A second chance at love after a divorce is an exhilarating experience! A new romance is filled with optimism, all the flushed sensations of a first crush, and probably some relief that the new partner is not, well, the old partner!
For some re-entering the dating scene, it’s good to know that love is possible again, that there are people out there who will be interested in dating, and that the divorce was not the final chapter in their love life or happiness.
A trap that many recently-divorced people fall into when beginning to date or form new relationships is measuring each new prospect up against the ex. Does he do all of the annoying things you used to hate about your ex? Can she hold a candle to all of the great things you’ve come to expect from your ex? Is the fact that he does (fill in the blank) a sign that he will cheat or be a bad partner? Does the fact that she also (you name it) likes or does certain things a red flag that she will be like your past partner?
The problem with comparisons is that we may unwittingly hold behaviors from past partners against new people in our lives. Maybe a new person can’t measure up to the relationship expectations we formed from a previous marriage, but is that fair?
These comparisons can be good or bad. For instance, on my first date with my ex he revealed (by adamantly stressing to the waitress at dinner) that he is intolerant to onions. Not allergic, just hates them with a passion! I found this to be an odd coincidence because my previous serious partner was also militantly anti-onion. Sitting in the restaurant, part of me wanted to break out in a cold sweat because I thought maybe onion hatred was some sort of sign of bad things to come and what sort of person he was. I had never known anyone else to have such an intense reaction to a menu item!
Then I thought, “that’s ridiculous!” You don’t just not date a guy because he despises the same food your ex did! So, I ignored that little voice in my head, eventually married the guy, and lived onion-free for a decade.
Onions are an extreme, if not completely odd, example. For most of us, it’s many smaller details that catch our attention. We know that our partner likes their eggs a certain way, what their favorite kinds of movies are, what things they know how to do, and what their hot button issues are. We know the most intimate details of their bodies, what sex is like with them, and what it’s like to sleep lying next to them.
How can you not, at least to a reasonable extent, keep a running checklist of similarities and differences between a new and old love interest? It’s part of the process of getting to know someone and deciding how or if they fit into your life. The challenge is to not become obsessed with making comparisons to the point of almost punishing a new lover because you expect the same (good or bad) from them.
We have to learn to let go of the ghosts and little connections to our exes. It’s ok to appreciate the good they brought into our lives while together or the good they bring to our lives by leaving; but, we must see new loves as individuals. Sure, they may have some things in common with past partners; but, that doesn’t mean the relationship will have the same outcome or they will treat us the same. Of course, our past relationships do teach us lessons about people and who we are. We should not ignore true red flags of abusive treatment, nor should we seek out a new partner based on who they remind us of!
I am re-married. Yes, he actually loves onions, so I get to cook with them again! I found it funny that he enjoys them after two men in my life who are co-founders of the Onion Haters of America Club. My husband’s appreciation for onions was not a valid reason to choose him or an indicator of what kind of person or partner he is. He was different in many ways from my past loves. The first man I’ve dated with blonde hair and blue eyes. The first who is a real academic, yet also an athlete. He never hesitates to help me with things around the house, which is something my ex refused to do. My ex was very skilled at carpentry and mechanical things, which my husband does not come by naturally.
I haven’t found myself too caught up on the similarities or differences from one husband to another. I valued specific core traits in him, some of which I always knew were important to me, and others that became more important to me after bad experiences. To me, it’s a good thing that he’s a different person. My ex never watched football, but my husband is an avid fan. I tolerate and enjoy a new and unique set of behaviors.
I have noticed that my husband sometimes has a hard time separating my behavior from his ex, or I should say that his expectations for behavior based on what he knew of her sometimes carry over to me. His relationship with her was volatile. She had a lot of anger problems, and he and his children still bear the physical and emotional scars from her outbursts. I have watched him transition from a more guarded and nervous person to a more relaxed and trusting individual.
I have seen him struggle when he knows he has done something to let me down because he anticipates that I will go off on him, yelling, screaming, destroying property, or physically hurting him. Time and again after either avoiding different scenarios, which he knew to be dangerous for him in the past or bracing for an explosion, his fears were unfounded because I didn’t react the same way she would have.
It pains me to see a victim of abuse go through the process of learning that not everyone is the same kind of partner. I can’t help that I like some of the same foods, colors, or movies that she does. Some things can’t be helped because we are both females and we will respond similarly. The most important message I can work to convey to him is that I am not her. Whether positive or negative traits, I am my own person. He needs to assess and know me as my own unique being. In some ways, we will react the same, but in most ways we will not.
Any person you will meet has both bad and good qualities. Some we won’t mind having as part of our life again, while others are definitely on the “not to be repeated” list. In most ways I couldn’t be happier that my partner is nothing like my exes, not because I specifically sought him out as an opposite to them, but because I love him just the way he is!