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 Match.com. 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.