Dating post-divorce has been an education, and here are some things I've learned.

By the time the dust had settled after my divorce, I was tired. My brain hurt, my heart was drained, and my body was exhausted. When I finally started dating again, I learned a lot about myself and the post-divorce dating experience.

After my divorce, the only thing that felt safe and okay was locking my front door, and crawling under a blanket with a drink and bendy straw.

However, if you have been there, you know that your friends soon start circling, like salivating matchmaking vultures, asking you about a nice neighbor of theirs who is 'at least worth a coffee,' or offering to write your online dating profile for you.

To me, no one was worth a coffee because that meant showering, finding clothes that made me feel confident, and actually being social which, for a fierce introvert, is completely draining.

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Not only that, but as a single co-parent, most evenings and every other weekend are devoted to my children. This not only shapes my schedule and availability, but it also leaves me with very little 'me' time, and I'm ferociously protective of it. Sharing it with someone is not something that I take lightly.

I was happy to let my life unfold organically, to meet someone if it happened in the course of my wanderings. However, as much as I love people once I know them, making eye contact with strangers is something I avoid as much as possible and, as my friends pointed out, I would never meet anyone in my living room.

The thing is, I am okay with being alone. I like being alone. I laugh at my own jokes, get to pick whatever show I want to watch, and don't have to share the couch with anyone. But, the vultures…

So, I compromised. I drew the line at venturing into the online dating world. (In a game of 'Would you rather,' online dating would never win for me: Roll around in raccoon poop? No problem. Put myself out there? Nope nope nope.) I'm just not interested in dating for the sake of it.

However, I did agree to allow myself to be open to opportunities* if they arose. *I had to reframe them as 'opportunities' and not 'forced punishment'. It was part of the deal.

That was four years ago and I've since become a bit less averse to dating. I've had one first date - a blind-date set-up - that went no further. I've had a few slightly longer misadventures that I'll euphemistically call lessons learned. I've had one relationship that lasted, in some form or another, for more than two years and involved blended family vacations and falling in love with someone else's children.

Dating post-divorce has been an education, and here are some things I've learned:

1. Get out there.

As a woman in my 40s, my peer group is full of people who are soon-to-be or recently, separated or divorced and dating is never far from their mind - either because they're dreading it or relishing it. Terran Shea is a Professional Matchmaker, Date Coach and the founder of Mutual Match, a personal 'offline' matchmaking service. I asked her if there is a right time to get back out there after a divorce.

"If you are thinking about how you can get back out there, it's probably a good time to date," she suggests. "Don't wait too long because you can set stuck in a rut and it will be harder to get back out there the longer you have been alone. Make sure it's not fear holding you back. And, if you are a reluctant dater or an introvert, date for the sake of connection, at minimum. It will move you forward."

If it is fear or scars from your marriage holding you back, remind yourself that you are in a different place than when you got married and that you are not looking for the same things as you were back in the day. This time around, dating doesn't have to be with the same goal.

"You don't always have to date with the serious intentions of meeting your life partner," assures Shea. "Dating to meet new and interesting people, to learn more about yourself and others, and for the sheer joy of just connecting with others, are all good reasons, too."

2. Deal with mom guilt.

The challenges of dating post-divorce are different than those from the before time. For one, there are those little humans you're responsible for.

"Dating if you have children is definitely more challenging. Spontaneity and last-minute plans are usually out of the question, at least in the early stages," says Shea. "It becomes about their schedule with the kids and yours, not to mention trying to coordinate around work schedules. It's a reason many single parents break up or don't move a relationship forward. It's hard to make it work."

At the same time, having such limited time can actually be a good thing because it forces you to be picky and separate the wheat from the chaff much more quickly.

If the relationship does progress beyond the early stages, Shea suggests waiting as long as you can before introducing your kids to your partner, and vice versa.

"You want to make sure you can see this person in your life long-term," says Shea. "Also, introducing your children early in a relationship complicates it when it should be just about you and the person you are dating."

And, really, enjoying each other without added complication can be pretty damn great. "You probably know what you want and what you don't want at this stage of your life," says Shea. Hell yes I do. I am all for luxuriating in the 'us' as people for a bit before the 'us' as parents.

One of the challenges of dating after a divorce is the mom guilt, that pesky thing. So often, women are already worried about the impact of the divorce on their children and pour themselves into mothering even more. Taking care of number one - emotionally, mentally, sexually - often falls to the bottom of the list.

Related: Mom Guilt: 10 Ways to Deal With It

"For women, dating is often about putting themselves first and feeling okay with that," says Shea.

While trying to process the guilt, you might also face another common pitfall of post-divorce dating: going too fast.

"Moving too soon into a serious relationship before you've had time to move past your previous relationship isn't a good thing," says Shea. "Loneliness can be very acute after a long-term relationship has ended. You want to make sure you aren't just filling the void left by your previous partner."

3. Dating is an extra, not a must.

On its surface, dating at any stage of your life is about finding someone with whom you have an electric connection, an intellectual and physical compatibility, shared values and goals.

However, when you have children and an otherwise full life that you feel in charge of, you realize that finding the right person is as much about you as it is the other person. This time around, it's less about finding someone to fill a role in a script and more about finding someone who adds laughter, passion, and comfort to your already complete life.

You are enough. Everyone else is just a bonus.

Photo Credit: Jenelle Ball