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Dating the second time around

By Stephanie Chen, CNN
Rhonda Hayes was married 25 years before her husband died. She says entering the dating scene again required an open mind.
Rhonda Hayes was married 25 years before her husband died. She says entering the dating scene again required an open mind.
  • Dating after a divorce or long-term relationship can be difficult, expert says
  • "Second-time" daters should try to pick a place that is comfortable to meet
  • People should not bring problems from the old relationship into the new one

(CNN) -- After more than two decades of marriage, Rhonda Hayes, at 55 with two grown children, didn't expect to be single again.

But in 2008 her husband passed away from lymphoma. Nine months later, her daughter suggested Hayes try online dating.

Older and wiser then when she married, Hayes decided to give the dating game another try.

"I honestly believe that you have to be open to it," she says. "You have to be truly open to finding love again."

Many people put their hearts on the line again and again. Whether you've just been through a divorce or are leaving a long-term relationship, you might find yourself in a bit of a dating rut after being coupled for so long.

Hayes turned to internet dating. That's where she became interested in Larry Curtis, a widowed 52-year-old working in real estate.

They connected over their passion for refurnishing houses and love for their families. Their relationship started with long phone conversations, a Facebook friendship, and then dates. The couple was married in May.

In light of the upcoming Valentine's Day, CNN spoke to Gian Gonzaga, a psychologist who has studied the factors that lead to marital success, about the challenges of dating after a previous relationship.

Gonzaga is the senior director of research and development at, one of many dating websites that have sprouted online over the last decade. His book, "Dating the Second Time Around: Finding Love That Lasts," is packed with practical advice for people eager to give dating another shot.

The following is an edited version of our interview:

CNN: How do you define second-time love in your book?

Gonzaga: Most of the people we talked to are divorced, but we think it's any significant relationship. If you have dated someone for four to five years and you have been serious and committed to them, you are still going to learn some of those lessons and suffer some of those costs. Some of them are widowed and some of them are just coming out of relationships.

CNN: What are some of the obstacles to dating after a long-term relationship or divorce?

Gonzaga: One of the biggest things is simply access. Where can you find single people who are also looking for relationships?

You're far away from school and most of your immediate social circle is married and with kids. But the internet has come around and given a whole new level of access to people wanting relationships.

CNN: What about the emotions that may still be lingering from a previous relationship?

Gonzaga: That's the other really big challenge. Coming back the second time around means that you've been through a relationship before. There's a kind of irony that comes out. Think about it from the perspective of a job. The more you work at a job, the more experience you get, but with relationships, it doesn't work that way. The more people work at it, they should be better. But they feel like they aren't good at it because a relationship of theirs hasn't worked out.

CNN: How can that affect the new relationship?

Gonzaga: They carry these expectations for what a relationship is going to be from the last one into the next one. For example, if someone feels like they tried really hard and the relationship didn't work out, and they are anxious, they may wonder if they are worthy of another relationship.

They will act in a way that will almost make that expectation come true. If I'm anxious, I may get jealous if they don't call. I may question whether or not tokens of affection are true. I may not believe them as much, and those things can add up and undermine a relationship. The sense of not being confident or feeling worthy in a relationship can come back and haunt you.

CNN: Can there be lessons learned from the previous relationships?

Gonzaga: The flip side is people have a lot more experience. They know what works in the relationship, what didn't work in a relationship. They know the things they absolutely have to have in a partner.

CNN: Do you have any advice on how to approach a new relationship?

Gonzaga: The first part is assessing yourself. Step back and take a look at the relationships you've been in. What are the things you really find important in a partner or prospective partner? If there are 10 things you need, cut it in half and cut two more.

The next thing is to think about what are the things in your relationship that you did really well or maybe didn't do so well.

How can one apply lessons from the old relationships to the new one? For example, let's say one of the big troubles you got into in the first relationship was the two of you had very differing views on how to spend money. You know that in the end you were a total saver and your spouse is a total spender. This leads to a lot of conflict about money.

You may want to bring this up when you get to know someone and ask is this person a spender as you get to know them. Do they tend to be able to save well, because that is important to me?

CNN: It seems like many people looking for love after a long relationship are turning to the web. How can you get over the stigma of the internet?

Gonzaga: There are a lot of people who have met their spouses and partners online and you will find them all around you.

The technology itself can be helpful in the dating process. If people are nervous meeting someone, new technology lets you get to know them better before you decide if they are the one you want to be on a date with.

CNN: What are the dos and don'ts of a first date?

Gonzaga: This is the fun part -- the date -- getting to know someone again. Sometimes people get intimidated and say, "I have to go through all this again." But really it's the opportunity of getting to know someone new.

Make sure you're comfortable with wherever the meeting is going to be.

Spend more time getting to know the other person rather than trying to get them to know you. Don't share too much about yourself and don't try to sell yourself. Don't brag. The only way you can find someone else to connect with is getting to know them.

The last thing I like to tell people is to remember to have fun!