Committing to self-love and our life’s work before committing to a romantic relationship, is the key to fulfillment and wholeness.
Within 6 short weeks of my marriage ending, I found myself galavanting all around Colorado with a very young, hot lover.
He was an instructor at my Yoga Studio who, through his intoxicating looks and bold 20-something prowess, helped me temporarily forget that my life was actually in complete shambles (I had suddenly become a 40-year old single mother of 3 without any plans for my future). We’d go on long hikes, spend afternoons wrapped in my bedsheets, and travel to hidden hot springs and tropical beaches enmeshed in the physical comfort of each other.
It was a delicious distraction, but once it came to an end, I was left face to face with myself and the raw emotional pain that needed tending to in order to truly move on to a fulfilling relationship.
Over the next few years of exploring the world of dating after divorce, attending many dating groups and coaching sessions, shedding some tears over poor choices, and spending long nights reading relationship books and trying to make sense out of the madness of this new frontier, a number of important themes emerged.
What I Learned I Needed To Know Before Dating After Divorce.
1. Stay single until you can be sure you are entering a relationship for the right reasons.
A truly loving, committed relationship is about sharing life experiences, learning and growing with someone who is self-aware and free of the “pull” of past hurts, and being open and willing to do the work it takes to be in a safe, drama-free space together.
To do so, we must first commit to the learning the lessons we need to get out of the ending of our last marriage/long-term relationship. Dig in the dirt. Let ourselves fall apart and know that it’s okay not to be okay for a while, maybe for a long time. The grieving process can be lengthy and drawn out…there is a lot of good personal growth to receive in the time after a breakup but we’ve got to be willing to receive it.
Relationships are not vehicles to heal the pain and hurt of the divorce, to make us feel better or more desirable after the end of the marriage. Hookups and rebounds may feel better for a while, and may offer a shallow and temporary level of respite from the grieving process. They are fun and fine to a degree but please be honest…they are filling a shallow need for validation and only delay the process.
Until we truly commit to the work of self-love that is required after the devastation of divorce, it’s not time to consider ourselves a contender for a long-term commitment.
We’ve got to be honest with ourselves and our potential partners about where we are in the grieving and rebuilding phase. It will save everyone a lot of time and heartbreak, to be honest and forthright. Keep in mind that true healing takes time, and until we get the lessons we need to get from the end of the marriage, it’s simply not time to start something new.
2. Love yourself more than you ever thought possible
You’ve heard the term “No one will ever be able to love you more than you love yourself” and it’s 100% true, 100% of the time. We attract others who will treat us only as well as we treat ourselves. If we believe ourselves to be unworthy or unlovable at a deep level, no matter how pretty the package of our prospective partner, over time they will only reflect back our own thoughts and beliefs.
Self Love needs to happen consistently on all levels…physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Physical: Begin by listening to, then responding to and respecting the needs of the body. Create a nurturing inner sanctuary where you feel safe and held. Learn what your body requires exercise and diet and rest to maintain balance, and commit to giving it the nutrients that it needs to thrive.
Mental: Kick out the roommate in your head that tells you, you’re not good enough, beautiful/handsome enough, young enough, wealthy enough to have a wonderful loving and supportive partnership.
Replace self-deprecating thoughts with thoughts that affirm your wholeness such as “I am awesome and deserve someone who knows my worth”, or “I am completely lovable just the way I am”, and “I am deserving of great love”.
No matter what happened with your ex, you have the power to rewrite the conversations that affirm the truth of who you are.
Emotional: Bring deep self-compassion and kindness to your hurt parts. Understand how you contributed to the relationship ending. Examine the pain that is coming up from your childhood. Get divorce coaching and outside support to truly heal.
Spiritual: Develop and maintain a deeper connection to your spirit by recognizing and honoring the voice of your intuition and inner knowing and guidance. This can be accomplished through meditation, journaling, or simply spending quiet moments in nature.
This inner guidance will let you know when you are truly “ready” for a relationship, and if someone you meet is right or wrong for you.
Create a life of your dreams by connecting to a vision that reflects your worthiness and lovability. Know your passions and why you are here. Make a commitment to, more than anything else, following those passions.
Committing to self-love and our life’s work before committing to a romantic relationship, is the key to fulfillment and wholeness…when we commit to a life of service to ourselves and others, we have made the vows that must precede a commitment to another person.
3. Learn what a healthy relationship looks like and take your time.
After being married, it’s so easy to idealize the person you’re dating and have fantasies of cuddling with a hot coffee next weekend while watching your kiddo play soccer while laughing on the sidelines together (I kid you not, I did after a first date with someone I barely knew).
Because we have already been married and maybe had children with our past partner, we may easily project the scenarios onto people we have just met, fantasizing about the role they will play in our lives without knowing much about them.
But the truth about dating after divorce is that the true measure of an appropriate and desirable partner goes well beyond whether or not they will be able to fit into the same role as our ex. It is all about knowing ourselves, who we are and what we want, and then truly getting to know someone over time.
There are wonderful resources and books that can help support us in learning what a healthy relationship requires. Commit to the process of understanding what it takes to communicate and build a solid structure for a relationship before jumping in.
One of the most important first steps is to learn if they are actually available for a long-term relationship. Have they resolved past relationships with parents and spouse, are they looking for a long-term committed relationship, do they have similar dreams about the future as you, do they want/not want children-yours or otherwise, do they believe in monogamy? Do they work on themselves, and are they free from addiction? Take time to observe them, ask questions, and not jump quickly into bed together which thanks to wonderful hormones like Oxytocin, can result in lack of discernment and clouded intuition.
I once dated a man who I thought was available and perfect for the role of boyfriend. After spending a few months together he said words I wanted to hear like “I think you are the one…I’ve never felt this way before”. When I became an honest observer of the situation and took time to pay attention to his actions (he never invited me to spend time with his friends or family, never talked about our future, still hadn’t filed the paperwork for divorce with his wife), I then discovered that he was dating and sleeping with other women. I quickly realized he was not available nor even interested in a long-term commitment to me.
Healthy relationships start off slow, as friends. Commitment then intimacy come only after a physical, mental and emotional connection has been made, and consistently demonstrated over time.
When you love yourself, you can be open to many alternate resources for creativity, love, and support so that you don’t rely on a partner to give you something you lack. Even if you were in a codependent or unhealthy marriage, you can and will change the patterns by honoring yourself, knowing and sticking with your standards then requiring (in a healthy and loving way) that others love and honor you as much as you love you.
4. Have FUN
When you do decide to jump in and start to date, approach it as an adventure rather than a burden. Prepare as much as possible, then let go, have fun, and trust the process.
You get to choose if you will date a little or a lot. You can get to know what you want in a future partner by meeting lots of people and having fun. More than anything, dating is an opportunity to be exposed to new thoughts, environments, and lifestyles.
I’ve had dates take me to concerts that I may never have chosen, and to restaurants that I had never heard of. Being in the moment and enjoying the new experiences really can be fun if you let it be!
I’ve also learned so much about how other people live their jobs, upbringing, beliefs, and travels-and it’s broadened my perspective on life in so many ways. Going out on dates also offers a rich environment not only to get to know others but to know yourself.
In asking and responding to questions about each other’s lives and core values, it gives us the opportunity, to be honest, and authentically communicate about ourselves with the other. How can we find out in talking as well as observing their actions if they are a “fit” for us? We can approach dating as a fun challenge to get to know what really makes the other person “tick”, what’s the key that unlocks their puzzle!
Most importantly, we can enjoy the process of noting how we feel when we are around this person…is the lightness and joy or a pit in the stomach and anxiety? Is there ease or awkwardness? Are there feelings that something is just “not right”? It’s a fun experience to be curious and light about learning another person’s universe, and how it fits with ours.
From my own experience in being in a new relationship after three years of healing and dating, I can attest to the fact that entering into a long-term commitment isn’t the endgame, it’s just the beginning. It will bring up our vulnerabilities and fears like nothing else can. When we enter the arena with an arsenal of self-love, high standards, an understanding of the process, we can create and enjoy the ride of relationship at a much deeper level.