Dating after divorce can a nightmare. But it doesn’t have to be.
Dating after divorce tends to be a deliberate action, entered into consciously and tentatively after years or even decades with the same person. This can be an opportunity for you to clarify your needs and the needs of a relationship before you step out on that first date. The following are my suggestions for your ten commandments of dating after divorce.
One: Your “Must Haves”
Take some time to generate this list; do not assume what it contains. You may be surprised to realize that there are aspects of your ex that you want again or perhaps characteristics that were not important before but are now. For me, my ex was never a match for me physically (I’m not talking about intimacy here; we were an excellent match in the bedroom). I loved to run and lift weights, and enjoyed the social aspect of exercise, whereas he only exercised to lose weight and even then was very private about it. I knew that I wanted someone that would join me on a run or meet me at the gym. I also wanted someone for whom fitness and exercise was a way of life, not just an opportunityto cinch in the belt a bit. As you list your “must haves,” try not to censor them; your subconscious may know more about what you need than your rational mind does at this point.
Two: Your “Must Not Haves”
This list compliments the one above and, in fact, you may find that it is generated at the same time. Like with your “must haves,” you may find that some of these are rather concrete and others are vague and hard to define. That is okay. List them. Even the ambiguous will have meaning to you as you meet people. Two of my items on the “must not have” list were 1) cannot be dishonest (uhmm..great. How do I tell this on a date?) and 2) cannot have kids or want kids (I have pretty strong feelings on this one and it’s not fair to start a relationship with someone who does not match me here). Once you have your lists generated, keep them handy and allow them to be modified or updated as you date and meet new people. They are not set in stone, but they are also not be ignored, especially if you find yourself in the biochemical throes of love lust.
Three: Release Expectations and View Each Encounter as a Lesson
This is a big one. First a reality check. Life is not a romance novel nor a Hollywood movie. That insufferably cute and perfect couple at the park is either in the biochemical throws of lust or has another side to their relationship that you do not see. No one is perfect. No date is perfect. No relationship is perfect. Just let that thought go like a helium balloon in the wind.
Still with me?
Not every date you go one will be good, but every date you go one will teach you something. Try to enter every encounter with an open and curious mind, ready to receive the lessons to come. On some dates, you might learn about someone else, some you may learn about yourself, and yet others you may learn about the intricacies of being a private pilot for a billionaire (yup, true story there). If you enter each date excepting a positive experience, you will be disappointed at least some of the time. If you approach the meeting as a lesson, you will never be let down and you will gain valuable (or at least interesting) information in the meantime.
Four: Be True to Yourself
The period after divorce is a vulnerable time. You may feel amorphous as you break out of the box that defined you as a spouse. You may feel that the true you is unlovable and seek to change your identity. It can be so tempting to expand yourself like a pressurized gas let out of a sealed container. Some expansion and growth is normal and healthy, but make sure that you remain true to yourself and your basic beliefs and values. I started out with a “try anything” approach, but I soon realized that there were “anythings” out there that I had no interest in trying.
Five: Take Baby Steps
This one took me some trial and error. I was so used to being married. I did marriage well, whereas I had no clue how to date. In my first few encounters, I would easily settle in and make myself comfortable as though it was a marriage. It was a known and safe place for me, but not exactly an ideal way to date. There is no rush, no race. Learn to find comfort in the process and the path of dating, rather than being focused on a destination. Move slowly enough that you can appreciate each step and acclimate along the way.
This was a lesson that I learned from my current beau of 2+ years. He emphasized the need to progress slowly, pausing along the way like divers coming from the deep. It allowed both of time to become comfortable and provided opportunity to work through issues as they arose. We were able to set up partnership deliberately, not out of my automatic default setting.
Six: Keep Some Distance
It can be easy to be swept away when you meet someone new. It’s exciting and it feels so good to have that feeling reawaken after you may have been fearing its death. Remember that this feeling is temporary, as the hormones fade back to normal levels, that initial rush will fade too. It’s simple biochemistry. Enjoy the rush when it happens, but maintain enough distance that your rational brain has time to communicate its thoughts to you as well. It’s fine (actually, wonderful) to get caught up in a moment, but don’t let that moment turn into a marriage that you do not intend. Keep some distance so that you can make informed decisions about your future.
Seven: Be Open
I know what you’re thinking: “First she cautions me to keep some distance and now she wants me to be open? Which is it?”
Be open to new possibilities. Your new paired life may not resemble the old. Your new partner may be different than the former. You, yourself, will most likely change from how you were in your marriage. Be open and willing to investigate these new alternatives.
But keep some distance so that you can check with yourself to make sure that you do not deviate too far from the true you.
When I first joined Match.com, I went out on dates with men that didn’t jive at all with what I thought I liked. I found myself consistently surprised as I found characteristics and attributes attractive that were not on my radar before. If I entered the dating arena with a closed mind, sure of what I liked, I would have never have met those men and learned those lessons.
Eight: Address Your Social Needs
Divorce is alienating. Lonely. The person that you spent most of your time with is gone. You may have lost other friends in the deal or had the nature of friendships slip and slide away. Dating is certainly social, but it should not be the only item on your social calender. In fact, I would recommend that you ensure that you identify your social needs ahead of time (2 hours a week? 10? It varies for everyone.) and plan to have 60-80% of those needs met outside of dating. Join a class, sign up for Meetup.com (I swear most of the people I met on Meetups were divorced!), form a social group at the gym…it doesn’t matter how you address your social needs, just don’t put the weight of them at the feet of your dates.
Nine: Have an Outlet
Ever feel angry at your situation? Sad when you think about what you have lost? Ever need to scream? Cry?
Me too. As you enter the dating world, make sure that you have an outlet for these powerful typhoons of emotion. It can be a therapist, a family member, a friend, or even a dog. You don’t have to keep all of your powerful emotions hidden from a date, but you also don’t want to flood him/her with them either.
Ten: Have Fun
Dating is fun. You get to meet new people and engage in new experiences. You get to explore and question, as you see the world in new ways. Don’t forget to laugh and enjoy yourself along the way.
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Originally published: Lessons from the End of a Marriage
Photo: Flickr/Florida Homes Magazine