When you get married, you are entitled to assume you’ll never have to go through an awkward first date ever again. But for those whose marriages don’t work, the thoughts of having to traverse the murky waters of romance are terrifying.
People at this stage of life are carrying a lot more emotional baggage – encompassed by children, families and health, to name but a few. Children are one reason why divorced people often feel very guilty about dating.
“Guilt is a very normal feeling for people who are divorced, but it’s one that can hamper them in starting a new relationship,” says Dr Paul D’Alton, president of the Psychological Society of Ireland. “I think the important thing is to recognise it. Guilt can really get in the way of people finding happiness. There is excessive guilt and excessive responsibility – when even our children just want us to be happy.”
In terms of how best to handle dating someone new when you have children, Paul’s advice is:
“A little bit of information often can help. Introduce the idea to children so that it doesn’t come as a huge surprise. At the end of the day, a child’s bottom line is: how is this going to affect me? You need to give them lots of reassurance.”
Children aren’t the only ones whose disapproval is feared. The person’s parents are often still alive and there may be conflict if they’re elderly, but Paul says people have to take ownership of their happiness.
Before dating at all, Paul advises that people should be comfortable being on their own for a while.
“You have to be able to tolerate your own company and not just replace a body with another body, or a relationship with another relationship. We make ourselves complete and whole. When we’re happy within ourselves that makes us more attractive to others.
“There is a real danger that people try to replace or substitute the old person post-divorce. There is some kind of bereavement, even if the relationship is awful,” says Paul.
He advises that people give themselves approximately 12 to 18 months before dating again.
According to Rena Maycock, director of Intro Matchmaking, men will wait a year after a marriage breakdown before seeing new people and women will wait on average three years.
“There are exceptions to that, some people have let go of their marriage in their head 10 years ago,” explains Rena. “People in Ireland tend to give marriage as much as they can – they’ll see if it gets any better.”
However, starting to date is not easy.
“People go back onto the dating scene thinking it’ll be easy to meet someone,” says Rena. “They get out of the shackles of a very unhappy marriage and are very fresh-faced and optimistic. But they learn very quickly how hostile clubs and bars can be.”
For many it’s the first time in decades they have communicated romantically with someone
“Then there’s getting used to a very different social scene,” says Paul. “The biggest change is technology. It’s a very new territory.”
“Many people over the age of 35 don’t even have an email address,” adds Rena. “They find it tricky, they haven’t moved into the digital age. For many it’s the first time in decades they have communicated romantically with someone. It’s a very steep learning curve for a lot of people.
“For older people, somewhere in their mind they think online dating is for losers, it’s a last resort,” says Paul. “But things have changed quite a lot. There isn’t the same social scene for those in their 40s, 50s and 60s to meet new people. People need to embrace technology.”
Dating agencies are not viewed wholly positively either.
“People are ashamed about making it their business to meet someone,” says Rena. “They feel it’s acceptable if it’s organic or they meet them passively – you know they drop their wallet and some dark handsome stranger picks it up. I might meet someone in a hotel in a big town down the country and of course no one knows why we’re meeting. But the client will be looking around furtively as if we’re doing a drug deal.”
People should also bear in mind that the relationship they get into after the breakdown of their marriage might be a very different type of relationship. It may become a much more independent companionship.
“It doesn’t need to be all or nothing, there are different ways we can establish relationships,” explains Paul. “The older we get, the more opportunity there is to develop a different kind of relationship that suits you. You might just want someone you can go on holidays with, dance with and play golf with. It doesn’t need to be one thing or the other,” says Paul.
Intro Matchmaking sees a lot of people approaching it post-divorce. Its largest demographic of separated or divorced people are those in their 50s.
Rena says that the majority of people who approach her have married their childhood sweetheart and may have been in an unhappy marriage for 20 or 30 years. In fact, she receives two to three phone calls from people in this situation every week and she has even seen people in their 70s coming to her having recently left unhappy marriages.
Dating in Ireland
Managing expectations is a big part of Rena’s work. Sometimes Intro Matchmaking has to turn people away if expectations can’t be met. For example, the average height of a man in Ireland is five foot seven and a half and the average height of a woman is five foot five.
“We will look for someone, two inches taller than you when you’re in your stocking feet – not in heels. If you’re a woman over five foot seven your options are severely limited.”
Rena says clients must be willing to travel about 90 minutes for a potential partner as there are more women in urban areas and more men in rural areas. For every one professional woman in Ireland there is only 0.6 professional man.
“Women over the age of 40 need to be willing to date men eight years their senior. When men get to the age of 37 and 38 they become obsessed with enormous age gaps,” says Rena.
She adds that women don’t want men who are tight-fisted and they want men who are kind. While men want women who are easy-going and who are not high maintenance.