Here is June’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I am a single mother and recently broke up with someone. Some of my friends say I need to start dating again immediately and some of my friends say I should take a year to be single. I’m not sure what the right approach is. What do you think? When should I start dating again?
Signed, to Date or Not to Date
Dear to Date or Not,
Determining how long to wait before dating after a break up is a personal, and individual, decision. If you tend to isolate and retreat into a cave of fear after a break up, it may make sense to challenge yourself to go out with friends and accept a casual date or two soon after a break up. This will allow you to try a different way of coping, and stay active and involved in a healthy social scene.
If you tend to jump from one relationship into another out of fear of being alone, it may make sense to challenge yourself to stay single for a month or two. Spend time with friends, and make sure to spend some time alone. Listen to that quiet voice inside you and see what thoughts and feelings come up. Do things you enjoy, like hiking or reading or bungee jumping. Eat when and what you want to eat. Listen to your needs and reconnect with who you are so that when you date again, you have a stronger sense of self, and not just a sense of yourself in relation to someone else. Alicia Keys shared in an interview that she named her son “Egypt” because she took a trip to Egypt alone, and it was the first time in a long time she had really paid attention to herself, and not herself in relation to everyone else around her. It was so transformative that she wanted to name her child, another truly transformative part of her life, after that special place.
When you do start dating, pay attention to pace. If you tend to hold back and stay guarded for a long time, and that gets in the way of you creating connected romances, challenge yourself to be more vulnerable in relationships, in small safe ways. If you tend to throw yourself all in, and get very hurt when you break up, challenge yourself to slow the pace, and have boundaries around your time available for dating, and limit some of the content of what you share. Save some of the more intimate, vulnerable details of who you are until later in the relationship when you’ve established trust that has been consistent for a longer period of time.
Dating can be a great way to explore your interests, your passions, and feel connected and accepted by others, something most of us crave. But it can also be a place where we lose ourselves and care more about pleasing someone else, or getting external validation. Make sure that no matter how long you wait to start dating after a break up, you do it from a place of strength, self-respect and wisdom for creating experiences in life that will help you to grow into the best version of yourself possible. And don’t forget to have a little fun while you’re at it!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families. And check out her books on Amazon.