If you have recently been through a divorce or if you have experienced the end of a significant relationship – dating again may be the last thing on your mind. And that is ok. It may take months or even years before you feel ready to meet someone new. But if and when you do – how can you do so with confidence? The following list of suggested dos and don’ts may give you some ideas to get you started.

1. Grieve your last relationship

The end of a relationship is for most people a traumatic experience and in many ways feels similar to a bereavement. And as with any significant loss, it is important to give yourself the time and space to grieve for what has gone.

Some people are tempted to block out the negative feelings or try to bury them. They throw themselves into their work, partying, friendships or even other relationships. But the danger of doing that is that those feelings haven’t gone away – they are just lying dormant and could re-appear at any time. Unhealed hurt, resentment or anger may have a negative impact on your emotional health and also on any future relationships.

Grieving isn’t an easy or a pleasant process but it does help – it will help you to heal, to move forward and to find hope once again.

It is important to have good support around you during this time. Spend time with good friends or family who will be sympathetic and can offer the help that you need.

2. Learn from the past

It may take weeks, months or even years but eventually you will hopefully reach a period of adjustment and acceptance. This is when you realise that it is possible to live life without your ex, you catch yourself smiling or even laughing again, you discover you can look back at the past more objectively, and you are able to celebrate what was good and recognise what was bad about your last relationship.

Hopefully you will also able to recognise and take responsibility for the part you might have played in the relationship breakdown. If you were the wronged party it may be hard to think of ways you may have contributed to the problem. But try to be honest with yourself. Did you make a poor choice of partner? Did you overlook their bad behaviour or react in an unhealthy way? Were you too needy, dependent, independent, critical, pushy, angry or selfish? Did you shy away from conflict or pick fights too often? Did you allow your partner to trample all over your feelings or did you ignore theirs? Take time to think about what you would want to be different in any future relationship.

Also, think about other past relationships. Have you healed from them or are you still pining for a lost love? Can you spot any patterns emerging? Do you always pick the same type of person and if so, why? Do you have a tendency to sabotage relationships by having affairs or finding faults with the other person? Are you afraid of commitment? Has your parents’ relationship had a negative impact on your view of marriage or relationships and if so, how? Take the opportunity while you are single to learn from the past and decide if there are mistakes you don’t want to repeat.

When he looked at his dating history, Laurence realised that some of his behaviour had led to the failure of quite a few relationships, “I am an extremely impatient person and I am far too aware that this stems from my innate insecurity – a need to be constantly ‘recognised’, ‘applauded’ and ‘re-affirmed’. This has had a devastating effect on my ability to love others and give myself to others. For example, I wasn’t good at listening patiently or allowing others to interrupt ‘my’ order or routine for the day. It’s a hard journey to learn to ‘lay yourself down’ for others in a healthy sense and not be the victim. But I am learning to change and take responsibility for my behaviour.”

You may want to talk to a trusted friend or a counsellor if you find it hard to dissect your relationship history on your own. You may also want to consider doing some forgiving – both forgiving yourself and forgiving those who have hurt you. Forgiving doesn’t mean excusing what the other person has done or saying that it didn’t hurt. Forgiving isn’t going to be easy either but if you can forgive, it will free you from any bitterness and resentment and will leave you in a better position to meet someone else and to have a good and healthy relationship in the future. And if you were the one who caused hurt to somebody else – forgiving yourself and where possible asking your ex for forgiveness – will hopefully help free you from any guilt that you may be experiencing.

3. Be honest about what you are looking for

Once you have examined the past – you will be able to know what you want for the future. What kind of relationship are you looking for? Are you just hoping for a bit of fun and something casual or are you looking for a long-term committed relationship? Do you want children and marriage or are those a definite “no, no”? Be clear with yourself and honest with those you date – it will save a lot of heartache further down the line.

Looking at your relationship history will also help you to decide what kind of person you would like to date. What type of person do you need to avoid? What are your “deal breakers”? Deal breakers are anything about a person, which would make you unwilling to have a relationship with them. For example, perhaps you wouldn’t be happy being with them if they were not financially solvent, they were a smoker or if they have known commitment issues. It may be a foundational issue or perhaps it is a problem that would seem unimportant to others but either way if it is something that you can’t get past then why start dating them?

Write down a list of all your deal breakers and then determine not to date anyone who has any of them. It may help to show a friend your list and ask them to remind you of it in case you are tempted by that good looking person at the bar with the flirty eyes, the cute smile… and the enormous overdraft.

Think also about what qualities you would want in a date or a long-term partner. Is it important that they share your religious beliefs, or want to live in a specific place or that they like children (if you have any or want some)? Then make sure these are the type of people you are dating.

But try not to be too specific or fussy about what you are looking for in a person. Does it really matter if they like contemporary furnishings, reading crime novels or eating curries? Try to work out the things that really matter to you and then be flexible on the rest.

4. Take things slowly

No one else can tell you when you will be ready to date again – only you will know when that time has come. And don’t be surprised if you feel apprehensive or nervous – that is normal.

Helen went through a very messy divorce fifteen years ago. Recently – for the first time – she started feeling like dating again. “Because of my experience I kept telling myself that you have to give up too much of yourself and lose your freedom to stay in a relationship. For years I felt that it wasn’t worth it and that I was better off on my own. But more recently I have worked through the issues that I have had with my Dad and my ex-husband and now I feel in a much more positive place to have a relationship. For me, it has been a long journey.”

Start dating when you want to and not because anyone else thinks you should. If you wait until you feel happier about life and yourself, when you don’t have to have a relationship, when your ex isn’t the first thing you think about when you wake up and when you start feeling more confident – you are more likely to make good dating choices. Dating again may involve rejection or being let down – so think about whether you are in a place where you can cope if a date goes badly or a relationship doesn’t work?

Once you feel ready…or as ready as you’re going to be… then go for it! Going for it involves getting yourself out there and meeting other single people. Ask friends or family to introduce you to suitable people, try internet dating and invite out anyone who you think you would like to get to know better. Also make sure you are following your dreams and living life to the full. That’s because you are more likely to meet like-minded people doing whatever you enjoy. So, spend time doing the things that matter to you whether that is a sport, a religious activity, a hobby, volunteering, partying, travelling or something else entirely.

Now that you’re ready, you’ve taken the plunge and have set-up or said “yes” to the first date – here are some things to avoid as you rejoin the world of dating:

1. Don’t share your emotional baggage on the first date

It’s fine to mention that you were married or have recently come out of a serious relationship but spare your date all the details. There will be plenty of time later on to share your history if and when a few dates turn into something more serious.

Avoid the temptation to bad mouth your ex – it may make you sound bitter and resentful and your date may worry that if they were to have a relationship with you that you will end up talking about them in the same manner. And endlessly talking about how brilliant your ex is won’t help either. Your date may feel that they can’t compete or that you aren’t over your last relationship.

Try and keep things fun and light on the first date and enjoy getting to know the other person.

2. Don’t pressure yourself or let anyone else pressure you

Go at the speed you are happy with. Don’t feel you have to get physically or emotionally intimate too quickly. Be clear if you are not ready. You may be longing to become close with someone again but bare in mind that sex is a powerful bonder and if it happens too quickly in a relationship it can easily “blind” you to any fundamental problems between you.

If you are keen to improve your chances of making a good choice, hold off getting physically intimate until you know you really like the person, until you know you can trust them and until you know they are committed to having a relationship with you.

3. Don’t lie or pretend to be anything you aren’t

It may be tempting to re-invent yourself or to airbrush the past – but don’t. Lies will catch up with you sooner or later. Besides how would you feel if you discovered the person you were dating had made stuff up or had hidden the truth from you?

Be yourself and let your date meet the real you…not the person you think you should be or the one you think they would you like to be. After all, you don’t want them falling for a fake version of you – you want someone who will like you for all you are, (and hopefully one day love you) – with your good bits, your not so good bits and your little quirky bits, all the things that make you – you!

4. Don’t ignore any red lights

A red light is a ‘deal breaker’, whether it was on your list or not. Kate had been seeing her boyfriend for two years when she discovered one, “Evil Brett (presumably not what his mum christened him) and I were quite serious – he gave me a key to his flat and even proposed to me (although I think he was probably drunk). One morning when I went round to meet him for breakfast I found him in bed with someone else. That really hurt and made me very angry – especially because he did it all on purpose.”

Red lights are anything indicating that the relationship with this person is not going to work. Other examples might be: consistent lying, uncontrollable anger, physical or emotional abuse, untreated addictions, a constantly critical attitude, or if you find you stop ‘being yourself’ when you are around them.

And finally, enjoy yourself. Dating should be fun. It is an opportunity to get to know other people and to learn about them and about yourself in the process as well.

Don’t worry or give yourself a hard time if you don’t find Mr or Ms Right straight away. Be open, be yourself, follow your passions and don’t put your life on hold waiting for “the one”.

Love often comes when you least expect it.

If you are reading this and have experience of dating again or tips that might help others, please do include them in the comments section below. It would be great to hear your advice and experiences.