3 things I wish I knew about dating after divorce and rebound relationships

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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 

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

2. Second thing 

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

3. Third thing

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:

Your first relationship after divorce

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

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.

Divorce rates for second and third marriages

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.”

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 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.

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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.

Is the first relationship after divorce always a rebound?

Rebound relationships are a real, and necessary thing. There has to be a first for everything — including post-divorce relationship!

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 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

“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.

Read our reviews of popular dating sites:

Learn more about how to tell if you are in a toxic relationship.

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:

  1. One of you just broke up from a big relationship
  2. The newly broken up partner stalks his or her ex on social media
  3. Lots of mentions of the previous relationship
  4. No real physical intimacy like holding hands, cuddling and connection during sex
  5. Conversation is light and fun, but not about personal stories, or big goals or efforts to share or understand each other’s world view
  6. Bananas-crazy chemistry despite having little in common
  7. 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.”

Life after divorce — 3 things you can do now to move on

How about you? How did you get over your post-divorce rebound? What did you learn from the experience? Share in the comments!

Is the first relationship after divorce always a rebound?

Technically, the first relationship after your divorce is, in fact, a rebound relationship. Some rebound relationships end in flames, while others last for eternity.

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.

Can rebound relationships work?

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.

Can you find true love after divorce?

Yes. One data point: Me. 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.

Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?

Even more than an ending love, all that pain and torment is really about contending with unresolved heartbreak from divorce.

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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