What to keep in mind when you’re dat­ing af­ter a di­vorce

Orlando Sentinel - - EXTRA FAMILY & LIFE - By Jenna Birch

We have all been through a har­row­ing breakup or two, but di­vorce is dif­fer­ent. You can’t just cut the cord and walk away: Of­ten, the breakup is drawn out — as a re­sult, the pain runs deep. Many times, chil­dren are in­volved. As­sets need to be split and lives up­rooted.

Al­though ev­ery di­vorce is dif­fer­ent, there are some com­mon stages peo­ple go through be­fore they’re ready to date again. Based on interviews with ther­a­pists and peo­ple who’ve ended mar­riages, here are some things to keep in mind as you get back out there.

Work through the grief of your di­vorce be­fore start­ing to date again. Be­fore get­ting back out there, Alexandra Solomon, a clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Fam­ily In­sti­tute at North­west­ern Univer­sity and au­thor of “Loving Bravely,” says the most im­por­tant thing to do is ad­dress your own re­cov­ery. Read books. Talk to friends about what you’ve been through. Lis­ten to re­la­tion­ship pod­casts.

And con­sider in­vest­ing in a pro­fes­sional. “Ther­apy is an im­mensely help­ful place to grieve the loss of the re­la­tion­ship,” Solomon says. “Even if you’re the one ini­ti­at­ing the di­vorce, there is still grief. Here, you in­te­grate the lessons of the re­la­tion­ship, and pre­pare to open your heart to some­one new.”

There’s a huge learn­ing curve. Most peo­ple leav­ing a mar­riage will find that dat­ing has changed a lot since the last time around. “Tech­nol­ogy has changed how we search for love, and swip­ing can be es­pe­cially jar­ring for peo­ple who have been in longterm mar­riages,” Solomon says. “Cer­tainly, you can meet peo­ple IRL, but dat­ing apps have be­come in­cred­i­bly com­mon­place and con­ve­nient. Go slowly, and re­mem­ber that the app is noth­ing more than a way to get from A (in­tro­duc­tion) to B (face-to-face con­nec­tion).”

Tom O’Keefe, 49, from St. Louis, had to get used to the new real­ity: the abil­ity to see mul­ti­ple peo­ple at once and the ex­treme flak­i­ness that comes with that. Once he adapted, he used the changes to his ben­e­fit. “What was most challengin­g was just the num­ber of op­tions; it feels nev­erend­ing,” he says. “But that also was a ben­e­fit; I ap­proached dat­ing dif­fer­ently this time. I made a more con­certed ef­fort to be my­self, and I stopped try­ing to be what I thought the other per­son wanted.”

It’s OK to be more prac­ti­cal, and less ro­man­tic, about the dat­ing process. Those who are di­vorced are more likely to see a re­la­tion­ship for what it is. “They may be less at risk of ro­man­ti­cized no­tions of love,” Solomon says. “The big ques­tion is the de­gree to which a per­son who is di­vorced has ‘done their work’ — at­tended to their re­cov­ery process and mined the lessons of the di­vorce.” Real­ism is a plus in the dat­ing pool, but cyn­i­cism is not — the lat­ter is a sign some­one might not be ready to en­ter a new long-term re­la­tion­ship.

O’Keefe says he was more up­front dat­ing the sec­ond time around, with two young kids — and he felt like there were fewer games as a re­sult. Di­vorced peo­ple are “less likely to waste time beat­ing around the bush,” he says. He is now mar­ried for the sec­ond time. “The se­cret isn’t avoid­ing some­one with bag­gage, but find­ing some­one with match­ing lug­gage,” he says. “My wife’s ‘bag­gage’ is a very good com­ple­ment to my own, and vice versa.”

Di­vorced peo­ple might be bet­ter equipped for long-term re­la­tion­ships than flings. Ac­cord­ing to Solomon, many di­vorced peo­ple learn from their mis­takes and there­fore know how to spot a red flag sooner than other daters can.

Krysta Monet, a 30-yearold woman from Or­lando, Florida, says she was far bet­ter equipped to date af­ter di­vorce be­cause she was in­tent on form­ing a stronger re­la­tion­ship for her next long-term love. “Dat­ing be­comes more about you and less about the other per­son,” she says. “You learn so much from the mis­takes of your past that you prac­tice dif­fer­ent traits in hopes of a more pos­i­tive out­come.”

DEAN MITCHELL/GETTY

Ev­ery­one has their own time­line: It could be months or years be­fore you’re ready to date.

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