“Are you dating after divorce yet? I might know someone…” asks your coworker as you share the elevator on Monday morning.
“You’re dating already! Are you sure you’re ready?” questions your friend after hearing your breathless tale of the other night.
“You know,” announces your mom on your weekly phone call, “It’s not too late for you to find someone new. You’ve got to get back out there.”
“You don’t want to rush into anything,” cautions your therapist when you mention that you signed up for a dating site.
The messages we get about when to start dating again after divorce are confusing and often conflicting. And that friction doesn’t only come from outside voices, it also comes from within as we question ourselves and our motivations.
The decision about when to start dating again is a personal one. You can listen to your coworkers, your friends, your family and your professional support system, but ultimately the choice is yours to make.
9 Reasons to Jump Back Into Dating After Divorce (And 9 Reasons to Take it Slow)
I took an enormous swan dive off the high board into the dating pool after my tsunami divorce.
Within six months of my ex disappearing with only a text message, I signed up for Match and went on an average of 8 dates a week. It sounds crazy now. And it was crazy then.
Looking back from the vantage point of being happily remarried many years later, here are some of the pros and cons of jumping back into the dating pool after divorce:
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Divorce sucks. And it is certainly much more enjoyable to meet somebody for a night on the town than to spend yet another night in your empty home. The excitement of meeting new people goes a long way towards distracting your brain from your current – and possibly sucky – situation.
Con: Delayed Healing
However, too much distraction only acts to delay the healing process after divorce. Those feelings are there for a reason and they won’t disappear until you face them and process them. You have to grieve the loss of one love before you’re ready for a new love.
Feelings are like a vampire. If you try to bury them, they only come back to bite you.
Pro: A Reminder That You Can Love and Be Loved
With any divorce, but especially those that include betrayal or abandonment, the self-esteem takes a huge beating. And dating is like a salve applied to those wounds. It feels good (and a relief!) to be desired again, to be courted again.
Con: Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places
It feels good to be wanted by others, but it’s no substitute for finding love for yourself. One of the biggest lessons in divorce is how to truly get back in touch with you. Don’t let anybody get in your way.
If you seek validation outside of yourself, it’s never enough. If you find validation inside of yourself, it’s always enough.
Pro: Social Companionship
Once you’re back on the dating scene, a “plus one” box on an invitation is no longer something to sweat about. You have those experiences and pictures to share on social media, sending the message to the world (or at least the part of it that matters to you) that you’re still alive and kicking.
Con: Impact on the Former Spouse and the Kids
It is hard for anybody to see their ex moving on. When you enter the dating scene quickly, you’re sending the message to your ex that you’ve moved on from them and your marriage and that they are easy to replace. A similar message may be received by any children, especially if they witness you dating.
We all have baggage. It’s how you carry it that matters.
Pro: Meet New and Interesting People
When you’re married, your social circle tends to tighten. Dating provides you with an opportunity to meet new people and open your mind to new ways of thinking, especially if you approach it with a sense of curiosity.
Con: It’s Easy to Compare to Your Ex
When your pillowcase still smells of your ex’s cologne, it’s difficult not to analyze the metrics between your ex and your new date. Over time, it becomes easier to see (and appreciate) each person for who they are and not how they compare.
Sometimes the heart is the first to get the message. And the last to let it go.
Pro: Helps to Alleviate Pain
Dating is an analgesic for the wounded heart. It pumps you full of feel-good hormones: raising serotonin that plummeted with divorce, supplying oxytocin that promotes bonding and adding a dash of dopamine to keep you wanting more.
Con: The Pain May Only Be Delayed
People are often surprised at the intensity of the pain felt when a relatively short-term fling ends after divorce. In fact, the pain can often be greater than that of a long-term marriage ending. Part of this is delayed and referred pain resurfacing and another part is because the new relationship was based more on hopes and wishes than reality.
Don’t simply weather the storm. Learn to harness its power.
Pro: Dating Fills Your Calendar
When your married, much of your calendar is filled with family-related activities. Divorce leaves a void. And dating can easily fill that void, replacing those empty days with something to do.
Con: Takes Time Away From Other Things
One of the hidden gifts in divorce is the opportunity to reestablish relationships with friends and family that took a back seat to your marriage. Or, it can be a time to reinvigorate a prior passion that your spouse or situation didn’t support. Dating can steal time away from those meaningful endeavors.
Life’s low tides allow time to appreciate the beauty hidden beneath the surface.
Pro: Create a Connection
One of the most pressing human needs is the desire to be understood and accepted. Dating create that opportunity. Even with the shortened timeline, you may find somebody that you are compatible with for the long haul.
Con: You May Expect Too Much Too Soon
Surprisingly, it can be lonelier to be on a date than to be by yourself. Once you’ve been in a long-term relationship, you’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of intimacy. And that takes time to build, sometimes leaving a sense of frustration and isolation.
Relationships are formed, not found.
Pro: Fun and Excitement
Dating invites excitement, whether it’s attending a concert together, visiting an escape room or even a stolen weekend away. It’s like a carnival for the older crowd.
Con: It’s Expensive
Obviously, dating is expensive no matter how long you wait after your divorce to do it. But if you jump too soon, you may be struggling to pay your attorney’s fees because of your dinner tab.
My heart was broken, not my spirit.
Pro: You May Be Rescued
Sometimes life does parallel a rom-com. Maybe you find somebody that will pay off your debts, wipe your tears and make you forget that your divorce ever happened.
Con: You May Be Used
The ugly truth about rescuers is that need to feel needed. Often at your expense. If you’re attracting white knights and enablers, you are probably sending signals that you’re broken. Is that what you want?
I don’t want a knight in shining armor. I want a man that fights by my side.
Ultimately, only you know if you’re ready to start dating again. Here are some questions you may want to consider first:
Are you jumping into dating in order to avoid your feelings?
Are you hoping to provoke a jealous response in your ex?
Are you still involved in the legal divorce process? How will dating impact that?
Are you open and honest with your dates (and yourself!) about your recent divorce and healing status?
Are you looking for your date to be your confidant or your counselor?
Are you trying to fill an ex-shaped void or looking to meet new people?
Are you realistic about the chances of a date soon after divorce turning into a long-term relationship?
In my case, my enormous swan dive off the high board into the dating pool paid off. I’m about to celebrate my third wedding anniversary with one of the first men I met on Match. It wasn’t an easy road; he had to be patient and understanding with me while I undertook some of the necessary healing that had not yet had time to occur.
Date when you’re ready. Stay anchored in reality. Be open and honest with yourself and others. And above all, have fun and seek to bring fun to others. After all,
The end of a marriage does not mean the end of love.