If there’s one thing I was sorely unprepared for when I got divorced, it was dating. Not only had I not dated in nine years, the world of dating had changed dramatically. Instead of going to a bar, a coffee shop or a restaurant and organically meeting someone interesting, the dating of today is all at the tip of your fingers. You swipe, click and scroll your way through hundreds of potential matches until you find one that checks off all of your boxes (tall, good job, funny, family-oriented, etc.). But that’s not even the hardest part—that comes when you actually start talking to them and realize you have absolutely no clue how to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t actually know you. Not only that, divorce doesn’t necessarily boost your self confidence, so all of those feelings of inadequacy you’ve been fighting off immediately come to the surface as soon as the guy you’ve been chatting with ghosts you or you realize the other guy just wanted casual sex.
Those moments aside, dating is one of the best ways (in my opinion) for you to get over the pain and the hurt of a divorce. Every feeling of failure you experienced, every night you cried, every single moment you wondered “it this was the right decision” are all validated the moment you meet the right person. The person who texts you just to say hello, who tells you that you’re beautiful more times in a week than your ex ever did and the one that makes you realize exactly why it didn’t work out with anyone else (ex-husband included). It’s not easy, it’s exhausting, it’s trying and there are going to be moments you consider moving to a convent, but in the end, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t immediately meet the love of your life, you’re going to have a hell of a lot of fun dating along the way.
Being divorced in today’s day in age is the equivalent of having a Scarlet A stamped on your forehead. As much as you’d like to pretend the past two (or nine) years never happened, you can’t. You’re always going to be divorced, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Instead of glossing over that fact on your first date, own it. You don’t have to discuss the dirty details of your failed marriage if you don’t want to (and it’s probably best not to on the first few dates), but you should at least be forthcoming about it.
“Mourn the loss of your marriage and allow yourself to cry, scream, get mad, or whatever you want to do. Don’t suppress it. If you do, it will only resurface years later, at a weird time and them you will have to reprocess it in a healthy manner,” Shannon Somers, a recent divorcee, told me.
You don’t want to start a new relationship on a lie, and in today’s digital age, there’s a good chance they’ll find out as soon as they Google-stalk your Facebook profile.
It’s natural to want to jump into a new relationship after a divorce, especially if you were with your ex for a long period of time. Regardless of how “single” you may have been before you got married, you quickly settle into the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship and adjusting to life without someone beside you all the time can be incredibly overwhelming. That’s why all of the experts always advise the same thing: Don’t rush into something serious right away.
First, you’re just not ready, regardless of how ready you may feel. The loss of a marriage is just as devastating (if not more) than the death of a loved one, so give yourself ample time to mourn the death of the relationship. Plus, you need time to just “be” and find yourself again, and the best way to do that is not by finding another person to love you, it’s simply by giving yourself the time to love yourself again.
“Finding yourself single and dating again after a divorce will require you getting used to your ‘new reality,’” says Natalia Juarez, a Breakup Coach and Dating Strategist. “You are older, your body may be a little (or a lot) different than it was the last time you were dating, you may have ‘baggage’ (exes, children, etc.)—and so will the men you will be dating. For many people (myself included) getting used to your new reality, what I now call ‘acclimatizing,’ can take some time. Be honest and give yourself time to get used to this new world.”
When you’re ready for something serious, you’ll know. It sounds cliché, but you’ll feel it in your gut. For me, it took four months, but for a few of my divorced friends, it took a few years.
“You’ll have a chorus of people telling you it’s time, but you need to follow your gut feelings,” says Alexandra Solomon, PhD, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Northwestern University.
One piece of advice you’ll get consistently, from friends, family members and therapists, is that you shouldn’t rush into a new relationship fresh from a divorce. As much as I tried to act like I was okay and I was ready for a new relationship, I quickly realized that a boyfriend wasn’t going to take the sting out of missing my ex-husband. In fact, every “boyfriend” I tried to use as a replacement, the lonelier I felt. So, I skipped the looking for love and replaced it with looking for sex. After being with just one person for most of my twenties, I kind of forget how invigorating and refreshing sex with a new person was. Each guy I torridly slept with gave me a new sense of freedom (not to mention some very memorable orgasms). Beyond just freedom, I also rediscovered the sexuality that I lost in my loveless marriage. I tried positions that I never thought I would like. I slipped in and out of random hotel rooms during business trip., I had a threesome and even tried video sex. Not all of it was great and some of the nights only perpetuated my loneliness, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel more confident, more sexual and more like myself after every single encounter.
The world of dating has shifted, massively, in the past couple years and more people are finding themselves seeking out the help of dating apps in order to find Mr. (or Mrs.) right.
“Online dating used to be a weird thing, but it’s standard now,” Patrick Markey, PhD and professor of psychology at Villanova said to Prevention magazine. “Pretty much everyone who wants to date after divorce does it.”
The reasons for swiping on your phone instead of mingling at a bar is simple: most people just don’t have the time to date traditionally anymore, especially if you have a family and need to juggle co-parenting duties with your ex. The most daunting aspect of online dating isn’t the fact that you’re meeting online, it’s the sheer number of apps out there for just about any kind of dating or any kind of person. There’s eHarmony for those looking for something a little more real, Tinder for flirting and casual sex, Jdate for those seeking someone of the Jewish faith, Bumble for women who want to make the first move, and the list goes on. Which app you choose entirely depends on what you want, so the best piece of advice from a serial online dater is this: Create a few profiles on a bunch of different ones and go from there. Variety is the spice of online dating, so don’t limit yourself to just one app.
Relationships end for a myriad of reasons and even if you don’t care to admit it, it takes two people to dissolve one. Sure, it may be easier to blame your ex-husband if he cheated on you, gambled all of your money away or was abusive, but you have to be willing to take some part of the blame, too. Which means you need to keep the ex-bashing to a minimum on your dates, especially the first ones. It may seem easy to talk poorly about exes, especially if you’re both divorced, but skip the negative convo and discuss other things instead.
“One of the best pieces of dating advice I ever heard was—don’t talk about your ex on a first date, because once you start you may not know when to stop,” says Juarez. “I would go even further, and say that it’s best not to talk about your past relationships in great detail on the first few dates. There are many reasons not to open up the ex files in the early stages of dating. Firstly, the early stages of dating are meant to develop a positive connection between you and your date. When you bring up an ex, you put the thought of you with your ex into the mind of your date.”
Opt for more light-hearted topics, like “What was your most memorable vacation?” Not only will you have a better conversation, you’ll form a bond that’s completely not reliant on your ex.
Image: freestocks.org, CC-BY
Claire Gallam is a writer and photographer with a passion for food and travel. She has spent time in more than 40 countries and hundreds of cities.