Divorce is one of the more universal experiences for modern American adults, right up there with high health insurance premiums and back pain. But you wouldn’t think so based on how we tend to talk about dating — as if everyone is in their early 20s and looking to settle down for the first time, and permanently. A vast number of us are looking to date after at least one marriage, and dating after divorce is a unique experience with unique challenges and opportunities. Although it can feel daunting, dating after divorce can be a rewarding and even fun way to honor your wants and needs in a relationship and maybe meet someone incredible — here are my tips on doing it right.
Take time to metabolize your transition — but don’t sideline yourself
It’s an objectively good idea to take some time for yourself after (and during) a divorce — even aside from the emotional toll of what’s often a difficult process even when everyone involved is kind and considerate, there are major logistical, financial, and legal processes that can be exhausting in even the best of circumstances. Very few of us would have time or inner resources to be our best selves on the dating scene in the months during and after a divorce, so it’s a good idea to focus on yourself until you feel you’re able to stand on firm ground emotionally and psychologically.
That said, divorce doesn’t need to be a reason to exile yourself or take vows of celibacy — sidelining yourself from dating too aggressively can compound any latent feelings you might have of being broken, unfit for relationships, unlovable, or “damaged goods” after a divorce. Especially if you’re open to more casual dating, it’s okay and even helpful to try going on some dates and meeting folks a few months out — even if it might feel too soon to start looking for another serious relationship.
Learn from your past, but lean toward the future — and consider what you want
It’s hugely important for your well-being as well as your future relationships to let yourself really process your marriage and its ending — to give yourself time to integrate any grief, pain, hurt, or resentment, but also to think about what lessons you’ve learned. What does it look like for a partner to really meet your needs — or not? What have you learned about what you want — or don’t? Sometimes, we divorce because we’ve grown as people and the type of relationship we once happily embraced no longer meets our standards for what we deserve. It’s helpful to take some time to really think through what that means, and what you now know you want in the future.
At the same time, there’s no need to get trapped in a cycle of ruminating on your past relationship — big decisions and transitions are meaningful, and they also aren’t all that make us up as people. Think about what you took away from the experience of separating — and then let yourself make new memories. Your previous relationship doesn’t have to mean anything about your future ones.
Decide what you want to disclose, and when
Entering the dating game after a divorce can sometimes feel like you have an asterisk next to your name as a single person — that other people who have never been married are going to be put off by someone who’s already been married, or who has gone through something even bigger than a breakup. People can react to this feeling in different ways; some people feel the desire to hide their divorce history, while others want to disclose it immediately and almost compulsively to get it out of the way.
These assumptions are totally understandable, if not necessary. It’s easy to imagine the dating field as a million young, single, never-married people and then you, when in reality divorce is incredibly common. If you do choose to disclose you’ve been divorced on a date, you may be surprised to find that your date often has, too.
And for those people who have never been married, a poor reaction from them about this speaks to their suitability for dating, not yours. Divorce isn’t a mark of failure; it’s a mark of maturity to be able to change your mind about something and take action to get your needs met, and it means you have a degree of experience in committed relationships that your date doesn’t. Reacting poorly to that information means they wouldn’t be a good partner — and also are likely to hit some roadblocks with dating in general. If they can’t handle a divorce, something safely in the past that doesn’t really impact them, how would they handle disclosure of a disability, children, or trans status?
Lean into friendships, not just relationships