Learning to date again after a divorce: It takes practice

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 3:58 PM

Gian Gonzaga's job as director of eHarmony Labs is to understand what attracts people to each other and what makes some romances thrive over the years while others crumble.

From his perch at the online dating service, he noticed one group of clients who seemed to have a particularly hard time forming new relationships: those who'd just gotten out of one.

"When you think about all the things you do in your life - your job, your hobbies - you're supposed to just get better with practice. But that's not necessarily the way it is with relationships. It's not intuitive," says Gonzaga, editor of the new book "eHarmony Guide to Dating the Second Time Around: Finding Love that Lasts."

He says the recently divorced face practical challenges, such as figuring out how to meet people and when to introduce a new partner to children. They also must tackle emotional issues, like learning to trust and giving themselves time to heal so they're not trying to fill a void left by a former spouse.

While most people who've experienced a marital breakup still believe in the institution - one study showed that 75 percent of divorced women remarry within 10 years - rushing in again can ultimately lead to more heartache. The divorce rate for first marriages is now just over 40 percent, but it climbs to 60 percent for second marriages and 70 percent for third marriages.

Gonzaga thinks people who have been divorced can be at an advantage - they know what works for them and what doesn't - but only if they take time to reflect deeply on the last relationship. "Then," he continues, "you need to use these criteria as a platform for [screening] new people."

The book's advice ranges from how to establish reasonable expectations for a relationship to figuring where to go on a first date and who should pick up the check. "People forget these things," Gonzaga says. "For some, it's been a long time since they were out there.

His biggest tips for those diving back in the dating pool after a breakup:

1. Take time to work through the lessons of the last relationship.

2. Think about the qualities you absolutely must have in a partner.

3. Remember that getting to know someone and dating can be fun - and that it can take time to meet the right person.

4. Realize you're in control of your life; don't go in with the attitude that you need to sell yourself and see what you can get. It's about finding compatibility, not the first taker.

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