I saw firsthand how those who learn from divorce enjoy amazing dating lives.
When I was working as a divorce lawyer, a common fear that my clients had was that they had now become damaged goods, and could never find love again. I heard this time and again from male and female clients both. They all had the fear to one degree or another that it was all over now; time to settle for the sad sack second chancers in the corner. Their shelf life was up.
I’m not sure where that idea comes from, but it’s pervasive. Perhaps it’s a leftover cultural bias from the 1950s, when divorce was allegedly still a scandal. I’m not convinced it was even such a big deal back then, but we all have our filters about the past.
At any rate, at first I didn’t know how to comfort these clients, but before long I began to notice a very distinct pattern: Divorced people usually have amazing dating lives! I know that’s counterintuitive and against much of what we hear, but stay with me. It turns out that the pain of divorce plays several important functions in love:
- It shatters the prince/princess fantasies that we all harbor to some degree, leaving us much more pragmatic about love.
- It teaches people what they definitely don’t want, and that’s very useful in determining what they definitely do want.
- It leaves people with the idea that since things can end, which makes them enjoy future relationships more and take them less for granted.
And finally, divorce affords a huge, often unspoken boon to those with kids: They get to be part-time parents, partaking in family life when the kids are with them, and part-time singles, dating and enjoying their independence when the kids aren’t there. That’s the best of both worlds.
I’m not making this up. I heard from my clients time and again that once they got over their fears of getting into the dating scene, it all worked out magically. That said, it can be hard to get started again, so here are some tips I gleaned from watching those clients take on the dating world time and again.
Don’t Let the Numbers Get You Down
First, while the statistical evidence about second marriages may be daunting as you head back into the dating scene, know that there is more to the story. There are lots of theories for why second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first ones, some of which could be classified as “unhealthy” (spouses didn’t take enough time to heal from their first divorce) and some “healthy” (because second marriages produce far fewer children than do first marriages, spouses in second marriage usually stick out a bad situation “for the sake of the kids”). At any rate, you are an individual, not a statistic. Having seen thousands of breakups and recoveries, I can tell you I know scores of people whose second marriages fared better than their first ones. When people are willing to work through the emotional challenges of a divorce proactively, and learn from the experience, they enter new relationships with more maturity and self awareness. That makes relationships after divorce not just more successful, but more joyful as well.
Stay in the Present
Be direct and straightforward about your divorce, but don’t burden your new dates/partners with the past. There’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and avoiding the topic sets the tone that you’re afraid of something. Don’t avoid the topic. On the other hand, nobody wants the past to dominate the present. Be here in the now with the person you’re actually dating. They’ll pick up on your interest and that is what sparks chemistry.
Try Not to Compare (Too Much)
You probably can’t avoid comparing your current dates to your former spouse, because that’s what we humans do. That said, notice when you’re doing it and don’t take it too seriously. If you’re stuck in comparison mode, you can’t appreciate your date for who they really are. And let’s face it, making new encounters into nothing more than mental projections of your old relationship is kind of like playing an old song on a constant loop. If you do find yourself doing that, you just might benefit from ….
Therapy, Therapy, Therapy
Don’t be shy about getting professional help. A divorce is the second most stressful event in a human life following the death of a spouse. If you’re finding yourself obsessing over what went wrong in your marriage, or about comparisons between your ex and your current dates, that’s probably a good indication that you have some emotional work to do in order to put your marriage to rest. This is what therapists are for. Your friends are helpful to a degree, but they’re not trained to move your forward the way a good therapist is.
Adopt a Beginner’s Attitude
Let yourself be a beginner. You’ve been out of the dating scene for a while, and it’s okay to be a little rusty. You can’t expect yourself to be a dating pro from the first moment you swipe right. Take it easy and take the process at whatever pace feels comfortable to you.
Know that it’s okay to be exactly who you are. You’ve grown and changed; you’re stronger and wiser, and yes, you also have some wounds. Divorce is not easy, but the challenges in life are what cause us to grow. It’s normal to put your best foot forward, but if you’re hiding the truth of who you are in order to woo a new partner, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. You want your new dates to like you for who you actually are, not some fantasy. So let yourself shine. Another word for freedom is nothing left to hide.
Did I miss anything? Let me know–I’d love to hear from you, and maybe I’ll add your insights to a follow up article.
Erik Newton is the founder of Together.