Post-divorce dating: Are you acting like a stupid teenager because that’s the last time you dated?

I was chatting with a friend whose wife recently left him for her boss. Needless to say, he’s pretty down.

“No matter the circumstances, divorce takes its toll on your self-esteem,” I told him. “When you’re ready, I highly recommend dating. There is nothing better than a fling with someone you have great chemistry with to remind you that you’re an attractive, lovable person.”

His response?

“That’s not my thing. I was never interested in hooking up with women. I always looked for love and companionship.”

He met his wife 11 years ago. He’s 40 now.

If you want to move on from divorce and heartbreak you have to let go of who you were before you married in the first place. If you want to enjoy dating now, you have to let go of how you dated back then.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: Dating after divorce is a totally different and completely better experience than last time around. A lot has happened since you were dating back in the day. You got married, for one. Probably had kids, and went through a divorce, for crying out loud! Consider all the other life events that you contended with — job and home changes, the passing of loved ones, a Republican administration or two. All kinds of joys and heartbreak. You’re different now.

It’s normal to channel our pre-marriage selves as a point of reference when venturing out into the world as a newly single person. But doing so puts you in danger of being stuck in the past, and missing out on growth and fun and love.

Consider a woman I’ll call Amanda — the fiance of an old friend. Amanda was a teenage mom who by all accounts is a success story, raising a bright, beautiful daughter — now a college student — and building a successful career. But now, at age 37, she is in her first serious relationship since she was 19. “I had to learn how to be in an adult relationship,” Amanda said. Tensions arose with her fiance when she failed to understand why he wanted to spend time with friends, or needed own space in the house they share. “I was stuck in the last time I was involved with someone — and that was when I was a kid,” she said.

Getting stuck in old visions of yourself keeps people stuck in marriages they would rather leave. One longtime girlfriend listened — a little judgmentally, I felt — as I told her about my recent dating exploits, and how I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to find love again. “Oh, I could never do that,” she said, echoing my male friend. “I never felt comfortable casually dating.” This woman met her husband when she was 20 — 20 years ago! How does she know what her dating style would be now?

Love and romance are no different than anything else in life — you never know what you are capable of until faced with adversity. During and following my own divorce I had zero interest in dating. It was the furthest thing from my mind! I also never considered that I would be capable of financially supporting my children alone, or the professional successes I’ve achieved in the past few years.

The takeaway is that you might delight yourself. You can find new ways of being with men. You can find better ways of dating. But you have to leave behind your old notions of who you are. Once you do, you just might find new love in this new stage of life.


Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

8 thoughts on “Post-divorce dating: Are you acting like a stupid teenager because that’s the last time you dated?

  1. Good stuff, Emma, as always, It is definitely different dating as a teenager or even in your early 20s as it is after divorce in your 30s or 40s. This arrested development because of having a long-term relationship or marriage can mean people have evolved in other ways, just not in terms of dating and relationships. I love how you have such a great time with dating. If I’m ever dating again, I will absolutely take your approach!

  2. I totally agree with you on this. I have made a lot of friends over the years and most recently I dated someone where we became friends. After being married for 17 years I tried to explain to him how the dating age is different now than prior to your marriage. Flings are common, sex is common (no matter what people try to tell you).

  3. Dating is soooo different and sooooo much better. As I am the master of my own domain, I have no expectations from a man other than he treat me with respect. I no longer have a “type” or a list of must haves. I am looking to meet nice people, have fun and yes have some of that kind of fun too. I don’t know when it happened, but guys today seem much more attentive to a women’s needs than 15-20 years ago. This is not an age thing either as I have dated guys 10-12 yrs +/- my age. Ladies, once you get over the crap of a divorce you start to find yourself again and it is a ton of fun. I remember the day it happened for me… I was at book club and a guy sate down next to me andwhile talking his hand brushed my arm – My body went – WHOA.

    1. @CAann: “Ladies, once you get over the crap of a divorce you start to find yourself again and it is a ton of fun.” YUP!

      And my moment was on the subway: I looked around and there were cute dudes everywhere I looked! I couldn’t believe what I had been missing for so long. And guess what? Some even returned my gawking stares.

  4. Great post! What I’m finding, a year on from separation, is that I’m not ready to settle down yet and it’s almost socially acceptable for men and women to date two or even three people at a time. It took me a while to get used to the idea but – as long as you have no great expectations for the next long and happy marriage – you can have great fun.

    1. So true – dating multiple people until you explicitly declare otherwise is indeed what is going on right now. A lot has changed in dating since I was on the market 10 years ago. And I find it tons of fun :)

  5. While I agree with the later comments in your post about things being different as an adult, I have to say that I, too, am not particularly comfortable with casual dating and/or flings and if people aren’t comfortable with that that’s their choice. The more introverted amongst us find dating quite energy sapping and I think it’s important to recognise and respect that.

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