Immediately following a break-up, sex—especially the kind involving a new person—is often the last thing on your mind.
However, it’s almost inevitable that once some time has passed, you will be having it with another person.
Based on my own experiences, it’s normal to feel both excited and overwhelmed at the thought of re-entering the dating world and having sex with another person especially if it comes at the end of a long-term relationship.
To be blunt, just the idea of having a new body next to yours can be extremely exciting, but the “once bitten, twice-shy” feeling seems to doubly apply here as well. (A recently divorced friend of mine who is now in his late 30s and was with his now-ex-wife since they were both 21 recently echoed many of the same hopes and fears.)
The question as to when is the right time to re-enter the dating pool, or whether to start off with casual dating, or dive right into a serious relationship, varies from individual to individual.
I firmly believe that this is a question only you can determine the right answer to.
With that said however, I have experienced and seen enough of these things that have either ended badly or went off in a direction no one was prepared for. That is to say, it pays to ask yourself some honest questions before you jump back into the saddle with someone new.
So, whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, etc., before you “go all the way” consider the following:
1. Why do you want to have sex?
On the surface, this may seem like a stupid question and elicit responses like, “Because I want to-duh!”
However, go a bit deeper with that thought: Is it out of a desire to connect with another person? Is it a case of just wanting to get your freak on? Or is some part of you doing this to your ex know that you’re over him or her? If it’s #1 or #2, does your partner feel the same way as you do? Have you told them this?
In the case of #3, try to visualize your ex learning that you have had sex with someone else since them.
If you can’t even imagine that because you don’t care or have absolutely no desire for your ex to know anything about your life now, then that’s probably a good sign that you are well and truly over them.
While feeling a bit of glee isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a sign that you haven’t moved on, expecting your ex to feel jealous, upset, etc. can indicate that you still aren’t over the break-up, or that somehow your chief motivation for having sex isn’t really about you or your new relationship but all about your previous one.
This leads me into number two.
2. Am I using this new person?
This is a tough one to answer honestly because who amongst us likes to admit that we use people? With that said, many of us are all-too familiar with rebound relationships.
Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong at all with casual dating as long as both parties are on the same page. A good rule for any relationship is never to assume anything. If you aren’t looking for a commitment and aren’t even open to the possibility, then let your new boyfriend or girlfriend know sooner rather than later.
Also, be clear and if you really are sure you aren’t looking for the long term, then say it rather than something like, “I don’t know. No one can predict the future. We’ll have to wait and see.” Having been on the receiving end of such a statement, I can honestly say that this can often lead to a sense of false hope or optimism that the relationship has the potential for being long-term.
Learning later on that the other person never had any desire to ever consider a long-term relationship is far more painful than knowing that from the very beginning.
Speaking of other things that can be painful and long-term . . .
3. Do I need to get tested for STDs and stock up on safe-sex items?
Given that I am in my mid-30s and most of the people around me are the same age or older, I am always surprised how many of my peers only think of unwanted pregnancy as a potential consequence of unprotected sex.
I know people who have worked at Planned Parenthood, health clinics, etc., so trust me when I say that STDs can and do occur in people of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientations.
Many people with STDs don’t even know they have them for months (or years). If you left a relationship and have reason to believe that your former boyfriend or girlfriend slept with someone else, then get tested just to be safe.
Also, asking your new partner to get tested isn’t unreasonable, nor is it a sign that you think they are “dirty” or promiscuous. If s/he flies off in a huff, then you are probably better off without them.
In closing, I wish there was a correct answer and/or magic formula to navigate the often tricky world of dating in general but especially dating that comes after a break-up.
Unfortunately, there is no one that I am aware of who knows that, but there are ways to at least potentially avoid some common pitfalls.
If you are reading this and just recently have dumped someone or been dumped, know that unless you made a conscious choice not to do so, you probably will find someone else.
At times, you may even be like me and question why the hell you are doing this to yourself again, but the optimist in me likes to believe there is such a thing as love and that there are several people out there with the potential to be good, long-term partners.
Even if you’re just looking for a fling, you still deserve to be with someone who adds happiness to your life. Good luck!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise/Travis May