Dating while separated? Here are 7 things you need to know
Dating after divorce isn't always easy, but at least you have a clear, legal mandate to get back in the dating pool. Dating after separation is murkier – yet with a little forethought (and a lot of talking), it's possible to come to a place where you feel ready for anything, even new love.
That said, before you take the plunge, you may want to pay attention to these seven things.
7 things you need to know before dating while separated
1. Dating after separation? Check your state’s laws
First things first: is it legal to be dating while separated? The answer is yes…ish. While going on simple dinner dates and the like is usually fine,1 if you are in the process of going through a divorce, you want to be careful about taking things further.
Specifically, if you live in a state that allows divorce on fault grounds (all states except these 17), being intimate with a new partner could - potentially - bring accusations of adultery. In turn, this could affect your divorce settlement.2 However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t date during a separation – just that it pays to check the ramifications with your lawyer first.
2. Have that tricky conversation with your ex-spouse
Your lawyer isn’t the only one you’ll want to talk to about your intention to date during your separation – it’s wise to check in with your (soon to be) ex-spouse as well, especially if you want to keep your divorce amicable.
Divorce mediator Eileen Coen, J.D. says that it’s ''critical'' for divorcing couples to talk through sensitive subjects like dating during a separation. In fact, she recommends that coming to an agreement on dating is as important as covering traditional topics like finances and custody arrangements. If you both keep each other in the loop, not only does it demonstrate your respect for each other, it allows you to ''see other people without putting your financial and parenting agreements at risk.''3
3. Spend some time alone first
Although you may have the legal and spousal go-ahead to try dating while separated, it’s not something you want to rush into. Indeed, even if you can’t wait to find new love, dating right after a separation is only going to lead to more confusion and hurt. Until you’ve come to terms with who you are as a single, previously married person, you just don’t have the emotional availability to start something new.
Balking at the thought of spending time alone? As Jackie Pilossoph (creator of the Divorced Girl Smiling blog) told the Huffington Post, there are all sorts of distractions you can try. Take up a new hobby, invite friends around, throw yourself into your career: the main thing is to work on being strong and happy by yourself, rather than trying to get that from someone new.
4. Only date someone if things really are over with your ex
You might have begun the process of cutting financial and domestic ties with your partner but as clinical therapist Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW advises, you’re not ready to date someone new until you’ve cut the emotional ties too.4
If you secretly long for reconciliation, or if you’re thinking of it more as a relationship break than a separation, you simply aren’t ready to be dating. If want to date someone else to make your ex jealous, you’re not ready. If you want a partner only because your ex has moved on, you’re not ready. Dating during a separation can lead to healthy love – but only if you’re in the right place emotionally.
5. Only date someone if you really want to be dating them
Many freshly separated people try to distract themselves from the hurt of a split by seeking a new partner; someone to have on hand because being alone is so unfamiliar. But, if you are dating someone so that you don’t have to be alone, or because you want a replacement for your ex, it’s not particularly fair to them – or you. Not only does it take advantage of their feelings, it can set you back on your road to healing from the separation.5
That said, if you meet someone who makes your heart flutter, then this might be a relationship you want to pursue. Just be really honest with yourself: are you thinking about dating them because you like the idea of them? Or are you really, truly into them as a person?
6. Be upfront about the fact you’re dating while separated
Bringing up the ex is often seen as a dating no-no. But, if you’re dating while separated, you’ll find that honesty really is the best policy, no matter how awkward it might feel.
If you want your new relationship to work out (whether just for the short term or, one day, as your second marriage), you want to start it from a trusting place. If you lie at the start - saying you’re single or divorced rather than separated - it might turn into a much bigger deal when your new partner finally realizes the truth. Far better to be upfront about your relationship status and your relationship intentions, and let this new person fall for the real you.6
7. Allow yourself to feel your feelings – whatever they are
Jackie Pilossoph describes the process of divorce as ‘’a roller coaster of highs and lows’’ and dating while separated is no exception. Some mornings you’ll wake up and the whole world will feel full of possibility: there are so many great people to meet and fabulous places for new love to lead you. Other mornings you may still feel twinges about the fact that your first marriage didn’t work out how you’d imagined.
The best way to get through is to give yourself the space and forgiveness to know your feelings are valid, no matter what they are. It’s ok to feel blue sometimes, it's ok to feel free and happy. As long as you have the legal go-ahead, don't rush back into dating, and are honest when you do meet someone, chances are your feelings will become increasingly more stable and positive. You’ll be able to celebrate the new adventure that lies before you.