Post-divorce rebound: A requisite heart pummeling

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.

Listen to my Like a Mother episode about this topic:

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.

Related: Why post-divorce breakups hurt so damned bad

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.”

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.

22 thoughts on “Post-divorce rebound: A requisite heart pummeling

  1. 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. 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?

  3. 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.

    1. 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

    2. 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.

      1. I know hoe you feel, I was married for 32 years dated this man for 1 year ., we laughed and had fun. Ihad never been with any other guy but my husband. My rebound was amazing , but he to broke my heart, it’s worse then my divorce of 32 years and I don’t understand why.

  4. 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.


  5. 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!


    1. 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!

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. Thanks for this perspective, Kat. Maybe the answer is to fill your newfound time with something that is meaningful to you – a creative endeavor, physical training of some kind (rock climbing, dance, yoga), or building a business.

    2. Kat you have just described my exact current situation! I was married for 2 years to my husband (together for a total of 9 years) and 5 months out of marriage i unexpectedly fell for an amazing Canadian man who is living in Australia where i live. After 2 months of an amazing and fun time he has decided to move back home to Canada and the thought of not having him around terrifies me at the moment as i have just 1 strong friend remaining in my life after my divorce and the thought of losing another person i have bonded with so quickly and strongly is just awful.

      However after reading your comment i now see that whilst i’m happy to have made an amazing friend for life, i am upset about him moving because he filled a void of friendship in my life when i needed it most and I am now setting out on a huge mission to heal myself (alone) before i jump into anything else.

      Gosh does it hurt like hell still (i only found out on Tuesday that he’s moving) but i feel better from having read this entire article and in particular your comment.

  8. I was separated. I traveled. I met the love of my life. He was in an estranged marriage. We struggled. We were soul mates. It was long distance (USA-Europe) he broke us up; we got back together. Again and again. Because of his family, his kids, his job. His wife always knew there was no lying involved. My kids loved him. We all loved him. He was imperfectly human, yet perfect for me. For the first time in 53 years I knew where I wanted to be. He helped support me financially. We were so totally in love. I needed to be in USA for my teenage boys, I couldn’t be in EU full time. We worked it out, I thought. He left me 7 months ago. I have not recovered. I am inconsolable still. He is with someone else, someone easier to be with. He got everything he wanted; divorced peacefully, a new very big job, a new luxurious home in EU, and his kids are fine. I got nothing. I have nothing left to give or to feel. I am ruined emotionally and psychologically. He has never contacted me and never will. He doesn’t miss me. I was a tool to get him out of a lonely marriage. I can’t let go of what I thought was my future and the only man I ever really loved. I have teenagers who don’t fill the void, a small distant family and a few friends. Dating is awful. No one compares to him. I miss everything. I miss feeling alive. The financial stress is crushing me, my needing to accept reality is impossible, the trite advice from friends and therapists or websites feels cruelly inappropriate. I am without goals, a career, nor hope. The fact he could walk away and never ever turn back is absolutely killing me. I feel dead.

  9. P.S. he is with someone else in the city his lives in. She is my age approximately, has a big job in the same industry, no kids, an American education (so they can connect on that too) her own money and time to love him exactly how he wants. He got it all. Now he is with her. I am alone mourning the loss, the loss is all mine, he got the gain. Why wasn’t true love enough for him when it was everything for me. I can’t recover. The men here are abysmal. I am alone 90% of the time. Nothing takes the place and I see now that god favors some and forsakes others. I am in the later category. I thought I had won the lottery, everyone was so happy for us, now they just turn away. Without him I am nothing, just another 50+ woman alone with no currency; a successful man/partner, a family, financial success. How do I possibly navigate my way out of this conflagration.

  10. I just experienced my post divorce rebound. It really does hurt & kind of sucks the air out of you. Putting myself bs k together one day at a time.

  11. Reading this blog and all the comments makes me realize what exactly it is i am going through and really see it for what it is. I am mourning the loss of my rebound. It was too much, too soon and since he has been divorced longer than me, he knew exactly how vulnerable I will or am getting so he told me he was scared and since we are long distance and both have kids we can’t really do much about our situation.
    I totally get it and under “normal” circumstances I would not be acting like this and be so needy and anxious but he has been filling a void in my life while it was going through some crazy big changes and because of him, I felt excitement, giddy and sexual again. I haven’t had these feelings for years. No wonder I want to hang on to it so badly.
    We really have an amazing connection and are so attracted to each other but I guess in todays world this is just not enough. Does this mean he is just not that into me? Am I feeling insecure because I am scared to have to start all over yet again? Dating is a serious commitment and hard work. Getting to know someone else is actual work so am I just scared to let go of all of the effort I have already put into this or am I really in love? I am a hopeless romantic and Romeo and Juliet are my kind a people….
    Is it naive for me to think we could be friends and maybe something will happen in the future? Shall I just move on and take this for what it was? I guess setting boundaries for the re-bounds is necessary for reducing heart ache and grieve. I am still hurting and want this to be over with ASAP

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