I have noticed working with divorced clients that a lot comes up around divorce and dating. One big question is when is the right time to date or Is there a right time to date?
In my own experience and working with a variety of clients who are figuring this out, it is quite a grey area and there are many opinions on this topic. Every individual and situation is unique. Timelines may vary depending on your circumstances. However, here is some guidance around the divorce and timing of dating which my clients and I work through as they seek answers to this and other questions in the divorce recovery part of my practice.
Where are you in your process?
The typical answer to when a good time is to begin dating is usually you have just gone through your divorce and it has been finalized. Time has passed. You have had time to breathe. You have processed the end of your relationship in therapy or otherwise and what it all means in the context of you and your life. If that is where you are, you may be ready and more prepared to take the plunge. Although, it is still helpful to ask the questions I have posed below and dig deeper into your dating goals and the whys. For some, where you are is not as clear. Divorce can sometimes be a long-drawn-out process. You may be in a situation where you are separated and going through the divorce process right now and it is taking its time. You may also be in a space where the ink just dried and you want to get back out there. Regardless, I suggest, ask yourself:
Why do I want to date and why now? (The honest and “inner voice” answer without self-judgment, censorship, and refrain.)
This question is not always so black and white and it is amazing what my clients and I have observed coming up as we address this question. They think they know the exact truth, the answer feels obvious, but suddenly realize the why that they thought they knew is not the why at all! For example, we uncover that in their childhood, it was what they saw a parent do (date immediately after or while divorcing or during the marriage) which unconsciously just felt to be the direction to go in. They just do not want to be alone because they watched their mother or father move into a depression after their divorce or maybe I can have a better “parent role model” for my child if they were in an abusive relationship in their marriage. Other very common feelings which come up are, I want to feel alive, energized, and “young” again. Another powerful one is I want to feel attractive, sexy, loved, and wanted if they were in a marriage where infidelity took place or the passion, romance, or attention fizzled out. You don’t really know what those deeper reasons are until you make room to think about it and figure out what that means for you.
What is my dating after divorce goal?
Once you have gotten through the why ask yourself what your dating goal is. This may feel business-like or clinical, but at the end of the day whether we call it a goal or define it as something else, ultimately there may be an end result we are seeking. What is that end result?
* Do I simply want to bring fun into my life and have a good time? You may have been in a marriage for a while and hung in there, but ready to enjoy all the trappings of being single and dating without strings and without expectations. You want to feel free and right now your goal is just that!
OR is it
* I am really looking for something. You were married for while and it was a bad marriage or an unfulfilling one. You would like to get back out there and find someone, a true partner with whom I could have a meaningful relationship.
OR the third one
* I don’t really know right now. Maybe I will meet someone and get into this great relationship and I would enjoy that in my life. My goal is to figure this out along the way.
Whether it is the first, second or third option or one not described here, what is important is to figure out what that “goal” is and move forward from that optic. The categories I described may not exactly fit all of your thoughts, but I hope to encourage your reflection on what you want out of the dating experience. When you go back out there, you may come across someone who is “I just want to have some fun” or someone who is really serious. Or a combination. But if you can start with your dating goals, it can feel more grounding to date someone on the same page and lead to fewer complications should your initial goals be vastly different.
Last, but not least, Have you dated yourself enough?
I know getting back out there can be a priority, but are you making room to date yourself? Have you figured out what happened in your relationship? Are you understanding what your patterns are that you don’t want to repeat? Do you enjoy being with yourself? Who do I want to be in my new life? I can’t begin to tell you enough the importance of bringing in self dating regardless of your dating goal. Reactions from clients who plunged into the dating scene without connecting with their own wants and needs ahead of time have expressed how the new relationship was the next version of their ex or they can’t fully connect with their own wants or needs. Self-dating can be self-exploration and it can take many forms from support groups to individual therapy to socializing with yourself or all three. You can choose. So, sit back, take yourself to a great restaurant, book reading, sports game, or whatever you personally enjoy, and get to know you just as you would your date.
Final Thoughts –
Everyone has their own timing. They will have their own opinion. Just take the time to think about some of the gems raised here. Maybe on a self date!
Take it one step at a time. You can define your timing! You don’t have to rush into dating after divorce right away!
Remember everything does not always have to happen perfectly. It is all a journey with ebbs and flows. We learn from each experience and it gets better, healthier, and easier the next time.
Be mindful of your desires, wants, and needs.