It’s never easy to keep your dating game face on. And some of life’s circumstances make it even harder to think about getting out there again. But unless you’re ready to resign yourself to the idea of being alone forever, you need to get yourself ready to return to the dating world.

How can you return to dating happily? The steps you need to take depend on your situation:

After a breakup
Seek lessons in the relationship, and use what you’ve learned to make positive changes in what you expect of yourself and your next partner. You won’t change the results until you change the patterns that are causing your disappointments, so break the mold. While you’re at it, break out a new you: Improve your shape, change your hairstyle, try a new outfit, do whatever you can to look and feel as though you’ve made a fresh start. A little self-confidence goes a long way, and there’s nothing on earth as sexy as someone who feels sexy!

After a divorce
Before you get acquainted with anyone else, there’s one new person you need to get to know: Yourself. You’re not the same person you were either before your wedding or during your marriage, and you need to take stock of who you are now before you can expect to find happiness with someone new. Think about what you want out of the rest of your love life, what’s still or newly important to you, and what isn’t actually a priority anymore. Divorce is a loss, yes, but life has also handed you an opportunity for a romantic “do-over”—go for it!
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After being widowed
Grief and loneliness are a terrible combination to bear. Widowed persons’ support groups may be one resource to help you cope and introduce you to new social contacts. Give yourself some time to emerge as the person you’re in the process of becoming, but at the same time, try to connect with people who not only understand what you’re going through, but will be there to go through it with you. With a new support structure in place, you won’t have to get back “out there” all alone as you seek new companionship and love.

After a dry spell
If it’s been long enough, you may have just stopped thinking of yourself as someone who goes on dates. There’s a certain temptation, however painful, to just call it quits. Time to lose that attitude. No one else can rule you out of the game—only you can do that to yourself. And guess what? There’s someone out there who has been wondering where you are and is going to be head-over-heels happy when you decide to emerge from your shell. Isn’t it time you found each other?

No matter what your circumstances, when you’re ready to start dating again, don’t just wish for romance to re-ignite in your life. Spread the word to friends and family. Attend events that interest you, and be open to engaging in or even starting conversations with people you meet there. The next love of your life may be at a bookstore reading, in that adult education class you’re considering taking, in the local softball, basketball, volleyball or soccer league, at your favorite museum, or even online. Get out there and live your life—it’s only a matter of time before you find each other.

Randy B. Hecht is a freelance writer based in New York. She has contributed to The Out Traveler, Philadelphia City Paper and Art & Antiques, among other publications.