In a former life, I was one of those trying women who would comment on articles about online dating with a “Wow. That sounds terrible. So glad I found my partner at 19 and got married by 25!” These comments were accompanied by an air of frantic smugness that is usually seen in a young woman who is just beginning to suspect she made a mistake.
In a twist that is actually not twisty at all, but a predictable, linear portion of my life story, I am now divorced, and it rocks.
But it did not always rock, and I had to unlearn a lot of bad behaviour before it began to. Divorce is often framed two different ways: A great tragedy or a great triumph. Either you couldn’t make a great thing work (and are a failure!), or you escaped from a bad situation (and are a strong hero!), but the truth is that it’s often somewhere in between. No matter how mutual the decision to get divorced was, parts of it will be horrible, but dating after divorce doesn’t have to be that bad.
Being married is a little like being in a time capsule, and successfully dating after the dissolution of a marriage is less about getting hip with the apps and more about creating an internal shift in how you think about relationships, romance, and sex. Like anything, divorce is different for everyone, but there are some strategies I think every divorced person can employ to make dating after marriage not terrible — and maybe even fun.
Learn to appreciate the void
A lot of “being lonely” is actually getting over the muscle memory of being physically near another person for a large portion of your day or night. As someone who worked from home, and was married to someone who also worked from home, I can tell you that it takes some unlearning, but it can be done. Your first impulse may be to fill this physical emptiness with a string of dates or casual sex — I hesitate to use the phrase “meaningless sex” because even the most casual, noncommittal sex can have meaning and serve a purpose — but you will have to eventually be comfortable with being in a room without another person also being present.
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Spoiler alert: Being alone rules. If you have a hard time believing this, think about how you would feel whenever your spouse went out of town. Did you pine for them from the moment they left until the moment they returned? Probably not.
You most likely ate whatever you wanted, watched whatever you wanted, and spent more time with friends, without worrying about coordinating with your “other half” (which is honestly a very weird thing to refer to a partner as). Try to recall and tap into that joy, and then amplify it by doing the things your former partner kept you from doing.
I’m not necessarily talking about drinking every night or having sex with strangers (though you could), I’m talking about hanging up that painting she hated, or inviting over that friend he never quite got along with. I’m talking about playing Hank Williams as loud as you want, and never having to listen to Tool again.
Date outside your “type”
It’s possible that your ex was the perfect picture of what you’re attracted to, but it’s also possible you just think that because it’s what you knew, what you were used to, and what you had grown to love. There are a lot of wonderful humans of all shapes out in the world, and now is the time to meet them.
Also, take this time to examine what may be compulsory heterosexuality and/or monogamy, particularly if either of those things were a source of anguish, anxiety, or strain in your recently ended marriage. The worst thing that can happen is that you try something and it’s not a good fit, but then you get to learn something about yourself, which is never bad.
Love interests are not spouses
Married people do thoughtful, loving things for each other without even realising that they are being thoughtful and loving, and that’s one of the beautiful things about marriage. By getting divorced, you are effectively losing a family member, and there’s suddenly one less person in your corner. Not only is there one less person taking care of you, but you have one less person to take care of. If you were the more nurturing partner, you might find yourself a backlog of nurturer-type energy that is screaming for a home.
You may find yourself performing emotional labour for people who neither want nor deserve it, or find yourself expecting an inappropriate amount of emotional labour from someone you’ve only been on a couple of dates with, simply out of habit. This is not ideal, and it can be helpful to think of these new love interests as friends.
For example, if you’re thinking of doing something for a person you’ve only been on a three dates with, ask yourself if you’d do that same thing for a new, platonic friend you’d only hung out with three times. If not, maybe don’t do the thing.
Talk about it, a lot
Go to therapy, champ. You’ve just been through some major trauma and, though I’m sure your friends are all a bunch of lovely, very supportive listeners, they are not therapeutic professionals, and may not have the resources or bandwidth to help you through this effectively, no matter their intentions.
Also, depending on how dysfunctional your previous relationship had been or become, you may not have the healthiest romantic behaviours, and a therapist can help you identify those, so you can treat new potential partners how they deserve to be treated, as well as spot when you are being treated in a way that you do not deserve. What you have come to know as “normal”, acceptable behaviour may not be, but you’ll never know if you don’t examine the past.
The one person you shouldn’t talk to your divorce about is, of course, the person you are on a date with. Obviously be upfront about the fact that you are divorced (or getting divorced), but don’t turn your date into a Tinder-sourced therapy session, and resist the urge to tell harrowing tales, even though harrowing tales can be extremely entertaining. There’s no way your divorce is the most interesting thing about you, and you shouldn’t talk about it like it is.
Enjoy the lack of time table
Some people are very concerned about “finding the one” so they can “settle down.” Great news: you already did it. Check it off your list, and seek out new experiences. Being married can be wonderful, but it is not, and never was, a resting place, and viewing a state-sanctioned relationship as some sort of fairytale “ending” helps no one.
You may get married again, and you may not, but neither outcome should affect your self-worth. You may not believe it now, but a failed marriage is not a reason to feel guilty, and you don’t have to explain your divorce to anyone (besides a therapist, for therapeutic purposes, perhaps). You tried it, you did your best, and — like everyone else just trying to fucking live — you deserve to be happy again, and maybe dating a a few fun people can help you achieve that.