Getting yourself back out there after divorce can be a harrowing concept. Whether you were married two or twenty years, the thought of jumping back into a ring full of potential psychos, terrible dinners, and awkward conversations just doesn't seem altogether appealing. Your self-confidence is shaky, your list of "Must-Haves" has been completely modified and, depending on how long it's been since your last date, you may or may not have any idea how dating even works anymore. With the increased usage of social media, IMs, and the ever-ambiguous "hanging out" (What does it meeeeeeaaaaaan?!), there are so many potential pitfalls.
To add further complication, type "Dating After Divorce" into Google and you'll come up with nearly twenty-two million results. Twenty-two million pieces of advice on what to do and what not to do, how much to reveal, what to say, what to wear, how to decode body language, what men want, what women want, sleeping together too early or waiting, etc. etc.
And here's the thing about all of that: It doesn't matter.
I'm going to say that again: It doesn't matter.
I've done my share of post-divorce dating. In the past five years, I've gone on some terrific dates and some terrible ones. I've found a long(er) term relationship, and I've checked my watch every ten minutes, desperately wanting to leave the very instant I could politely do so. I know the ropes. Through it all, there's one single tip I can give you about dating after divorce that trumps every other piece of advice you'll find, and I'm going to share it with you.
Here's the thing, divorce can take its toll on us. Splitting from a partner you once vowed your forever to has its way of making you question who you even are, what you really need, and what the future may hold. This is completely normal, for everyone. Even if the divorce has been coming for a while, even if you feel so damned sure about it, divorce is still traumatic. It's still a major life change. Instead of knowing just exactly what you want in a partner, you typically have a long list of what you don't want. That's not the same thing.
So many people jump quickly into dating without taking the proper time to really get to know what it is they want and need in a partner. Understandable. Connection is a basic human desire. However, in your desire to connect with someone again, to feel that spark again, you're not giving yourself the necessary time and space to figure out just exactly what went wrong in your last relationship, and why. You're not giving yourself the room to heal those scars. You're not taking the time to consider this new person you've become since your separation. That's the very definition of baggage. When you don't take the time to properly process your last relationship, you're effectively packing up all of those problems, scars, and soft spots, and carrying them straight into your next one.
Think about it - if you don't really know yourself, how do you plan to find someone that compliments you better than your ex did? How exactly do you imagine a long-term relationship will work if you truly have no idea what you want? How do you expect your new beau to meet your relationship needs, if you don't have a clue what those needs are?
When it comes to dating post-divorce, I urge people to take some significant time alone and explore what makes them tick. Spend some time traveling solo, taking a class, just being sad and lonely. Walk around in your new skin a little and explore what it feels like to live this new life. Learn about the new person you've become after your marriage ended. This is your time to dream, to wander, to fulfill yourself. Develop new goals. Work on new projects. Make new friends. Learn how you react to stress, how you like your coffee, what makes your heart sing, then make a list of all of these things. Learn about yourself, down to a foundational level, good and bad, and accept every part of who you are. Then and only then can you start constructing an idea of what you're looking for in a partner. Doing so before you dedicate the time to yourself is almost always a mistake.
At the end of the day, you're looking for a life partner. You're looking for someone who is willing to learn when to hug you, when you make you laugh, and when to just throw chocolate at you from a safe distance. You're looking for someone who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. You're looking for a significant other who supports your dreams, encourages your efforts, and knows how to best handle you when you fail. How can you find that person if you, yourself, have no idea how to navigate these things? How do you find someone to forge the perfect forever with, if you have no idea what your perfect forever looks like?
There's a terrific quote in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland":
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where --" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat
Know Yourself. Accept that knowledge, good and bad. Construct the life you want, and then work on finding someone to share it with. You'll save yourself a great deal of time and heartache.
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer and mother of five. She eats too many Oreos and thinks life is much better when you're laughing. Find her at facebook.com/KaseyFerrisWrites.
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