Life and Love After Divorce: Here’s What the Experts Advise

a ripped apart printed out picture of a divorce ex partners that separates them into two individual pieces

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about how to best approach dating after divorce; some people will say to take a few years off to grieve the ex-marriage, while others suggest putting yourself out there before the ink has dried. A 2019 Worthy study on divorce confirmed that there is no “correct” time to start dating again. 65% of the study participants were dating within the first year of being separated or divorced. And their feelings about it ran the full gamut as well: the same percentage, 68%, reported feeling “excited” and “scared” about starting to date again. The overlap seems to show that if there is one truly normal thing about dating after divorce, it’s that it’s a mishmash of often contradictory emotions.

Regardless of when you decide to jump back into the dating pool again, there are a few ways to make dating after divorce a smoother ride for both of you.

1) Make sure you’re in reasonable condition to find love again

Man breathing deeply in a forest

While it can be tempting to prove to yourself and the world that you’ve bounced back from your divorce and are thriving with an active love life again, give yourself space to really take stock of your emotional state. You cannot have a healthy relationship without a healthy mental state about yourself and the way you relate to others. If you aren’t there yet, don’t despair— find a therapist, counselor, or support group and start the work. This is as much a part of starting over for you as it will be for your eventual new person.

“People who have gone through a divorce should work to ensure that the issues they faced in their previous relationship are not affecting their outlook on subsequent relationships,” Dr. Kelly Campbell, P.h.D., a psychology professor at California State University, San Bernardino, advises, “When people avoid or bury the pain, there is a risk that those issues will continue to affect them and their relationships in the future.”

2) Be mindful of how you come across

Man looking at another man intensely

Divorce is one of the most stressful things you can go through. Nobody expects you to be totally chill about it, but you do need to make sure you’ve done at least some of the work on yourself. Even if the divorce ended badly, bitterness or anger is only going to turn off your current date.

Also be wary of coming across as too needy. While it’s probably true that you have some serious physical and emotional needs to be tended to right now, nobody wants to feel like they’re caving in to someone’s desperation. Try having a trusted friend (ideally, more than one and at least one of the gender you’re looking to attract) give it a look and give you honest feedback about how you might be coming across.

3) When it comes to confidence, fake it till you make it

Confident man smiling while sitting among friends

It takes a while to truly bounce back from something as traumatic as a divorce. There’s a good chance the dating game has changed quite a bit since you were last single – new apps, new deal breakers, and just the changes of being older and in a different phase of life.

Instead of panicking, embrace the newness. Be upfront that you’re getting back out into the market after a divorce. Most people will respond kindly and cut you a little bit of extra slack. On your end, look for things that bring you happiness and boost your confidence so you feel better for your love life and simply for yourself.

4) Take it slow

Shy girl covers her face with a hat while talking with a man

One of the biggest mistakes people make when dating after a divorce is trying to fit someone new into the space that a former spouse left behind. They try to find someone to fit that exact same level of intimacy and connection that was left behind after years, sometimes decades, of marriage. And unsurprisingly, the new person always comes up short and usually gets scared off in the process.

Remember, the goal right now isn’t to find someone to move in and make a life with you. The goal is to discover feeling comfortable in your own skin, on your own, and eventually find someone compatible with your new life. It’s normal to see someone you only just started dating only once or twice a week, sometimes even less. Keep your dates fun and casual and let the unique intimacy between you build itself up naturally.

5) Don’t be afraid of a breakup

Couple having an argument in the middle of the street

If you suffered a broken heart during your divorce, it’s only natural that you’d do everything to avoid that feeling again. But take a deep breath and comfort yourself with the fact that a regular breakup will not cause anywhere near the same grief. If divorce hits a nine or ten on a one-to-ten scale of emotional pain, a breakup of someone that you are seeing casually should hit about a three or four. Don’t give it more fear than it needs.

Put yourself back out there knowing that you will experience rejection, but you don’t need to be afraid of rejection. Remember, this person has only just met you, so it’s impossible for their rejection to be truly personal. It’s very likely that they don’t want to pursue a date with you for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. Instead of looking at them as pain points to be avoided at all costs, try looking at rejections as clearing the way for you to be available when the right person for the right time to come along.

Stacey Garratt

Stacey Garratt

Stacey Garratt is a writer on sex and relationships with a special focus on online culture, bisexuality, and non-monogamy. Her award-winning work has been featured in the New York Times, Buzzfeed, and American Public Media. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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