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7 letters. Two syllables. A whole Pandora’s box of bittersweet memories. A lingering feeling of panic, despair and a prescription of sweats-romcom-busywork to keep your mind off it and yet mourn at the same time. This is a flawed model of healing when you’re recently divorced and hoping to start dating again.
It’s not ideal but you’re in it now and you have two choices: the above despondent picture or the idea that, given a little time, support and conscious self-love, dating after divorce can be a truly exhilarating and liberating experience.
And the best part? Now that you’ve seen what marriage is all about — the good bits and the not-so-great pitfalls — you’re under zero delusions and in zero rush to do it all over again. This time, it truly is about you. So, let’s reclaim that person, shall we? It’s not an easy journey but it can definitely be life-affirming.
How To Sleep Alone In A Bed Made For Two
Humans are creatures of habit. And that means the codependency you’ve probably experienced in your previous marriage is crumbling right before your eyes. If you’re recently divorced, it can be an overwhelming and raw feeling to suddenly be without the person you were with — even if you were miserable together.
Know that feeling this way after being recently divorced is not only completely normal, it’s one of the inevitable side-effects of being in a mainly codependent relationship. Relationship expert Jennifer Kass defines codependency as “the feeling that we can’t exist without another person”. She recalls her own recognition of a codependent marriage: “My fears of being alone, my deep longing for the love and attention outside of me, the fact that I had placed my power in another person making them the source of my love and happiness, all came into my awareness and there was no turning back.”
This awareness is part of the healing. Essentially, you cannot hope to move on to dating after being just divorced without recognizing that the external person is not responsible for your happiness (or your misery) — you are. Which means that it’s time to resurrect some boundaries. These are the non-negotiable, Ten-Commandments-type edicts you issue yourself as to what kind of contact you want and what you’ll do to begin the process of truly moving on.
Boundaries also mean you can mourn and go through the process of grief — of reliving the good times, crying over the loss and the bad bits, and running the whole gamut of emotions as you move through time — without the fear of regression. The last thing you want to do is move two steps ahead and five back.
Not having boundaries in place — such as a strict no-contact-no-social-media stalking rule, or not allowing your ex to cross the threshold of your doorway — can result in even more confused feelings that you’re then left to sort out. If they want to get their stuff, leave it at the curb for them or give them the keys and plan to not be home at the time. If they call you up to rant or “talk things out”, you are well within your rights to screen the call and let it go to voicemail.
Basically, do whatever you can to wean yourself out the old patterns of togetherness. Remember, you are re-learning and “remembering” what it means to be alone — but not lonely. Skipping this part is not advised. There’s no clock on it because there are gender as well as individual differences. But, generally speaking, those who have success moving on in a healthy and lasting way have given themselves all the time they need, at best, and at least 12 months.
Only Recently Divorced? Practice Patience
No man is an island and no woman can go it alone for too long. This is not a mark of weakness, by the way, but a mark of being human. In the process of being recently divorced, you’re going to have to call on your friends and family, likely more than once and definitely at moments when you’re so emotional it’s hard to understand you over the phone.
And that’s okay. Let’s say it again because it is worth repeating: needing support to reclaim your independence and heal your heart is exactly what will help you find a healthy relationship and supportive partner again. If we remain open to the loving gestures of our friends and family, we will learn to keep our hearts open. Open to possibility and open to the hope of finding someone new, someday down the line.
Take the time to visit with family members as often as you need. Spend time with your friends instead of burying yourself in work or shutting out invitations to social gatherings. If you’re not ready for big groups, keep it intimate and tight. Have your closest friends come over to your place or go out together. Or simply commiserate over a few drinks on a weeknight.
Throwing a wrench in your regular routine to meet up and connect with your loved ones will become your safe habor in the process of healing. A network of support for those who are just divorced can also mean starting to see a therapist in an ongoing manner and, for some, reconnecting or finding a new form of spiritual support.
What’s at stake here is the ability of your heart to believe it can and will love again. There is a distinct loss of faith and meaning that inevitably overwhelms us when a person we’ve previously loved so deeply and purported to be with for the rest of our lives is simply no longer there, no matter what the circumstances of the divorce, whether dramatic or not. This system of support is your attempt to take the time you need to reclaim faith and meaning.
Who You Were Meant To Marry
This process of healing doesn’t really come in phases or stages. You don’t graduate from one plane to another after passing some big “test”. Instead, it trickles in like little drips, in the form of epiphanies and realizations on walks, in the bath, a late night on your best friend’s couch or in your therapist’s office. But once you’ve gotten accustomed to this newfound state of being — with yourself — you now have the opportunity to get back in touch with you.
You’ll soon realize the most important thing of all. TV writer and relationship expert Tracy McMillan calls this the moment you “marry yourself” and “have and hold yourself”, making a commitment to hold yourself in sickness, poverty, old age and general strife.
One of the biggest losses that comes as a side-effect of being just divorced is a total cut-off from the feeling of being alive. It can often feel as though you’re in purgatory, a zone where you can’t recall what living a full and rich life might feel like. In fact, it’s not uncommon for many men and women to suffer depression post divorce. It’s not so much that they struggle to come to terms with the reality of the new situation but, rather, that so much of their life seemed to be with and about someone else. What is truly forgotten here is the passion and thirst for living that might have gotten lost somewhere through the process of getting to calling it quits and everything that comes after.
Well-known couples’ therapist and the author of Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel says that at the heart of any relationship — including one with yourself — lies “eros” or the drive and desire of life. This is not only what makes life worth living, desire is one of the most important raison d’être. Often, a divorce can mean a loss of the relationship and the death of desire — not simply sexual desire but the desire to live, to enjoy the things we previously did or partake in life the way we once might have.
“Desire has become the central organizing principle of our lives,” says Esther. Women can often react to being recently divorced by completely shutting out desire and letting themselves go, not taking pride in their appearance or constantly wondering about their ex. Men can often do the opposite and “try on” a series of “relationships” without truly knowing what they’re looking for. They only thing they do seem to know is that they don’t want to be the one “left behind” when their ex moves on.
So the key here is to leave dating and relationships out of the equation, just for a moment. Before you can reconnect with someone else, take a look at this post-divorce state as a Brave New World — one in which you try new activities or take pride in being your best self first. It’s a spring cleaning for your heart and soul.
‘Just Divorced’ Does Not Mean ‘Handle With Care’
Now, it can be tempting to think of yourself as “just divorced”, even a year after. It still feels fresh and that’s okay. But you’re well on your way to healing.
When you’ve spent a couple of months simply being alone, savoring time with yourself, taking yourself to dinner or to the movies, enjoying a great book you’ve been putting off or cooking yourself a whole meal, you’ll find that you’re ready to start exploring once more. However, many fresh divorcees think of themselves as such and this can be a major tripping point.
They worry about what it will say to their potential dates that they were once married and now are not. They worry about letting that big D-bomb drop. And so, they either don’t venture into online dating platforms or into social situations where they could meet a potential partner or they do date online but without really knowing what they’re looking for. They’re so hung up in their heads that their potential matches and dating interests will flee that they either state it like a kind of a “liability” right away or they fail to mention it at all.
So if you want to convey that “just divorced” means “great new opportunity available once more” and not “look for the emergency exit”, be up front about it. Be willing and open to discuss it. Don’t lead with it but once you’ve started talking to someone you’re interested in, whether online or in person, let them know that this was your most recent relationship.
“You can’t truly know someone by a label,” says online dating expert Evan Marc Katz. And, he cautions that, “[T]here’s a difference between being ready to date and being ready for a relationship.” Knowing what you want — where you are — and what kind of romantic involvement that might entail is key to this process. Nowhere, however, is being “divorced” an appropriate perpetual label for yourself. It’s time to forgive yourself.
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Getting Back Into the Game
Women and men who bypass these stages, try and circumvent the process because they’re too afraid to feel everything they’re feeling, often end up attracting the same disaster relationships over and over again. While there’s no “right” way to heal from the loss of a relationship ending in divorce, the great thing is that you no longer have rose colored glasses on.
You know exactly what marriage means and entails and that means you can take your time getting back out there and savoring simply connecting with another human being. Tracy McMillan describes this situation as “checking in with herself”. “About 30 minutes into the date, I found myself paying attention not to whether he liked me, but how I felt in his presence. Not because I’m selfish but because the only relationship I’m ever going to have with another person is the one that I’m already having with myself.”
The truth is that a successful time of “getting back out there” without ending up a disaster all over again is knowing what you want and what qualities you’re looking to cultivate — first in yourself — before expecting it of another person. If you’ve been taking the time you need to heal and nurture yourself, perhaps getting back to the gym, doing the physical or creative activities you’ve always wanted or used to do and spending time with yourself, you’ll already be at a point where you feel safe enough to be vulnerable like that again.
This is the pivotal moment in which you know you’re ready to either date again or be in a relationship once more. And, like the whole process of your healing, you get to control the pace, the flow and the definition of where it is that you’re going.
Some men and women know that they’re ready to be in a long-term relationship again and look for suitable matches online with that conviction. Others want to simply discover other people, take it slower, recall what it was like to strike up a conversation with another person you find to be dating potential and take it from there.
Baby steps or incremental movements are key here. Because, guess what? You’ve moved on from being “just divorced”. Now you’re “just human”.