I used to think that being married was one of the hardest things I'd ever done -- harder than gutting my house till it looked like 1983 Beirut; harder than several hideously painful days of labour after which I couldn't sit for three months; and definitely harder than trying to figure out grade 5 math.
But I may have been mistaken. Dating after divorce is quite a trip. It's a potent mix of good intentions, raging libidos and abject fear.
Putting yourself out there
After lengthy marriages, many boomers aren't really keen to put themselves out there. Well, maybe putting themselves out there is the easy part; it's making a commitment to staying there with somebody new that's hard. That requires emotional intimacy, the forging of new alliances and the letting go of old ones and the very public declaration that you are now a 'couple.'
It's a whole lot easier to slip into the safe and familiar world of feeding your ravenous teen, helping your elderly parents, and juggling jobs, errands and household chores alone.
A shell-shocked group
Divorced boomers are a pretty shell-shocked group and statistics show that there will be considerably more of us as time passes. So what's to be done? How can we traverse the minefield of dating, bravely putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that the whole enterprise won't blow up in our faces?
Here are a few things you may want to keep in mind if you're just starting out.
10 tips from the trenches:
- Take your time: Unlike most other things in your jam-packed life, this is not one of your 'to-do' items. You're not on a deadline to find someone. Yes, time is finite but there will be enough of it.
- Reflect and heal: It can be difficult to think about your marriage. It's hard to think about what went wrong -- and what went right -- and what your part in it was, but that knowledge is critical to the success of any new relationship. Not looking at your history and learning from it is like striding into a busy street with your eyes closed. Odds are high that you'll hit something and chances are it'll hurt.
- Don't be pushed into doing anything you aren't ready to do: There may be many good things about your new relationship but you may still find yourself hesitating. It's common for one person to be more committed than the other, and one of you may decide to move on. This is often a gift in disguise. If the relationship is strong enough you'll both come back to it and if it isn't, you are better off on your own.
- Be honest with yourself and your partner: Dating after divorce means everyone has baggage and some of it is nasty. People may find themselves withholding information that would explain their actions because they don't want to think about their history, they don't want to scare off their new partner, or that's just their way of dealing with too much pressure. If you have found a loving, supportive partner realize that you are blessed and work at being more forthcoming. If you can't, you may not be ready for a relationship.
- Don't separate your partner from the rest of your life: Some people compartmentalize various parts of their lives in order to cope but this can leave their new partner feeling locked in one of those compartments. Don't do this to the person you care about. They deserve better and so do you. If you can't fully integrate them into your life (i.e. tell your kids, your parents, your friends about them) that's OK. Just be honest, drum up the courage to say so and be prepared for the consequences.
- Be your own cheerleader: Give yourself a pat on the back for every success, every lesson learned, every risk taken. Each one of these milestones is a move forward into your new life and each one should be celebrated.
- Develop a strong support team of friends and family: This is so important. You need another adult -- or several -- to hang out with, to hear your war stories and to have your back. If you have kids, you definitely need adult supporters. Do not go to your kids for support. If you do and they say, "You need to talk to one of your adult friends," listen -- and go find one.
- Walk... very far... away from the matchmakers: One of the best ways to meet someone new who has the potential to be a great match, is through an introduction from the people who know you both the best. But for the very same reason, you need to be ready for such an introduction. If you are, that's great, but if there's any doubt, don't. The last thing you need now is to get into a relationship with a friend of a friend and have it go sour. Think of all those future dinner parties, cottage events, unexpected run-ins at the mall...
- Stay off the dating sites! I don't care if it's the long weekend and you can "check your matches for free!" Don't. Are you ready to see that welter of faces? Do you really want to give that site your email and personal information so that they can hound you to sign up? No. You want to imagine that your next partner will be gorgeous, witty, kind, smart and crazy about you. He or she will somehow be the one that got away...until now. Whenever that may be.
- Do what you love: When you feel like it and not a moment sooner, make a list of all the places you like to go and all the things you've always wanted to do. And do them. Your odds of meeting someone with similar interests will be much better, you'll be focused on what you love and you'll look your best because there will be joy in your face. What could be more attractive than that?
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