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12 tips i wish i knew before dating after divorce

Recently there was a billboard along 83 that read: “OOPS” that had the O’s as wedding rings with John Carpenter’s law office info on it. As a marketing professional, I thought it was brilliant (shout out to his marketing team) but as a person who has gone through two divorces, it brought up a bleak realization.  

Even with the divorce rate in the U.S. decreasing, it holds steady at about 2.9 persons per 1,000 people, that’s still a lot.  

For those of you in the grips of this stressful time, I send you a whole lot of compassion. I know, it’s a scary, painful and often tumultuous time. There’s a lot of emotions and changes happening and I promise, things will get better and easier. ((Hugs)) 

With statistics like that, chances are that there’s a good bunch of these divorcees trying to find “Love After Love” (yes, that is a shameless Cher song plug). Finding love is a human need and according to Google search data, dating sites and a whole lotta personal experience.  

I concur.  

Since my first divorce in 2012, I’ve learned a lot while making my fair share of mistakes. So, I’ve compiled a list of 12 tips for dating after divorce from my experience in hopes that sharing what did and didn’t work for me, may help someone else out there. 

Here we go: 

  1. Take things slow – Like, REALLY slow. For me, this meant taking things way slower than what my heart is telling me. It can look like limiting connection times to “X” amount of time per week, not getting physical for a while, or having public dates with a set end time. It’s scientific proof that falling in love can be like a drug and when I had that first dopamine hit of love after the pain of divorce, all bets were off. New relationship energy created a false sense of intimacy and connection that clouded my ability to think clearly. I rushed into a new relationship found myself in a whole new level of pain, WITH my kids in tow. Which leads to my next tip: 
  2. If you have kids, wait to introduce them. Currently, it takes me anywhere from 4-6 months to feel comfortable enough to introduce a new partner to my kids. I’ve seen my kids roll with the changes of divorce with surprising strength and acceptance, but I’m also seeing in hindsight the damage I created by prematurely rushing into relationships. Even though things are very different today, the longer-lasting effects can show up and cause some uncomfy feelings of insecurity with them. I can’t change how I handled myself in the past, but I can make an intentional effort now on how I handle this delicate topic today and make sure their safety is a priority.  
  3. If the relationship is amicable, include the ex – I used to introduce my ex to my current partner in the beginning. My thought was that my kids were their kids, too, and knowing who was sharing living space and time with them was important, especially since they were much younger. It came in handy when there were scheduling snafus, and having a village to help with raising kids was really helpful. Today looks much different but I remember how much it meant to me when I met my kids stepmother when they first started dating. It was nice to put a face to the name and it was important to me to create a semi-amicable relationship with her. I realize this dynamic is not so common, but it was helpful in my situation at the time. 
  4. Wait a year after the divorce papers are received to date. This was the one piece of advice a lot of people gave me when I mentioned I was getting a divorce. I wrote a shorter piece about it (you can read it here) but I wish I would have listened to it. I don’t regret the lessons I’ve learned, but I do wish this was one piece of advice I had taken more seriously. After years of a failing marriage, I fully admit, I was R-E-A-D-Y to get back out there to explore who I was. The unfortunate outcome of me not waiting before dating was I didn’t fully process the previous relationship. I ended up taking an intentional period off from dating to process these things and face the fact that I caused a lot of people a lot of damage. Yea, it sucked, and still sucks to think about. I had a gut-punch feeling when the final divorce papers arrived in the mail. It’s a whole different experience than going through the process of divorce. It’s real now. All the dreams, hopes, goals… It didn’t matter how much I knew the marriage was failing, the pain of loss and grief of what was or what could have been was the core of what I needed to process. Instead of processing it, I went hard to get that dopamine hit.  
  5. Get the budget in order – Dating is expensive. Dinners out, activities, presents. It all adds up. Thankfully, I work with an AWESOME money wellness coach now (thank you, Lindsey!) and I don’t feel guilty spending money for dates because I have it budgeted.  
  6. Have realistic expectations on time/energy. Dating takes time and effort. To cultivate a relationship that is meaningful, I had to really look at my schedule and see how I could make the time for it. Between commitments, work, friendships and self-care, time is a valuable, limited resource.  
  7. DO THE WORK – Yea, that inner work. That inner child work. That trauma work. All the works. I got in touch with my therapist and delved deep with her. I read incessantly. Journaled. Cried. Talked. Danced. Did things out of my comfort zone. Got clean and sober. I did the work on me. I am not perfect, but I’m making good progress and I’m committed to continuing this journey to betterment. It’s a priority for me to continue this work on myself because I’ve seen the immeasurable benefits in all areas of my life.  
  8. Get to know self, again and again and again. From the time of my first divorce until now, I feel like an entirely different human who is continually growing and evolving. Even on a cellular level, every seven years or so we change. Getting to know who I am, what I like and what interests me has been an ever-changing journey. In getting to know myself, I’ve been able to allow those layers of labels I’ve identified as, go. Whether it’s mother, daughter, wife, friend, homemaker, single mom, employee. I am Beth. I am me. And that’s who I want a partner to know. Not me as a label.  
  9. Be present – This can be helpful in a multitude of ways for me but in relation to dating, it has helped me recognize behaviors or patterns that are concerning, or something I desire in a connection. I had (and still have) a tendency to project into the future and overlook some of those subtleties that are deal-breakers. Remaining in the present moment allows me to observe the current situation in a way that is not tethered to expectations or future plans. It’s saved me a lot of heartache, but it’s also opened the doors to some really meaningful connections.  
  10. Take a solo trip (or with friends.) There has been nothing more liberating in my life than the solo trip I took to San Francisco. It was an Eat, Pray, Love experience and I am grateful that I made that decision. Going to a new place, not knowing anyone, seeing things I have dreamed of seeing, and doing it alone was where I found parts of me that were hidden. I learned that I enjoy meeting new people at the end of a pier and watching sea lions grunt at each other like old grumpy men. I discovered my voice to speak up for my needs and desires. I enjoyed quiet moments of pure joy sitting at the end of the pier and watching the boats glide past. The uncomfortable sensation of traveling alone melted away as I traveled the streets and talked to other people, knowing we were all a part of this journey called life. How does this help with dating? Well, dating after divorce is like a whole new world. And who doesn’t enjoy sharing a cool story on a first date?  
  11. Learn your preferred relationship preference. I was always taught that there was the “one and only, get married, have kids, happily ever after, the end” type of relationships so I didn’t realize there were other relationship structures. Did I want to continue down the monogamous path that I already knew, or did I want to explore polyamory? When I did choose polyamory, what does that look like for me and how did I want to approach it? There was a lot to explore that went into my decision but knowing what worked best for me was a relieving experience.  
  12. Enjoy the process. Dating can be fun even though it has its moments. Getting to know new people, going to new places, and exploring new activities are the obvious benefits but what I’ve learned the most through this process is that it’s just that. A process. Like any process, there are ups and downs but always lessons. In choosing to enjoy the process, a lot of those “moments” have taught me things, such as I don’t like online dating, ice cream first dates aren’t ideal and so much more.  

What else would you add?  

Beth Montgomery
Beth Montgomery is a single mom of teens and is a Jill of all trades who lives in the Harrisburg area. While she wasn't born anywhere near here (or even in this country), she calls Central PA home (for now) and writes about her journeys through adulting... with kids. Visit her online at www.singleparentproject.com or connect with her on the socials.

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