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.”
“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.