It is one of the most confusing, nerve-wracking propositions out there — dating after a divorce. You’ve been out of this game for a while and things have changed. Do people even meet in the real world anymore, or is it all online? Do you begin with coffee, or dinner — or phone calls and texts?
Mates and dates seem as disposable as diapers today, if news items are to be believed — leaving those who are divorced wondering if true and lasting connection is even possible again.
“It’s important to distinguish between being alone and learning how to be your own good company — versus being lonely.”
Rushing into dating may be the wrong move for most people. Sure, the thought of dating another person, becoming close to another physically and emotionally, and starting a whole new life mightstart to cross one’s mind. But when is the right time — is there a right time? What pitfalls might people need to be aware of — and how does one explain dating to the kids?
The thoughts are very common, but there is no one correct answer, since all situations and people are different.
“Coping with divorce is akin to the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross five stages of death and dying,” Dr. Jason Stein, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Brentwood, California, told LifeZette. “There’s no way to expedite it, and everyone experiences it differently. People need to remember this is a major fracture in life and healing time is needed.”
Stein said that before even considering dating, individuals must be honest with themselves and take emotional inventory. He suggests divorceés ask themselves how they are feeling, where they are mentally, and what they need emotionally.
"It's vital these things be worked out before dating, or you risk unconsciously repeating the patterns from failed relationships," Stein warned. "Instead, understanding and growing from the previous relationship and determining what is important and what direction to go in should be one's focus."
What about the feelings and fears of being alone?
"It's important to distinguish between being alone and learning how to be your own good company versus being lonely," he said. "Being alone allows us to contextualize and clarify who we are outside of a relationship. Having a sense of self and understanding who we are individually are critical components to successful relationships."
Feeling lonely, Stein suggested, is something to be aware of and can be a pitfall in terms of rushing out to date before it is healthy to do so. It's more important to deal with these feelings of loneliness rather than to try to find someone — anyone — who buries the underlying foundation of that loneliness.
"Mind you, it's not like you need to practice abstinence until you figure it out. It just means having some awareness of where you are, so expectations aren't unrealistic."
This brings up the issue of dating in a technologically driven world. There are pros and cons to online dating.
One of the upsides, said Stein, is that online dating allows you to create your own identity — to create a new version of yourself, post-divorce. It is also a safe and disconnected way of exploring individuation. He intimates that revising one's profile and photos is a way of refining the way one sees oneself, provided that profile is honest.
"It is a way of exploring who you are as an adult away from your marriage. It's about learning who you are attracted to, and vice-versa," he noted.
There is, however, a downside. Stein said it is easy to get seduced into thinking the online world is the only world that matters, and that it somehow defines you — and that it can fill the loneliness. "The virtual can become the perception of real. It isn't real. It's like a video game. There is a very real difference between online and real-world interactions."
"Kids are navigating their own ideas about dating and how to see you after a divorce."
Once dating actually begins, how should this be explained to kids, particularly if a child inquires about your dating life? Stein firmly believes that adult life should be kept separate and apart from family life.
What's more important is understanding what the child is really asking. "Kids are not asking about your activity, but are navigating their own ideas about dating and how to see you after a divorce," he said. Instead, try to steer the conversation back to the children and their feelings. You aren't evading the question. You are parenting the child.
Finally, remember that dating is not an end in itself. Dating and relationships are about understanding oneself better, what qualities are attractive, and learning the things about yourself that are attractive. We cannot be all things to all people. Behaving authentically is always the best course of action and most likely to attract the person that is authentically right for you.