And you get to rewrite the rules.
Post-divorce dating is overwhelming at best. There are too many online dating sites to count, and if you do venture out, watch out . . . it’s a saturated market, you’ll be lucky to get a swipe right. After my divorce was finalized, I was in no hurry, and although my friends smile and nod when I said I wouldn’t do online dating, I didn’t see any other options for a stay-at-home mom and writer who hadn’t been on a date since 1997. Yes, you read that right.
Back in my day, there was no Tinder, no OKCupid, or Match.com. Wait for it . . . we didn’t even text. Cell phones weighed five pounds. Everywhere you look now, there are online sites with ratings and swipe options and photos of men holding giant fish and women in bikinis and profiles. What happened to meeting at a company, smiling across the room and going out for coffee? It’s a different world.
Yet, in this different world, I found I had wisdom, experience, and anecdotal evidence from my first marriage to guide me to either a happy second union or an equally happy single life. First marriages are, in fact, remarkable wake-up calls and learning experiences. Yes, it’s painful to live through years of an unhappy marriage. Many of us also learn through that unhappiness. We learn who we are, what we need, and how we relate to others. And, we can use that knowledge about ourselves and our needs, patterns, issues, and values, to guide us as we move into our next chapter. And that gave me hope. It should give you hope.
First, there are new rules. In a new relationship, after a difficult marriage, you (and your new partner) rewrite the rules. This is fun! Really, it is. If you were passive or pushed around in your first marriage, you can start from the beginning in a new more collaborative and assertive role. You make plans, get your voice heard, and assert what you couldn’t in your first marriage. If you and your first partner couldn’t or didn’t grow and change in compatible ways, finding someone new can free you from parts of yourself you have moved away from, grown out of, or have simply chosen to release.
Second, you’re in a new mindset. Both men and women I know who are divorced, including me and my now fiance, talk about exhaustion, hopelessness, and despair from first marriages. Change felt nearly impossible. And yet, It is easier to reinvent yourself in a new relationship dynamic.
A hard marriage grinds you down. Things just get stuck. In a new, healthier, relationship, with a new set of challenges, and downsides, of course, you can shed the hopeless habits of mind and being. You can experience new ways of being in love, of being a partner, of allowing yourself to be cared for, and of opening your heart to care for someone in a far deeper way.
Know this: you don’t magically become a new, healthier version of yourself. If you were in a codependent relationship dynamic with a narcissist, for example, you will need to address (theoretically in therapy or with a life coach) your issues and, not choose someone with narcissistic tendencies this time, otherwise, you will repeat patterns. That’s why this is about a fresh start.
Anything is possible. Listen to your instincts and think about how you got in trouble in the first place. This is not simple, it may take months, and you may need professional help, but it is an opportunity for positive growth. You can learn new relationship ways and you can be vulnerable and open for some, for the first time in your life. You can rediscover sexuality and sensuality in new relationships. Both men and women can make peace with their imperfect bodies for the first time ever because you are being cherished in entirely new ways.
Divorce is hard. Divorce is a gut punch. Getting involved in a new relationship after a break up takes time and you need to heal. But you don’t need to be perfect. All the things you thought needed to happen before you felt ready, losing ten pounds, getting a promotion, having more money or getting a new car. None of those mean anything about who you are. None of that has to happen. You get a do-over. And you can choose to get what you need and give what you want.