My first serious girlfriend post-split was everything my ex-wife was not.
She was 5'7" and slender -- elegant. I had been married to a woman who was 5-feet tall. My girlfriend was a hi-tech venture capitalist, brimming with insight on global trends, European culture and film. I had been married to a hippie.
Though both women were terrific and devoted moms, my new lover flew around the world first class, whereas my wife had preferred the homebody life of planting veggies, strumming on the guitar.
My therapist warned me that I was in the rebound room. "You are not really out of your marriage yet. And the proof is that you are dating your ex-wife's diametric opposite. Be careful with this new woman's heart."
And of course, in the new rush of freedom -- enjoying meals, traveling, making love to somebody who didn't secretly (as well as not so secretly) resent me -- it was like being born into a new happy world.
We loved each other. We enjoyed each other. We spoke of things near and far, deep and frivolous. We introduced each other to new authors and film-makers and had strong feelings of genuine affection.
She saw the disaster coming before I did. She had wizened eyes; she'd been single for a couple of years whereas I was fresh off the production line.
It came suddenly. One day in the kitchen, mid-breakfast, she turned around with tears in her eyes and said, "Are you sure about this? It's too early for you. You haven't experienced what it is to be alone yet, to be single." Tears streamed down her cheeks.
I protested. We were happy, weren't we? Everything was going swimmingly. But she was right.
Coming out of a divorce -- especially after 17 years -- is like stumbling forward in a half-stupor, blind to what would be obvious to a child. You look the same as you did. You can function. But everything you hear is filtered through the background music of your long marriage.
Everything you see is filtered through multi-colored glasses -- first the dim rose of nostalgia, then the fuscia fury of injustices, now the blinding white light of possibility. After a divorce, you are walking through a hall of broken rear-view mirrors. Nothing is as it seems.
In retrospect, I should have waited longer than a month after the split to start a new relationship. It takes time for nostalgia's glow to loosen its grip on your heart, for fury's fire to fade into forgiveness. It takes time for hope's innocent balloon to settle back to Earth.
The rule of thumb is that you need half the number of years that you've been married to heal before you begin a new monogamous relationship. That seems a bit drastic. After all, life's short. And nights, I quickly discovered, are long.
A solid eight months to a year before settling into a new relationship would have been more fair -- fair both to my raging, weeping, soaring, confused heart, and also to my new friend.
So here's my prescription: Take a breath. Or, better yet, take five thousand.
Reconnect with your inner thoughts and see if you can maintain one identifiable feeling for longer than ten minutes before grief, spite or anger come galloping in to trample your clear thinking.
Come to like yourself again, free of your former spouse's opinion. Forgive yourself for failing at all your youthful dreams of having it all. Nobody gets to have it all. But if you play your cards right, you can get some.
Only after you are resituated in your new life and comfortable with your new self, then you may find a partner who will love the real you.