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Please Delay The Dating Until You Are Fully Healed

Rachel's Post  in the Divorce Section of the Huffington Post, 12/20/2011

My client Mark* proudly announced to me the other day that he was actively dating on When my facial expression changed from a grin to a grimace, he clearly was perplexed. "I thought you'd be happy for me, Rachel. I'm tired of feeling lousy. Dating puts me in 'active' mode and gives me something to do. Isn't that a good thing?"

Several times zones away from Mark, Tara* was animated when she phoned me last week. She had just completed three dates and had several new ones lined up. "It's hard to keep track of all of them, so I'm keeping notes to make sure I won't mess up their names. This sure beats sitting home and sobbing."

I am generally thrilled when my divorced clients make the decision to date again. I firmly believe that life does not have to end when a marriage falls apart, and with dedicated psychological work plus the passage of time, anyone can fully recover and love again.

Mark and Tara are wonderful people, both kind and intelligent, yet I find their philosophy typical of a large percentage of folks in their predicament. Nevertheless, it is a flawed philosophy, and they have no business dating at this phase in their recovery. You see, both of their marriages ended only a few months ago. They are both still in significant pain, they don't understand why their ex partners exited their marriages, or what part they played in its demise. They have not committed to my three phase building-block progression for recovery (Healing, Understanding and Transformation). They are lonely and scared about their future, perfectly normal feelings to have during a separation, yet they surmise that dating is exactly the tonic they need to move past their distress.

Although counterintuitive to most, I encourage my clients and especially the men in my practice, to witness their emotions and embrace their feelings. There are many good reasons to do this. Getting in touch with your feelings will help you process your loss. If you don't take the time to experience your grief, there is a good chance you will never fully understand why you picked your mate and why the relationship ended as it did. And if you can't comprehend those factors, you may be setting yourself up to choose similar partners and regrettably, have similar outcomes in the future. Once you commit to doing this valuable psychological work, as opposed to running from your feelings, your recovery will actually accelerate.

I fully get it that most of us are uncomfortable sitting with unsettling feelings or reaching out for support. Even today in 2011, men are not acculturated to admit weakness or to be passive. They are wired to be solution-focused and competitive. Women, on the other hand, have a need to have intimate connections, and can feel very disjointed when not coupled. For these and other reasons such as a desire to boost self-esteem, a need to get back at an ex, attempting to overcome loneliness, and the yearning to have sex, it is tempting to attempt to date as soon as possible to fill a void. In my estimation, these are never the right reasons to date.

I'm here to beg you if you're in this situation, not to jump the proverbial gun. Dating before you are mentally ready is simply a Band-Aid, plus it's risky. If you're not putting your best self out there, there is a good chance you will attract the wrong type of partner, and the last thing you need right now is a fresh set of problems or a brand new breakup. Also, many people, and particularly women, especially on legitimate dating sites, are looking for a relationship, and it drives them nuts when they discover their date is newly separated and not ready for a real connection let alone a commitment. This can become a complicated stew resulting in deception, confusion, and hurt feelings all around. If you take the time to heal and work on yourself, you'll be in a much better position to date in the future. You'll be over your ex, more confident, more self-aware, and you'll know exactly what type of partner and relationship you're looking for. Aren't these worthwhile reasons to delay the dating?

Until then, there are so many positive things you can do to keep yourself busy and engaged in the world. The best way to build or renew confidence is to engage in activities that are interesting, noble, and worthwhile. You can create new or strengthen old friendships. Pleased don't be afraid to speak to your friends or a therapist about your breakup. The more you talk, the quicker you will heal. You can tackle mental and/or physical hobbies such as taking a class or joining a sports team. You can travel on your own to someplace you've never been before. Challenging yourself to go beyond your comfort zone will make you feel terrific.

If you take time to breathe, process the end of your relationship, and strive towards your mental repair, you're going to be an amazing dater when you get back out there. So consider temporarily taking down your dating profile and giving yourself the gift of a healthy recovery. I promise you the rewards are worth the work.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

7 Responses »

  1. Thank you, so much! I agree 100%. Too often, we jump from one relationsh­ip to another in the hopes of finding someone who isn't our ex. Very few relationsh­ip problems are the fault of one person. It is important that people take time after a divorce to assess and correct any problems that they themselves brought into the marriage. After all, the only faults we can correct are our own.

    And, as stated above, it's important to understand why we picked that person as a mate because it will have a bearing on who we pick next.

    I am a huge advocate of waiting several months after a divorce before even beginning to consider dating again.

  2. I think it will take years, not months, before one can really date seriously and meaningful­ly. I have been divorced for a year and I am glad I didn't date, because I spent that time in introspect­ion, reflection­, therapy, reading self-help books, divorce support groups, etc. I also got back into socializin­g, but only with women for now. Divorces aren't momentary "accidents­" that just happen, it is a process, and it is important to take a honest look at the part I played in the marriage, and why I picked my ex. I had to look beyond my marriage, at previous relationsh­ips, at my childhood and my parents, to gain a better understand­ing of who I am and why I make the choices I make, and change myself for the better. Without some degree of self-aware­ness, people are likely to be on auto-pilot and make the same mistakes again and again - repetition compulsion­. I certainly don't know if I will make good choices even after the work I have done on myself, but I can only try and hope for the best.

  3. Mikel Kohen Some very wise advice. I am going thought a very long a drawn out divorce. We have been separated for two years. We lived in the same house for a year (bad, bad idea!!!!!)­. Financial it was all we can do. Now for the last year we have been living away from each other. Great thing!!!!!­! For myself I stayed away from dating from this last year. I have not been with another person, and have focused on myself. Getting in touch with myself has been the biggest blessing. She on the other has got involved with someone and now finds herself just as messed up. The point is, for me that taking the time has put me in the place to be there for my children and for me. I am slowly getting into the dating thing, but I know what I want and do not want. I also know what is important in my life.

  4. The author makes a great point that we often trick ourselves that it's a bit early to get out there. She also commented about one of her clients using match (online dating). Definitely a good option but another great option for people getting back into the dating scene is Speed Dating because you meet face to face on many short dates or "pre-dates­" (some people call it pre-dating­). So 8-12 six minute mini-dates allows someone who's getting back into the dating scene to do so in a fun and efficient way. Of course many people that do speed dating have been dating for awhile and it's a good way to meet a lot of new people in a short time (typically 1-2 hours). Online dating often takes 5-10 hours of communicat­ion before actually meeting up, so for busy single profession­als speed dating can be more efficient. I would also recommend looking into other singles events around town (maybe google yourcity dating events) to see what comes up.

  5. I've actually spent a lot of time thinking about stuff like this. It's been almost 2 years since the divorce, and, though I was on the cusp of dating again, I drew back because I knew I'm not ready. Plus, if I'm being completely honest, I still love my ex. I know I'm not dating material right now, and that in fact, I may never be. Lets face it, not many women are attracted to a disabled man who gets around on a can and lives on 14K a year and has young children. Not a chick magnet. On the other hand, I cook, I clean, and I'm not a sports addict.

    And, living as I do in a small town, you don't just date one person, you date the entire town. ALL break ups are public informatio­n around here! LOL

    But most of all, knowing I'm not ready, means knowing that it's not fair of me to get involved in dating anyone to assuage my pain or get back on the horse, so to speak. All I'd end up doing is spreading more pain around as any new relationsh­ips I developed would be most likely doomed to failure. I know what that kind of pain is like, and wouldn't inflict it on anyone. Better to keep to myself.

  6. I cannot tell you how many first dates I had that were more like counseling sessions, men who spent the whole meal crying about how much they missed their kids, and at the end of dinner, instead of the offer of a second date, told me they'd decided that it was worth putting up with the wife in order to be more involved in their kids' lives. PLEASE, do me a favor, don't fool me into thinking I'm going out for a good time when what you really should be doing is seeing a therapist!

  7. e­ven with a completely sexless and emotionall­y vapid marriage for the last two years I believe that there is someone out there for me. However, I know I'm not finished getting my own mental house in order. I'm closer than I thought I'd be but there's still some work to be done. I cannot just go "sport dating" because I think that's a total waste. What for, just sex? I know I can find that when it's needed but for me to go on a date it's an investment of my time, financial resources, and emotion and I just can't bring myself to do that half-assed­. Besides that it's not fair to anyone I would date - "Yeah I kinda like you but this is really just so I don't feel like life is passing me by so just go with the flow". Bull. I know I wouldn't accept it if the other person approached it like that so I can't do it either.

    Plus, if you do "sport-dat­e" trust me, word gets out. People realize you're just playing or really not into it 100% so when you do eventually get your stuff together and want to give it your all no one is left willing to take a chance. I'd much rathere be in control of my own life and not stupidly create yet another set of issues I need to overcome.

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