Dating is often a risky and adrenaline-pumping adventure, but when you date after divorce, hearts aren’t the only commodities on the line. Between kids, potential step-relations, money issues and exes, dating after divorce can be a tricky and stressful undertaking.
Rather than delve into this stress, many divorcees choose to isolate themselves from dating and romance. Indeed, a recent study found that 55% of divorced women reported having “zero” sexual encounters per month, 22% said they were “lucky” to have sex 1-3 times a month and 13% reported having sex 3-6 times per month.
Although putting aside sex and dating sounds like a noble venture, particularly for divorced mothers who don’t want their children getting confused or hurt, it is important to remember that sexuality is a big part of who we are. When we deny our sexuality and our need for love, we deny our femininity and our emotional needs. Our children need to see us model happy and healthy relationships, and they also need to see us as fulfilled and multi-faceted individuals. This can’t happen if we refuse to leave our houses on Friday nights!
So how can you date after divorce — and safeguard your heart and home at the same time?
- Rediscover yourself. After being part of a couple for an extended period of time, you have likely lost track of your single self. You might have neglected old friendships, dropped out of your Monday night book club, let your physical health go, or even completely forgotten about your favorite hobbies. Now is the time to reconnect with your individual self. Embrace a new career path, take that hang-gliding class you were always afraid of, arrange a weekly date with your girlfriends and get back in touch with your physical and emotional needs.
- It’s OK to date Mr. Right Now. Not surprisingly, the last thing you feel like doing after a painful divorce is risking heartbreak all over again. Relax, you don’t have to! Instead, take it slow by accepting date offers from people you only feel “so-so” about. So what if he doesn’t give you butterflies or she doesn’t fit your list of requirements? Accept the date and get back into the swing of dating. Practice makes perfect!
- “Did I tell you about how she cheated on me?” Never discuss your ex on the first date, second date or third date! It’s OK to briefly mention your divorce, but your date doesn’t need to hear about how your dirty rat of an ex cheated on you. You will come off sounding bitter, desperate and vengeful — not exactly traits most people are looking for in a date!
- Introduce him to your kids — slowly! Introducing your new date to your children can be incredibly stressful. What if your kids don’t like him? What if his kids don’t get along with your kids? Whatever happens, be sure that you don’t bring anyone into the picture until the relationship is definitely serious. You don’t want your children to become attached to someone who is just there for the weekend. However, you shouldn’t keep dating a dirty little secret. Let your children know early on that you are back in the dating scene, so they can adjust to the idea and express any concerns or fears they might have. If they want to say a quick “hi” to your new date, allow them to do so, but then head off and let the babysitter take over.
- The rules of engagement. After being monogamous for a while, you likely have many emotions about getting back into the sack with someone new. Maybe you feel excited, anxious, fearful, or downright concerned. What are the rules of dating and sex in the new millennium? Follow this simple rule: Only have sex that is emotionally healthy.
Emotionally healthy sex is generally not sex on the first date, or causal sex with many different partners. (Not to mention, promiscuity isn’t physically healthy — even with condoms, STDs like herpes can spread). Instead, postpone sex until you are ready to manage the consequences and possible emotional fallout. Before you are intimate with your partner, discuss whether or not you are monogamous and discuss STD testing. Regardless of your gender, buy condoms and have them at the ready — safe sex is the responsibility of both partners.
- Never, ever settle! Finally, and most importantly, don’t let post-divorce loneliness or insecurity make you lower your expectations. Not only will dating jerks make you feel poorly, it will also model a very negative relationship for your children. Be respectful of your own needs, and be proud of what you offer in a relationship. Show your children that while heartbreak and loss is painful, it is never permanent. All hearts can be mended and Mr. Right might be closer than you think!
Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, a specialized healthcare facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OBGYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.
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