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Post-divorce rebound: A requisite heart pummeling

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Nothing so easy as catching a heart on the rebound.

–Mary Russell Mitford

A recent amour and I were chatting.

Me: “I’ve been thinking about how the first time you sleep with someone, you’re not really sleeping with that person – you’re really sleeping with all the other people you’ve had sex with before them.”

Him: “That’s right. You’re really sleeping with your point of reference.”

In essence, before you get to know a new lover’s body and preferences — as well as how your own body and preferences fit with that person — each of us is really just sorting through all of the bodies and preferences that came before in order to truly enjoy current company.

Relationships are no different. And this analogy holds most true in a rebound relationship.

There has been plenty written on the perils of the rebound. The old maxim suggests that the recently heart-broken is too angry/vulnerable/hurt to be truly open to a new love. The rebounder is at risk of attaching too quickly to the wrong person, and those dating a rebounder are subject to wandering into the line of fire of scatter-shot devotion.

I’ve written exhaustively about my own post-marriage rebound with a man who was also recently divorced. It lasted a full year and was thrilling, wonderful and dysfunctional.

When that relationship ended, it hurt like a motherfucker! Holy shit did that bloody_hearthurt. Ochie!! Owwie ow ow ow! Mommy! Make it stop! Please, ow ow owie ouchie ow I can’t take any more!!! Even more than an ending love, all that pain and torment was really about contending with unresolved heartbreak from my divorce. But I needed to go through that rebound and the subsequent pain. It served as a critical point of reference through which I dealt with the dissolution of my marriage.

I just called off a month-long liaison with a man so recently divorced that his clothes were still packed in the suitcases with which he removed them from his marital home. By all outward appearances we should be planning our second marriage by now: In addition to the crazy chemistry, we’re both creative, ambitious people who share sensibilities about money, child rearing, politics, travel, style — and a love for divey ethnic restaurants. He is one of the most brilliant people I’ve known, open, affectionate, thoughtful and physically gorgeous in all his points of reference.

But no matter how much I tried to stay true to my belief that anything is possible in love, there was no escaping that I am three years out of my marriage while he is a mere three weeks. This guy’s giddy openness about starting life anew reminded me of just how I felt at that juncture. I also sensed a vulnerability and neediness that was woefully familiar — in this man I could see myself two years ago when I, too, first ventured into post-divorce dating. It evoked being on a third date with my own rebound boyfriend. Anxiously, across the table in a dimly lit West Village restaurant, I stammered: “Are you dating anyone else? Because I’m not.” My barely salvaged heart could barely stand the risk of being dinged yet again.

Today, I feel differently about emotional risk, heartbreak and dating. On the one hand, bring it on! You don’t get to the good stuff in relationships without putting yourself out there emotionally. But now I don’t feel quite as vulnerable and needy. I am feeling strong and free and optimistic about love in a different, more grounded way — one that allows me to see obvious love landmines before I enthusiastically dance on one – Gangnam style. As such, I couldn’t figure out how to make my own phase of divorce jibe with that of my recent amour.

So in a breakup email exchange, I shared more or less what I said here. I added that I hoped we could stay connected in some way, keep open the possibility of finding each other in other phases of our journeys. What I got in response was one of the most touching compliments I’ve received in a very long time. It said:

“I can’t think of anyone I would rather have lost my divorce virginity to.”


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  1. Honoree Corder
    Honoree Corder02-09-2013

    I think we are actually more vulnerable after a marriage, especially if when that marriage ended we were relieved instead of heartbroken. Now we’re ready for love only to find out we weren’t really ready. Everything happens for a reason that serves you, even though you don’t know the good at work at the time. Hang in there!

  2. Emma

    Lots of sage advice in a short comment. Thanks Honorree!

  3. Schylla38

    Is this something that’s mandatory? I’ve been single for 5 years and I just got back into the dating game about 2-3 months ago. Should I just have a fling to get it over with? What if that’s not what I want?

  4. Marie

    I can so relate to the pain you describe about your first post-divorce relationship. I have just come out of a 2 year relationship (post divorce) that has left me on my knees. The split was mutual but we had committed to doing the necessary work on ourselves in an attempt to come together again. Within 2 weeks of our break he began dating another woman (she asked him out).

    He was married for 17 years, I was married for 13. Our relationship had struggles and I did question the long term with him… but I was willing to work hard to overcome my issues to try and make a future with him. It’s been 7 weeks since I found out he was with someone else. I am devastated. At 44 years old I have never felt pain like this. The end of my marriage was a slow process and my ex and I are still very good friends. This man has completely walked out of my life with no contact. His daughters and family (EVEN his ex-wife told me how sorry she is) contact me regularly to tell me they miss me…

    I am a professional with a demanding and rewarding career, 2 beautiful boys I adore and wonderful friends. Nothing seems to have any meaning for me anymore. I feel so abandoned, betrayed and rejected.

    • Emma

      Oh Marie. I wish I could hug you! I so know that feeling…. for me it was a mix of grief attached to that particular relationship but even more so, sorrow from my divorce that had not even come close to being processed (who am I kidding, I still haven’t worked that out!!). Plus, I think I was a bit smug: people were snotty and said I would have trouble meeting men as a single mom, then I found a really great one and I secretly thumbed my nose at the naysayers. Then I felt like the big, single looser they warned me I would be, plus I faced eternity alone.

      All I can say is that like all emotion, these will pass. It will get better. It sounds like you have a full life to keep you busy and distracted. But also lean into your grief and process it. And then you will date. And find love. And move forward.

      Lots and lots and lots of love to you. Emma

    • Shauna

      The pain. The pain. Nothing like I dealt with after my divorce. This is my first and only relationship after my divorce. I was married for 14 years. Divorced for almost two. I didn’t want the divorce but I accept it was a good thing. I realize that this rebound relationship was not perfect. But the feelings! The crying! It’s been two months and I sob every morning on my way to work. Thank you for sharing this. I really appreciate others’ responses. My rebound was so infatuated with me. It was awesome. We just had fun because we didn’t share a life. With my ex husband we shared responsibility of Children and jobs and money issues. Where was the fun? Buried. I may be grieving this. Thank you for helping me see this.

  5. Marie

    Thank you Emma. Each day brings a new challenge but I’m going to persevere. Your website brings me hope that this nightmare will end and life will again be happy.


    • Emma

      Marie – I just love hearing from women from you. Please keep reading and feel free to reach out directly if I can help!

  6. Marie

    Thanks Emma,

    Just an update for anyone looking for hope.Emma, you are bang on about processing the pain from divorce, particularly after the case. It has been 10 weeks since my breakup and along the way I’ve realized a big part of the grieving process is coming to terms with earlier losses/tragedies that were pushed away. With the help of a good therapist (2 actually!) I am understanding the grief, and I can say the clouds have cleared to some degree.

    For anyone going through the pain, please know time really is your friend and your enemy. Talk about dichotomy!! It does get easier. During my deepest sorrow I truly believed the pain would never cease, but clearly this was a life lesson to be learned at 44 years old. The learning process never ends.

    Sites like this can really comfort tortured souls. Thank you Emma!


    • Emma

      Thanks Marie – I remember feeling like the pain would not end. A friend said, casually: “Life is hard, then it gets better.” Duh! But in my misery I had completely forgotten that. Thanks for sharing and joining us here. You give me comfort, too!

  7. Jessica

    Emma, thanks for writing this. I read it more than a week ago on Huffington Post. I referenced the HF article and linked to it in my own blog about my post-divorce “rebound.” I’ve come back to your article several times and read some of your others as well. Feel free to give mine a look if you like.

    Thank you again!

  8. Andrew

    I just did a search on post divorce rebound and found this article.

    I broke my heart with a post-divorce rebound. I became so infatuated, needy and overwhelmed with anxiety over the future of the relationship. So I did what I had to for my sake and hers. It lasted 6 beautiful months full of concerts, dinners, movie nights, and a 4 day cruise we just took two weeks ago. I found I was using her to fulfill a void and I knew I needed to learn to handle that void on my own. I had too much respect for her to drag her down into my unresolved issues. So I am going to work on me, and who knows what the future holds but hearts and thoughts fade. Luckily she had been divorced for 5 years and knew exactly what I was going through. This is the most gut retching emotional experience. I am seeking counseling but I was glad to find some relief though this article. Thank you

    • Emma

      Hi Andrew – you have such a mature attitude on this. I’m impressed. But what went wrong? Sounds like you have such a wonderful relationship with a great woman. Do you really want to let it go so you can “fix” yourself? None of us ever resolves everything. I just want to make sure you’re not just scared of getting hurt again and ending it too soon.

  9. Kat

    Andrew, you and I share almost an identical story, and Emma, I thank you for this article as I try to reflect and recover from my own post-divorce rebound relationship. I agree with Andrew’s assessment of his situation and his need to pull away from the new relationship. I, too, dove into a passionate, wonderful relationship with a man who seemed to distract me from that void I’ve always sought to fill with romantic relationships. But we (and I mean people like me) who seek validation from others, who never find peace and fulfillment from our own ventures, who tune out the voice of reason again and again, we need to take this precious time after a divorce to engage in asking ourselves the difficult questions of why we are looking for self-fulfillment in someone else and never seeking it first within ourselves.

    If anyone has suggestions for how to make better use of this time, feel free to advise.

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