Dating after divorce isn’t so scary if you have some guidelines.
I think that part of being an adult, and for me a (hopefully) always-evolving woman, is knowing when to say goodbye to people even when you both don’t want to say good-bye. The lessons my divorce revealed to me, is that being companions is not the same as being lovers, that the act of sex is not the same thing as passion, dating isn’t a relationship and at the end of the day, speaking your truth kindly is a clean and respectful way to break up with someone.
It’s sad when you find someone who is perfect for you in so many ways except one… and that one thing is a biggie — in fact it’s a deal breaker. I participated in a marriage for seven years, trying to make myself believe that everything was going to be rainbows and kittens. In my three-year relationship right after, I did the same thing, except this time I wasn’t married, but he was. I had a talent for believing the romantic archetypes fed to me by the media, and the innocence of being a little girl asked to describe what she wanted her wedding to be like, by her teachers, best friends and her mother.
If it wasn’t a perfect romantic match, I would make it one, by God I would make it one if it killed me.
A couple of months ago, I broke up with another paragon of perfection. Thank goodness it only took three months. I was sad, but I can see now I’m making progress recognizing what is and isn’t realistic, what doesn’t work for me, and then taking action to move out of those situations. Although I was met with some very alluring resistance, and pangs of my own “need” begging me to reconsider, I decided it was high time to face reality. I did this because in the years since my divorce — through passionate affairs, boyfriends, and one night stands, through blaming my body, my looks, my sexual forthrightness, and my old-fashioned idea of courting techniques, I ended up with some soft rules and some deal breakers as well as some truths about myself and what I want to be aware of when I start dating someone I’m interested in. Here are a few of the most important:
1) Maya Angelou was right; when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. If he speaks poorly of who he’s dated in the past, if he treats the valet like a serf, or if he doesn’t bend down to pet a dog or greet a child, he’s not going to be someone I can respect.
2) Let your feelings inform your instinct. However, always let your instinct have the deciding vote; it can’t be manipulated.
3) People only change behavior they want to change, and even then, sometimes they’re not capable of it.
It’s fine to give someone a chance, maybe even two, but if they aren’t taking steps to curb that road-rage that scares you, or manipulating situations to their own advantage, you can be pretty certain they’ll be like that longer than you have patience for … like forever.
4) Don’t invest more in a person than they invest in you. Both of you need to make an effort to grow or establish a bond. The work should be relatively even-ish, depending on circumstances. If one of you is putting more than 65 percent-70 percent effort with no reciprocation, chances are it will stay that way.
5) Human failings are just that — human. Forgive and move forward. If you can’t move forward, leave.
6) Be gentle with yourself when you’re feeling sensitive and don’t beat yourself up. Take care of yourself by being aware you may be reacting a little bit more emotionally than you normally would. As long as you own it, people (including yourself) are more apt to forgive.
7) You are inherently sexy. No one can take that away from you, not even yourself. Not everyone will be affected by your sexiness and those that will be might not always act on it. This is not personal. Rejection is not a sign there’s something wrong with you, because there isn’t. There are many factors involved in any given situation in life and attraction is no different. My mother always used to say, “rejection is protection” and looking back on some of the relationships I forced my way into, she was right.
8) No matter how perfect everything looks, if you find yourself saying things like, “On paper, this is ideal,” it probably isn’t. If at the end of the day you’re unhappy, it’s not working.
9) Your feelings should never be ignored, dismissed, argued with or taken lightly, especially by you. No matter what, even though it may feel uncomfortable, speak up. You must have your own back. If the person you’re with tries to negotiate around your feelings, minimize them, gaslight you into thinking you don’t feel something you do or flat out disregards them … run, don’t walk, far away.
10) It’s usually never the situation that’s pissing you off, it’s the mindset behind the situation that’s pissing you off. Intention is everything. Even the sweetest words can have the cruelest meaning if spoken capriciously.
11) Endeavor to look at disappointment with broader strokes. Every time you are made painfully aware of what you don’t want, it makes what you really do want even clearer and defined. Take every failed date, relationship or flirtation as another brick that makes your ideal house stronger.
12) Words mean nothing without action. Seriously. I mean it. 100 percent. It’s as simple as that.
13) It’s all going to work out in the end. Just trust your instincts, keep boiling down what you want in order to be happy and soon you’ll learn to recognize the signs of what’s not going to work sooner than later.
These tenets work for me, but it’s important for each one of us to find our own bespoke rules, guidelines, deal breakers, and tweak them as we grow. Life is dynamic — it has to be in order for it to evolve. Adjust to your needs as you grow, be respectful of other people, become acquainted with how your instinct communicates with you, and be kind to yourself. You’ll find that your personal list goes a long way in not just navigating your dating habits, but with life’s other major themes.
In the end, becoming more specific about what you want in a relationship can never be a bad thing, just make certain it supports your quality of life as opposed to your ego. No matter what kind of relationship you are seeking, if you stay focused and true to yourself, in the end, you will have no regrets.