The relief of extricating yourself from an unhappy marriage can propel you into a rebound relationship – or dating merry-go-round – that can range from merely distracting to, worse, an ill-advised second union. While there’s no hard rule about how long to wait to date post-divorce, it generally takes a year or two to process what went wrong in your marriage before you’re emotionally prepared to make smart romantic choices.
When you do decide you’re ready, here are some time-tested ground rules for sane dating can help you attract partners that enhance your life – not drive a freight train through it.
Look for dating experience on dating sites, not love. For better or worse, dating sites have changed the relationship landscape. Matches can be made on these sites, but at the same time, they are also fertile ground for exploitive people who misrepresent themselves to get what they want, whether that’s sex, money, a crash pad, or someone to “fix” them. Don’t believe everything you read in someone’s dating profile! Also, understand that some people aren’t even interested in meeting anyone. They’re after instant validation: striking up conversations with as many people as possible to stroke their egos or pass the time. Yes, online dating is occasionally a way to meet a second spouse, but it’s better used as a method of seeing “who’s out there” and sharpening rusty dating skills.
Focus on the present, not what you think you want in six months. Many people think they want another serious relationship right away, because that’s what they’re used to having. Stop and ask yourself why you’re focused on a hypothetical relationship in the future. Are you lonely? In competition with your ex? Feeling the need to have a socially acceptable plus-one? Getting in a serious relationship in order to mitigate your anxiety will just lead to problems down the line, i.e. you’ve picked someone with whom you’re not truly compatible. Better to focus on what’s actually going on in the present: enjoying the time you spend with a dating partner and jettisoning anyone with whom you don’t.
Only engage in physical intimacy if you can handle it emotionally. There’s nothing wrong with intimate physical closeness – unless it will create a struggle with getting emotionally attached to someone when it’s clear that the relationship is a casual one. Sometimes, well-meaning friends might encourage a night out on the town to find a “one night stand” to help you get over your divorce. There are many reasons why not to engage in this kind of behavior, but in terms of your fragile emotions, the last thing you want after the heartbreak of ending your marriage is to be ghosted by someone you slept with thinking there was “something more.” Let’s be very straightforward about this: If you want to have casual sex, protect yourself emotionally (and physically!) and have no expectations of any further contact with this person.
Treat dating as research gathering. The goal of dating is to gather information about your dating partner. Are they reliable? Do you share common values? Do they own their part in the demise of past relationships like a grown-up, or is everyone they’ve been with some combination of crazy, evil, and gold-digging? Once enough time has passed, if the person has earned your trust and you enjoy being together, you may decide that you’re ready – and it’s appropriate — to take things to the next level.
Don’t play games or put up with someone who does. Playing hard to get or misrepresenting yourself on dating sites causes drama, confusion, and resentment. Don’t act this way! If you have interest in someone, text them when you get home or the next day to let them know you had a great time. And when you’re setting up your dating profile, be honest about your age and post recent photos that actually look like you; the only thing you get by pretending to be someone you’re not is one date that doesn’t lead to a second. Also, beware of outright lying on your profile — which can have negative consequences affecting everything from child custody to alimony payments. Say you have “zero kids” or post lots of flashy photos to get more clicks on your profile? These can put you in needless jeopardy. Read Bari Weinberger’s article: Why Your Divorce Attorney Wants You to Stay Off Dating Websites for a reality check.
Work on your relationship with yourself. Unhappy marriages that end in divorce can pummel your self-esteem. You may have been with someone who put you down, and/or you may have behaved badly. Rushing to find someone who will make you feel better about yourself is a self-serving endeavor that rarely works. If you haven’t put time into personal growth, you will likely re-create the same dysfunctional dynamic you had in your marriage, which will make you feel even worse. The quality of the relationship you have with yourself will determine the quality of the relationship you have with a dating partner. So practice self-care, behave like an adult — and feel grateful that you have the space and time to start figuring things out.
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