Once you’re past the initial stages of a breakup—the crying, the Ben & Jerry’s, the sad songs on repeat—there comes a point when you wonder what’s next. How do you know when you’re ready to start dating again? You don’t want to hold yourself back, but you don’t want to use someone as a rebound either. Obviously breakups (and recovery time) vary based on the relationship, which means there’s no hard and fast rule for when to enter a new one. But if you’re thinking about getting back in the dating pool, here are a few red flags that mean you might not be ready just yet.
1. You constantly compare everyone to your ex
Whether you use your ex as a golden standard or scrutinize potential beaus for their old annoying habits, this is a major sign that you still have a lot of baggage from your last relationship. “It’s definitely alright to use them as a baseline whether it be good or bad, but if you compare your new partner to your ex for everything and still have them on your mind, you’re not ready to be dating again and still have some healing to do!” says Mary, a junior at the University of Maine.
Even though you might be angry—not wistful—if your ex is constantly on your mind, it means you’re not over them. It’s unfair to the other person (and to you) to rush into something when you haven’t let go of past feelings for a SO, even if those feelings aren’t necessarily positive.
2. You’re not open to love yet
You’ve made eye contact across the room for weeks, lingered after class to ~accidentally~ run into them, and got their number “just to check homework.” Your friends tease you endlessly about it and, to be honest, your heart kinda does skip a beat. But when you find out they’re single (aka available), you get cold feet.
This is a sign that you like the idea of a relationship, but don’t want to actually dive into one just yet. Whether you’re still exhausted from all the breakup fights or feel a little afraid of commitment, don’t feel pressured to “get over it.” Trying to force something you’re not feeling isn’t going to end well for you or that cute classmate.
3. You feel like you NEED to be dating someone
This means you’re looking for someone to fill a role, not someone to fall for—or maybe you’re embarrassed by being single, especially if your ex has already found someone new. “If finding a [partner] feels like your number one priority, you’re not ready to date again. I remember a time when I was insecure about being single and all I wanted was a boyfriend. Not only is this attitude unhealthy, it hardly attracted anyone to me,” Mackenzie, a sophomore at the University of Washington, says.
Our society places a lot of emphasis on dating and love, but there’s so much more to life than that. “You should feel confident enough in yourself as a single person before adding another person to your life,” says Lyndsay, a sophomore at Sam Houston State University. “You should be able to validate your own existence, not count on someone else for that.” If you find yourself obsessing over how to get a new SO, take a step back and remind yourself that you aren’t defined by your relationship status.
4. You change yourself to be what you think the other person wants
It’s one thing to compromise on which restaurant you two head to Friday night, but it’s another to undergo an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style transformation on the first date. This might be a sign that your old relationship left you with some insecurities about who you are or your self-worth—or maybe you were a chameleon with your past partner too. Either way, it’s important that you bring yourself to a relationship, not lose yourself in it. Katie, a senior at SUNY Oswego, agrees.
“I had lost myself in this previous relationship,” she says. “For over a year, I tried really hard to mold myself into someone that he wanted, and lost who I truly was along the way. I started to care less and less about things, and forgot about all my goals and career ambitions. I was so obsessed with trying to make him love me, I forgot about myself and the bigger picture. Now, I know I’m not ready to date again because I’m trying to find myself again; what I like and don’t like, working on what I want to do when I graduate next May, and I don’t want any boys to distract me from that.”
Which brings us to our next red flag…
5. You’ve lost yourself
As the saying goes, the most important relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself. “I think that girls should look to focus on themselves for a little while after a breakup,” Colby, a sophomore at St. Lawrence University, says. “Focus on the relationship you have with yourself, and everything else in your life will follow suit, Get outside, go for a run, listen to your favorite music, go out with friends, have a sit down with your mom and/or sisters over some coffee, give some love to your pets, take yourself shopping, go to a yoga or painting class—just do something!”
Being single is an opportunity to give yourself some time and attention. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to try? A book you’ve been meaning to read for forever? Sushi restaurants you never went to because your old partner didn’t like fish? You finally get to do all those things.
6. You’re settling
Whether it’s saying yes to a second date after an underwhelming first one or putting up with disrespectful behavior, settling for candidates who aren’t a good match for you is a huge red flag. “It’s the classic scenario of, ‘Do I actually like him, or do I like him because he’s showing interest in me?'” Rachel, a freshman at USC, says. “There’s no need to rush into anything with anybody.” When you’re eager to get back in the dating world, it’s tempting to settle for someone who’s not great but “good enough.” Unfortunately, this kind of relationship rarely lasts. Know your worth and wait for someone you really connect with instead of wasting your time with people who aren’t right for you.
7. You’re still tight with your ex
Being on good terms with an ex is obviously preferable in comparison to shooting each other frosty glares across campus, but that continued closeness might be holding you back. “If you still talk or text or Snapchat or whatever with them frequently, chances are you’re still in that mindset of being with them one way or another,” Margeaux, a senior at Barnard College, says. “The feelings are still there and you haven’t really had any sort of closure, even if you think you’re ‘friends’ after a breakup.”
When they’re your go-to for advice or their sweatshirts are still in your closet, it can be hard to remember you two aren’t actually dating anymore. You won’t be ready for your next love until you’re over your last one, and keeping an old SO as a BFF might be an obstacle to truly getting over them. Setting some boundaries could be crucial to moving on.
After a breakup, it’s easy to want to rush back into dating again—or swear off love forever. However, as Colby says, “You can never plan on who you will date or who you will meet, but you have to keep an open mind and you cannot shut yourself off to people just because of one bad breakup experience.” If one or more of these signs that you’re not ready to start dating again rings true for you, just take your time and think things through to make sure you don’t rush into anything just yet.