There are countless sites for women venturing out into dating  after divorce. Too many of them sound like a how-to book and remind me of going fishing.

Online dating after my divorce, in the spring of 2006 at the age of 47, was not immediately on my mind. I had two teenagers still at home and romance just wasn’t a priority. Then summer approached and with the encouragement of friends, I decided to give it a whirl. This could be fun, I thought.

I had raised two daughters, managed a home with a depressed husband, housebroken our puppy, had two roommates in addition to my young adult daughters and always had to put clothing on before I went downstairs to brew coffee. Another responsibility was not what I was looking for.

I signed up for over a glass of wine with the help of a girlfriend. We giggled trying to describe who I was and what I wanted in a date and then I took a deep breath, clicked a key, and my profile went live. It wasn’t long before I began to get winks and waves and emails. The attention had me giddy at first. Talking to single men as a single woman for the first time since the age of 30 was invigorating. I felt life creep back into my middle-aged life and allowed the wind that had been knocked out of me with my divorce hearing to become a memory.

I met J online and the attraction was mutual. We exchanged phone numbers and he began texting me until we eventually decided to meet for dinner.

“Be careful,” my friends said as they told me the rules: I was to drive myself, and had to tell them where I was going. Under no circumstances was I to get in his car or go anywhere else. J and I enjoyed our conversation so much that when we were done eating, he suggested we keep talking in his car. I said, “Sure!”

The funny thing is that the thing my friends warned me about were not the things I should have been worried about.

What I should have worried about is that though I felt pretty and sexy in my tight jeans, heeled boots and feminine top, my insides were raw and in need of a rest. A rest from the quagmire of relationship. I was too tightly wound in self-avoidance to just have fun and not become emotionally involved.

“He’s just your rebound man,” one friend said after my crush for J became all-encompassing. Another implored, “Just have fun. Don’t get involved, you have two teenagers at home you need to focus on.”

Good advice, but here’s the thing. I didn’t want to focus on the shit show of my life. And it took years before I understood this, but underneath the nice clothing and exhilaration of flirting, I was furious. Enraged. Pissed off. Tired of doing what other people needed. Tired of doing what I was told I ‘should’ do. I had devoted 18 years of my life to caring for a husband only to find myself alone and dealing with financial uncertainty. So I did what I wanted. And you know, despite how things ended, perhaps it was the right thing for me after all because of where it brought me.

J was the best and worst thing to happen. The worst because I fell and fell hard and because he became the mirror through which I viewed myself. I was starving for attention and affection, for a man to tell me I was beautiful, to text me countless times during the day and say, “just thinking of you,” or “let’s grab dinner tonight?” We are talking distraction on steroids. Why think about my own life, alimony, child support, my crazy high mortgage, lack of retirement funds due to staying home to raise my girls, or frankly, anything serious when I could just think about him? I mean, I had a man who thought I was hot stuff! He would save me.

I fell. And I fell hard.

I was not ready to ‘put myself out there.’

Or maybe I was. Maybe I needed a good, hard slap in the face to focus my energy on myself again. Maybe if I hadn’t been dumped by J, I would have continued to avoid myself.

Like many things in life, this view backwards makes me cringe. My neediness. The desire for avoidance. How I so quickly sought someone to save me instead of saving myself.

We broke up just two months after our first date, and I fell apart. My anxiety went through the roof and I could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. The world felt dark and without hope. I so badly had wanted someone to take me from this darkness. Losing J was the thing that finally forced me to come face to face with the magnitude of loss I was actually encountering. My in-laws, friends, second home in the mountains. The sadness couldn’t be avoided any longer.

But, it was walking through that fire, the one that involved letting grief and personal introspection in that brought me back to me. I hated the shadows that descended on me, but suspect they were necessary.

Because of that descent into a place that felt devoid of light and joy, I either had to learn to crawl out or abandon hope. I had to decide, do I want to live or do I want to fade away? I had to learn to discard what hadn’t served me and retain what lifted me up. For the first time in my life, I was selfish and took care of myself first. I booked a trip to Havasu Canyon with REI Adventures on impulse a month or so after my relationship with J ended and began to travel and hike alone. By the time I was 50, I had decided to move to Colorado. I needed a change. Each new adventure brought insight and confidence that were building blocks to my new life.

I made a lot of mistakes and I suspect I hurt some people along the way. Frankly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and that was the point. Learning how to begin again, how to persevere, how to buy a new home, how to let go of the hurt when abandoned by old friends, how to make new friends, how to make decisions alone, how to become my own best friend.

My years alone gave me  a priceless opportunity for discovery. I had moments when I was lonely, but they were rare. Evenings alone at home watching a good documentary with a big glass of wine, with Tigger on my lap were moments I treasured. There were men here and there, but nothing lasted more than a few weeks.

You know, it’s funny. The only reason I tried out dating sites was due to the push by friends. After I moved to Boulder, I gave online dating one more try, but had to acknowledge this just wasn’t what I wanted the focus of my life to be. I didn’t want to take care of a man. Single life suited me just fine.

Until Rob. Seven years after my divorce and when I wasn’t looking. When I was ready to say yes again to everything a partnership had to offer.

Every woman experiences being newly single differently, and I remember friends who were newly divorced who immediately began searching for a new partner. “I like being married,” they might say. And that’s okay. Growing older without a mate can be daunting. Being alone isn’t for everyone. But neither is being married. We need to feed our own individual souls.

There are countless sites for women venturing out into dating  after divorce. Too many of them sound like a how-to book and remind me of going fishing.

Sometimes, just maybe, once you stop looking, you find what you were searching for all along without knowing it. Without following the rules.