While I now know who I am much better than I ever have in my life, I have a lot to learn about dating. Dating after divorce is a whole new ballgame!
How do you find another person with similar interests and attitudes that you want to be more than “just friends” with? In the handful of months since I re-entered the dating scene, I have learned many dating lessons. Some of the lessons sucked more than others. The most important lesson of dating after divorce is also the most shocking.
First, you need to know I have only used two primary dating platforms thus far for dating after divorce: EHarmony and Tinder. (Yes, Tinder. It’s not just a hook-up site.) However, my first foray back into the dating world was from someone asking me out in the real world. If you are interested, I plan to write about the more memorable experiences.
Stumbling my way through how to use EHarmony and Tinder, including developing my own set of rules for Tinder, was super fun (yes, I’m being sarcastic). But in the end, the dating lessons from both are the same.
Dating After Divorce
Lesson #1 – Get out of Cyberspace
Finding and connecting with potential romantic partners is infinitely easier in cyberspace. Number one, you know they too are looking for a romantic partner and not married. (The number of married people not wearing their wedding rings is crazy!) Number two, you can quickly connect with a whole host of people you may have never encountered in your daily life.
That said, you must get out of texting in cyberspace and into the “real world” ASAP. Why? Because there must be a physical connection (or at least not repulsion) for any romantic relationship to work. Let’s face it, you can’t honestly judge physical connection through a screen.
I recall meeting a man from EHarmony. We had many things in common and had nice text conversation but nothing overly intense or detailed. After about a month, we arranged to meet. It was a lovely time, but I knew immediately that I was not and would never be physically attracted to him. I can’t pinpoint why exactly. He was attractive looking, could hold a conversation, and generally nice. However, I immediately recognized I had no desire to ever hold this guy’s hand let alone brownchickenbrowncow with him!
On top of physical connection, personality (or lack of) can be faked or misinterpreted through text. In one of my Tinder experiences, I had a fabulous text conversation with a man over the course of a couple of weeks. It was a fun conversation with lots of back-and-forths; we really seemed to click. We arranged to meet. He was physically appealing in real life, but the conversation was a little forced on my side and had dead spots. Clearly, one, or both of us, had misrepresented or misinterpreted personality via text. (Confession: It didn’t stop me from learning lesson #4 with him…oops, my bad!)
My new dating rule of thumb: Listen to my gut for safety concerns on who to meet and meet physically within a week after meeting online.
One encounter I chatted via text, my gut didn’t scream any safety concerns, and we met within 3 days of matching online. It was a great connection physically and personality wise. We had a great time together and learned about each other in person instead of text. Ultimately it didn’t work out, but my new rule of thumb saved me time and a little heartbreak from letting hope build-up.
Lesson #2 – Daily Details are a No-No
In an effort to replace the close relationship Rainbow and I had, I have committed a big “no-no” in the dating scene, sharing too many daily details too soon. Daily details are something you share with people who know and care for you deeply – not an initial relationship.
When someone you are just getting to know asks how your day is, you reply with general comments like “going smoothly” or “good”. If you immediately tell them about your laundry folding and helping with homework or the frustrating work project in all its gory details, you imply a deeper level of commitment and caring. Don’t mishear me. You need to share these details in a relationship, just not one first starting.
Sharing little details may also indicate loneliness or desperation for connection. Daily details are very off-putting. I say this because I have been on the receiving end of someone over-sharing daily details too quickly. My immediate gut reaction was to withdraw. (I was still nice and ended the connection with compassion. Obviously, I’m writing this and have been “that person.”)
Find a friend to share daily details with until you have physically met a few times and formed a stronger commitment level.
My new dating rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to a person you just met at the grocery store, you shouldn’t tell someone you are just starting to date either.
Lesson #3 – Don’t Talk About My Ex
This lesson probably strikes you as a “duh, Sunshine!” I know. I know. This is likely a major violation of some dating 101 rule. I’ve always been a hands-on learner though so, even if I had read this rule, I was going to have to learn it the hard way.
That said, given my personal situation, it is very hard to not mention why I’m single when initially getting to know someone. This is a key part of my story and why I am even dating after divorce to being with. However, that person doesn’t care about my past, they are interested in my future – and I theirs.
Alas, men leave openings left and right for me to insert commentary regarding my ex-husband, Rainbow, being gay. Everything from negative talk about homosexuality to comments about learning to improve personal shortcomings from the last relationship’s failures has been said by men I have met.
One, you need to stop spewing hate for gays because I was married to one and am still friends with him. Two, I know I have flaws but the only reason I got divorced was because my ex realized he is gay.
Regardless of the fantastic openings men provide me…
My new dating rule of thumb: Don’t talk about your ex when first getting to know a potential romantic partner.
And if they immediately bring up their ex, they likely are not ready to move on either. No, I don’t want to hear about how every partner you’ve ever had cheated on you. Or all about the crazy bi-polar disorder your last partner had. This may sound mean, but it just makes it obvious to me you have some issues to work through.
Lesson #4 – Slow & Steady for Intimacy
I admit it. I was totally the chick that jumped right into physical intimacy with a couple of men when I just shouldn’t have. Due to my situation, I was primarily driven by curiosity. After all, I was dying to know, “Is sex with a straight man better than sex with a gay one??”
Intimacy is a confusing area (at least for me after being married for 14 years to a gay man). Men send mixed signals as much as women. They will put their arm around me, but not try to kiss me. Why is the arm before the kiss okay? An arm around me seems much more intimate – literally results in a full-body press situation – than a casual kiss. Maybe I’m the strange one, however, when the arm wrap happens I keep thinking. “Get out of my personal space. I don’t know you!”
On the flip side, one of the things I miss most in my life is casual physical touch with another person. I wasn’t much of a “hugger” prior to the last couple of years. To fill the touch gap left by my divorce, I’ve learned to be more physical with friends and my kids.
Bottom line, you can’t rush the physical intimacy part of a relationship. Physical intimacy is designed to emotionally bind you to another person. Two or three dates is not enough time to know if you connect with another person on key personality, life perspectives, and general interest areas. Without knowing those key connection points work, the relationship won’t last. Then you will have unintentionally bound yourself tighter emotionally by jumping the gun on physical intimacy.
My new dating rule of thumb: No jumping into physical intimacy for at least 5 dates.
(Yes, yes, I know some of you will be like. “What?!? That’s way too soon.” Please don’t be a hater. We each choose our own path.)
Lesson#5 – I don’t have to “settle”
When you are married for a long enough time, you naturally learn that commitment requires some level of conforming or at least compromising. As I started my dating journeys, I took this attitude with me.
Unknowingly I was having an inner dialogue that went something like this:
“This man supports, him/her?!? Well, I don’t agree with most of him/her’s political stances at all. But that’s okay, we agree on a couple hot topic areas. I can learn to live with some of the other ideas he/she proposed.”
“Weird, he just told me a story about knowing someone who killed his soon-to-be ex-wife and then himself. How does he think this is a good story to tell on a first date over coffee? Oh well, I’m definitely attracted to him physically and really like his approach to work/life balance. I’m sure it’s just a strange fluke he decided to share this story with me.”
Generally, I am an optimistic person; seeing the good in people and in life overall. I believe we need to acknowledge the ugly but focus on the good.
News flash: This is not a good approach when dating.
I’m sure the men I have gone on dates with (and maybe even some of you) already know this, but it’s still a dating lesson I had to learn. I don’t have to commit to anyone and “settle” in any area of my life if I don’t want to.
My new dating rule of thumb: When strange comments are made or major beliefs don’t align – walk away!
Lesson #6 – Politeness is So 1950’s
Prior to mid-life dating, I knew society, in general, seemed to have lost its penchant for polite behavior. But dating after divorce brings the lost art of politeness into sharp focus. (At the very minimum, people’s inability to have uncomfortable conversations.)
I met the man from my first dating foray in the real world. When I realized it wasn’t going to work, I called him. I spoke to him on the phone and said basically this relationship isn’t working for me. At the time, it was because I literally did not have time to devote to a relationship. Several experiences of being ghosted later, I realize how unusual it is in the dating world to make that polite phone call (or even text) and say “it’s over” to a person.
For those of you that may not know, ghosting is a common but terrible practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
Now, I can’t say I’ve had any long-term committed relationships since my divorce, however, if I learned lesson #4 with you, the least you can do is text me “I’m out. Peace.” Lesson #4 wasn’t learned on first dates here people…
And I would love to say ghosting is a practice restricted to people on Tinder. Sadly, it is not. One of the EHarmony connections openly admitted when I met him that ghosting is a legitimate way to end a relationship. Say what!?! No! People, that is rude.
Additionally, I’m positive ghosting causes more emotional harm to the person being ghosted than a simple, “I’m sorry but I’m no longer interested.” Just because a practice is easy and is becoming acceptable, doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
When you are no longer interested or have met someone in person and realize it’s not going to work, man up! Be polite – tell them directly.
I will be the first to admit it is not easy to look at someone you just met and say, “I enjoyed meeting you but I only see a friendship between us.” Regardless of how uncomfortable I feel, I will continue to do it. I challenge others to do it as well.
My new dating rule of thumb: Continue to be polite and directly tell the person when you become aware the relationship won’t work out.
Now the vast majority of these dating lessons I’ve learned may seem like “duh” to you. (I probably should have learned them in my late teens and early twenties like most people. Alas, I met my Prince Charming at the age of 19.)
And surprisingly, I have managed to avoid a common dating pitfall: money discussions too early in the relationship.
Yet the largest and most shocking lesson I have learned over the last few months is:
Lesson #7 – I Like My Freedom
After all the mayhem of my life and even knowing I want to share my life with someone, the most unexpected dating after divorce lesson is that I like my freedom.
I love the thrill of “matching” with someone and get a big kick out of meeting new people. But when I boil it down, I like being free! Free to eat what I want, do what I want, plan my day and life in general how I want. Not having to consider someone else’s wants or schedule is amazing!!
Sure, I still plan around and for my kids. They are the best thing I’ve ever done with my life! Handling kids’ needs are not the same as another adult’s needs and schedule though.
If you would have told me I would enjoy my freedom six months ago, I would have laughed. I had spent my whole life desiring to share my life journey with another person. I had found that person and then lost them. The loss leaving a huge hole in my life.
Now, I am enjoying the dating after divorce scene while reveling in my unexpected, but the joyful freedom to live how I want!