The best of times, the worst of times. The end of your marriage can be both devastating and liberating – ending one stage of your life and entering a new and uncharted world, unencumbered by your former partner and by the expectations that you and he/she had for you in that former life. At some point in this transition, most people begin to ask themselves “am I ready to date again?”
There are no arbitrary rules for how long to wait before beginning to date after a divorce, but it is wise to proceed with some caution before getting back in the game. While it may be easy to spruce up your wardrobe, lose a few pounds, or try out a new hairstyle to get ready to put yourself “ back on the market,” it’s important to give some thought to your emotional readiness to return to dating. Jumping back in before you’re ready can lead to more pain and poor decisions. You may end up hurting yourself, the person you’re dating, and if you are a parent, possibly your children. There is a lot at stake.
When it comes to being ready to date again, not everyone moves at the same pace. The timing is not driven by how long you were married or how long your divorce process took – each situation is different. And, for people who have been divorced before, they may be surprised that how they recovered from a previous divorce and returned to dating is very different the second go-round.
Here are some things to consider when you evaluate your readiness to date again:
Have you taken time to grieve the end of your relationship?
Divorce brings to an end the union of two people, a household, and often splits apart a family. As divorce has become more common in this country we have begun to look at it more as an outpatient surgery – a little pain today and you are up and around and “over it” tomorrow. As cavalier as we try to be, it is a time of loss, pure and simple. It is important to recognize this, and to allow yourself to fully grieve what has been lost.
Have you taken responsibility for your part in what led to the end of the relationship?
Your knee-jerk reaction to this question may be to say “He did ____” or “she was ______” and that’s why the marriage ended.” On the face of it, that makes some sense; however, a marriage always consists of two people. Unless your marriage lasted only 24 hours, what he did or how she was acting was interlaced with your own behavior. Taking responsibility for how you interacted in this relationship will help you better understand what to expect from yourself (and what you may need to work on) in future relationships. Identifying the patterns of behavior that are keeping you stuck and learning new ways of working within a relationship will be key to having a successful relationship next time around.
Have you reached a point at which you are comfortable being alone?
Being comfortable with yourself and really knowing yourself are important prerequisites to dating or entering into a new relationship. After having been in a marriage for some time, it is important to get to know who you are as an individual again. What do YOU want to do when you have the house to yourself? What are YOU going to do when you are the one calling the shots? How do YOU want the future to take shape? Dating or seeking a relationship should be done because you know who you are and what you want, NOT because you are trying to escape loneliness.
What will you do to avoid “picking” a similar partner and falling into old patterns the next time around?
Maybe your ex was controlling and that led you to fall into your passive patterns of behavior – you believe that’s what broke apart your marriage, so now, what you say you want is a sensitive man. When we become accustomed to interacting with certain personality types we tend to gravitate to them again and again because they feel so familiar and so comfortable – even when they aren’t good for us. So, when you are dating, if you frequent places where men like your ex like to hang out, you are likely to meet men like your ex. Dating these men is likely to lead you right back into your old ways of thinking and behaving.
Have you gotten your “house” in order?
In the aftermath of a divorce it often takes time to iron out the financial, legal, housing, and other logistical wrinkles left in the wake of the dissolution of the marriage. These housekeeping matters may seem mundane and somewhat laborious, but it is important that they are addressed before you proceed with dating or entering into a new relationship. If you are stressed by pressing money or other divorce-related matters, you cannot be your best self when dating. And what healthy person would want to date someone with lingering legal or financial entanglements?
Even if you feel that you are ready to date again you should proceed with caution if you are motivated by any of the following reasons. These are signs that you need more time to work on yourself, your current life situation, and/or to grieve your marriage before proceeding:
You feel your child or children need a Mom/Dad in their life to replace your ex in your home.
Dating to find a surrogate parent is unfair both to the people you date and to your children. While a divorce may leave a void because of custody or other issues, seeking to fill that void through a new and untested relationship is a dangerous recipe for everyone involved. If you have parenting concerns, community parenting support services are available to help you transition to your life as a single parent. Look online for local support groups and community service programs in your area.
You need financial support.
No healthy individual should want to date a person who is looking for financial rescue. If a divorce has left you in a difficult financial situation, credit counseling or other community support services are much more appropriate avenues to pursue than a relationship from which you are seeking financial stability. A relationship based on “rescue” is unhealthy for both parties.
Other people think you should be dating or in a relationship.
Family, friends, even co-workers may feel it’s time for you to “move on” and “get over your ex.” While they may be well-intentioned, you, and you alone should determine when you are ready to date again. If you are allowing this pressure to drive you back into the dating pool again, it may well be a sign that you have not regained a strong enough sense of yourself to be ready to date again.
You want to “get back” at your ex.
Revenge may be sweet, but dating should be about you and for you, and should have nothing whatsoever to do with your ex. If you are dating to get back at your ex, it is a sign that you have not completely gotten over him or her and you have more grieving to do before you can move on to another relationship. (Not to mention how unfair it is to any potential dating partners you may involve in your revenge scheme.)
You feel it would help you “get over” your ex.
Using a dating relationship to “recover” from your marriage simply does not work. If you feel you need to use a dating partner as a substitute for your ex, it is a sign that you have not completely grieved your marriage and that you have more work to do in this area. No relationship will ever replace your marriage and no person will ever replace your ex (that’s why it is so important to allow yourself to work through the grieving process). However, there are other wonderful people and wonderful relationships out there when you are ready and the time is right.
If you find that you remain “stuck” and cannot get to a place in which you are emotionally ready to date, consider talking to a qualified therapist. A good therapist can help you identify the issue or issues that are holding you back from moving toward new and healthy relationships post-divorce.
When you’re ready to date:
If you think you have reached a point at which you have grieved your marriage, gotten your “house” in order, know yourself better, and are truly ready to proceed with dating, take a deep breath and proceed slowly. Those old butterflies are likely to return as you embark on a new chapter of your life and begin exploring the possibility of new relationships. You will likely make some mistakes, but hopefully, with some self-reflection and lessons learned from your marriage, you will do better when you meet that next special someone.
Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC