When we get married, we take vows that say “till death do us part” in which we promise to love, cherish, and stand by a spouse forever. Alas, real life so often gets in the way of what we envisioned at our fairy-tale weddings, leaving us at the mercy of our lawyers’ talents and the verdicts of divorce courts. At the time of writing, the divorce rate in the US stands about 50 percent, meaning half of marriages end in divorce proceedings sooner or later down the line.
Divorce might mean the end of one’s marriage, but it’s certainly not the end of one’s love life. There are plenty of famous and historical examples, of course, but even among us ordinary folk it’s likely that we know someone who has moved on following a divorce and started dating. But how easy is it to move on with dating after a divorce? The whole experience can be quite traumatic. In today’s blog, we’re talking about dating after divorce, whether it’s really possible and how to approach it.
What Are the Challenges to Dating After Divorce?
Divorced people face a set of unique challenges, some common to both men and women but perhaps one or two that affect one more than the other. Below we’ll share some examples of pressing challenges that can block one’s path to a new romantic life after divorce.
Feeling Out of Place
The first major challenge is a feeling of being a fish out of water. This affects all divorcees, but the rule of thumb seems to be that the longer one’s marriage has lasted, the more potent and lasting this feeling can be. If you’ve been married for 10 or more years, that’s a whole decade that the dating and romance scene has been evolving without you being a part of it. It’s no wonder, then, that it can feel so strange for people who go back to it after a divorce.
Some might argue that dating is like riding a bike, but for many that just doesn’t seem to be the real experience of it. They feel awkward, clumsy, and completely unsure as to how to proceed. For most people, marriage is the end of the dating path and the beginning of a new kind of life. Living that life for so many years before it abruptly ends can leave you feeling very lost indeed.
The question of timing is also a pressing and burning one for divorcees. How long should one wait after a divorce, for example, before getting back into dating? Should one start just dating casually, or should one immediately try to get back into a serious relationship and aim for a second marriage? Timing isn’t just a pressing issue for one’s own conscience, but also because many people fear the judgments of others, which could be harsh if one acts too soon — “The ink’s barely dry on the divorce and she’s already dating someone new, can you believe it?”
Indeed, people feel the need to be sensitive about these things, not just in considering their ex husband/wife’s feelings, but also considering their in-laws, their children, and other loved ones around them and what they feel. Children are an especially important factor that we’ll cover further below. Judgment from others seems to disproportionately affect women in marriages, but men are never immune, of course.
“Back to Square One” Syndrome
Besides feeling lost and adrift, another quite big psychological challenge for many after getting divorced is the problem of feeling as though they’re back at square one. It tends to result in at least one of the spouses having to move into a new accommodation, sometimes both since the single parent is unable to afford the marital home alone. With a marriage over, a downsized living arrangement, and no dates on the horizon, it’s easy to see how people start to feel like they’ve lost everything and are back on the ground floor.
Managing Family Needs
Marriages so often bring forth one or more children before the shadow of divorce arrives over the home. It can be hard to date — especially women — when they have kids from a previous marriage as a key factor in their life. Women more often end up as the primary caregivers and guardians to children after divorces, which can make things complicated when it comes to dating.
Giving your children all the love and attention they need, while trying also to focus on yourself and getting a new partner or spouse can be very hard. A prospective boyfriend or girlfriend can feel as though they are “playing second fiddle” to your old family, and will feel pressured by the idea of “replacing” the children’s previous mother or father figure.
Another rather unfortunate label that does the rounds — again, disproportionately against women — is that of “damaged goods.” Following a divorce, people in certain communities can be made to feel something of a social pariah. Attitudes have greatly changed from the past, of course, and divorcees are not quite so grimly looked down upon by broader society. That’s the good news, but alas, divorcees are still seen as “used” or “second-hand,” with people (jokingly or not) remarking on the risks of crazy exes coming out of the woodwork and whatnot. It doesn’t always make for a successful dating life.
Level of Commitment
Finally, it can also be quite a difficult thing to properly judge the level of commitment in a new relationship, a level either that you want, or that you’re even ready for. Some might think they’re ready and willing to jump back on the horse and look for “marriage material,” but others might want to date more casually first. Despite wanting any of these things, doubts still can plague your mind and make you question yourself day-in day-out.
Tips for Those Wanting to Get Back into Dating After a Divorce
So, what practical advice can we give to those people who are looking to date after a divorce? The fact is that it won’t be easy, even after a short marriage. There’s such a buildup of emotion and an investment of love in a marriage that going back to dating is never an easy task. However, hopefully the following tips will help make things a little easier.
Take the Time to Grieve and Heal
The most important thing is that you only get back into the dating game when you’re really good and ready. There’s no rush at all, and you have to do your best to resist the pushing and hurrying voices of others around you who are advising you to “get back out there” and “put yourself out there more.”
If you don’t feel like it yet, then take all the time you need to grieve over your lost marriage, and heal up. It’ll be a lot worse for you in the longer run if you start dating before you are ready. You might actually set yourself back even longer in doing so.
Reflect On What Went Wrong in Your Marriage (Honestly)
During your time of grieving and healing, you should also make a point of taking a moment or more to reflect on your marriage and where things went wrong. The good thing about self-reflection is that you don’t have to involve other people if you don’t want to, which means you can be as brutally honest and frank as you like without anyone judging you (except yourself, of course).
This reflection will throw up things that both you and your ex-spouse did wrong that made your marriage unbearable for one or both of you. But isn’t this just dredging up the past and fostering bitterness and resentment? It might feel like that at first, but in reality what you’re doing is a kind of post-mortem on your marriage that will ultimately help you with your future dating life. If you can come to terms with the fact, for example, that as a husband or wife you weren’t attentive enough to your spouse’s needs, then you can work to correct that.
Look Into Online Dating
Online dating can be a fantastic way to get back into the dating life by yourself without involving family, friends and others. What’s more, you can narrow your searches to fellow divorcees, if you want. There is one app, for example, called Single and Divorced, which has a user base of divorcees and single parents. Connecting with like-minded people can make things a lot easier, and might just give you the courage and confidence you need.
We suggest you take a look at our list of the best dating sites here.
Rediscover Lost Hobbies and Interests
If online dating isn’t really your scene, then you can also boost your chances of meeting like-minded people by getting back into your old hobbies and interests. Marriage tends to change people, and most people give up at least one or two of their former hobbies as the needs of their working and family lives start to take over. Divorce can be an opportunity to rekindle those passions, and meet fellow hobbyists that might be open to dating.
Finally, perhaps the most important bit of advice we can give people is not to feel like despairing or giving up on dating altogether. Sometimes that feeling is merely a symptom of needing more time to grieve and heal over the loss of a previous relationship. Even when getting back into dating after a divorce, there are myriad things that can and will go wrong, especially when your life has additional factors like children to consider.
Don’t expect a smooth transition back into single/dating life. Life after marriage is rarely so simple. Not having children can make things easier, but sometimes just the label of “divorced” can be something that gets to people and changes them, even enough to make them a less palatable date than they were back in their 20s. Remember, hope springs eternal, and there’s a future waiting for you after divorce whenever you’re ready.