If you jump right back into the dating pool after a painful breakup, you will probably find yourself floundering. Chances are, your breakup has left you mistrustful of love at best. I wouldn't be surprised if you also have some intimacy issues you need to work out. The good news is that dating can be a path toward healing. The bad news is that if you are dating again after a bad breakup, it's easy to raise the stakes too high. You can find yourself in a catch-22: You know that you won't be able to get over your ex until you find love again... but you can't find love again until you get over your ex. If you develop feelings for someone, you'll think that they are coming too soon. If you don't have any feelings at all, you'll wonder if you have become heartless.
Avoid this trap. When you start dating again, don't put any pressure on yourself or your feelings. Give yourself room for the healing and time that you need. Enjoy the people you meet along the way, and don't let your expectations get the better of you. Here is how to make it work:
1. Don't Rush It
One of the toughest things about my last breakup was witnessing my ex move on and start dating other people quickly, while I was still stuck in my heartbreak. I felt like I had entered some kind of competition with him. If he was having sex with other people, so could I! Plus, having sex with someone else felt like the only way I could stop thinking about him and how much I still loved him. I ran out and hooked up with the first person I matched with on Tinder. Honestly, I wish I could take it back.
After hooking up with the person, I made him drive me home, went into my housemate's room, flopped down on her bed, and burst into tears. It wasn't like anything bad had happened during the hookup. It just had made me more aware of the person I had lost, and how much I was still mourning him.
Grief is not a linear process, and make no mistake: A breakup is an enormous loss. You will be grieving. Don't rush from one stage to the next just because you think you should be doing something. It can be hard to sit with your feelings of rejection while your ex is out there fooling around, but if you are not ready to start dating again, then you're not ready. Accept this and the healing will come much more quickly. No one can tell you that you have to do anything — especially not yourself.
2. When You Are Ready, Go Out On One Date With Someone — Anyone — Who Isn't Like Your Ex
When you are finally ready to go out on a date again, then make sure that the person you ask out reminds you, in no way, shape, or form, of your ex. You are probably at the stage where you are still going to be comparing anyone new to your ex and trying to figure out how they measure up to them, no matter what you do.
If you set the expectation that your date won't be like them, then it means you can remind yourself of this fact when you inevitably find yourself trying to gauge how your date measures up to your old love. You don't have the same witty back-and-forth? Well, it figures. You chose someone who wasn't anything like your ex, see!
You should avoid talking about your ex during this first date, even if you do wind up thinking about them. Pay attention to the moments when your mind turns to the person you broke up with and try to figure out what information it reveals about you and what you want in a relationship. Are you holding your date to an unrealistic expectation, or are they doing something that genuinely reminds you of something you want in a relationship?
On that first date, you should not put pressure on yourself to see the person again. Unless you have an amazing connection you probably won't want to, because you are still healing. Be patient with yourself, and imagine that with this date, you are gingerly stepping into a freshly drawn bathtub, testing the waters.
And unless you have been perfectly clear with them about where you are right now, don't go home with them. You don't want someone else to become a casualty of the pain you are in.
3. Only Have Sex If You Want To
Rebound sex can definitely serve a purpose, but jumping from one partner to another after a relationship ends might mean that you are running from your feelings or that you think you are expected to sleep with everyone you go out on a date with. I've gone through phases of both.
If you don't want to have sex before you head out on a date, try to listen to that feeling even during the course of the evening. If someone invites you back to their house, politely turn down their invitation — even if it you do feel tempted to lose yourself for one night.
Obviously, you don't have to be a nun or deny yourself the good things in life, but take it from someone who has been there and done that: Sex might feel good while you're in the middle of it, but in the morning, you will probably wish you had stuck to your initial intentions.
Putting too much pressure on yourself to have sex also makes it harder to allow yourself to meet up with folks you might not be completely attracted to. If you have a great conversation with someone, but question whether you want to be physically intimate, setting an expectation for sex makes you less likely to want to meet up with them. And that means you'll be denying yourself what could be a beautiful friendship.
4. Honor Every Feeling That Arises
The most frustrating thing about my breakup was how the sadness would come in waves. I would be going along, sometimes for days on end, without having cried. I would be in the process of realizing that I would eventually stop having feelings for my ex — maybe I would even have a new crush — when wham! I would drive past his car, parked outside our favorite restaurant, and be overcome with jealousy, feelings of rejection, and intense sorrow.
Just because you want to be over your ex, doesn't mean you are going to get over them all at once. The only way to get over them completely is to develop feelings for someone new. But you can still step away from dating when you need to. Take a few days to be on your own and sort yourself out before heading out on another date.
Also, remember that wanting to be over somebody is a huge step toward moving on. It means that you are willing to let go of someone, and letting go will allow you to bring in somebody new. It's OK if your fingers don't unclench all at once, though. Your love was real, so it is going to stick.
5. Be Honest With Yourself And Others About What You Can Offer
The subheading for this ought to read, "Avoid all rebound relationships." If you've been in a relationship with someone for three or four years, then you might want to default to couple mode with the first person you see. But don't. You are setting up an innocent bystander for heartbreak, and you are being dishonest with yourself about your own feelings. When you start dating again after a really painful breakup, don't allow yourself to see anybody more than once a week.
Tell the person you are seeing why you need space right now. If you think you might be open to a relationship in the future with them, don't say it unless you are absolutely sure. It is better to tell them that you are coming out of a really intense relationship and give them the opportunity to walk away than to string them along in the hopes of something working out. Commitment doesn't just work itself out.
And if you see that you are going to disappoint someone or that you really can't give someone what they need, break it off sooner rather than later. Doing otherwise will either lead to resentment or to you over-extending yourself and the precious emotional resources you need to be spending on yourself right now. There's honor in claiming that truth for yourself.
6. Honor Your Space
When I started dating again after my relationship ended, I never brought anyone back to my place. Although I could be tender and intimate with my dates, I knew that I wasn't ready to be vulnerable and open with them or to let them see all of me. I kept up this layer of self-protection by not letting anyone see my room.
If I was going to let someone into my home, then they were going to see a stripped-down version of me that I simply wasn't prepared to share yet. This didn't mean that I was dismissive of the people I was seeing or that I didn't care about them. It actually allowed me to provide them with the care and attention that I could provide them, without over-extending myself.
When you start dating after a painful breakup, it's OK to keep up your barriers. If somebody is really supposed to be with you, they will work their way past your multiple layers. Allowing that process to unfold naturally means your wounds will have an opportunity to heal themselves in the sanctuary you have created for yourself.
7. Understand That Loving Someone Doesn't Mean You Will Be With Them
After my painful breakup, I felt stupid for still loving my ex. I punished myself for lingering over someone who had rejected me and tried to force myself to fall out of love with him by listing all the ways he had done me wrong. I tried to vilify him and convince myself that he was an evil, deceptive person.
It didn't work, because deep down, I knew my ex was a good person. He was the funniest person I had ever met. He was compassionate and intimidatingly smart, and I wasn't kidding anybody by pretending that I didn't miss him every day.
It's definitely easier to get over an ex when you don't love them anymore, but something that helped me move on after my painful breakup was developing an understanding that I could love someone and know that I would never be with him again. I could love him and know that he wasn't right for me.
For a while, it did seem like I wouldn't be able to love anybody else — probably because the love I was carrying for my ex was so stubbornly lodged in my heart. When I did develop feelings for somebody else, it came as a surprise. I hadn't known that it was possible to love more than one person. I didn't have to stop loving my ex in order to meet someone else. The size of my love could actually expand.
8. Recognize The Love That Surrounds You, And Honor It
When you start dating after a painful breakup, it's tempting to seek all of your validation from the person or people you are seeing. Do not put that much pressure on yourself or your casual relationships. Instead, get the love and devotion you need from other sources: friends, family, your pet. Most of all, get it from yourself.
If you don't, you're going to pour your love into people who are not quite right for you, hoping that you'll get it back. Subconsciously, you'll be looking for the love your ex gave you when nobody else is going to love you in that exact same way again. Looking for love in multiple places means you will be able to recognize how someone shows you care when it happens again. It also means you won't feel deprived until that romance happens.
Dating after a painful breakup can feel, at first, like you are shedding an old skin. Once you start seeing other people, chances are, your life will progress rapidly. You won't notice that time is moving, and then, one day, you will look up and realize that your breakup is far behind you.
Don't rush the journey or expect that it will all be over at once. You are going to grow from this experience, but that growth takes time and care. Be kind to yourself, and trust in the process. Love always has your back.
Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!