We have all been through a harrowing breakup or two, but divorce is different. You can’t just cut the cord and walk away: Often, the breakup is drawn out — as a result, the pain runs deep. Many times, children are involved. Assets need to be split and lives uprooted.
Although every divorce is different, there are some common stages people go through before they’re ready to date again. I have never been divorced myself. But based on interviews with therapists and people who’ve ended marriages, here are a few things to keep in mind as you get back out there.
Work through the grief of your divorce before starting to date again.
Going through a marriage and divorce changes you. Before getting back out there, Alexandra Solomon, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at the Family Institute at Northwestern University and author of “Loving Bravely,” says the most important thing to do is address your own recovery. Read books. Talk to friends about what you’ve been through. Listen to relationship podcasts, such as Esther Perel’s “Where Do We Begin?” or “Dear Sugars.”
And consider investing in a professional. “Therapy is an immensely helpful place to grieve the loss of the relationship,” Solomon says. “Even if you’re the one initiating the divorce, there is still grief. Here, you integrate the lessons of the relationship, and prepare to open your heart to someone new.”
If the thought of being intimate with a new person is nauseating, take more time out of the dating pool, cautions Anna Hiatt Nicholaides, a licensed clinical psychologist in Philadelphia. You will also start to see the romantic prospects for who they are, she says, instead of how they compare to your ex.
Everyone has their own timeline: It could be months or years before you’re ready to date.
According to Solomon, here are some signs you’re ready for another serious relationship: You’re able to take dating speed bumps in stride; you resist the urge to point fingers or run from intimacy when you feel vulnerable. You will be guided more by the idea of finding love again than by fear.
Short-term relationships may be fulfilling, too, as long as you’re open with new partners about where you’re at. Tonia Adleta, 43, from Philadelphia, says she reentered the dating pool soon after divorcing her first and second husbands — knowing she wasn’t ready for a serious partnership. “The men I dated immediately after my marriages ended were both incredibly patient and helpful in processing the fallout, as were my inner circle of friends and family,” she says. Adleta says her “rebound relationships” lasted over a year and “were healing in their own ways.”
For Adleta, having short-term pairings, engaging in self-care, getting her finances in order, buying a house, taking dance lessons and “learning to be alone, truly alone” were vital to her finally feeling ready for another healthy, long-term relationship.
As you get back out there, remember: There’s a huge learning curve.
Most people leaving a marriage will find that dating has changed a lot since the last time around. “Technology has changed how we search for love, and swiping can be especially jarring for people who have been in long-term marriages,” Solomon says. “Certainly, you can meet people IRL, but dating apps have become incredibly commonplace and convenient. Go slowly, and remember that the app is nothing more than a way to get from A [introduction] to B [face-to-face connection].”
Tom O’Keefe, 49, from St. Louis, had to get used to the new reality: the ability to see multiple people at once and the extreme flakiness that comes with that. Once he adapted, he used the changes to his benefit. “What was most challenging was just the number of options; it feels never-ending,” he says. “But that also was a benefit; I approached dating differently this time. I made a more concerted effort to be myself, and I stopped trying to be what I thought the other person wanted. If they didn’t like me, that was okay. We both had an entire internet of choices.”
It’s okay to be more practical, and less romantic, about the dating process.
Those who are divorced are more likely to see a relationship for what it is. “They may be less at risk of romanticized notions of love,” Solomon says. “The big question is the degree to which a person who is divorced has ‘done their work’ — attended to their recovery process and mined the lessons of the divorce.” Realism is a plus in the dating pool, but cynicism is not — the latter is a sign someone might not be ready to enter a new long-term relationship.
O’Keefe says he was more upfront dating the second time around, with two young kids — and he felt like there were fewer games as a result. Divorced people are “less likely to waste time beating around the bush,” he says. “I was determined to not repeat the mistakes of my first marriage, so I was very upfront about who I am and what my interests are.” He is now married for the second time. “The secret isn’t avoiding someone with baggage, but finding someone with matching luggage,” he says. “My wife’s ‘baggage’ is a very good complement to my own, and vice versa.”
In this way, divorced folks can be a refreshing infusion to the dating pool. Honesty and directness set a strong tone for relationships. Which brings us to …
Divorced people might be better equipped for long-term relationships than flings.
According to Solomon, many divorced people learn from their mistakes and therefore know how to spot a red flag sooner than other daters can. “They are more likely to be awesome at articulating their boundaries and expectations,” she says.
If they are still healing, newly divorced daters might be slow to warm up to a relationship, says Joree Rose, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in divorce. Or it can make them feel confident in moving quickly, “as they are already ready for a stable partnership,” she explains.
Krysta Monet, a 30-year-old woman from Orlando, says she was far better equipped to date after divorce because she was intent on forming a stronger relationship for her next long-term love. “Dating becomes more about you and less about the other person,” she says. “You learn so much from the mistakes of your past that you practice different traits in hopes of a more positive outcome. In my case, it was communication and patience. I learn to pay attention to not only words but also actions.”
The dating pool can “feel small” after you’ve ended a marriage, Rose says. This is why “it’s important to feel confident in what you can offer to a new partner,” she says.
Thankfully, divorce no longer carries the stigma it once did. “Most people in the dating pool have survived a relationship ending or two,” Solomon says. “What matters far more than someone’s status as ‘single’ versus ‘divorced’ is their journey of recovery.”