A Survival Guide to Dating after Divorce
By Annette Bybee · February 14, 2018
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Dating after divorce is not for the faint of heart. It bears very little resemblance to never-married-20something dating. I should know. I’ve been engaging in this tricky (and sometimes downright bizarre) pastime for the last two and a half years and so far I have survived to tell. So for you newbies, here is my best advice, in the form of a survival guide. Take it with you whenever you dare to engage in post-divorce dating.
First tip: if you’ve been divorced less than 6 months, just say no. You’re not ready. Trust me. Everyone always thinks they’re ready. They’re not. I thought I was ready after three weeks. I went out and found three guys to date. What a woman I was! I could attract and keep three men pursuing me, all at the same time! Needless to say, none of those guys are still around. You see, newly divorced people often have something to prove. Like, “I’m still attractive to the opposite sex, even if my spouse stopped loving me!”
After I had been divorced for about a year and calmed down on the whole “must date the whole world so I can prove how attractive I am” thing, I made another big mistake. I dated a man who was newly divorced. Of course I thought “he’s different” mainly because he was so cute and we connected so well that I really wanted him to be different. He pursued me relentlessly. Funny texts, inspiring emails, flowers, I love you’s, sweet kisses. It lasted all of three weeks. He swept me off my feet and then dumped me on my tush. Because hello, he was only divorced for three months when I met him.
Newly divorced folks just aren’t right in the head. They have so much unfinished emotional business that they simply are not ready to get emotionally involved with someone new. After my three guy phase, I decided maybe the naysayers were right. I wasn’t ready, so I took my counselor’s advice and read ‘Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends’ by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti. (Available on Amazon HERE)
This book took me through the mental work I needed to do to get me on the road to being relationship ready again. In time. Not right away. Because let’s face it. Everyone who is divorced has some baggage. Sometimes it’s fairly serious baggage. It’s not fair to lug that baggage to a new person and expect them to help you unpack it in a casual dating relationship. I am responsible for unpacking my own bags. At least the biggest ones. We all take something into a marriage or dating relationship, but we can’t expect someone else to be our therapist/counselor/life coach. That’s why we pay therapists/counselors/life coaches. So we can be fit to live with.
Once you’ve given yourself some time to get your head on somewhat straight and are ready to dip your toes in the water, fasten your seatbelt for a rough ride. Everything you remember about dating has changed. Now you have an ex. You likely have kids. You have a lot of responsibilities. You have the financial challenges that come from the divorce. Not only are you dealing with the fact that you are now divorced, you are also juggling paying child support (or worrying that your ex won’t pay it this month). Same with alimony. You now may have child custody issues. You may have a rocky relationship with your ex, which may include court appearances.
So picture having all of this going on and deciding to go out and find someone to date! Are you nuts? Okay, so you’re lonely. Single parenting takes it out of you. Or you don’t see your kids as often as you want to, and that makes you sad. You want some companionship. You want some fun. You want someone to hold you and tell you everything’s going to be okay. So where do you find these potential love interests?
There are a few options. First there is the local LDS single scene. There are firesides, singles conferences, dances, house parties, etc. If you happen to live in Utah, Idaho, or Arizona, you might find a very good selection of folks to date this way. If not, maybe not so much. Once you’ve been to enough of these you’ve met pretty much everyone in the group. Once you’ve dated everyone of interest in your group, you start waiting and praying that someone new will show up. (This puts you in the awkward situation of thinking “Am I praying for someone to get divorced or widowed??” I like to think that I’m praying for someone to move into my area that was already divorced or widowed with no help from my prayers or wishes!)
Tip #2: If you’re getting tired of going to local activities with the hopes of meeting someone to date and you know everyone in the group already, either change your focus or take a break. Instead of focusing on finding someone, focus on helping someone. I have a little prayer I say before I go to every activity. It goes a little something like this, “Please let me find a great guy to date. If I can’t find a great guy, let me have fun. If I can’t have fun, let me find someone that needs my help.” One of those things usually happens. But that way, my focus shifts so I’m not disappointed when I don’t find a great guy to date. I either have fun and/or I help someone. That generally means lending a listening ear or giving some words of encouragement. Either way, time well spent. If you simply can’t face another activity, take a break for a month or two. Go work on your hobbies, spend time with family, whatever. When you go back, there just might be some new folks to acquaint yourself with. And some of the excitement will come back.
If you don’t find anyone you want to date, (or who wants to date you!) in the group, you can go online. There are various LDS websites. I’ve been on a few, namely LDSPlanet and Mutual. I have young children so I can’t easily relocate so I restrict my dating criteria to locals. I’ve had a few decent dates with guys on Planet and been catfished once. I’ll get into that later. Mutual is still fairly new so doesn’t have many people to choose from yet. But it’s free. Planet charges. I’ve actually had more luck with finding men on Facebook. Of course I spend an inordinate amount of time on there, which I don’t recommend for people that have a life!
The fun (not really) thing about meeting someone online is that you really have no idea of what the person is like. You see carefully selected pictures, a few facts, and if you’re lucky a few paragraphs about the person. Not only does this not give you a sense of who the person really is, but it’s an opportunity for people to misrepresent themselves. And of course you don’t find this out until you spend time with the person in real life.
Which leads me to my catfish story and my next piece of advice. I received a ‘flirt’ from a man on Planet (not that it matters where it’s at, all sights can fall prey to these people). I checked out his profile. There was a nice picture and an intriguing blurb about the gentleman in the picture. I accepted his invitation to chat and soon we were exchanging texts. I was in a mood so I agreed to meet him for a short hike in a very public place that same day. He told me that he no longer had a beard like the one in his picture because he had grown that as a dare for work.
He told me what vehicle he would be in so I spotted him right away. My jaw dropped. I knew that guy and it wasn’t the guy in the picture! (Long story short I had been on Planet about 6 months earlier and had a few phone calls with a guy who I googled and found to be an entirely different guy-different picture, different name-than the one in his profile. I also found complaints on websites about him and how he had defrauded a charity.) This was the same guy. He had catfished me. Again.
For those lucky enough to not know what catfishing is, the definition I found online is “lure (someone) into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.” That pretty much sums it up. This time I didn’t let him get away without giving him a piece of my mind. We had never met in person before so he didn’t know he was caught. (Who was the fish now??) I told him he looked nothing like his picture and he gave some lame excuse like “My kids don’t know I’m dating, so I use a different picture.” I spent the next twenty minutes trying to see if I could get him to be honest with me. I was actually kind of fascinated to hear from this supposed good member of the church. The funny thing is that even after I outed him, he still wanted to go out again. I laughed and told him I had no interest in someone who has no integrity. He later emailed another lame excuse and apology.
Which brings me to my third tip: If you’re looking at online profiles and you see only one picture and it looks professional, keep moving. Or better yet, report that person to the site. He or she is most likely catfishing. And if you do agree to date someone, if you don’t know them outside of the online realm, meet them in a public place the first time. Don’t invite someone to your home unless you can vouch for them some other way, like they’re in your friend’s ward, or dated someone you know, etc.
However you meet someone, you’ll find that many people carry some fairly heavy duty baggage. I’m not saying that’s only us divorced folks. It makes sense that these exist in married people as well, but we don’t often hear about their problems because we have no need to. I’ve met men with sex addictions, porn addictions, and drug/alcohol addictions. These are some pretty serious issues that cannot be disregarded when you’re looking for a potential mate. Thankfully, most people are fairly open about these issues so you can make decisions with all of the information.
I’m not saying don’t date people with these addictions. Some are in recovery and have been clean for a long time. Others are still actively engaging in them. This is where you have to use logic and the Spirit to guide you. I would not date someone who is actively using anything. I am also extremely cautious of men who are in recovery, especially because I have young children in my home. I cannot risk exposing them to use of any substances and the effects they bring. For example, I dated a fellow once that had a DUI not many months previously and was now required to blow into a breathalyzer in his vehicle before he could drive anywhere. That was an interesting date. If I didn’t have children, I might consider taking that kind of challenge on. With children, it’s a nonstarter. There are too many risks inherent there. So my tip would be: Stay emotionally detached long enough to know what this potential partner is dealing with. Do not allow emotion to cloud your judgment. Then once you have gathered the important information, use logic and the Spirit. If you have a history of dating someone with addictions, is it really a good idea to take it on?
If you happen to have your own addiction, please share this at the appropriate time, before you become emotionally involved and might be tempted to hide it. If you don’t want to share, stop dating the person. It’s not fair to get involved with someone who doesn’t have a complete picture of you. This also applies to major mental or physical illness, extreme debt, or any other big challenge you’re dealing with.
Last tip. Have fun. As my counselor told me when I expressed anxiety because I had met a good guy and was worried about being hurt, “Don’t catastrophize! Just take it one date at a time.” Yes, there is a lot to be cautious about. There are a lot of potential potholes, but this is also a chance to get out and have fun! Go to dances and get out on the dance floor with your buddies and don’t worry about whether you dance the slow dances. Go to activities, play games, socialize, and make new friends of both sexes. You need friends. They are more important than who you’re currently dating.
Don’t share your whole life story including your divorce nightmare on your first date. Be light. Be yourself. Don’t worry about where the date will take you. Be a good listener. Observe. Be discerning. Say a little prayer before you go out and after you get home. Keep the Lord with you and have a positive attitude and you’ll survive the post-divorce dating jungle and even have some fun along the way.