If someone, anyone, had told me five years ago that today I would still be single, I wouldn’t have believed them. “You’ll meet someone else,” I heard over and over again as if finding a new relationship after 16 years of marriage would be as easy as replacing my winter coat.
In a way, I believed that, too. After all, what could be so difficult?
As most newly single people do, I set up an online dating profile for the first time and watched the emails pour in within seconds. It was all the proof I needed.
“This is easy,” I said, setting up two dates for the coming weekend, the first scheduled only five days after I told my husband I had already found a lawyer and that he should, too. After three months of anguish following my husband’s sudden announcement that he was “done with our marriage,” which included begging him to stay, my discovery that he had been having an affair, and second-guessing almost every decision I had made over the course of our 24 years together, I believed, naively, I was ready to be in a serious relationship again.
After three months of anguish following my husband’s sudden announcement that he was “done with our marriage,” I believed, naively, I was ready to be in a serious relationship again.
Three months, however, is not a long time, something I didn’t understand then but do now. A lot can happen in three months, as can very little. But when it comes to dating, the tendency can be, especially for those of us who felt starved during our marriage for love, attention, sex, or intimacy, to read more into a date or a few dates than we should. Or move on too quickly before getting to know somebody better.
And by better, I don’t mean how powerful a person’s backhand is, what kind of wine he prefers, red or white, and whether he would scoff at my simplicity in saying red or white.
To some extent, each of these examples speaks to how much we may or may not enjoy spending time with one another. Shared common interests can provide a solid jumping off point for conversation as well as an activity date. But am I looking only for a tennis partner or even one at all? Should my future partner and I enjoy all the same pastimes for us to enjoy a healthy relationship together one day?
When using online dating sites and apps, our inclination is often to turn to a more superficial analysis of potential prospects, believing it will make the endless stream of choices more manageable. In doing so, we tend to focus on what potential partners do, where they go, what they eat, and in the most basic sense, how they look – tall, short, dark, light, skinny, or fat. In all fairness, others evaluate us in the same way, increasing our risk of either being discarded shortly after meeting or overlooked altogether.
That is the paradox of modern dating. Getting dates is easy, building relationships a much more involved process, one that we cannot and should not rush.
Whether a person is honest, can be depended on, and will “do the right thing” when faced with a moral dilemma should, therefore, be the gold standard. Not whether an individual has graduated from an Ivy-league college or even college at all, what his or her job title or address is, or how many times per week that person works out. As time and experience will ultimately tell, unless someone possesses integrity and a strong character, none of these other considerations, among others, will matter.
Most of us, however, are creatures of habit, even when it comes to picking a mate. And that puts us in a precarious position, especially when dating after a divorce. We may not want to admit it but, once upon a time, we had a comfort level, despite that level not always being so comfortable. That comfort level can come from anywhere – marriage, a past relationship, childhood. Its origin doesn’t matter. Whatever the case may be, we seek out the familiar, mostly because we are afraid. Change, after all, is scary. Being alone and lonely, even scarier.
Getting dates is easy, building relationships a much more involved process, one that we cannot and should not rush.
Which is how I found myself dating, and continuing to date, someone who was verbally abusive to me – who cursed at and berated me, and put me down for being a stay-at-home mother, a dynamic I witnessed growing up. Though it didn’t take me long to walk away and never look back from that dating experience, it took me too long. Today, that timeline would look a lot different.
Divorce can be demoralizing. It can strip us down, causing us to question the person we are and what value we hold. If I could tell my newly divorced self one thing before beginning to date, it would be this: Slow down. Don’t rush. Take your time. Get to know someone, and be vulnerable enough to allow someone else to know you. And if the person you are dating is not treating you well, walk away, even if it means being alone. You owe yourself that much. At the end of the day, “[s]elf-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
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