It was a deep-seated, secret thing. A sentiment I didn't want to share. A feeling I was, well, ashamed of.
In the first few years after my divorce, I was convinced I would never be loved again. In fact, in moments of fatigue and frustration and financial difficulties—all things that so many single parents face—a little voice seemed to rub salt in the wounds of my isolation.
The voice said: You will never be loved again.
When a marriage ends, many of us set our sights on self-improvement. We dedicate ourselves to becoming more attractive, more desirable, more comfortable socializing. But feeling better on the inside? Feeling that we deserve to be loved? Feeling worthy if we've been burned by betrayal or rejected outright? Those are tougher.
Here’s the thing: Until we tend to the necessary interior repairs, we may find ourselves visited by a nasty, negative, nagging voice that pops up when we least expect and insists: You will never be loved again.
So where does this insidious voice come from?
For some of us, elements of insecurity bubble up from a difficult childhood. But I believe there is something more that happens—and that something more is fear.
Maybe fear of navigating the world alone is the reason you stayed in a chilly, sexless marriage for years. Maybe fear of rejection is the reason you hesitate to try dating, burying yourself in your job or your kids instead. Maybe fear of intimacy explains your choosing inappropriate partners if you do date.
After all, if you only hook up with people who make lousy long-term prospects, you can easily justify the relationship not panning out. You don't need to invest more than a superficial degree of trust.
In my case, the intensity of my loss of self-worth caught me off-guard.
As for the voice whispering that I would never be loved again, I tried to push it away; but only when I faced it for what it was did I finally begin to recognize myself. And for me, it wasn't a fear of being on my own—I had been single and self-sufficient into my thirties. Instead, I came to recognize it as fear of trusting again, that fear reinforced by loneliness, rejection, and terrible hurt.
While I never let on that I felt this way—after all, confidence is key when you're dating, and “fake it 'til you make it" is something most of us learn—it was there all the same...the pressing, palpable, fatalistic feeling that my one shot at being loved was over, done, dead.
Somehow I must have blown it. I must not have "deserved" it. If I had, the man with whom I exchanged vows and forged a family unit would never have left.
Casual relationships? I thought they would come and go. Fewer than when I was young, presumably. But love? I felt too wounded, too walled up, too wary of investing the necessary belief in someone else, too uncertain of my judgment.
So how do you vanquish your self-defeating inner voice?
- Take the time to heal. Grieving a marriage is complicated; not only is it the public fracturing of a family, it's frequently the death of very personal, long-held dreams.
- Use this time to get to know yourself again—this self—including engaging in experimentation. Try a new style. Date new types. Open yourself up to new perspectives.
- If you're hauling around financial or co-parenting baggage, that can make everyday life, as well as dating, considerably harder. But it's also what makes you, you—accept it! Besides, millions of us will understand because we carry similar baggage.
- Throw your energy and enthusiasm into something you love—an entrepreneurial venture, a community activity, a creative pursuit. Not only will this boost confidence and help you get outside your head, but the more you love your life, the more you will feel good about yourself.
- Talk—and listen—to the people in your life who care and whose opinions you respect. This may include close friends, a therapist, a sibling, even an adult child.
- Once you're dating, don't bring negativity into your dating discussions. (No bitching about the ex over coffee, dinner, drinks… It's the ultimate turn-off.)
- When you do have a good date, a good encounter, or just a good day—feel it. Allow yourself to inhabit the joy of experiencing who you are again.
It took me three years to start dating after my ex-husband's departure, and a few more before I lowered my guard and fell in love, banishing the voice of doom and gloom forever. And my first experience of post-divorce love taught me a great deal. Among other things, I learned to listen to my gut when it came to potential obstacles, to talk them out, to sort them out, and not to take everything quite so personally.
Now, that particular relationship ended amicably, as we both came to understand that a long-term future wasn't in the cards. And the gentle nature of the ending allowed me to feel that my trust had been well-placed.
If you, like me, pass through a period of time when you don't feel as if you will ever be loved again, I can only remind you that we all deserve deep, meaningful connections in our lives; at some time or other, we are all afraid of being rejected, and we all need to rebuild belief in ourselves after being hurt.
Although it was several more years before I was in a long-term, committed relationship again, I never slipped back into the sensation that I was undeserving of affection, admiration, playfulness, trust, respect and emotional support from a partner to whom I give the same. And I will never settle for less.