Pairing up with the words, “I do” commits us to another person. No one takes that commitment lightly because frankly, it’s too easy to have sex without the responsibility, loyalty, and love required in a marriage. In many ways, the commitment of marriage carries more weight now than it did in the past. So, how surprising is it that dating after divorce feels like cheating!?!
You’ve belonged to someone else up until now - it’s a belief that’s difficult to shake even when a marriage is over.
Entering the dating world after the end of a marriage, you carry with you pain and disappointment about the past, maybe some guilt with a whole lot of grief mixed in. You may have a sense of the reasons why your marriage ended, you may even be able to accept your part in the breakdown, but usually the shock of dating is more difficult than imagined.
Dating after divorce, there’s more history on your shoulders, open wounds, a broken heart. The moment you reach for another often feels awkward. You don’t intimately know this new person in your arms - you do not know what they want, the way they like it or the way your bodies will connect. It is all thrilling. A little frightening. Very unfamiliar. And usually seems a bit wrong.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves - being with another lover feels exactly like cheating - at least at first.
It going to take some time to disengage from your marriage. Going from being married is not for the faint of heart. Men and women equally, naively, believe that the way to get over the hurt or disappointment is to find a new lover. Oh, if were only that easy!! The fact that you’ve held onto the belief that you’re committed to another human being from the moment you said, “I do” takes a long time to mend. And you need to give yourself that time.
As they say, “this is a feeling life and we do best in connection.”
But leaving a marriage requires more than just finding someone new to couple up with. There’s a reason, maybe many, as to why the marriage fell apart. There is work to be done around unearthing those reasons. It takes some time to learn how to manage your own needs, nurture yourself, recreate boundaries and know who and what is safe for you. None of this is achieved by hooking up with a stranger no matter what you may hope.
The more you engage in meaningless sex, the longer it will take for you to heal from your divorce.
I’m not suggesting some puritanical idea about adult relations! I am recommending you give yourself a break from having to perform. Aren’t you tired of trying to show up perfectly? Aren’t you tired of defending yourself? Looking for approval and appreciation? Aren’t you ready to just be who you are without the need of a wo/man? My advice is to get on the bench and give yourself a little distance from all the pressure, the anger, antagonism, one-upmanship that you’ve dealt with in your marriage.
The reason that dating feels like you’re cheating is precisely because you know in your heart of hearts that you’re not ready to be truly intimate yet.
Let me ask you: What’s the rush? What are you afraid will happen if you stop pressuring yourself to be with another person? Are you afraid of not being able to perform? Do you need an outlet? Are you looking for intercourse without expectations - meaningless sex? Sure, you can do all of that if you must, but don’t be surprised then by the feelings that hijack you! And they will hijack you because you’re going against your values - those deep-seated values that you honored when you got married in the first place.
You see, there’s no reason to marry in today’s world, really. We couple up because it’s right for the human species. We are mammals who do better in intimate relations with another person. On a deep, heart, soul level, you know this. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be divorcing - you would never have married in the first place.
It’s time to stop pretending this isn’t difficult.
It’s time to give yourself permission to take care of you - to fix what’s broken (like your heart) to shift your beliefs (that you’re super tough and capable of simply walking away) to figure out who you are today (sorry, you’re not that 20-year old no matter how much you want to turn back time) and to take a good, hard look in the mirror and grieve your lost dreams. (Yep, you lost them and it sucks. It really and truly hurts no matter what you’re telling yourself.)
No woman (or man) can fix any of this for you - that’s the lonely part of divorcing. It’s also required work and must be done in order to move forward. (It gets easier I promise, but it must be done.)
So how do you date without it feeling like cheating? You give yourself the gift of time and attention. You mend yourself enough to be able to focus on another human being over dinner. You slow down and give yourself a chance to merge reality and fantasy - you get selective about who you let into your life (never mind your body) and you make yourself a priority (remember sex takes two people at least).
How long does this take? That’s completely up to you! How long do you want it to take? Where are you getting your support? Are you making yourself (not your need to get off) a priority? Are you focusing on setting up a new life? Are you letting yourself grieve? The sooner you get going, the easier it’ll be and the sooner you’ll be healthy enough to date again.
Dating isn’t going away and neither is sex! You won’t forget how to do it. You’ll be able to perform. There’ll be beautiful people to get naked with - it will all happen again - when you’re ready. So get ready and get going, you’ve got work to do!
If you’re having trouble knowing how to get through this, reach out - firstname.lastname@example.org. You really don’t have any time to waste if you want a happy life going forward. It’s time to take care of you!