Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I've been divorced for 20 years. I didn't really date because I was busy raising my children. I gave up my life for them, and I am not sorry but now I am trying to date and it's not only hard, but when I meet someone I like, they don't return the feelings or I meet men that are interested in me, but I don't return the feelings. I shut myself off to having any feelings for years and now all I want is to meet someone. By opening myself up, I have allowed myself to feel pain again and I don't know what to do because when I am rejected, it hurts deeper than it should. How do I learn to cope with this? I feel like an emotional wreck and I KNOW I shouldn't be so emotional.
— Betty F., Gardner, Kansas
There is no "should" about such emotional hurt. As each person reaches adolescence, they discover other people can cause the pain of rejection. There doesn't have to be a reason, and even strangers have the ability to hurt us when we are that young. The basic reason is that adolescents do not have a complete self yet, and the self they do have is fragile. Most people therefore protect themselves as best they can and rush past this stage of life. But when the years pass and you find yourself exposed once more to strangers who can hurt you, adolescent rejection rears its head again. This is unfortunate, but I'd say it's the norm. In other words, you are in the same boat as other middle-aged singles, and it is a very big boat.
Reconcile yourself to these feelings as holdovers from the past and try to let them pass on their own. Commiserate with others in your position; it sometimes helps as long as these sessions don't turn bitter. Laughing over how awful a blind date has turned out helps to wash the hurt away. But I sense you have gotten a fixed idea in your head that is fatalistic: If I like him, he won't like me. If he likes me, I won't like him. This implies a bad self-image. There is an underlying belief that you are not attractive or worthy enough for another attractive, worthy person. I am sorry to say such feelings tend to come from a divorce that you didn't really get over, and from the rejection it involved.
If you can talk to a confidant, counselor or therapist about your divorce, that would be a mature way to cope better. But if you cannot, the best answer is to learn how to judge a man before you date him. Don't go on a date until you have met first over coffee. With no pressure, take a clear look at the man. Talk about things that interest you; in other words, get the focus off your feelings of attractiveness or the opposite. Finding common ground that doesn't expose you emotionally is important, and it will decrease your feelings of vulnerability. Only if you find a man interesting enough to be a potential friend should you move on to a date. And if the man doesn't like the idea of meeting socially first, rest assured that he would never be Mr. Right, anyway.