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Can I get away from guilt?

My divorce is final in a few months however we have been separated for almost two years. I would love to go out more often but find myself feeling guilty all the time because maybe I should be with my children. I am with them everyday. Also, I'm getting a lot of hostile remarks about dating from my ex. What should I do? -- Tonya E., 31, Los Angeles, Calif.

Ignore the hostile remarks from your ex, he is out of your life which means he's lost the right to dictate what you do. As far as feeling guilty, I'd ask yourself why your feelings and needs matter so little. It's impossible to nurture yourself, grow, create new relationships, build a support team, or expand your mind without spending some time away from your children. Guilt only creates a flow of negative energy that keeps you from feeling content with your life, so it is absolutely useless! A solution that has worked for many single moms is to plan date nights when children are with their other parent. That way you do get to spend as much time as possible with your kids. You might also talk with your children about how they would feel if they never got to play with kids their own age. Explain that sometimes mom needs to go out with friends her own age. Most kids understand this.


When should I bring the kids?

I am a divorced mother of three. At what point should I include the children in the relationship. I have met a wonderful guy who I think I am willing to try to date on a serious level. It has been two and one-half years since my separation and divorce from my ex. -- Deborah K., 31, Lexington, Ky.

When you know for sure that both of you are willing to date on a serious level. It's also important when you do bring the kids into the relationship that you take your time before expressing affection in front of them. Holding hands is fine, but I'd save any kissing or other displays for private. Kids react most positively when the adult who is being introduced is willing to participate in some activity the kids like to do -- play a board game, go ice-skating, or to the kid's favorite restaurant. It is the adult's job to meet the kid's on their level, which means even if the child is rude the adult still acts like a loving adult. It's also important for both you and your boyfriend to have no expectations as to how the kids will respond. All relationships take time, including your children adjusting to the idea of you being with a man who is not their father.


How should I handle prior marriages?

I have been divorced twice. When the topic of prior marriages comes up, I find that my having been married twice is a huge stumbling block and follow-up dates are rare. What's the best way to handle that? -- Patrick N., 32, Fargo, N.D.

Too often when people say they've been divorced once or twice, they follow that statement up with how it wasn't their fault, why they left the person, how it hurt them, etc. I'm not suggesting that is what you did, but I've received many questions very similar to yours so I'd like to suggest another approach. When you tell someone you've been divorced, follow it up with what you have learned about yourself. It is much more reassuring to hear someone say, "I got divorced the first time because I was self centered and worked too much," then to hear, "I got divorced because my spouse was a self centered narcissist." In your case you can follow up your explanation from the first divorce with what you learned from your second divorce and how you have grown and changed since that relationship.

In your explanation, you need to answer the questions that the women are too afraid or embarrassed to ask (Is he capable of a committed relationship? Will he be this judgmental of me? Will he be faithful? Does he want to be married?). If you can do this in a humorous, honest, revealing way you will have women calling you for the second date.


How should I get started?

I'm recently divorced and starting over. What is the current dating scene like and what are what are women looking for? What do they want in a person and how is one expected to break the ice? Is there any stigma associated with being divorced? -- Sean E., 33, Portland, Ore.

Women are looking for men who are not afraid to be themselves. They want men who are willing to do the work required to heal themselves from the trauma of past relationships, men who know how to listen and are willing to work at an equal partnership. Everyone wants to find someone who sees exactly who they are and loves them unconditionally. That said, I think that is the same thing that men are looking for. How to break the ice? Start practicing. Instead of seeing dating as an audition, see it as a way to practice being exactly who you are. If you wished there was more humor in your past relationship, introduce it on your dates and see how it goes. After every broken relationship there is a time of reassessment where you sit with yourself and take responsibility for the things you did in the relationship that didn't work. Dating is a chance to learn how to do those things differently, so the dating scene will be what you make it.


Can I overcome fear of dating?

I have not dated in about five years. I devoted all of my attention on my teenage daughter. Now that she is temporarily out of my home I think I'm ready to get out there again. I've never been married and my longest relationship lasted six months. I don't quite know what to do. Dating scares me but I do want to meet someone someday! -- Lisa P., 35, Seatlle, Wash.

I'm assuming that you have good friends, which means you know how to have a successful long-term relationship. Take a little time to note what qualities you look for in a friend. These are the character traits you will need in a partner. I would also take the time to think about why your past relationships have only lasted six months. Perhaps you were with the wrong person, or it was the wrong time in your life, but more than likely you were also afraid of something. Get to the bottom of the fear. Is it fear that the person won't love you, will leave you, or will hurt you? Whatever it is, you need to spend time processing that. Once you truly decide that you want to meet someone, you have to go for it the same way you would if you were unemployed and looking for a job. Make your intent clear to yourself and others. Set goals. Take steps. The most comfortable place to meet men is participating in an activity you already enjoy. So start by taking a class or join some sort of co-ed group in your area. That way you will meet men, form friendships, and progress slowly into dating without the anxiety that usually accompanies the search to meet someone.