Ready & Willing: How to Know You’re Open to Love
When a relationship ends, you need a little time to heal. But how can you tell when you’ve truly healed and are ready to start dating again?
When one relationship ends, many of us do one of two things: we either swear we’ll never love again, or we get right back out there to look for new love. Neither one is healthy, but it can be difficult to figure out just when you should start dating again.
It’s not impossible, though. There are a few signs you can look for that will let you know you’re ready to open yourself up to love again.
While these signs are not all or nothing, the more of them you can check off, the better chance you’ll have of finding a happy love story that lasts.
You’ve spent some real time alone
I once went six and a half years between the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. During that period, I didn’t go on a single date. I spent all that time getting to know myself, dating myself, learning to love myself, and being happy being single.
If you jump from relationship to relationship, or dive right back into dating on the heels of a breakup, without any time alone, you don’t allow yourself time to heal from the relationship you left. Over time, with enough relationships behind you, you have a lot of open wounds and baggage that is likely contributing to the demise of new relationships.
Of course, you don’t have to spend six years by yourself. But you do need more than just a month or so. Ideally, I’d recommend giving yourself at least 3–4 months between the end of a relationship and starting to date again. Six months is even better, if you can hold out that long.
Use the time to figure out who you are when you’re single. What do you enjoy when you’re not being influenced by a partner? What are you passionate about? What do you want from a relationship?
Fill the time with reading books, seeing friends, watching movies, learning new things, and exploring new hobbies or interests. Create a whole life without a partner so you’ll have something to share with a partner.
You can trust someone new
The point of dating is to get to know someone and determine if you might want a relationship with them. Naturally, this means that while you’re dating, you should be looking for red flags. But there’s a difference between exercising caution and looking for red flags, and not trusting anyone new because of what someone in your past did.
If you’re still in the stage where you feel like every man is a cheater, or every woman is a gold digger, then you’re probably not ready to start dating yet. If you’re still very heavily focused on the red flags that would indicate that he’s a cheater or she’s a gold digger, rather than looking at the broader picture of red flags that might indicate they’re an addict, being dishonest about their job or financial situation, or otherwise being deceptive beyond cheating or trying to use you for money, you’re probably not ready.
When you’ve reached a point where you are able to acknowledge that most people are trustworthy and deserve to be trusted until they give you a reason not to, while still looking for red flags, then you’re ready to start dating again.
You know what you’re looking for
Are you looking for marriage and kids, or just a casual relationship? Maybe you’d prefer a polyamorous relationship to a monogamous one? Do you prefer a nonsmoker? What about drinking or drugs? Are you looking for someone who’s willing to help you raise kids you already have? Maybe you know you don’t want kids, whether they’re your own or not?
Knowing what you want is a key component to having a healthy, happy relationship. It doesn’t guarantee that you won’t break up, but it does help to ensure that you don’t end up in a relationship that is doomed before it even begins.
Knowing what you want allows you to compare your dates to your list and determine if they’re a match. It allows you to know which questions to ask to find out more about what they want and make sure you’re compatible.
When you don’t know what you want, you’re more likely to settle for far less. You end up miserable, confused, and yet unwilling to end the relationship because you’re not sure you could find anything better than what you have. Knowing what you want changes everything.
You’re willing to be yourself
There’s nothing wrong with being willing to explore a new hobby or interest because a date or partner has asked you to, or even just because you can see they’re passionate about it and you want to check it out.
But if you’re pretending to like something they like just because they like it, that’s not a good sign. Nor is pretending to have qualities they say they’re looking for if you don’t have them or pretending to want the kind of relationship they say they want.
When you pretend to be someone you’re not, even if it’s just as simple as pretending to like the same sports team, you build a false foundation for a relationship. You have to keep up the pretense for the entire relationship. That can get exhausting fast.
Most people who do this, do it because they don’t want to be alone. They’re so desperate to find someone, they’re willing to fake anything to make it happen.
When you’re truly ready to find love again, you won’t want to pretend anything. You’ll want to be able to be honest, to be real, so that the person who falls in love with you falls in love with the real you. You’ll want to know that they love you for you and never have to question it.
You’ve let go of anger and resentment toward the ex
Hey, I get it. They cheated. They lied. They treated you like total crap and made you question everything you thought you knew. They stole from you. They hid who they really were. They were evil, and horrible, and you have every right to be angry and hate them.
For a while.
No matter how horribly someone once treated you, if you’re going to move on and find love again, you have to be able to let go of anger, resentment, hatred and whatever other negative feelings you have toward them.
Many people are resistant to doing this because they feel like letting go of those negative feelings is the same thing as saying that what their ex did is okay. What they did is not okay and letting go of the negative feelings is not saying that it was. What it is, is freeing yourself to get on with your life. It’s creating space for positive feelings like love.
If you can’t let go of negative feelings toward your ex, you aren’t ready to date again. And if you’re trying to let go of those feelings and can’t, it might be time to talk to a therapist who can help you figure out why and get past it.
You’re ready to make yourself emotionally available
Part of dating and getting into a relationship is making yourself vulnerable. Sharing your emotions, sharing memories and dreams and intimate thoughts with someone is how you build trust, connection, and intimacy.
Of course, you’re not going to make declarations of love and share your deepest darkest secrets on a first date. It’s natural to be a bit guarded in the first stages as you get to know someone. But you should be willing to let that guard down, to be willing to start dipping a toe in and testing those waters.
If you feel like the only way you can date is by keeping a wall around your heart, and never letting anyone truly in, you’re not ready. That feeling stems from lack of trust, and possibly still holding on to anger and other feelings toward your ex.
When you’re willing to let go and let someone in, ready to believe that sharing with someone can lead to greater closeness and a better relationship, that’s a sign that you’re ready to start dating again.
You love yourself
Before you jump all over me, let me explain. I’m not talking about the whole “you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else” theme that others are spouting. (Well, maybe it’s a little like that. But not completely. Keep reading.)
What I am talking about is loving yourself in the sense that you love your child — or even a pet. Even when your child (or pet) misbehaves or does something you don’t agree with, you still love them. You still want what’s best for them. You love them enough to want to see them happy and you’re willing to be the bad guy and step in if they’re doing something that will lead to unhappiness.
Love yourself that way. Love yourself so that you want what’s best for you. Love yourself so you’re willing to be honest with yourself about whether this person and potential relationship will make you happy, and to walk away if you realize they won’t.
You don’t have to love everything about yourself. You don’t have to be in love with yourself. You don’t have to think you’re incredible and amazing. You just need to love yourself enough to know you deserve a healthy, happy relationship and to be unwilling to settle for anything less than that.
When you’re not a giddy teenager embarking on their first dating experiences anymore, dating becomes more complicated and difficult. It can still be fun, and you can still enjoy it, but you need to be willing to do the work of making sure you’re truly prepared for it. Whether you’re looking for just some casual fun or hoping to find your happily ever after, make sure your heart, mind, and soul are healed and ready for what’s coming so you can truly be happy.
Want more? Subscribe to my bimonthly newsletter for more self-care, meditation, parenting, and relationship advice.
You might also enjoy:
Mr. Right: How Can You Know?
Whether you believe in a single Mr. Right or just need to figure out if this guy is a good one, these tips will help.
Yes, You Do Need to Teach Your Partner How to Love You
The memes are wrong. You do need to teach your partner how to love you. And they need to do the same.
Dating After Divorce: 5 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid
When it comes to getting back out there after divorce, there are some pretty major mistakes you can make. Here’s the…