Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “Now that I am divorced, is it a good idea to start dating again?” Dating after divorce should be a time to enjoy becoming unfettered from the past and looking forward to the future. However, it is often hard to tell whether our dating is truly “unfettering” us or actually tightening the shackles to the past we hope to break.
After a relationship dies, the resulting trauma is huge. Now is the time to shed the burdensome attachments to the past and spread your wings. Now is not the time to make any life altering decisions. Now is the time to get acquainted again with your playful, fun-loving side.
Dating can be one way to re-examine your zest for life. However, all dating is not equal. Some assist you in making your transition from being “coupled” to being “happy, single, and free.” Others inhibit it.
A helpful decision rule is: Are you celebrating your new-found freedom from the attachments of being coupled, OR are you feeding your attachments to the past?
Healthy Reasons for Early Dating: Dating to Enjoy Your Freedom from Attachments
Are you dating to revive your joy with life? You have been in a gloomy dark place for some time. Now is a good time to “turn over a new leaf” and remind yourself that life can be joyful.
Are you dating to reboot your interest in the future? Much of your life recently entailed dwelling on the past. What your ex did to you, what your ex did not do for you. What you could have done differently. How you got screwed by the system, etc. Now is the time to shift your focus on the future and remind yourself your future can be great – if you allow it to be.
Are you dating to reestablish your belief in your attractiveness? Divorce is ugly. It involves rejection by both parties eventually. Our feelings of attractiveness and feeling wanted withers. Dating can return the feeling that others find you attractive.
Are you dating to experience validation? Validation is the most common casualty of divorce. We survive divorce wounded. Dating can start to return our sense of validation and confirmation.
Are you dating to have sex? Sometimes things are simple and straightforward. Sex with a new partner who wants to be with you can be a pleasant experience, regardless of whatever meaning you attribute to the act. Having sex for the fun of it is different from having sex as a precursor to a new committed relationship. Now is NOT the time to even be having fantasies about anything long term.
Are you dating to feel better? We leave a divorce feeling damaged. Dating someone new can help to reestablish your self-confidence and hope for the future – but only if done with shared transparency and full awareness of what a transition relationship is.
Are you dating to make the transition from being coupled to being uncoupled? After a divorce you are faced with huge transition from being coupled/married to being uncoupled/single. Success in this transition requires you to dissolve all attachments to your ex and the life you shared. While early dating will not, by itself, achieve this transition, dating to exercise your right to enjoy your new life of no attachments is certainly good and healthy. This is the intention and the role of a Transition Relationship.
Are you dating just because you now can? There is a sense of freedom now that you have no spouse to answer to. Let the wind blow through your hair and enjoy the sensation just for the sake of enjoyment.
Self-Destructive Reasons for Early Dating: Dating to Feed Your Attachments to the Past
Other reasons to start dating will retard your recovery from divorce.
Are you dating to make your ex feel bad? Angry at your ex? Dating to show your ex you are “doing just fine” now that he/she is gone belies the fact that you still want to know that you are still important enough to your ex that he/she would notice what you are doing. In other words, you are only perpetuating the very attachments to your ex that you need to be dissolving.
Are you dating to feel less? Getting divorced hurts. People think that dating will end the feelings. It doesn’t. It only temporarily covers over the pain. But the pain is still there as long as you attach painful feelings to your memories of how life used to be.
Are you dating to forget? Forget it. You can’t forget it. Wishing you could change what happened yesterday won’t change what happened yesterday. But that’s OK. You can remember the past without being attached to it. Your past is there to teach you how to use your future. You can use your past by harvesting the wisdom it offers. Your job is to “reframe” the memories by replacing the negative feelings attached to them with either positive feelings or friendly indifference.
Are you dating to find your next marriage partner? Stop in your tracks! Way too soon for this. Your immediate job after getting divorced is to get fully unattached from all physical and emotional attachments to your ex and the life you shared. There will be plenty of time to begin the search for your next committed relationship. However, now is the time to make the transition from being coupled to being UNcoupled, including dissolving all the painful emotions you have attached to going through a divorce.
Are you dating to placate your friends and relatives? They feel uncomfortable since they do not know what to say to someone who just got divorced. This is their problem, not yours. Ignore their advice.
Are you dating to remember? When you and your ex first met, chances are you enjoyed each other’s company. Dating to remember that it can be pleasant to spend time with another person is good. However, if you are trying to remember, or recreate, those early days with your ex, you are still attached to him/her when your current job is to dissolve those attachments.
Are you dating to satisfy your parents? Parents worry about their children. They do not want to see their children in pain. Parents want to fix things so their children will not suffer. Parents don’t know what to do to “fix” their child’s divorce. So they succumb to the cultural myth, “If only my child can find someone new, they will be happy.” All this means is if you start dating, they will no longer feel incompetent in trying to fix your pain. Your job is to take care of you, not your parents. Politely ignore them.
Are you dating to compete with your ex or make your ex feel bad, then those motivations will come back to bite you. Remember, you are divorced. You no longer are in a relationship with your ex. Therefore, what your ex does or doesn’t do is no longer any of your business. None! This is a harmful path to take. Don’t go there.
So, What’s the Point?
Remember, your job is not to take care of your parents, relatives, or friends. Your job is to take care of yourself, and only yourself. If others shout “hooray!!” or if they “boo and hiss” with your dating choices, this also is none of your business.
It all boils down to why you want to start dating again. If you want to start dating to make your friends or relatives feel better, you will be fooling yourself. It won’t make you feel any better. Also, if you want to start dating again because you are still attached to some memories of you past life with your ex, good or bad, then you are perpetuating the pain of divorce and delaying your recovery.
However, if you want to start dating to enjoy your new-found freedom from the attachments to your ex and the life you shared, (and your attorney tells you dating at this time will not hurt you legally), then dating is healthy. Enjoy!