thing' is: does he floss regularly and know his way around an electric toothbrush? And many guys are turned off by - inter alia - grotty, unsexy underwear.
A friend of mine decided she wouldn't be sleeping with a new guy on the first date no matter what - so chose her whacked out and grubby 'comfort undies' over the enticing 'sex undies' she does have. Alas, she was so bowled over by him she got drunk, passed out and he had to put her to bed. When she woke up in the morning she groaned with the realisation he'd seen her grubby bra straps held together by a safety pin: they were still safely on her... And no, he didn't call. Think it through to the small things: it's those things that can make you feel great in yourself. And, anyway, what guy doesn't like to hear the swish of stockings as you cross your legs - even if he's not going to be feeling your stocking tops that night?
My personal feeling is that you're more in control if you look as good as you can - so what if you didn't fancy him (or her)? Sometimes just dressing up to the nines can reinforce your sense that you are still sexy when you pull out all the stops - vital if you're feeling low after divorce, or just that all you do is work and look after children. Having a date to plan for can get you through a few days of cooking, washing and emptying rubbish bins with a happy sense of expectation. And if you did fancy him or her then you're more likely to be looking forward to another date, rather than wishing you'd made more of the opportunity.
However, as you expectantly primp up there is that voice that says - as a friend of mine reminded me the other day as I talked new hair colours pending a first date after a long time of not being on the dating scene at all - 'It is just a drink, Linda!' True enough - but you can hardly vocalise to someone who's happily married that it might be an open door as well.
And that's what I mean by being date-ready in the emotional sense. If I find a date triggers high expectations I look at what it is that I'm subconsciously hoping for - and therefore what I want that I might reasonably supply for myself in the event the date doesn't fulfil expectations - and anyway.
Do I want more company? Easily remedied by getting in touch with friends. Do I want to go on holiday and think someone else might prompt me? I am actually quite happy exploring new places on my own without having to arrange it with anyone else. Do I want to do cook grown up food for others? Most of my mates would happily come round for supper. And so on.
Sometimes wanting to date really means you're ready to expand your horizons - and it's worth remembering you don't always need a partner to do that. You just need friends and determination. And maybe to look at the benefits of being free and remember there are drawbacks of being in a couple. For more on that, do read my book How To Be Happy After Divorce by Linda Franklin available for download on my website www.lindafranklin.co.uk
But of course there's that excitement of new love and lust that only a new potential partner can bring. And a date is the gateway to that new world. Just present yourself the best you can and be ready for whatever the adventure brings. But arm yourself with the knowledge that - unless you're incredibly lucky - you'll probably need to go on many first dates before you eventually find what you're looking for. To share the ups and downs of my own experiences doing that you'll find my book Experiences of an Internet Dater as a download on the website. Have fun reading it and happy dating!
As for my recent date: well, he managed to be late, look terrible, combine boring with lewd and patronised me with platitudes. He's actually a lawyer and I mentioned that just the week before I'd self-repped at the High Court in London, but my ex and I had agreed an Order. Now there are so many things you can say to that, such as: well done, you! But what he said instead was: 'You have to move on...' Like I wasn't? Why not just go the whole insult and say: 'Get a life!' But the next day, as I debriefed with my mate Ciaran, I was able to reassure myself that at least I didn't have to put up with someone boring like that in my life every day. Being a free-again is being open to good possibilities.
(c) copyright Linda Franklin 2009 - photograph by Toby Amies