I put the cart before the horse when it came to dating after divorce. I invited dates to take part in the drama that my ex-husband directed. I looked to my partner-for-the-day for emotional support and validation that I was desirable, even after being rejected. And I even allowed my date's views of me to shape my own self-image.
Overall, I made the experience much harder than it needed to be because I didn’t have these seven things in place before I started dating:
The Volume Turned Down On the Drama
Can you believe my ex said that? He is such a narcissist. She didn't show up at school to pick up the kids. Again. I saw her in his Facebook feed again. Ugh. She's young enough to be his daughter.
Divorce brings with it immense change and overwhelming emotion. And when those two collide, the drama is sure to ensue. And even though the theatrics are often negative, it is easy to habituate to the intensity and excitement until drama becomes the norm.
If your life currently resembles an episode of reality television, it is not yet time to craft a profile on OKCupid. Rather than acting as a stabilizing influence, bringing someone new into an unstable environment only accentuates the turmoil. Wait until your life is more documentary and less Real Housewives before you enter the dating scene.
A Supportive and Diverse Friend Group
There is no doubt about it—divorce is isolating and can often leave you feeling lonely and rejected. It can be so tempting to turn to dating to meet your social and emotional needs, to feel loved and lovable. Yet, if you approach dating with this need front and center, you will find that you are unsuccessful in attracting emotionally healthy people. Additionally, you are placing an unfair share of your needs at the feet of another.
Before you focus on dating, spend time and energy building and fostering your platonic friend group. Your goal is to have all of your social requirements met so that when you do date, it's out of want, not driven from need.
Time and Energy to Spare
First, you have to write your dating profile or make an effort to get out of your usual circles. Then come the early exchanges, the tentative assessments of potential compatibility and shared interests. This is followed by the actual date, filled with nerves and expectations.
And that's only the beginning. Dating requires a consistent supply of time and energy—and both of those can be in short supply in the early stages of divorce. Before you begin dating, ensure that you have space and enthusiasm to accommodate this component in your life.
A Passion Project or Engrossing Hobby
When we experience a void in our lives (such as after divorce), it is easy to become obsessive in the drive to fill the emptiness. And if you don't have something in your life that brings you joy and a sense of accomplishment, it's easy to turn that all-consuming drive toward dating—often with disastrous consequences.
So before you attempt to fill that emptiness with another person, take the time to find some activity or cause that you are passionate about. Throw yourself into it for a time. Use this opportunity to discover (or rediscover) what makes you tick, and what makes you special. And then later, when you begin dating, you'll be looking to be complemented, not completed.
A Counselor or Other Emotional Outlet
Your date is not your therapist.
When triggers arise or emotions become overwhelming, it is critical that you already have a safe and supportive place to vent and receive guidance. You can certainly be open with your date about your experiences and your past history, but refrain from unloading the emotion on them. That's not their role.
Prior to accepting or asking for that first date, make sure you have your support system in place and that you're practiced with turning to them for help.
Belief That You Can Be In a Healthy Relationship
Seems obvious, doesn't it? Yet obvious doesn't always happen. It can be tempting to turn to dating as a distraction from the pain and loneliness of divorce. Sometimes we find ourselves "sliding" into a relationship without much foresight or intention.
And when this happens, the change in status can come before the conviction that you can be in a healthy relationship—which often means that you find yourself in a partnership that is toxic at worst, and unfulfilling at best.
Spend time defining what a "healthy" relationship looks like to you and cultivating the traits needed to make it a reality before you act.
Self-Worth and a Realistic Self-Image
It feels great when a stranger compliments your appearance or a date makes you feel desirable. Especially after the rejection and uncertainty surrounding divorce, that attention is affirming and confidence-building. It's also a bit of an illusion, because when you seek validation outside of yourself, it's never enough.
Work to establish and recognize your own worth, independent of the thoughts and actions of others. That internal validation is always enough. Additionally, make an effort to construct a realistic image of yourself, untarnished by the possibly harsh words of your ex, or the sycophantic remarks of a prospective date.
You don't need a partner to tell you you're worthy. You don't need a date to tell you who you are. Once you see, know and appreciate yourself, you will project that confidence and invite others to view the same.