How to Date After a Divorce: 7 Tips Learned from the Trenches
Reentering the dating world after going through a divorce can be disorienting, to say the least. The thing is, upon getting married, we imagine we’ll never have to date again. So when things don’t play out that way, we suddenly find ourselves having to adjust to a new reality – one that we never anticipated.
When I was in the midst of my own divorce, the idea of beginning to date again frankly terrified me.
I was still pretty young at the time (in my twenties), but I’d been with my husband since I was 19. And in the 9 years that I’d been out of the dating scene, its landscape had changed pretty drastically.
First online dating, then the use of dating apps, had become commonplace. New rules and cultural norms had sprung up that I knew nothing about. And my single friends didn’t have super encouraging things to say about it all.
But five years later, I’m here to tell you that dating after getting divorced doesn’t have to be that bad.
I quickly learned not to stress about the apps (Tinder, Bumble, etc). As someone who has to this day never used one, I personally discovered that it’s entirely possible to find awesome partners without them.
Even beyond that, I found that dating after your divorce is less about leveraging the latest tools or techniques and more about reframing your approach to dating and relationships as a whole.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for those looking to reenter the dating world post-divorce:
1) Embrace the space.
(a) Don’t try to fill the void left by your ex.
When your marriage dissolves and your partner’s suddenly no longer a part of your daily life, their absence can feel all-consuming. It’s as if a black hole of sorts has suddenly materialized in your universe and begun swallowing things up. As much as you might try not to focus on it, your thoughts are constantly being sucked into the swirling vortex where your ex used to reside.
Particularly over the course of the first few months post-separation, it may be really hard to adapt to that change in circumstances. It can be tempting to turn to unhealthy behaviors to comfort you (oh, hello wine!) or pull a new partner into your life in an effort to abate your feelings of loneliness.
Be careful not to fall into that trap.
(b) Learn to appreciate this new space you now have.
Although your partner’s absence might feel like a gaping hole that’s formed in your life if you look at it from a place of lacking, that same space can be incredibly positive and expansive if you are able to view it more opportunistically.
Revel in the new freedom you’ve garnered. Take time for yourself. Engage in whatever excites you and lights you up.
Make some bold changes. Curate your space however you’d like. Do the things you didn’t get to do enough (or at all) when you were with your partner.
Did he or she hate karaoke? Grab some friends and go sing your heart out. Was your ex allergic to avocados? Go buy some and make yourself some delicious homemade guacamole.
Doing whatever calls to you will enable you to feel some ownership over your own life again. If you can start to fill the void your spouse left – not with a new partner or something unhealthy, but ideally with things that serve you – not only will you find it to be empowering, but you’ll also truly begin to heal.
2) Reflect, learn, + grow.
Reflect on your marriage and what was healthy and unhealthy about it. Bear in mind that there may have been dysfunctional aspects of your relationship that were completely unrelated to why you got divorced, but could still be worth examining.
This may be a good exercise to dive into with the aid of a therapist or coach who can help lend some objective insight and also assist in determining whether you have any maladaptive behaviors, beliefs, perspectives, or approaches when it comes to romantic relationships.
Explore how you might be able to learn and grow from this.
What improvements could you make for your future partner(s)? How could you be a better companion going forward? How could you do a better job of staying true to yourself?
It’s rare to get this sort of opportunity to pause and seriously evaluate how you show up in a relationship context. So I’d encourage you to consider these questions and leverage this chance to learn and improve upon yourself.
3) Try dating people who aren’t your “type.”
It might take some time before you feel ready to dive into dating again, and that’s totally fine. Don’t rush yourself.
But once you do feel ready to get back out there, recognize that this is a chance for you to experiment and question your historic tendencies around dating. Just because you did things a certain way before doesn’t mean you need to return to the same old approaches or revisit your old habits.
Your instincts initially might lead you to gravitate toward someone like your ex, because they’ll feel familiar. But I’d encourage you to check that tendency if it arises. Whether or not you wanted it, you now have an incredible opportunity to reevaluate the choices you’ve made thus far. Why not take it?
Try new and different things. Question any preconceived notions you might have. Date someone who falls outside of your usual “type.” Maybe even change things up on the heterosexuality or monogamy fronts.
Approach things with a playful, open, adventurous attitude and a willingness to explore. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn more about yourself and what you truly want.
4) Reset your expectations.
Be careful about projecting any expectations you’ve gleaned from your relationship with your spouse onto a new dating partner.
Especially if you were with your ex for a long time, it’s easy to perpetuate old ingrained patterns and habits once you’ve returned to the familiar context of a partnership. But doing so can be problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, each relationship is unique, and the dynamics that were at play between you and your spouse likely won’t be the same with someone new. We each have our own personalities and preferences, so it’s important to learn how your new partner ticks and take that into account.
Second, whatever habits or patterns were present in your marriage may not have been healthy or ideal. Perhaps they were even dysfunctional, given that things ultimately didn’t work out. Unless or until you have a solid grasp on what was unhealthy about your relationship with your ex, I’d recommend against blindly taking the same approach with someone new and hoping for a different outcome.
In general, it’s usually a bad idea to bring old expectations you’ve developed into a new relationship. Doing so often leads to confusion, frustration, and/or conflict.
5) Take a step back and assess what you actually want.
Seize this opportunity to pause and reassess what it is that you want at this point in your life, both for yourself and from others. This is an especially important exercise to go through if you’re looking for a serious relationship.
What qualities are important to you in a future partner? What needs do you wish to have met by them? What are some desires you have for your next relationship? What boundaries would you like to set and have honored?
Take an honest look at your needs, your wants, and your boundaries or limitations. With those in mind, paint a picture of your ideal partner and relationship. Write it down.
Really envision the person you would love to be with. Imagine the things you’d like to do with them. What kind of adventures would you tackle together? What would your life look like with them in it?
For example, do you want a partner who positively enables you to pursue your passions in life (and, if so, what would that look like or entail in practice)?
Are you eager to find an amazing travel companion to explore the world with you?
Do you want to be with someone who will be a good parent (even if just to your pet)?
By focusing on what you want versus what you don’t, you can begin to manifest what you desire and invite it into your life.
6) Walk the talk: Put your list into action.
Here is the hard part. Once you’ve written down your vision for your ideal partner and your life with them, keep this document on-hand.
And when you find yourself dating someone new and really hitting it off? Pull out that list and do your best to make a candid assessment of how closely your new flame aligns with it.
Fair warning: this can be particularly hard to do objectively when you’re in the “honeymoon phase” of a new relationship. You’ll be prone to brushing-off qualities that you had listed as important to you, or you might downplay or marginalize some of the dreams you had fleshed out.
It may be beneficial to enlist a friend who cares about you and ask them to help provide you with some more objective feedback. The more honest you can be in assessing your new partner against this list and determining early-on if they don’t fit what you really need, the better.
7) Begin dating on your terms.
You know that standard first date where you go out for drinks? It’s fine – maybe just a bit lacking in creativity, and the alcohol can serve to mask things on both sides. (…which can sometimes be a blessing).
But is this type of first date really serving you?
As an alternative, what if you tried this: come up with a list of fun or interesting things around your town that you’d really like to do – whether with a friend or even just on your own.
Maybe there’s a museum exhibit, an intriguing event or workshop, a fitness class, a graffiti art walk, an inventive new restaurant concept, or a gorgeous hike you’ve been wanting to check out. Perhaps you’ve been hoping to try a random activity, like axe throwing, or maybe there’s a cooking class you’ve been dying to take.
Do a little research on whatever piques your interest, jot it all down, and have fun with the process. Then keep these options at the ready, and when you next find yourself in a dating scenario, consider inviting your date to join you in doing one of the items on your list.
By adopting this strategy, you’ll get to engage in an activity that probably at least somewhat reflects who you are as a person. And even if you and your date don’t hit it off or connect more deeply, you’ll be getting to do something that you’d been wanting to do regardless.
I’ve personally found this approach to dating to be more fun and gratifying than others, but I’d encourage you to get creative and figure out what resonates most with you.
Dating post-divorce can be a bit daunting. But it likely won’t be as awful as you imagine. And, hey, at worst, your terrible date could make for great story – perhaps even one you’ll feel compelled to share in the comments below. ;)