Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “When is it OK to start dating again?” Is the real question, “When is it OK to start dating again?” Or is it, “When can I start looking for my next long-term, committed relationship?” Beware! The second question often is disguised as the first one. Hint: Are you wanting to start dating to enjoy your freedom from the attachments of marriage or are you adding to your attachments to the past?
There is a lot of heat, but very little light generated by asking when we should resume dating. Some say wait a year. Some say asap in order to get over the divorce. Some say don’t date if the divorce is not final. Some say go for it if the marriage is over, regardless of whether the judge has signed the papers. Many religions say do not date until after the divorce is final. Everybody has an opinion. No one has a one-size-fits-all answer.
Early Dating – What Is It and Is It a Good Thing?
Early dating can be a very powerful part of your recovery from divorce.
Early dating occurs when you start dating again either before the divorce is legally final or soon thereafter. Early dating is marked by huge amounts of “baggage” and attachments to your ex and the life you shared that have not been dissolved or eliminated yet.
Whether it is a “good” thing or a “bad” thing depends on what you want dating to achieve for you. Broadly speaking, if you are wanting to date to enjoy your new-found freedom from being attached to your ex, it can be most enjoyable. If on the other hand, you want to start dating to trigger a response from your ex or to placate your friends and relatives, it will end badly.
Some say you should wait until your marriage is over. Sounds good, but what does it actually mean for a marriage “to be over?”
When Exactly Is a Marriage Over?
Any marriage that is over is actually over long before it’s formally over.
A marriage is over the very instant one of the marriage partners looks in the mirror feeling calm, sober, well-rested, and introspective and declares privately to himself or herself, “I can’t do this anymore. I must get out.” This happens long before any judge declares a marriage officially over by signing the divorce papers.
It also sets the clock ticking for one’s making the decision to begin dating again. In the back of everyone’s mind is the question, “How can I be sure this is a good idea right now?”
One Says “Date” Another Says “Don’t Date” – Will They Please Make Up Their Damned Mind?
Don’t count on your friends and relatives to be much help.
When seeking advice, you should talk with people you can trust. The obvious choices are your friends and family. You assume they will have your best interests at heart. But do they? Can they? Probably not.
Friends and relatives are only human. Of necessity they filter their advice through their own experience, hopes, fears, and belief systems. The result? A jumbled mess of contradictory advice that reflects their fears and fantasies they would have if they were in your situation. In a word, it’s useless.
Bottom line: don’t pay much attention to what other people advise you to do. Their advice, well-intentioned as it is, is a statement of their agenda for you. Invariably, their agenda is different from your agenda.
Your job is to get clear on what your agenda and expectations are and to not sabotage them by trying to move the relationship development process along too fast.
Three Early Dating Rules to Live By
Early dating doesn’t exist without some potential problems, especially impatience.
The 12 to 18 months before and after the divorce is final are sacred! Treat them as a gift from the relationship gods. The goal of this transition time is to reestablish balance, personal power, perspective, self-love, and stability back into your life.
What is important is not what you do, but what you don’t do. Three “rules” will help you make your early dating experience a success.
Rule #1: Slow Things Waaaaaay Down: For the first 6 months of dating, restrict what you plan and talk about with your partner to no more than 7 days into the future. For the next 6 months, restrict what you plan and talk about with your partner to no more than 30 days into the future.
Now is not the time to envision living “happily ever after” with anyone. It is the time to get reacquainted with yourself and to enjoy your new freedom.
Rule #2: Do NOT Sign Anything for 12 to 18 Months: Do not sign any legal or financial documents with your partner for at least 18 months. No marriage licenses, no car titles, no loan applications, no house mortgages, no joint checking accounts, NO ANYTHING! You will have the rest of your life to that after the shock and readjustments to your life after divorce have worn off . Just do not do it in the first 18 months after your divorce is final.
Rule #3: Don’t Get Pregnant Yet: Do not get pregnant or get your partner pregnant. Just don’t do it. Now is not the time to start a new family. Having a child will not miraculously give your life meaning after divorce. It will seriously destroy your efforts to reestablish balance, personal power, perspective, self-love, and stability back into your life.
So, What’s the Point?
There is never a good time to start dating for bad reasons.
Asking “When should I start dating again?” is the wrong question. The more helpful question is, “Why do I want to start dating again?”
Are you dating to enjoy your new-found freedom from the attachments of being coupled, OR are you feeding and strengthening your attachments to the past?
Early dating enables you to begin the transition from being coupled and married to being uncoupled and single, NOT recoupled and married. Early dating is not a vehicle for finding your next committed relationship.
(Now a word from your attorney: The last question to ask before beginning to date again is whether your attorney thinks dating at this time will compromise your divorce case. Obviously, if it will then honor your attorney’s advice and hold off until it is safe to do so.)
This is the time in your life to enjoy having “slipped the surly bonds of an unhappy marriage.” Use it to enjoy your first step into your life after divorce.