How do you know when it is time to start dating again after a divorce?
Out There Again
Oh, friend. What a good question.
I don’t know.
There. How’s that? I told you I’d be honest...
...okay, okay, that wasn’t very nice. I’ll be happy to tell you about what I went through and how I kind of figured it out after my divorce. I’m not saying this advice will necessarily be true for you (and it may be that it’s completely different for a divorced male as it is for a divorced female), but I’m going to give it a shot.
First, let me just say that divorce sucks the big one (as you know). It’s the worst break-up ever, WITH PAPERWORK. Like, for reals, all you Non-marrieds or Will-be-marrieds-forever, just imagine that you’ve just witnessed the death of your relationship, but you can’t really grieve it until some judge stamps a number on a sheaf of papers that summarizes the technical side of your marriage in what seems like 4,509 pages. It’s cold, and hard, and scarily tangible, and recalls nothing of anything good you might have shared with the person prior to that day in court.
And then...it’s like you’re marked. You’re no longer just single, you’re divorced. Like, you tried NOT to be single, and FAILED. They even make you choose the option on your car insurance...as if somehow your whole life status has changed forever and you’re somehow this different person from any other single, not-married person.
Scarlet letter, indeed.
But the thing is, you are different now. I told someone the other day, “Divorce makes you grow up faster than just about anything else.” If you didn’t feel like an adult before, divorce will definitely make you feel like one. So that can get tricky in the dating world.
Here’s the thing...you’ll know when you’re ready to date. And you’ll know as you dip your toes in that suddenly you’re in a completely different arena than you were before...because now you know what dating can eventually lead to...
...and that’s when things actually get tricky. Because you’re coming out of a commitment, and out of a place where you saw someone just about every day for the last __ years. I’ll tell ya, the first guy I dated right after my divorce...well, it was a disaster. I didn’t yet know then the difference between dating for fun and dating for commitment. And, I scared him. I think a lot.
So, while I was ready to get “out there”, I wasn’t yet necessarily ready to be good at it. But that’s okay. Sometimes you gotta practice. And fail. And if that doesn’t sit well with you, well, then, I challenge you to try to sit at home in your apartment and just wait, quietly, until you think you’re ready. (Just FYI, not only will that not work, it'll probably make you a wee bit creepy.)
Without further ado, then, here are some principles that worked for me when stepping back into the old dating pool:
You'll be hurting and healing and kind of an emotional wreck. Don't feel like you have to rush into anything. Take your time. Say no or cancel a date you don't feel comfortable going on, and don't feel like you are obligated to play by the dating "rules" (respond to this or that call, move on to the third date, put out, etc.).
2. Have a good, objective support system
Some people right out of a divorce may scurry to find someone who is the exact opposite of his or her last partner, or cling to the first person who shows them attention (ahem, not ME. I NEVER did that), or, I dunno, just go crazy sowing some wild oats (never did that either). It'll be important to have a few good, objective friends who can point out to you on your 35th time talking about how you had to have ANOTHER serious conversation with the person you are dating about commitment, that maybe that person isn't quite right for you. Again, not that I ever needed that kind of advice, ever.
3. Hide the crazy
You'll be kinda crazy (see above). You're going to want to spill alllllll that crazy on the waiting ears of your date. And you're going to have very good intentions in doing so...because you are out to prove that you are NOT the crazy one, and you're doing JUST FINE without that loser, because hell, you're DATING, and GETTING OUT THERE. But please remember, this reads as crazy-pants times to someone who is not immediately experiencing what you are experiencing. So keep it to yourself, or simply just share it with your therapist, but keep it far, far away from your date (for now, at least).
4. Your new squeeze is NOT your ex
This might be advice for further down the road, but remember, your new boyfriend/girlfriend is NOT your ex. In other words, give your new partner a break by allowing him or her to be themselves without having to live up to (or down to) your old expectations.
5. Have fun and trust your gut
Above all, enjoy the ride. Stay healthy, talk to your friends and therapist, but enjoy meeting new people. Don't over-think it, and trust your gut to know when you're feeling comfortable and when you're not. Say goodbye to the duds early (you'll know when it's time) and have fun with the keepers. This time in your life is a time of growth and re-learning; embrace and love the change as much as you can.
I hope this helps, OTA. You'll be okay. I got through it and am not nearly as crazy or damaged as I thought I'd be. :)
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