Dating Without Confidence

Q: I laughed at those girls who "didn't see it coming" when their husbands became philanderers, until I became one of them. I was immersed in the kids' lives and volunteering, and before I knew it, our marriage crumbled. All so typical. I think that's the part that hurts most, that our story is so pedestrian. He found a younger associate attorney in his firm.

I've lost my footing. Alone is so different from what I've known. I take a deep breath, look in the mirror, give myself that Tiger Lady pep talk, enter the room and immediately want to run into the ladies room to escape. What can I do to help manage this life-change? I seem to have lost my compass, my identity. I've been on a few dates, and I don't even know how to behave. Do I flirt? Do I sound interesting? Do I appear smart enough? --Ronni, 45

Dr. Susan: That's the infuriating thing about such a common story: it's still a shock when it happens to US. You'd think we'd be taught in school what signs to look for, how busy it's safe to be before our husbands dash off. Alas, no such forewarning. Meanwhile, you have to work with facts as they are, which means rebuilding yourself as a single person.

My first thought is that you try not to focus on how you "appear" or "sound." Being genuine is much more attractive than trying to be "more" of anything. However, you may want to try out some new activities, read the newspapers more carefully, get out there a bit more. That will help make you more interesting. Time is hard to find, I'm sure, and perhaps more so without your usual support system of a husband (not that he was truly supportive, obviously). Only flirt if that's your style. You wrote an intelligent letter, so I believe you're smart enough. When you want to escape into the ladies room, that's okay. Just come out again and give it a little more effort. It's highly unlikely anything terrible is going to happen, and every minor success at overcoming your fear will help rebuild your confidence.

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