Pairing up with the words, “I do” commits us to another person. No one takes that marriage commitment lightly. Frankly, it’s simply 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, it’s not surprising that dating after divorce can feel 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 your pain disappointment about the past. You probably have some guilt about what did or didn’t happen with a whole lot of grief mixed in. You may have a sense of why your marriage ended. Moreover, you may even be able to accept your part in the breakdown. However saying all that, the shock of dating is oftentimes more difficult than imagined.
Dating after divorce, there’s more history on your shoulders, open wounds, and a broken heart. The moment you reach for another often feels awkward. You don’t intimately know this new person in your arms which adds to the excitement. But also don’t 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 little bit wrong.
Being with another lover feels exactly like cheating after a marriage – at least at first.
It going to take some time to disengage from your marriage. Going from being married to being single isn’t easy. Men and women equally, naively, believe that the way to get over the hurt or disappointment is to find a new lover. 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 and nurture yourself alone. Then 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. And trying to show up perfectly. Defending yourself? Looking for approval and appreciation? Aren’t you ready to just be who you are without the need of a partner? My advice is to get on the bench and give yourself a little distance from all the pressure, anger or frustrations you’ve dealt with in your marriage.
The reason that dating feels like you’re cheating is that you know in your heart of hearts you’re not ready to be truly intimate yet.
What’s the rush? Are you afraid of not being able to perform? Do you need an outlet? Are you looking for intercourse without expectations or, meaningless sex? Do all of that if you must, just don’t be surprised by the feelings that may hijack you. And they will hijack you. When you go against your values – those deep-seated values that you honored when you got married in the first place, they will hijack you.
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 because you would never have married in the first place.
It’s time to stop pretending dating after a marriage isn’t difficult.
It’s time to give yourself permission to take care of you. To fix what’s broken (like your heart) and to shift your beliefs (that you’re super tough and capable of simply walking away). When a marriage ends, it’s best 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.) Learn to 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 a divorce.
So how do you date without it feeling like cheating? You give yourself the gift of time and attention. Take some time to mend yourself enough to be able to focus on another human being over dinner. Slow down and give yourself a chance to merge reality and fantasy. Then 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).
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 some healing work to do.