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.
Here’s what I wish I knew about dating after divorce:
- How long should you wait to date after a divorce?
- How do I start dating after divorce?
- Your first relationship after divorce
- First relationship and sex after divorce
- Why is dating after divorce so hard?
- Can you find true love after divorce?
How long should you wait to date after divorce?
The general rule of thumb for doing anything major after divorce is: Wait a year. But nothing magical happens after a year. Also: Dating is not major, unless you make it major.
It is fine if you want to date casually, get laid, have fun. But for the love of god don’t do any committing — no moving in with a man, no getting pregnant or buying real estate together!
Read this post: After divorce you get a year to be a hot mess
Also, the answer to this question depends on where you live. For example, in many places where you can easily get divorced within 30 days, it is taboo to date while legally married. However, in New York where I live, everyone dates while they are separated, but legally married, because it takes FOREVER to get the paperwork finalized.
How do I start dating after divorce?
- First, set some guidelines for yourself and understand that an immediate spark over mojitos after work does not mean you should make a serious commitment to anyone, anytime soon! Dating is not about finding a husband. It is about meeting new people, exploring romantic possibilities and learning about yourself. Hopefully, it also includes some fun and good sex.
- If you’re looking for men to meet, ask friends to set you up, consider online dating or go ahead and ask out that guy at the coffee shop you’ve been crushing on.
- Pay attention to how you feel. This is a process, and you will be working through a lot of feelings and baggage. Are you really angry at all the men you meet? Feel so vulnerable every time someone pays you attention? Terrified of being left (again)? All normal!
- Pay attention to how men react to you. Do any themes emerge? Do they tend to find you clingy, or angry at men overall? Are you stand-offish, or prickly? Don’t dismiss the entire gender, but instead use this as an opportunity to discover things about yourself that will help you heal and attract the type of relationship you are looking for.
- Be open to different types of men. Again, this is not a marriage hunt, but dating! Date against type, both in terms of profession and physical characteristics you tend to attract. Heck, date against political party!
- Be open to new sexual experiences.
- Safe sex, ladies.
- Don’t expect immediate chemistry — or for a lightening bolt to hit you when you meet the one. We’re not in a Disney movie, after all. And how many divorce started with “I knew he was the one!”
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Your first relationship after divorce
Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?
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:
- Your children’s care and feelings
- Worry you will be be destitute
- Worry your children will be forever neurotic/hateful of you/incapable of love
- Real estate transactions
- Relocation — including deciding whether to keep or sell the house in the divorce
- Lost relationships with in-laws
- Lost relationships with mutual friends
- Divvying of personal items (make sure to sell your diamond engagement ring and don’t make it part of the divvying)
- Removing names from bank accounts and mortgages and wills, credit cards, utility accounts and car notes
- Managing your debt and credit
- Acclimating to visitation schedules
- Acclimating to living alone
- Figuring out how to live on far less money (how to make and stick to your single-mom budget)
- Figuring out how to make way more money
- Fear of finding love after divorce
- And on and on
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.
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.
Does the first relationship after divorce last?
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.
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.
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.”
Why is dating after divorce so hard?
The idea of dating after a divorce can be paralyzing for so many people — men and women alike.
First, you are traumatized by your divorce, no matter how wanted or amicable it was. Divorce is a big fucking deal, and it can take a long time to get over. Totally normal.
Second, you are afraid of getting hurt. You are licking your wounds from your breakup, and are very timid about making yourself vulnerable to that again. 100% healthy.
Third, you likely have not dated for a long time — decades even. You worry you are unattractive, unsexy, fat and out-of-touch with the dating world. Online dating? WHAT?! Getting naked with a man at this stage of life? HUH!? There are so many toxic messages about dating after divorce, or dating later in life, it is no wonder you are hesitant.
In reality, you are just out of practice.
Fourth, you don’t trust yourself. Your picker was off when you committed to your husband, you likely stayed through some horrible behavior, and you don’t trust your own instincts — especially when it comes to men.
Divorce counseling: Why you should consider post-divorce therapy
Post-divorce counseling can be an excellent way to help you understand the patterns of your marriage, your dating patterns now, understand and process the grief of your breakup, and help you envision and seek out a healthy, happy new relationship.
LeNaya Smith Crawford, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Atlanta, said that therapy is critical to help you find a healthy new relationship.
“Understanding what went wrong in your marriage, the role you played, and making peace with your ex are all part of the inner work needed to find a healthy relationship,” Crawfor says. “Dating from a place of hurt and negatively will affect your new relationship and can cause history to repeat itself. Don’t skip the counseling — it will help your next relationship be happier and healthier!”
“Remember that your kids want you to be happy too (even if on the surface they are crying for you to stay home). You need a life and a partner; having that will make you be a better mom, not a worse one,” said Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a relationship counselor at the Baltimore Therapy Center in Baltimore, Md.
I’m not the first person who has suggested to you therapy at this stage of life. Therapy is not a silver-bullet of personal growth and healing for everyone, but studies find that quality counseling will help you recognize unhealthy patterns, grieve a loss, and move through trauma.
It can be very helpful to work through your grief and insecurities before dipping your toe into dating too soon, which can only deepen old wounds.
How to date after divorce at 30, 40 or 50
Warning: You will receive all kinds of toxic messages about your chances of meeting someone after divorce. Messages like:
There are no good guys out there at this stage.
All the great men are already taken.
No one wants a divorced, single mom. Used goods!
If you believe these messages they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You manifest what you think.
Fact: There are just as many divorced, heartbroken, single dads as there are single moms. Men are humans, and they also want deep connection, or fun, or commitment, depending on the phase of their journey — just like you!
Is it hard to meet someone after divorce?
This is a common question, which really cloaks your fear that you are unlovable. Millions of people date, fall in love, fall in lust, get into relationships and even marry after breakups and divorce. Many of them have kids, all of them are wounded, human and lovable. Many divorced people prefer to date other divorced people — you get each other!
Can you find true love after divorce?
One data point: Me.
I separated from my husband when I was 33 and pregnant with 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 feel 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.
Dating sites for single moms
Check out a dating app. This is the easiest, cheapest way to get your mojo back, and get a feel for what is happening out there. All you need to do is connect with one cute guy or girl to get that spark going again. That is where I met my boyfriend.
For finding a serious relationship, a boyfriend or a husband, eHarmony is the leader:
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- Apps for iOS and Android
- 100% of members are proven to be real (no catfishing or married people!)
- Free version
- For paid memberships, eHarmony has one of the lowest prices.
- 3-month free guarantee
- A+ Better Business Bureau rating
- Video dating
As of May 2021, eharmony’s price with the discount is:
- Free basic account: $0
- 3-month membership: $44.96/mo << MOST POPULAR
- 6-month membership: $17.96/mo
- 12-month membership: $14.96/mo
Matchmaker sites for single parents
There is a reason matchmakers have been in use since the dawn of human sexuality — they work!
Matchmakers tend to be very expensive, with no guarantees. It’s Just Lunch is different.
I did a lot of research on It’s Just Lunch, and went through the onboarding process, which you can listen to in audio, and read the transcript. I am so impressed — if I weren’t in a serious relationship, I’d 100% use this service.
Here is a deep review of It’s Just Lunch, which is the largest matchmaking service in the world, and searches its network of literally millions of singles to find you quality dates. Here is what I like about it:
- Guaranteed number of dates. They quote you a custom price that includes a fixed number of dates over a certain period of time (you can pause your engagement with penalty for any reason — including finding love 😍).
- Both parties pay and invest in the service — so everyone is equally invested in finding a quality relationship (and can afford the service)
- 2 free one-on-one personal dating coaching sessions
- Daters tend to be in their 40s and older, so lots of successful men who have kids and are open to moms with kids and successful careers
- You are assigned a designated matchmaker who goes through rigorous training, and has years of experience — so their intuition is high!
- It’s Just Lunch is 28 years old, reports 3 million first dates (!) and thousands of relationships and marriages
In this post I lay out the pros and cons of matchmaking experiences, and you can hear for yourself as I go through what you can expect in your first experience with an It’s Just Lunch dating specialist.
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.
- 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.
Is the first relationship after divorce always a rebound?
I think what your asking is: Is the first relationship after a divorce doomed to end? Will my new relationship after my divorce last forever and ever?
Technically, the first relationship after your divorce is, in fact, a rebound relationship. Some rebound relationships end in flames, while others last for eternity. Keep reading for more …
Being the new girlfriend after divorce
If you are the first person your man dated after (or while!) his divorce, her are some unique challenges you may face:
- Jealousy from his crazy-ass ex-wife
- Jealousy from his understandably hurt ex-wife
- Adjustments from his kids
- Adjustments from his friends and extended family
- Managing his own grief and baggage
- Your own understandable insecurity — Is he on the rebound? Are you being used? Does he still love his wife? Will the kids hate you — and result in you being dumped?
Rebound relationships are a real, and necessary thing. There has to be a first for everything — including post-divorce relationship!
Rebound relationship after divorce statistics
Divorcing people are also forced to face the loss of dreams of family life, and what the rest of your life will be like. And there is a ton of fear about all of it.
All this upheaval and stress can leave little room to deal with simple loss of love. When you are contending with a 360-degree life barf, there is scant space to sit quietly and feel the weighty grief of no longer spending nights with a person who you at least once — likely still — loved very much. Not just the absence of somebody. The absence of him.
Which is where the rebound breakup and all its gory hurt come in. If you’re like me, that relationship was just that. Someone who I cared very much about, knew my kids, but was a lover — no more. He was not my partner. We were emotionally, intellectually, sexually intertwined. But our lives were completely separate. We owned nothing together (though I’m still kind of annoyed with myself for never retrieving that La Perla nighty from his apartment, but I’ll live), and did not even share friends. When we broke up there was nothing to contend with but grief.
Which is another reason why we do not mourn the love for our husbands immediately after divorce. Divorce often comes after months and years of a really unhappy relationship. By the time the four-way lawyers meetings start, you’ve forgotten about the emotional, intellectual and sexual connection you once shared with that man. It was likely missing for a very long time — which is exactly why it is so intoxicating when we find that connection again in a rebound. And, if you’re like me, you consciously appreciate those mutual feelings so very much more — which only adds to the scythe bludgeoning once it falls.
As far as divorce rebound relationship success rates — I couldn’t find any statistics, but did find this about remarriages:
U.S. divorce rates:
41-50% first marriages
60-67% second marriages.
73-74% for third marriages
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Nothing so easy as catching a heart on the rebound.
Mary Russell Mitford
Rebound relationship stages
Generally, there are two main phases of a rebound relationship:
1. Elation and infatuation.
In this first phase of rebound relationships, you likely feel so damned happy to feel a connection, be touched, have sex and be cared for. You had felt like you would never feel that spark, or that anyone would be attracted to you — and now both are actually happening! It is amazing! You were wrong about all the bad things and this gives you hope for everything you could ever imagine!
The glee can be so intense you feel like it is love. It could turn into love eventually — but it absolutely is not love right now. Trust me on this. You are not in love.
2. Constant comparison to your ex and your previous relationship — good and bad both.
Imagine that you ate rice and beans every single day for your whole life. The only food memory you have is of rice and beans, and because everyone you ever knew only ate R&B, and the only food available in your universe was rice and beans, to you, food was rice and beans. Maybe you loved rice and beans and were cool with this, but maybe you hated rice and beans and craved something else.
And then one day you eat a cantaloupe. All you would do was drool in wonder over this cantaloupe. Compare cantaloupe to rice and beans. Your mind is fucking blown. Cantaloupe, cantaloupe, cantaloupe. Sweet, juicy, pretty color, creamy texture.
But you’d also start to wonder if you were going to die because cantaloupe doesn’t have protein and you sorta missed rice and beans. It’s complicated. They’re both good. You like both (though cantaloupe is better) bit you get confused sometimes. Sometimes you are sure that your life is 1,000X better now that you have cantaloupe. But sometimes a bowl of R&B would be good — for old times. Rice and beans wasn’t so bad, right? Then you remember that one time with rice and beans and you’re not really sure.
3. Devastating heartbreak that feels like it will never fucking end.
Or, you stay together more or less happily with your new dude — though relationships are usually complicated, especially at this late stage now that everyone is so wounded.
4. Eventually, you get over the heartbreak and move on. It might seem impossible now, but you will feel better.
Why do rebound relationships feel like love?
When you are in a breakup, you feel an intense romantic connection to your ex — but the energy is negative. You hate your ex.
When you find a rebound relationship, you also feel an intense romantic connection to your new lover — and the energy is so positive! In our culture, we describe an intense, positive romantic energy as love.
That is a fallacy.
Are rebound relationships good or bad?
Rebound relationships are necessary — someone has to be your first relationship and sex after a breakup or divorce, right?
Just don’t fuck up your life for this person, at least not for a good 3 years. Practice:
- Birth control
- Separate residences
- No marriages or comingling finances
- STD checks
Can rebound relationships work? How long does a relationship last?
100% absolutely people fall in real love, marry or otherwise spend many happy decades together with a rebound relationship — or even affair partner. But there is no reason to jump there. This may be a friend with benefit, short-term lover, hook-up or boyfriend for a few years.
No need to rush.
Why rebound relationships fail
Rebound relationships fail because one of you is a hot mess from the previous relationship, not healed, but hungry for emotional connection and likely sex. The new boyfriend or girlfriend got wrapped up by proxy in the intensity of that breakup, confusing it for a future, when instead it was just that: An intense romance.
How do I know if it’s a rebound relationship?
If one if you were in a relationship that ended relatively recently, or the person has not dated since the divorce or breakup, it is likely a rebound relationship. If the connection is white-hot and insane, it is definitely a rebound relationship.
Warning signs in a rebound relationship
First sign: Did you find this article by googling, “Warning signs it is a rebound relationship?”
Other red flags:
- One of you just broke up from a big relationship
- The newly broken up partner stalks his or her ex on social media
- Lots of mentions of the previous relationship
- No real physical intimacy like holding hands, cuddling and connection during sex
- Conversation is light and fun, but not about personal stories, or big goals or efforts to share or understand each other’s world view
- Bananas-crazy chemistry despite having little in common
- You worry this is a rebound
My personal experience — how I understood my rebound relationship and got over it
So I called my best friend. I’ve known Kirsten for 20 years, and even though she lives on the other side of the country, we remain very close and she knows all my shit. Kirsten did what a good friend does: she listened. As I talked and sobbed and blubbered and talked some more it all came out.
Besides the end of my relationship, my mom has been unwell. My mom, who adores my kids second only to their parents. As my children and their needs as people grow, it seems that our circle of people shrinks – and the pressures of being a single mother mount. I am just one person responsible for two human beings. It feels like too much.
“We’ve all watched you over the past few years be so strong and amazing,” Kirsten said. “But I said to myself, ‘I hope this girl can find time to process it all. Because sooner or later it will catch up with her.’”
It has caught up with me. When my husband fell off that cliff three years ago, I slipped into survival mode: I jutted my jaw, made sure the kids and my business and the money and the divorce and the house were all in order. Trust me, there were plenty of late night crying fits and trips to therapists and a wonderful support group for loved ones of brain injury victims. But I’m not sure I fully felt the gravity of my loss – our loss. The loss my whole family suffered.
Finally, I recognized that three years’ worth of grief had come knocking. For months after that conversation, I gave myself permission to mourn. Those sad Sundays were committed to indulging the emotion and grief and healing that had eluded me.
Funny thing, how empathy blooms. At bedtime after coming home from her dad’s on Sunday, I laid next to my then-4-year-old daughter in her twin bed. She was riled up after the transition, which is not unusual, but it spiraled into something else. “Why can’t our family be like other families?” she cried. I worry I dismiss the grief my kids might feel over the divorce. After all, Lucas wasn’t even born when we separated – Helena not yet 2. “It’s always Helena, Lucas, Daddy – and Mommy separate. Or Helena, Lucas, Mommy – Daddy separate. I want us to be like Eleanor’s family.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. So I held her head in the crook of my neck and listened and let her cry and cry. “Thank you for telling me how you feel,” I said. “It’s important to get it out. Because sooner or later it will catch up with you.”
Listen to my Like a Mother episode about this topic:
Advice from a 90-year-old single mom on dating after divorce
Last week, my kids and I visited my mom at her Milwaukee condo, the complex of which is occupied mostly by senior citizens. While lounging by the pool where my kids caused a ruckus, mildly amused and mostly annoyed by the very loud woman who went on and on and ON about how she could not believe the restaurant charged her $2.75 to swap the picadillo peppers for onions, I was delighted when a very elegant, spry older woman sat down next to me, put on her wire-rimmed bifocals and dug into her Danielle Steel paperback.
“I’d like to jump in there, too, but I’m going to be 90 this month and probably shouldn’t get into a swimsuit,” was her opening line. That, of course, was cue for me to tell her a) she looks fabulous for her age (true), b) who cares what you look like (truer still), c) engage with her. I’m so glad I did. There were some gems of advice from my new, brilliant friend, and I must share them with you.
First, a quick bio: This beautiful woman grew up in a small, rural midwestern town and became a PhD psychologist. She married her college sweetheart very young. At age 26 after recently giving birth to her only child, a son, her husband unceremoniously “sued me for divorce.”
“He was a heavy smoker, and two years later he was dead,” she said with a shrug. “My parents said, ‘Honey, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to play the field,’ so they suggested I see the family doctor.’” She had her tubes tied. “I never regretted it for a second,” she told me.
For the past 37 years she has been married to “the love of my life” — a building contractor who just celebrated his 100th birthday. Here are some genius single-mom nuggets from from this hot momma:
Always have your own money.
When her love rang in his centennial birthday, his grubby daughter sent real estate brokers over to the condo to assess its value, intending to sell it. Joke was on her! “When we married, I had money saved from my practice and bought the place I wanted in cash. The house in my maiden name. Always make sure you take care of yourself.”
Marry for love.
“Mr. Goldstein is the love of my life,” she says. Before him, she dated a prominent lawyer for 12 years until he passed away. “But no one loved me like Mr. Goldstein.”
Marry your financial and professional peer.
“But Mr. Goldstein was doing very well for himself. Honey, you need someone who respects your career, and you respect his. Don’t settle! And make sure you have your own money, in your own name.”
Enjoy your body.
“Honey, you’re still young. You look great. Play the field.”
But be careful.
“That’s great you’re dating. But honey, be sure to protect yourself. Don’t get pregnant.”
P.S. Enjoy your body.
“When I went for my annual exam, the doctor said, ‘You look like a young girl on the inside! You could still be having active sex!’
When I asked her if she and her husband still had sex she said: “Oh no. Not any more.” Did she miss it? “Sometimes. Honey, play the field.”
Don’t stop playing the field.
“The other day I was in Pick ‘N’ Save and I ran into a doctor I knew 40 years ago. He told his daughter, ‘I knew her years ago, and when her husband dies I’m going to marry her!’”
How about you? How did you get over your post-divorce rebound? What did you learn from the experience? Share in the comments!