Lessons from Post-Divorce Dating
What can I say?
I had no idea it would be so hard.
When I think back to that time, towards the end of my marriage, in my unhappiest of days, I remember having this fantasy of what it would be like to be free and “healed” in the world. To be able to meet new people, share my heart, connect in a way I was not connecting in my former relationship. Yup, I had this whole beautiful picture of expectations painted in my mind.
Welp, let’s just say while these past few years since first walking away from the life and man I thought would be with forever, has been one hell of an eye-opening ride.
And while I still stand firm in my decision to leave my marriage, firm in the notion that we were on paths that were meant to cross when and how they did, my perspectives on that relationship, relating, and loving in general have drastically changed since first re-entering the “dating game” after eight-plus years on the bench.
And yes, there have been many lessons, and so much value in each step along the way. And you better believe there always is; we just need to tune in and maybe take some notes along the way—it’s all we can really do.
So I share with you my notes, in the hopes that they will, in some way, bring a deeper understanding and sense of okay-ness with wherever you are along your journey of breaking up, dating, and relating.
One of the most significant realizations I had through my experience of putting myself out there again is, as Deepak Chopra first introduced in one of my favorite books, The Path To Love, is that “the love we feel from each other is just a reflection of the love available within our own hearts. We simply cannot receive more love than we’re open to receiving, nor can we give more than we have to give.” And while I read these words years ago, before my world turned upside down, it wasn’t until I left my marriage and started to date that these words truly resonated.
And when they did, it was one tough pill to swallow, as I looked back at my marriage, and current dating landscape, suddenly seeing things in a whole new light. Seeing that perhaps I wasn’t as “open” as I thought or wanted to be. Seeing much of my own fears and pain reflected in my relationships, seeing my role in the breakdown of that significant relationship of my life.
Like attracts like. As Deepak wisely shares,
“The person you are with, in the moment, is the ‘right’ person because he/she is simply a mirror of who you are inside. When you struggle with a partner, you are struggling with yourself. Every fault you see in them, touches a denied weakness in yourself. Every conflict you wage is an excuse to not face a conflict within.”
An overwhelming truth, I suddenly understood far beyond words—far beyond my relationships with men.
While overwhelming, this realization was key in helping me feel my power, highlighting what childhood and marital wounds needed to be addressed before putting too much energy into any new “relationship,” as I struggled to call it at the time. Something that helped me deeply understand the importance of fully loving and accepting ourselves, before seeking external love.
And as I reflect back over these past few years, as a “free woman,” as I gotten to know new people, weaving back and forth between basking in my aloneness and the exploration of dating, I can truly see how each soul I met along the way reflected exactly where I was at along my healing journey.
From the start of my journey, when pain was still high, when all I could handle was distraction, fun, and that physical connection I was SO lacking in my previous relationship, to the point of no longer being satisfied by simply the physical and fun, wanting to explore further depths, yet questioning so much.
Questioning whether this wild idea of love painted in my mind exists, or if it’s just another attachment or distraction to grasp. Questioning whether we are all even meant to experience such versions of love in this life, or if sometimes our energy is best used in other ways. Questioning whether some of these questions are still reflections of my fear.
Ahh, yes. Good ol’ fear. The driving force behind much of the chaos in our inner and outer worlds. Something my own heartbreak and trauma have helped me witness in myself and those around me. Pain and fear breeding pain and fear, spreading like wildfire. A fire destroying this planet.
You see, much of the struggle I experienced through divorce and this whole healing journey has opened my eyes to the collective pain many are trying to avoid or mask in the world today. Pain I’ve tried to avoid in countless ways.
Yup, there are so many ways we can distract and avoid feeling in this world of endless options—and oh, are we good at it. Ninjas! And I’d like to thank the digital world of dating for making it easier and easier to fill those uncomfortable gaps with yet another possible way to distract ourselves and experience instant gratification.
Yup, seeing my sh*t, and the many ways I avoided dealing it, has helped me see the same in others. And while I’m well-aware of this projection, I can’t help but trust this ability to feel the masked fears and pain in many around me, and it’s one of the numerous gifts that came along with the trauma from my past.
Something I’m still getting used to, as I feel the strength of its power. Something that first made “getting back out there” a little intense, as I began to see mirrors upon mirrors, reflecting my pain, reflecting my “sh*t”—forcing me to face myself, my fear, my ego, and all that stuff that’s sometimes hard to look. Mirrors upon mirrors in all my relationships.
And while all these mirrors we see in those around us who are reflecting our sh*t can be overwhelming, I assure you, they are key in our growth and in the deepening of qualities such as empathy, compassion, and self-awareness.
Qualities that helped me view myself, ex-husband, and all those around me in a beautiful new light. Qualities that were vital in helping me learn how to quit taking everything so freaking personally, accept people for where they are in their life, forgive, and move forward. Qualities that helped me understand the importance of radical acceptance for all that is and all those around.
One of the most challenging yet powerful practices in finding peace—simply honoring all that shows up, seeing whomever or whatever as a teacher and guide on this life journey. Because all these people we meet along the way, all these life tragedies, truly have the power to help us immensely, when we learn to adjust our lens. When we learn to see the power in truly experiencing and feeling all that we encounter in this life.
And although this all sounds great as I type it out, I must admit, while this ability to feel deeper and see beautiful layers beneath the surface has been a gift, it’s also been al catalyst to further pain. Pain that hasn’t always been easy to honor. Pain that I’ve tried to run from and avoid – despite knowing better.
This is something I first felt deeply, as the scars from my pain smacked me hard in the face, that first time post-divorce that I met someone who touched my closed off heart. That first one who charged right there by my side, adventure after adventure, on my healing journey, serving as part-time distraction, part-time teacher. That one, I somehow fell for, despite wanting to run free.
That one who took me to this place; my fear showed up, when I first laid in his arms. This place I had to practice deep breaths (thank you, yoga) as I felt my heart pound. That one who helped me honor fears that needed to be honored, discover scars that had to be seen, cry tears that needed to be shed—scars I was only was able to see once I allowed myself to move into that space, that space of open heart. That vulnerable space I often questioned if I was ready to be back in.
Ahh, yes. Oh, how many times I questioned whether I was ready to date, questioning whether this was my fear, as some said, or my intuition, telling me it wasn’t right. Time and time again along my journey, going back and forth in my mind, in the beginning of my dating journey - back and forth on this infamous dating app, back and forth with those I let near my heart.
And while I sometimes questioned what the heck I was doing, questioning if it was “too soon” to date, it was moments with another, moments where new pockets of emotion were discovered—clearly revealing more healing that needed to happen, more breath that had to be practiced, more discomfort that had to be felt, that assured me I was right on track.
And you better believe we always are—wherever we are on our path, even amidst all those detours and roadblocks some of us like to run into. Because even our greatest “distractions” are filled with value, and they’re much of the fun we can’t forget to have in this life.
Especially through the tough times.
Pay attention to those who make you laugh - those who help you remain present; those are the people to surround ourselves with.
All our experiences hold value when we learn to pay attention.
So for those of you waiting to fully “heal” or feeling guilty for not waiting long enough: before stepping back out, let me share, there is no set timeline to healing and no appropriate time to date again. I also truly believe that some of our greatest work must be done in the face of our greatest fears, so trust yourself to be the guide and don’t fight the flow too hard.
While I do believe it’s important to take the time to retreat, protect, and heal after heartbreak, with so much value found in taking the precious time to find stability and that beautiful source of love from within, before jumping back in, there comes a point in our healing journey where it can be helpful to face our lingering fears and emerge back into the world. For as much as I wish it were, the healing is never really “done.”
With heartbreak and trauma eventually touching us all, helping us feel those feelings we were designed to feel, helping us expand, evolve, and strengthen, life becomes one big healing journey. Once we can begin to honor this—honor that we are never alone in our struggles—and open our hearts to that two-way exchange of love and support from those in our lives, life gets a whole lot lighter.
And while this first time facing my fear and attempting to re-open my heart after such devastating heartbreak was one heck of a ride, I am forever grateful for this experience and for this special soul who so beautifully reflected where I was at, at that time.
Ahh yes, that special one, that one who truly allowed me to understand the power in taking each relationship for what it is in the moment—for all the goodness they bring into our lives at that time. That first one who taught me so much, making a lasting imprint on my life—as each relationship does.
You see, once we can begin looking at what went right in relationships (or whatever we feel comfortable calling them), rather than what went wrong, we begin to see things so beautifully. Because even in the most dysfunctional of relationships, even in the greatest of heartbreaks, there’s some good within the muck. Some sort of force that drew you together at that specific time—sometimes to learn from each other, to practice surrendering, to grow, to create beautiful new life…Fill in the blank; each relationship holds value.
And really, all dating is just another practice. Like everything in this life, we are all simply here to practice and experience it all as it comes.
So while there are still days I feel my fear, suggesting I close off to love, suggesting I avoid anyone who dares to show me more pain, I fully realize that’s not how life works. Fully realize that most likely, at some point, another will touch my heart deep enough, pushing me right back out of this comfort zone of aloneness and freedom I find myself relaxing in today.
And when I say aloneness, I don’t really mean alone—because we are never truly alone. With all the love we need, truly found within, all that love we receive from friends, family, lovers, pets, nature, and simple interactions with the world simply becomes bonus love. Bonus love: all types of love that simply add layers to the beauty of this life. Love that feels much deeper once we learn to love and accept ourselves.
The type of love I found years after chasing this idea of love, this love from a man—this love, I was so lacking from within. Love that flows so effortlessly when we tune in and allow it to be.
And as I find myself here now, heart filled with love, finding new comfort in all my questions, trusting deeply in my heart, that all these possible ways of living our lives/viewing our experiences open us up to such a rich human experience, I can’t help but smile. Smile at all the uncomfortable moments along the way—truly appreciating how some of my greatest teachers were those I least expected.
And while I still have moments when fear shows up, causing me to question all I’ve learned thus far, most days I just say hello, thank you, and goodbye to these fear-based thoughts. Hello, thank you, and goodbye to all these “what ifs” that like to grow in my beautiful field of unknown. Another powerful practice.
Which brings me to the most important lesson I can share with you thus far.
We can never truly know or control what’s coming next, so let’s stop trying so hard to figure it out, ya? Likely, it will turn out even better than we can plan (we tend to sell ourselves short), so save your time and energy and just try to be here.
Because our limited time and energy are our most precious assets of all. Our greatest assets that become even more powerful, once we can learn to be fully present. Because for most of us reading this on our fancy laptops or mobile devices, or any screen in general, there is so much to be grateful for in this life we’ve been gifted. We just have to practice keeping this in mind along the way.
And while it took me a while to reach this point where all these words were no longer just nice concepts—a place where I truly felt the weight of each word—it’s been worth each grueling step along the way.
So no matter where you are along your journey, just keep going.