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3 things I wish I knew about those first relationships after divorce

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Eighteen months after my marriage ended, I jumped into a heady, sexually intense year-long relationship with a fellow writer and parent who was 20 years older than I was. In hindsight, it was no surprise it ended — his kids were grown, mine were tiny, our lives were at different points. But that did not make me love him any less, and did nothing to tamper the absolute devastation that pummeled me when we broke up.

Even months after we split, Sundays when my kids are with their dad and I would have otherwise spent with my ex-boyfriend, I instead engaged in unseemly behavior like walking around the streets of Manhattan while bawling uncontrollably, listening to John Legend on a loop, and reading the Wikipedia page on Carrie and Mr. Big.

I was a steaming-hot mess, deeply in a painful heartbreak like I’d never experienced — even more than what I endured in my divorce in many ways.

Not only was all this embarrassing, it was also incongruous with the events at hand. Something else was at play.

It took me more than five years of blogging about single mothers and connecting here and on social media with literally hundred of thousands of moms who are single by way of divorce, choice, separation, or other, to really understand what was happening to me.

Turns out, this pain is specific to that first post-divorce/relationship breakup, and it is universally brutal (but worth it).

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Here are three things I wish I knew about dating after divorce:

1. First thing: It can be intense 

That first big relationship after divorce is BIG, and DEEP and very sexually intense. 

2. Second thing: It can hurt 

The second lesson I learned about dating after divorce is that first relationship HURTS LIKE HELL when it ends. 

3. Third thing: It can be fun

Final big dating-after-divorce lesson: Dating is new and fresh and fun and exciting at this phase of life. You invent the rules! Try anything you like! 

Here’s what I wish I knew about first relationships after divorce:

Understanding your first relationship after divorce

What are the stages of a relationship after divorce?

After a divorce, relationship stages are similar but different than other relationships:

  • Stage 1: infatuation + intense sex
  • Stage 2: love 
  • Stage 3: turmoil — post-divorce relationships can be really hard, especially if there is co-parenting involved
  • Stage 4: (more typically) heartbreak
  • Stage 5: (sometimes) lifelong partnership 

Does the first relationship after divorce last?

It seems to be a universal experience: When that first relationship after divorce ends it just kills. When that relationship ended, it hurt like a motherfucker! Holy shit did that hurt. Ouchie!! Owwie ow ow ow! Mommy! Make it stop! Please, ow ow owie ouchie ow I can’t take any more!!!

It took me a long time, and a lot of interaction with other, divorced people to figure out why post-divorce rebounds are akin to your body dripping with infected hangnails while, at the same time, a rusty scythe strikes your guts. Again. And again. And again.

Even more than an ending love, all that pain and torment is really about contending with unresolved heartbreak from divorce. You are likely as I was: needing 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.

Divorce often robs us of the opportunity to mourn the romantic relationship itself because there is so much practical and logistical hell to contend with at the time of the split. Including:

Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?

No! Not all first relationships after divorce end. But most do. That’s OK!

5 tips for dating after divorce

Why are relationships so hard after divorce?

Post-divorce relationships can be hard for a number of reasons:

  • You and/or your partner are nursing broken hearts and trust issues from past relationships
  • Lots of divorced people are not good at relationships to start with 
  • Co-parenting can be great, but also messy with a step-parent in the mix 
  • One or both of you may need to have some fun first — maybe casual encounters, FWB, younger-man/older-woman dating, or any kind of adult kink.
  • Parties involved are older, more set in their ways, and have more years under their belts to accumulate baggage and emotional wounds 

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First relationship and sex after divorce

After my post-divorce rebound, I needed another rebound relationship. I happened to be his first post-divorce rebound relationship. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, especially after fear that I would never find love after divorce.

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My first serious relationship after divorce

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 hurt. 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.

Falling in love too soon after divorce

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.

Divorce rates for second and third marriages

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. 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.”

What to know about dating while going through a divorce

Can you find true love after divorce?

Answer: Yes.

One data point: Me.

I separated from my husband when I was 33. I was pregnant and had a toddler. A year and a half later I started to date. I dated like a maniac and had a blast meeting all kinds of wonderful, mediocre and weird men. Tons of sex, fell in love once or twice, made some new friends and a bunch of stories. Three years ago I fell in love with a wonderful man who loves me, loves my kids, and wants to spend his life with me.

I’m not special. I’m a little fat, pretty loud, frequently grumpy and fickle.

Is love different after divorce?

Love is different after divorce just like love is different after any major life experience. 

Love after divorce can be more intense if you are coming off of years of a loveless, unhappy or sexless marriage. You may appreciate what you have now compared with your spouse. 

Love can be more complicated if either party is still dealing with their divorce — logistically, legally or emotionally. Any kids in the mix can also make things more wonderful — seeing your new partner love and care for your kids, and vice versa — as  well as messier as you try to parent together.

Dating a widower: 6 things you need to know

Should you get back together with an ex after a breakup?

Lots of people do, with a lot of success. Here are reasons not to get back together with an ex after breakup:

  • You want totally different things and you believe you will change him.
  • You want totally different things and you are ready to make major, soul-crushing compromises to make it work.
  • Abuse.
  • You know in your heart is wrong but you’re so lonely. Or horny.
  • You tell yourself you’ll just hook up with no feelings involved.
  • You’re miserable with him, if comfortable.

Bottom line: First relationships after divorce can be tough, and enter them with your eyes wide open

You’re going to date, have sex and maybe even fall in love — go for it! But you are older, maybe wiser, maybe more broken, and your life and your partner’s life are more complicated than before. Enjoy — and watch out for red flags.

What are the stages of a relationship after divorce?

After a divorce, relationship stages are similar but different than other relationships:
– Stage 1: infatuation + intense sex
– Stage 2: love 
– Stage 3: turmoil — post-divorce relationships can be really hard, especially if there is co-parenting involved
– Stage 4: (more typically) heartbreak
– Stage 5: (sometimes) lifelong partnership 

Does the first relationship after divorce last?

You are likely as I was: needing 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.

Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?

No! Not all first relationships after divorce end. But most do. That’s OK!

Why are relationships so hard after divorce?

Post-divorce relationships can be hard for a number of reasons:
– You and/or your partner are nursing broken hearts and trust issues from past relationships
– Lots of divorced people are not good at relationships to start with 
– Co-parenting can be great, but also messy with a step-parent in the mix 
– Parties involved are older, more set in their ways, and have more years under their belts to accumulate baggage and emotional wounds 

Can you find true love after divorce?

Answer: Yes.
One data point: Me.

Is love different after divorce?

Love is different after divorce just like love is different after any major life experience.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

246 Comments

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So, I found this article after trying to understand why and how my wife that I’m separated from got into a relationship so quickly. Yes! I’m a dad/husband but I found this article to be incredibly insightful.

I was the one that broke up with my wife and asked for a divorce. However, 3 weeks after I moved out of the house she entered into a new relationship with a guy that is the opposite of her. I fought for her back before she got into this new relationship but she didn’t want me back. It’s completely understandable though. I asked for a divorce 2 weeks after I had our 3rd kid because I was depressed.

It’s been 7 months since she’s been with her rebound and I still can’t over it. I broke my own heart and I’m still dealing with it. Can someone help?

Omg this sounds just like what happened to me. I’m struggling to deal with it too. Even though I originally ended it as I was depressed too… it’s a horrible situation and I send you all my love and thoughts. We will get over this in time I’m sure. Stay strong x

I’m the rebound I guess, my bf is 21, and we started dating two weeks after he said he was leaving his wife because she cheated on him. On our first date our first kiss was him just asking for a kiss casually in the car.. kind of awkward but I moved on. Two days later he asked me to be his girlfriend, which I’m this 19 year old girl who says yes not thinking too deep into it. fast forward he goes back to where he lives (2000 miles away) and we have flown back and forth every two months to see each other. Throughout this time we’ve talked about marriage and kids as well as him wanting me to move across the country to be with him. Granted out of the past 8 months we’ve only spent month total with each other. Arguing every week, stressing out, him being super clingy, me not and getting annoyed, idk I just need help. I don’t know what to do. I was super happy and excited at first but now i’m just not feeling it. He’s my best friend and I feel like ending this and “giving up” would break him and make me seem like a coward or a bad person. A part of me feels like he needs to heal and learn to be content with himself but is it 8 months too late?

I continue to work on myself, but continuously deal with being what I call myself…”the Divorce Fluffer”. I am 50 years old this year, and have been divorced going on 19 years (Solely caring for & supporting my 2 daughters. The various traumas I have experienced through life would amazed your Psyche…but answer me this, Isn’t everyone always on the rebound?” So we are looking for a needle in a haystack? Which is a man that he himself has healed long enough, & has had his rebound fling? and secure enough with himself and ready to admit to the world he is now ready to date? I unfortunately meet men that lie to them selves & to me their readiness, their feelings or level of recovery from their ex. Finding a genuine person is becoming more of the challenge I find in the dating world. I suppose that would be a sign of weakness in some ways. UGH!

This material is interesting and substantive, but it’s about the rebounder, not the reboundee. THAT’S a special hell. Where can I read about that?

I’m the rebound. I met Jonny just as he’d moved into a rented place of his own after a couple of years of trying to patch up his marriage after he’d cheated on his wife. I’d also come out of a horrible relationship. He was the antithesis to my ex. He made me laugh and he had that slightly shy, unsure of himself charm, the opposite to my domineering slightly manipulative ex. I knew it wasn’t a great idea and i tried to slap the brakes. But he’d persuade me round based on the emotions you describe above. I knew I wasn’t getting enough and there were some poor behaviours but he was trying and we had a great connection. Same interests, same values, similar sense of humor. But it was too much for him. He would say he’s not ready, I deserve more etc but then also wouldn’t let go. And he made me cross but I cared/ loved him so it was hard for me to let go too. He said he’d come back. So we were on and off. I eventually forced the proper end. And I miss him v much. I think he’s getting stronger and healing better without me in the pic – which is fantastic and I’m so happy for him. But my own loss obv hurts too. I did go in with my eyes open and realised the v low probability of it working out. But I guess I’m a romantic too and let my rational self be overruled. I did communicate a lot of this to him so he knew the score (ish – he’d want to influence some important life decisions of mine, but without commitment!) but in the end, of course it’s too much. For both of us.

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