We've all been there. You've been out of the dating scene for a while, and it all seems so different since you were last here, even if that was only three months before. There's new apps you're meant to know about, you decide your wardrobe is clearly not fit for purpose, and when you do go on dates the etiquette seems to have all changed. And then you think, being single is so hard - maybe I'll just text that old flame, who I know is wrong for me, but who I at least can cosy up to tonight...
If you remember one thing from this article, please make it this; if and when the above applies, then stop right there and step away from your phone.
There is a very good reason why you split up with the ex in the first place, and what you're experiencing isn't the hand of fate guiding you towards another doomed attempt at making a flawed relationship work. Instead, that gut-wrenching sensation is a bout of self-esteem insecurity, and the single worst thing you could do is try and patch it up seeking the attention of someone you broke up with for a reason.
The only solution for your lifetime of happiness is to start with yourself, and prepare (and often repair) your self-esteem to a level where you can and will be happy if you are on your own. Once you have achieved this, then dating becomes a joyful experience of meeting people who could potentially join your life, and provide even greater happiness.
You can do this today, if you are willing to psychologically prepare yourself properly ahead of the dating process. Simply follow these five steps, and you'll find you are easily able to let the right love into your life.
Stage one - Reflection
There should be no sugar-coating it - a break-up is one of the most emotionally unsettling experiences we go through, and I advise my clients to take time out of any dating when re-establishing an equilibrium.
The number one goal of this stage is to break any cycles of co-dependence you may have created for yourself, so, as hard as it is, don't make any unnecessary contact with your ex, and focus on looking forward for yourself. When you do have to communicate with your ex-partner, keep it cordial, polite, but brief, and understand they are going through the same thing at their end, so don't make it harder for either of you.
Set up a journal to monitor and record how you are feeling at all times. If you're feeling positive or negative, jot down what specific thing has brought this on. Once per week, take some time out and read back your diary entries to see what learnings you can derive, and keep a note of these.
Finally, take the time to seek out books that speak to you, and support your self-understanding. I highly recommend Nathaniel Branden's Six Pillars of Self Esteem, which many of my patients find helps them look at the motivations for their actions in a new way.
Stage two - Goal Setting
Once you've established a sense of where you are at, then you can start to plan for the future. Write down the learnings you have recorded from your journal, and group the feelings into areas, like 'family', 'work', 'love', to give you an idea of where you are most vulnerable and also strong.
From this analysis, write down a summary of how you want your life to be, including, but deliberately not majoring on your love life. Try and establish as clear a picture as possible of the life you are choosing to live, where you control as many variables as possible.
Finally, set realistic objectives to achieve this life you have set out, with timescales attached to each. Keep goals as simple but specific as possible, so instead of 'get a perfect body', create objectives like, 'feel more healthy by finding an exercise I enjoy and doing it at least three times a week'.
Congratulations, you now have your blueprint to recover the sense of yourself that you may have lost. This is the biggest asset you will create on your path to true happiness.
Stage three - Self Focus
This is where you put that plan into action, and is the first part of the process that you are likely to find fun and enjoyable, as you fill your life with things and people that make you happy. One day you will look back at this phase as the period in which you realised truly that everything was going to be not just OK, but wonderful.
Keep your journal going throughout all of this, and note the things you loved doing, and do more of them. Joy can be found in the most unlikely places, so try to say yes to as many things as possible, asking yourself only one question - does this serve me? If it does, try it.
Stage four - Choosing Dates
Now you're at a point in your recovery that you are living a life of your own choosing, you can open your mind to sharing this with someone.
Like attracts like, and as you are now going through your life with a positive spring in your step you will find these same kind of people gravitate towards you, so keep your eyes open, without ever forcing it.
When you meet people, be discerning as to who is a romantic possibility, and hold your space. This does not mean that you cannot be open, giving, and welcoming to everyone you meet, but stops you from crossing the line into people-pleasing, which impacts on your own self-worth.
When you do meet someone who connects with your way of looking at the world, be bold and make the first move, and invite them for coffee. You're living life your way, and you are not the passive person you once were.
Incidentally, I don't really recommend dating apps as they can be reductive for your self-esteem. So instead get yourself into many face to face situations, which can lead you to meet new people.
Stage five - Enjoy!
Look at where you started this process, and where you are now - you've come so far!
Now is the time to relax and enjoy what you have achieved. Go on dates, but hold your own space, and move at your pace and no faster. You are in control of your own life, and you will find what you are looking for in your own time.
However, remember that those same familiar negative emotions and impulses will emerge when you are not mindful, so keep up your journal to record how you're feeling. Whenever you notice warning signs, go back to your blueprint and repeat these five steps.
Dr Becky Spelman is a TV psychologist with a Harley Street practice at www.theprivatetherapyclinic.co.uk. Tweet the questions you would like Dr Becky to answer in her Huffington Post blog at @drbeckyspelman.