Farrah Hughes

Whether you are newly single or you’ve been single for a while, it can be an intimidating prospect to enter the dating world.

People often tell me about the many questions that come up: How and where can I meet potential dating partners? How can I tell if they’re safe and trustworthy people? Is it possible to develop a relationship based on friendship, or will potential partners always expect romance? Is it possible to find both romance and companionship?

Many people don’t know where to begin, and lots of people believe that there are no dating options out there. It can feel overwhelming, like standing at the bottom of the mountain and staring up at the peak. You are single, standing at the bottom of the mountain, and you long for a relationship, which is at the top. It seems like such a long way.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that every mountain is climbed one step at a time.

What are the “small steps” that you can take as you set off on your dating journey? Here are some helpful pointers for getting started.

» Start interacting with old friends for practice. If you are on Facebook or another social media platform, search for people you know who are currently single and strike up a conversation by sending them a direct message. This is a safe way to begin practicing your conversation skills.

» Initiate conversation while you are out and about. For example, let’s say you see an interesting person shopping in the produce section. You might smile, make eye contact and comment on how difficult it can be to tell whether the cantaloupes are ripe. Such an opening allows for conversation if the other person is interested.

» Avoid focusing on your baggage. You are entering a new phase in your life, so it’s important to experience it — be present and in the moment — and avoid focusing on the past. As you get to know potential dating partners, talk about yourself and your world, not your divorce, your exes or the woes that you’ve experienced. Likewise, try to steer conversations so that the other person is doing the same.

» Smile! People are attracted to positivity. If it helps you to feel comfortable and relaxed, take your dog for a walk or treat your grandchildren to ice cream. You will be out and about and having fun, which is a great start!

» Get cultural. Bookstores, museums and theaters are great places to meet interesting people. As you pursue your interests, there is a good chance that you will meet others who share them.

» Join a gym. It is important to take care of your physical health, so why not be physically active in a setting where you can also meet others?

» Go online. If you are less comfortable meeting people in person, it is perfectly OK to try online dating. There are many dating sites, like Match.com, that allow you to browse profiles. Some sites, like eHarmony.com and Chemistry.com, ask you to take a personality test before searching for potential matches. Those sites have fees associated with them. There also are faith-based sites that you can explore, like ChristianCafe.com and JDate.com.

» Don’t get intimate until you are ready. There is no set timeline for when it is “OK” or “expected” that physical intimacy will occur. You create the rules, and it is important that you do what you are comfortable with.

» Focus on what you like first. It’s easy to begin finding reasons why someone will not work out or why they don’t fit the bill. Instead, focus on the things you do like.

For more information and dating tips for seniors, you can visit websites such as sixtyandme.com, 50more.com, seniorsresourceguide.com and aarp.org.

Remember, if you strike up a conversation with someone who then begins talking about their spouse, that is totally fine! The goal is to begin getting out and meeting people as well as to become more comfortable initiating conversation with others.

While it would be nice to meet the perfect companion or romantic partner right away, don’t expect that to happen. Remember that the dating journey can be a tall mountain to climb, and you are taking it one step at a time.

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Farrah Hughes, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and serves as the director of behavioral health aervices at HopeHealth. She is happily married to her best friend, and together they have two children. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, Collaborative Family Healthcare Association and the Society for Couple and Family Psychology.

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