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Sheila Ellison
Remember eighth-grade science lab, when you mixed a little of this with a little of that to come up with who knows what? Dating is like that -- one continuous experiment. You mix a little of your personality, needs, and goals with a little of his, and you get something that either deserves a write-up or a trip to the trash bin.

I propose you turn the tables on dating. Instead of turning it into an audition where you hope to impress someone into liking you, see dating as an opportunity to experiment with the person you want to become. This is your chance to take an honest look at past relationship patterns that didn't work.

As a single mother, you have undoubtedly changed since your divorce, so be open to learning new things about yourself. The type of man you were attracted to in the past may not fit the woman you are today. Pay attention to the reactions you have to different men, how they treat you, whether or not you like their personality and if you are able to be yourself instead of who they might want you to be.

Dating experiments

Use your dating experiments, conversations, challenges, personality traits, and relationship styles to begin to define what kind of relationship you plan to create. Create is the key word here. Bring to each date a piece of the woman you want to be within the relationship. If you want more humor, then introduce humor into the dating relationship and see how it works.

Don't pretend to be anyone but yourself, but also remember that there are parts of you that may have grown and changed. Allow yourself the freedom to see what feels right to you at this stage in your life.

The first step in dating preparation is deciding why you are dating and then to set dating goals. Not everyone is looking for a life partner; some women just want to get out of the house, have fun, and meet interesting new men.

Set dating goals

Why do you want to date? Once you determine this, you can set dating goals, what you hope to accomplish during the dating process. Are you learning to trust again? Do you hope to meet many men but want to take some time before committing to a serious relationship? Do you want to be open to dating men you might not have been attracted to in the past? Or maybe you felt that you lost part of yourself during your marriage, and you're trying to find that person again.

Be painfully honest

Next you'll want to determine the kinds of men you want to meet. Get specific and be painfully honest with yourself. What are your must-haves in a relationship? What are your deal breakers? Write all of this down, so you can refer back to your list when you fall for someone who might not be right for you.

You've set your dating goals and know the kind of man you want to meet. You're ready. All you need to do is find that man! An easy and painless way to begin the process -- in the comfort of your bathrobe and without bothering with lipstick -- is online. With online dating, you don't have to hire a babysitter, get dressed up, or leave the house. You do need to create a profile though, and to be successful in online dating, that profile must honestly represent the woman you are, as well as the kind of man you're looking for.

The photo is always a pain since none of us look quite as good in photos as we do in our mirror! However, a photo is vital if you hope to encourage responses. Another advantage to online dating is that you will get to know a man thoroughly through email, instant messages, and phone calls before you meet. Sometimes it's easier to write about deep feelings, past experiences, and views on life than it is to bring them up casually face-to-face over coffee. Online dating also allows you to look over more prospects in a less inhibiting atmosphere. Imagine all the profiles you can go through compared to the few single men you might meet at the local club.

Meet in person

When you feel comfortable with someone you've met online, meet in person. The benefit to offline dating is that you get to see the person -- you can look into his eyes and determine whether or not he's telling the truth. You can judge how tall, athletic, or happy he is without reading a possibly fudged comment on a screen. It's also difficult to determine physical chemistry until you meet a person. It can be disappointing if you totally hit it off with a man online and then feel no attraction once you are standing face to face.

It's important in both online and offline dating to think about some early conversations you might want to have. Do talk about yourself, your interests, experiences, and insights. Don't talk about your ex-spouse or why you got divorced. Ask questions that help you to determine whether or not the person matches your dating goals and hoped for character traits. Be selective. You may think you have too much baggage (children, financial worries, etc.) and should settle for less than what you want, but if you do, you'll be very sorry (and probably divorced again!).

Lastly, be patient. It could take months or a year (or more) to meet someone. Stick to your must-haves, deal breakers, and dating goals. Be honest about who you are and what you want. The relationship you create will be well worth it.

Sheila Ellison

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