Whether you’re 21 or 41, dating is a daunting task. Personally, I hate it. Well, hate isn’t a strong enough word. Loathe is more like it. Dating after divorce is especially difficult because you now come with much more emotional baggage that you have to sort through while you are navigating the ever-evolving world of singlehood. Of course, you also have to get hip to how dating works now that you’re back in the available pool (you mean when you’re invited over to “Netflix and Chill,” that doesn’t really mean binge watching Scandal with a glass of chardonnay?!?!) So how does a woman jump back into the dating pool without drowning someone (like yourself) in the process? Here are some of my tips and observations for those of you brave enough to jump off the deep end.
My Personal Story
I never dated. It wasn’t for lack of trying mind you. All through high school, I was too geeky to be noticed by boys. I had a face full of acne, my nose was always stuck in a book, and when it wasn’t stuck in a book, I was hanging out with fellow singers, waving a flag for Colorguard (surrounded by band geeks), or in a drama production. Not conducive to being able to hang out with the cool crowd. (On a side note, funny enough, the cool kids in high school are now hitting me up on Facebook trying to get me to pay attention to their thrice-divorced, beer gut selves. No thanks). It was always the case of me having crushes on the cool boys, only to be told what a good “friend” I was. In college, things were a bit better, but I had NO CLUE on how to date and so the boys that liked me and may have had a chance, I had no idea I was actually unknowingly shutting them down. So, the first guy that was brave enough to actually ask me on an official date, well, I married him.
And here I am today.
Well, four years ago, rather. I found myself pushed into the dating pool, with no freaking idea how to swim, being dragged down by poor self-esteem with a healthy dose of self-doubt sprinkled in – a winning combo of desperation and confusion. Some of my post-divorce dating misadventures can be read in these old posts, while others will be experiences I want to never recall ever again. And with all of life, you learn how to stay afloat and use whatever experiences you can glean. These lessons are what I will share here today.
1. Keep It Off Facebook
For the love of God, stop posting your drama on Facebook. Sure it’s exciting to change that relationship status and collect all the congratulations from your friends. It’s balm for that bruised and battered ego. I get it. When you’ve been hurt, and your self-esteem is at an all-time low, the validation from social media is a temporary feel good. But when two weeks later, you’re posting “I’m Single” memes or ranting about how men suck and cryptic messages wrapped up in quotes, you have just made yourself no better than a soap opera that people watch like a car accident. You become the train wreck. I don’t want to be harsh, but it’s true. There are people that I stalk on social media just to tune into the latest episode of Dating Diaries.
There are some things that can and should stay personal. That doesn’t mean you can’t share your happiness, your life, photos of the two of you, etc., but keep the drama off Facebook, please. Everyone doesn’t need to know every little thing about how you’re together, then broken up, then back together again.
Consider removing the relationship status from your Facebook completely and avoid the temptation altogether.
2. Do You
There is a book called All the Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. It’s a good book with some solid advice, but let’s keep it real here, folks. There are NO RULES IN DATING. There are guidelines that you can follow which work some of the time. “Rules” such as: don’t call him back right away, don’t reveal too much, etc., these work on some men and not on others. So how can you figure it all out? How do you act? How do you react? What’s the acceptable length of time before you can text him back? Who cares?
The important thing is to DO YOU.
After your divorce, you may not be ready to date for a long time. That’s okay. You may want to sow your wild oats. That’s okay. You may want to jump right into another serious relationship. That’s okay. You may want to take it very slowly. That’s okay. The point is, everyone is different, everyone will process post-divorce dating differently. Don’t let someone shame you into doing it a certain way.
After a divorce, you are in a place where you have to find your identity as a woman, as an individual again. No one else knows exactly how you feel, exactly what you’ve been through or exactly what you need. So, do what feels right. Make up the rules as you go. Do you.
3. Move The Baggage Out of the Way
Baggage. Post-divorce you have enough to rival an airline. And that shit’s heavy. It’s going to get in the way of you and your love life. The men you date will have to walk around it, jump over it, and sometimes even help you carry it. It’s going to take a strong man to deal with your baggage, so you need to help him out and work through the crap yourself. It’s not an overnight process. You’ve been collecting that baggage for years. I was with my ex almost 15 years. That’s 15 years of his doubt, being the brunt of his temper, his cheating, his quirks, your doubt, your temper, your quirks…not to mention the baggage from your childhood added on top.
There will always be those things that you fear, scars from the past, that you haven’t (or may never fully) heal from. And trust me, they pop up during the most unexpected times. But don’t hide behind the baggage. The baggage will always be there, but it doesn’t have to be in the way. Clean it out, and then shove it in a closet somewhere. A real man isn’t afraid to sift through it with you.
4. You + Him + Kids = Crowded
If you have children, dating after divorce with children is a whole other book to be written. Should you introduce your kids to him right away? How long should you wait? What will he think when he finds out you have kids? First, and I hope this goes without saying, that your child and his/her feelings are priority…as well as yours. Perhaps your child is not ready for you to date, but and you may be ready to date. Take your child’s concern into account, but don’t keep your life at a standstill because of it. You’re the adult, and you should know what is best. If your child isn’t ready for you to date, then you need to talk with your child. Why are they against it? How can you work through it? Is there a compromise you can reach? Seek to understand their fears before trying to help them understand where you are at.
More importantly, you need to be upfront with any man you’re dating that you have a child. For some men, they won’t be ready for it. And if they aren’t, move on. He’s not mature enough to handle you having someone that takes priority over him, then he’s not the one for you.
5. Respect Yourself
This is a big regret of mine. While I was dating post-divorce, I had no self-respect. My self-esteem was low, and I felt unwanted. After all, there must’ve been something wrong with me for my ex-husband to cheat on me so many times. I must’ve been hideous. So I went out on a few dates with men that I should’ve punched instead. I let myself be treated like a doormat. I had no self-respect of my own and therefore, did not require that the men I went out with treat me with respect.
Thankfully, I wisened up. It took almost exactly a year before I woke up. Looking back, I learned many lessons about who I am, what I want, and most importantly what I deserve.
6. You Don’t Have to Do It
Just because you’re single doesn’t mean you have to date. If you don’t want to date, don’t do it. Don’t feel pressured to have to be a part of a couple. Enjoy being single. This is a precious time you get to dust yourself off and figure things out. When you’re ready, you’ll know it. Just be open for whatever happens and go with it.
Dating after divorce can be a scary, exhilarating, uncertain, exciting, adventure. Just hang on; it’s part of the journey.