As soon as I mentioned to friends that I was separating from my husband they wanted to talk about dating. Or more accurately, sex.
"I'm not ready to think about that," I protested. "I'm just excited to finally have some time to myself and to be able to go out with friends."
They nodded in agreement, but quickly proceeded to tell me all of the possible ways I could meet my future lover: the internet, bars, friends of friends, or look up an old boyfriend. "Old boyfriends are old boyfriends for a reason," they explained. "And internet dating is impersonal and risky, friends of friends are a good bet, unless the relationship ends poorly, and bars, well we've all done that already and know how that ends."
I was impressed, and frankly surprised, that my married friends had given the dating scene such consideration. They shocked me further by describing the single men they had crushes on and the ex-boyfriends they were currently in contact with.
"Are you going to introduce me to these guys?" I asked.
"No," they scolded. "He's my back-up boyfriend."
Another thing I didn't know: my married friends went on more dates than my single friends.
Sometimes the ex-boyfriend discussion started off for my benefit with the possibility of me meeting him. My friend would log onto Facebook, show me his photos, sings his praises, and tell me how perfect he was for me. Before I was ever able to see for myself, I'd be asked to leave the room and I'd hear giggles through the door. Facebook: the gateway to many affairs.
Other friends were more blatant, such as the one that asked, "Don't you think after ten years of marriage I deserve an affair?"
"Sure," I laughed. "But it's not really up to me. It's up to your husband."
"Bummer," she groaned. "Because he doesn't think so."
We discussed the difficulty and unfairness (according to her) of her situation and then each left for our respective homes, where I happily read (alone) in bed and she lied next to her husband while strategizing how to get a free pass to have hot sex with another man.
Eventually, the late nights of drinking wine and hearing about want-to-be extramarital sex influenced me enough that I decided I was ready to date. I told a few friends and eagerly anticipated the phone to ring. The problem was, saying I'm ready to date was not the same as going out on dates. And I didn't know how to date. I met my ex-husband when I was twenty four. And before that... well how much "before that" is there?
When proclaiming I was ready to date didn't yield a fabulous man on my doorstep, I asked my friend Wendy how it was done. "Talk to me like I'm thirteen or from another country. Seriously, this dating world is totally foreign to me."
"OK," she said nice and slowly. "Say you meet someone at a party that you find interesting."
"I already see a problem. Almost everyone I see at parties is married."
"Then you need to start going to other parties. Or go to plays, restaurants, to hear a band, places where single people go. And don't just talk to your friend the whole time you're out. I know how you are, you need to look around and approach other people."
Although this is already proving to be out of my comfort zone, I told her to continue.
"Once you meet someone you like, you can either ask him if he'd like to get coffee sometime, which would be the least scary for you, or you could go for it and ask him to dinner."
"What's the difference?"
"Dinner often leads to sex, coffee is more of a get to know you thing."
At the word "sex" I freeze. "We'd have sex after the first date? Isn't that kind of fast?"
"Maybe," she says, "or maybe you'd have it the next time you went out. But before you have sex, you both need to get screened. And you need to start carrying condoms with you. You can't expect him to have them."
My warm and fuzzy image of dating again didn't include any of this. Nor did it include the awkwardness of meeting someone new and having nothing in common. Or the embarrassment of having someone see me naked for the first time. Or the horror of not understanding that ordering sushi means I like to be tied up and spanked or any of the other dating rules I obviously never learned.
"Never mind," I told Wendy. "I had no idea it was this complicated. When did dating become so confusing?"
"It always has been," she said. "You just didn't notice, because you were married."
Corbin Lewars is an author, freelance editor and writer, and writing coach. She lives in Seatle with her two children, where she has successfully learned how to date.