I absolutely love this quote from Esther Perel, the world-famous couples’ therapist, author, and all-around great thinker: “When you pick a partner, you pick a story, and then you find yourself in a play you never auditioned for.” I know how that quote resonates for me. What about you?
As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who works with people after divorce, I’m always curious about how people approach dating and partnering subsequent times around. I’ve combined my professional and personal experience (I’m a divorced mom of three) to develop some guidelines for those of you thinking about entering the dating pool again. I’ve found that if we’re willing to slow down the dating process, we can begin to separate chemistry from compatibility.
Think about how many times you’ve been swept away by chemistry only to learn you’re not compatible?
Why ask yourself these questions? After all, it may be normal for us to want to get partnered quickly. We’re used to having someone by our side, and for some, it may have been years since you’ve lived on your own. It’s an adjustment no doubt, but for parents, if we don’t do something differently, we run the risk of repeating the same patterns and sending the wrong message to our kids. And perhaps compatibility will lead you to a different partner and a different story with a different ending.
Five questions to ask yourself before (and while) dating after divorce
1. How long have I been separated/divorced?
While there are no hard-and-fast rules around when to start dating, I’ve read that it takes upwards of a year to process the stages of a divorce.
If you jump into a new relationship without understanding what went wrong and your part, you run the risk of repeating the same patterns in your next relationship. This takes some work, but it’s essential. Given the statistics about divorce rates in subsequent marriages, I cannot stress slowing down enough.
2. What are my dating intentions?
I’m a big proponent of being crystal clear about what you’re looking for: marriage, dating, friendship. Are you getting back out there to avoid being alone?
3. When I’m dating someone, are there red flags I’m overlooking?
When the aforementioned chemistry is there, it’s easier to overlook these, but they often provide crucial data about the person.
4. How can I change dating patterns?
Does this mean holding out on sleeping together until you know more about the person? Does this mean asking for what you want in terms of a relationship? And, if you don’t know what you’re pattern of dating is, that’s the place to start!
5. If I have kids, are their needs met?
Even the best divorces are difficult on children, so it’s important to look at their needs first. There will be time for you to date, I promise. What message are you sending your kids if your attention, especially within the first year of the split, is on dating? Kids are sponges and pick up on everything we do. Ask yourself how you want to show up for them.
The longer I am divorced and work with divorcing and divorced people, the more wisdom I find in Perel’s quote, and the more I believe in doing the work on ourselves before involving someone else.
Divorce can bring out many fears: financial worries, fear of being alone, fear of “not being good enough” for someone, fear of aging, being unattractive — there’s no limit to what our imagination can create. What I’ve lived and witnessed is that fear can be quite dramatic, don’t you think? Let’s slow down a bit, keep things real, and have fun, in the best way possible.