When should you start dating again after a separation or divorce? Some argue that this varies from person to person. I’ll admit…It may vary for those who have experienced extreme emotional trauma, but most of us should begin dating fairly quickly. I believe this goes for both genders.
That probably ignores 95% of relationship counseling advice. You may have heard that it’s best not to date after a long-term marriage or relationship for at least a year. Some even recommend two years. The three main reasons go something like this:
- You need time to heal.
- You need time to rediscover yourself.
- You cannot possibly be ready emotionally, so you’re rebounding.
On the surface these reasons seem to be excellent advice, but personally, I don’t recommend it. Waiting too long can have more adverse effects on your relationship psyche. Personal experience has taught me that you can do all the things in the list above while dating. Interaction with others is a great way to discover who you are and what you want. If you begin dating right away, you will forgo the negative side effects of waiting too long and have an opportunity to discover more about what you want through interactions with other people (more on this later).
(You may also want to check out Dawn Meehan’s great post at Babble here for more reasons not to wait too long. While Meehan still recommends waiting a year, I feel the very reasons she gives in her post are reasons not to wait).
For now, let’s discuss a few negative side effects of waiting, and then we’ll get into the reasons why dating fairly quickly could be the right choice for most of us.
Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Date
Stagnation is never good. For most of us, going through a divorce is a very emotionally trying time. Not only is our life thrown in disarray, but we’re forced to develop new patterns of living. But once we’ve settled into the new arrangements, that feeling of loss we can experience after a separation can easily cause us to develop patterns of stagnation. While some believe this might be a time of healing when you’re alone again, I believe it’s convenient to settle into stagnate patterns. Especially if you’re feeling depressed or lonely. What do you really have to look forward to? Months, or even years of more depression or self-pity while you go through a so called “healing process?” No thank you! There’s a big world out there to experience, and you could be missing out. You just have to date with the proper mindset (Again, more on this later).
Consider: does time alone really give you the ability to know yourself better? Maybe if you’re meditating or practicing self-reflection, but most of us aren’t spiritual gurus. After separation and divorce, the receiving end usually experiences confusion, a great sense of loss, and being broken. Therefore time alone really just allows you to get comfortable with your new situation: being alone!
Being alone and comfortable is okay. Yeah, you’re surviving. But wouldn’t you rather thrive a little, too? Personally I found a lot of reasons why jumping quickly back into the dating scene had this effect for me. As long as you jump back into the dating scene with the proper mindset, dating again is a great experience.
We do get stronger being alone with time, but that’s a given. When something is taken away from you, we’re forced to deal with it. And learn to deal with it you must, but that’s no reason to put off dating. Which brings us to an important point. The trick to jumping back into dating is to use what I like to call the “Dating Safeguard” for those who have been married or together for long periods of time.
Important: Dating with the Correct Mindset
Some argue that you’re not in the right frame of mind to choose wisely after a divorce or separation. Of course you’re not. But who says you have to get back into something serious? It’s natural for some of us to want this after a long relationship because we feel like a major part of us is gone, and we immediately want to replace it with something of equal value. But that’s not why we should jump back into dating.
I recommend jumping back into dating right away because it’s adventurous. It keeps us on our toes. It helps us not to fall into stagnation, depression, or loneliness. It takes our mind off the ex and what we’ve lost. And once you’ve jumped back in, it can be fun!
When I when on my first date after my separation, I was nervous. I was married fourteen years. I felt totally out of the loop. But the truth is, so did she. When I realized this, I learned to relax. To have no expectations and just have fun. The next dates were even better. Sure, there were some flops, and more than a few funny stories along the way. But ultimately I learned to condition myself not to focus on any long-term expectations and enjoy the new experiences. If you can do that right away, then jumping back into the dating game is a safe and healthy way to live life to the fullest.
Waiting to date for a lot of people is based on fear. Will people really still be interested in you? Can you meet their expectations? Are you worth their time? The truth is, yes you are, and then some.
Learning from Another’s Situation
After my separation, a lot of friends and family members approached me with advice. They were trying to come to my rescue. Looking back, some of that advice was good. Some bad. One person in particular helped me tremendously, but not in the way she expected. I ended up doing the exact opposite of what she recommended.
Her situation was well-known to me. She had been divorced for about eight years. We were taking a walk one day and our conversation naturally fell on my separation. She tried to convince me why waiting to date was the best choice. I listened very carefully and posed some questions. Ultimately she explained to me that waiting years to date had made her a very strong person. I did agree that she was a strong, independent woman. But something was missing, and it was very obvious to see: she was still alone. It was also obvious that she wasn’t very happy about it. Although she was a strong, independent woman who had reshaped her career, I could tell from our conversation that she had developed a subtle disdain for dating in general, and with men. A sort of bitterness. Later in our conversation she told me that she tried dating again after a few years. But she chose the first person she dated to try and build something long-term with. Nothing wrong with that, but her expectations were quite high. She explained to me all the ways that he, too, failed in the end. She became frustrated and gave up completely. I believe she approached the entire situation of dating completely wrong.
The ultimate truth is, she was still alone and said she didn’t plan on actively trying to date anymore. If there was someone out there, she would just let it happen naturally. I felt sorry for her. Compassion even, but I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to take her advice and wait to date. Her situation had convinced me that I was going to jump right back into it. And that I was going to date more than a few people!
Getting to Know Yourself Better Through Dating
The truth is, people who have been in a long-term marriage or relationship before have a huge advantage: we might not be able to properly process what we really need and want in someone new because of all the baggage we’ve been through, but we certainly know what we don’t want. We have years of experience. All the things that caused our former long-term relationship or marriage to fail taught us that much. That’s a lot of firepower to have when you begin dating again. And chances are, the people you begin to date are armed with the same firepower. They’re feeling and thinking a lot of the same ways you are. You both know what you don’t want. Most of the time, both of you will naturally know early on whether you’re compatible and able to have fun together or not. Either way, you can cut it off anytime you like. You’re no longer in a commitment, so it’s completely acceptable to call it off if you’re no longer benefitting from your time together. If he or she hasn’t developed the right mindset about dating like you have, you’ll know right away.
Early in this post I mentioned that personal experience taught me that you can learn more about yourself while dating. I stated that interaction with others is a great way to discover who you are and what you need in a relationship.
I dated seven girls after my separation. The first one began only three months after I knew the ex and I were permanently split. I was still dealing with a lot of emotional baggage. I’ll admit. I was still hurt. But the first date was a welcome distraction. We had a few trips to the bowling alley, some dinner dates, and one awesome road trip to the beach. I liked her. She was fun. But I knew after the road trip that we wouldn’t work out long-term. I was completely honest with her about my intentions, and we sort of just stopped talking. A few weeks later, I was dating again. The next five girls fell into the same pattern. But during this time, I was gaining back a lot of confidence. I was further confirming to myself what I didn’t want and I began learning what I did. Deep down I knew I wanted to find someone long-term, but I wasn’t going to force it. I was more objective about it. All the while I was honest with every girl I dated. About everything. And they respected me for it. Because of that, most of the dating experience was great.
When I met the seventh girl, the one I am currently with now, I felt a strong gravitational attraction that went beyond the physical. Every date we had continued to build on that. It wasn’t long before we both agreed that we wanted to be exclusive and see where it went. I had fallen in love with her personality. We’ve had our ups and downs, like any normal relationship should, but at this point I’m content to see where we go and don’t feel the need to keep dating other people. The former knowledge from my relationship with the ex gave me the ability to judge whether or not the downtimes we’ve had are deal breakers or just minor hick-ups.
My point is, dating girls even if they didn’t work out taught me some things about myself. Below is a short list of some of those things:
- I was still desirable
- I did not have to end up alone
- Someone really could appreciate me for who I was
- I am a good friend
- Many things who make me what I am are greatly valued and appreciated by others
- I have a lot to offer to someone else
Some more things I benefitted from:
- I gained a level of confidence I hadn’t had for years
- It’s okay that some people aren’t compatible
- Sometimes letting go is healthy
- You should never settle
- Life is full of opportunity
- Fear of the unknown is usually unjustified
Looking back, these are the exact kinds of mindsets that someone who has been in a lifeless long-term relationship or marriage need to regain.
As I said in the beginning of this post, there are a few exceptions to my advice. Some are so emotionally traumatized that they do need to wait. Perhaps they need counseling. Children are another exception. You may have to put dating on hold to make sure they are secure first. If that’s your case, take care of it and then jump back into the dating scene.
Many of the reasons we usually here for waiting a year or two to date are nonsense for most of us. While it’s true that you do need to rediscover yourself, you don’t need to put a hold on dating to do that. While it might be true that after a separation or divorce, you can’t logically process the kind of person you should be with. All the baggage that came with the former ex clouds that judgment. There’s a part of you deep down that sort of knows, but you can respond to that in time. Eventually you’ll discover it. But to forgo dating and new opportunity to ultimately figure it out yourself doesn’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things. If you’re eventually going to be together with someone again, part of who they are is ultimately going to define you anyway. And the new experiences of dating isn’t going to take away from becoming a healthy, independent person again. In fact, the experience with others can help you figure this out faster as long as you begin dating with the correct mindset.
So go out and some fun. Learn to enjoy it. The right person will come along in due time. While it may take longer for some more so than others, that’s not the point. Don’t worry about that. It’ll all take care of itself.
As always, feel free to share your opinion or personal experiences whether they agree or differ.