10/12/2011 01:40 pm ET | Updated Dec 12, 2011

Dating After Divorce: The Shiny Penny Syndrome

A friend of mine and long-term resident of New York complained to me a few years ago about a dating problem she called "The Shiny Penny Syndrome". A shiny penny is any of the brilliant, talented, gorgeous and single dwellers of Gotham. The problem arises when someone trying to date one person but can't help but be distracted by all of the other "shiny pennies" that seem within reach. In a city full of humanity, there are always new humans to try out. At the time my friend was sharing her struggles trying to date, I thought to myself:

"I am so glad that I'm married"

About a year later I was divorced, and instead of a bright shiny new copper penny, I felt like a beat-up, scuffed up and used up 1 cent coin. I was damaged goods entering a field of less flawed, complicated and younger currency.

The current dating culture, both online and around town, feeds into this the shiny penny phenomena. People meet in bars and go home with virtual strangers, only to meet up again, or disappear forever -- whatever they please. Some men and women do this for years before they finally decide to settle down. And then what? If they have been super ultra casual with partners for years, it is going to be a real challenge to suddenly become super ultra committed. A relationship takes work, time, energy and focus. But many with demanding jobs or lifestyles don't want to waste the time nurturing and tending to a new partner's needs. So they constantly start from scratch with hybrids of pseudo-dating, friends with benefits or trying to date but rarely actually seeing their partner. They don't see themselves as the problem but rather that their partner is simply not the best they could get.

  • What if someone better comes along?
  • What if someone younger, prettier, stronger, richer, nicer, funnier, shorter, taller..etc?
  • What if I could find someone who lived closer?
  • What if I could find someone with the exact same interests as myself?
  • What if the next person could help me out in my career?
  • What if I could find someone my parents or friends would like?

Because of the nature of becoming completely anonymous and so effortlessly getting lost in the sea of humanity, people have a tendency to behave badly and get away with it. It is true of both genders and all sexual orientations. Meet someone outside your work and social group, and the minute you stop dating them, they can so easily vanish -- never to be heard from again. Which in some aspects is good, but in others it just encourages the cruelest and nastiest of behavior. And when everyone is their own island, it is difficult to find out a person's reputation before getting involved with them. So those with the most deceptive or shallow dating habits can go through lovers with little consequence. And from what I have heard from people all over the world, the Shiny Penny Syndrome is not just relegated to big cities like New York, but has become a universal problem.

For people newly divorced, the sea of shiny pennies is especially difficult to navigate. Divorce can be entirely devastating to one or both spouses. Going from a long-term relationship with the same partner and then feeling like you have to compete in a shallow and disposable dating environment is a rude wake-up call. So what is to be done about this?

I have found that fellow divorced people tend to be the best fit for myself and my other friends who have been divorced. Another person who has gone through a divorce is usually much less judgmental of the scars, dents and damage that my not-so-shiny penny has been through. And a divorced person has at least tried to have a committed long-term relationship. Marriages end for all sorts of reasons, and in many cases there is little one partner can do to keep it together. I don't exclusively seek out divorced men, but I do know that generally speaking they are likely to be more empathetic to my situation.

I am not searching for the brightest shiniest penny on the planet, I just want the penny that fits well with my own. And I know there is no such thing as a perfect match or partner. I will just continue to look beyond the perfection seekers and find a fellow copper coin that has had a little wear and tear like myself.