ground rules of online dating

Five Ground Rules for Online Dating: Seeking a Long-term Relationship

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It is hard to regain your confidence after a divorce. And when you have kids you may not have the energy or drive to even try. The online dating apps are intimidating, the fake and creepy online dating profiles are troublesome. And you simply don’t give a damn if you remain single for the rest of your life. You’ve got your kids. Your working on regaining your health and vibrancy. Dating might be too much of a chore. And yet…

Most Of Us Don’t Want To Be Alone

Okay, all that information is true, and yet, you’re driven to find another loving relationship. Or maybe, you are healing from a dysfunctional relationship by establishing and growing one based on more healthy goals and alignments. Dating apps do make it easy to check out the potential partners from the safety of your yoga pants and the comfort of your bed after you’ve put the kids down. Wading into the dating waters again, after divorce, is a challenge. But it’s one I have spent a lot of time exploring. If you can see online dating, or dating, as an adventure, there might still be part of your heart that can get revved up at the prospect of being held again, being loved. If you’re a hopeless romantic like me, you might even believe, that with hard work and diligence you will find the next true love of your life.

But let’s get a few of the ground rules of online dating straight first.

  1. Don’t start dating if you’re still wounded or depressed
  2. Don’t go on dates as mere entertainment or free meals
  3. Don’t compromise your parenting responsibilities by jumping headlong into a new (unproven) sexual liaison
  4. Don’t involve your kids or your ex in the process
  5. Set your personal intentions before you respond to the first “hello, you’re cute” message on Bumble

Know What You Want

Only by knowing your long-term plan can you begin to set and run plays to achieve the touchdown you seek. If you are not ready for the next LTR (long-term relationship) be clear about it. If you want to date and keep it casual, “without strings” that’s up to you, but let the other people know too. Tyring to establish and build a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship is painful and unnecessarily dramatic. It tried a bit of casual dating (casual sex even) and a short run at “friends with benefits” and neither of those setups were leading me towards what I wanted: a long-term committed and monogamous relationship to explore, nurture, and grow.

Once you have your ultimate goals in mind you can begin crafting a dating profile that says what you want in your next relationship. Try and be clear. Lose the clichés like “loves live music” and “loves to travel.” Try and get specific. In my online dating profile, I suggested “first date” activities that didn’t involve drinking. I was clear about my intention to “go slow, let’s become friends first.” And I wouldn’t have been transparent if I didn’t add a little something about my “tennis” fantasy partner. I teased it out at the end of my summary with, “Ask me about tennis.”

Know What You Don’t Want

When you have some ideas about what you’re looking for, it’ also becomes easier to identify the things you won’t tolerate. For me, those deal-killing red flags were excessive drinking, overly narcissistic athletic profile photos or too much talk of “working out.” I wanted someone within a 5-year range of my age. And I imagined that a single mom would understand my single dad arrangements and challenges better than a woman who had never had kids.

I was also quite clear, that I was not looking to date several people at once. I was looking to be in a relationship. I didn’t learn this all at once. And certainly, if you’re escaping a sexless marriage, as I was, you might be hungry to play the field. For me, that idea was squelched in the first few months as I met a number of first dates and realized that I had absolutely NOTHING TO OFFER. I wanted sex, yes, but I didn’t have the vaguest clue about my long-term plan. I stopped the madness fairly quickly.

If you’re not ready to date, don’t. Pause. Breathe. Wait until you KNOW what you want and what you don’t want.

Listen To Your Head and Heart

As I got clearer in my own divorce recovery process I began to want to date again. I began to feel like I had the energy and enthusiasm to carry on interesting conversations. I imagined the woman I wanted to be with, and then I went out and sought her online. And as I began down the road with my first “relationship” candidate I was able to stay aware of my long-term goals. I dated my first girlfriend for about six months. I never introduced her to my kids. I never gave her any illusions about where we were going. We were taking it one day and one date at a time. And when it came time to part, we parted as friends. This woman is still a close friend and confidant.

I wanted a relationship so bad I worked hard with each woman as I found partners that seemed compatible in the long run. And as each relationship ended, I took a few months off to reassess the game plan and reexamine my wants and don’t wants. And then I jumped back into the dating pool and swam hard for a glimpse of the next lover.

Keep Sex Sacred

As I dated, loved, and failed I learned a very important lesson. Sex is sacred. Sex should not be shared until you’re really ready to make a commitment. I tried other forms of sex, but they never held any magic for me. Sure, the newness of a new lover is intoxicating, but the effect wears off the first time you spend an afternoon together and have nothing in common and nothing to talk about. Wait until you find a potential long-term lover before taking a lover. Sex is a spiritual act.

Offline Dating: The Final Frontier

As I’ve moved through online dating over the last nine years I learned another core lesson. Online dating is like shopping at Amazon. You can see all the things you want. You may or may not have the budget to satisfy your desires for a Tesla, for example, but it’s fun to look. Online dating is fun to look, but harder to navigate into a meaningful relationship. I did it TWICE in nine years, but I learned that, for me, offline dating was much more productive and likely to produce a successful match.

Once you have been “dating” for a while you may begin to notice some problems with online dating. People are not who they present themselves to be online. There are some players and some frauds. And there are some genuine and wonderful potential partners online. AND, for me, online dating was more like a class on finding a relationship. When I was determined to find my next lifetime partner, I had to begin looking at

  1. What I really loved to do
  2. What I really wanted to do with a partner
  3. Where would they be if they were doing these things that I also loved to do

That was the formula that unlocked the next LTR for me. When you begin to get your priorities straight and going on a few starter dates you may want to explore starting with a lifestyle or an activity you love offline and seeking a potential partner there. For example, if the church is important to you, perhaps your future partner is a member of a different church. Perhaps they are going on silent meditation retreats. Perhaps they are not seeking a relationship, (not doing online dating) but trusting that the relationship will find them.

If What You Want Is a Long-Term Relationship

Start with what gets you most jazzed in your life. Find another person who enjoys the same thing. Engage in that activity with this “friend” and see if you are both drawn towards the idea of dating. In my experience, the attraction and movement towards a relationship have to be mutual. I cannot create my next lover by sheer will and determination. The partner who shows up for me has got to be in a similar state of mind: my life is great and I am happy. I might be happier with a partner.

Build from there. Keep listening to the murmurs of your heart and your head in the process. Keep asking the hard questions. Keep risking the vulnerability and trust to build a core connection with this potential partner. And keep going one day, one date, one cup of coffee at a time.

Good luck and happy connecting out there. Let me know if I can help.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Get the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)

See more from the Dating Again section of The Whole Parent

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And this one especially:
Dating 2.0

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