Dating after a breakup is fraught with conflicting feelings. On the one hand, you hope for true love or at least great sex, on the other, you’ve no idea where to begin. The thought of hooking up with a new lover at just the time you’re trying to figure out how to overcome the pain of separation confuses many of us. And parents, newly single parents, wrestle with this dilemma all the time. When you’re a single dad, dealing with a breakup like a divorce, you think the right approach to dating looks like internet dating, school playgrounds or pickups at a bar. But dad, it’s ok to not know how to date after divorce; in fact, being unsure of how to move on is actually healthy.
When you’re trying to figure out how to approach dating after divorce as a single dad, you want it to be easy. You want great sex. You desire a beautiful partner. You’re hoping for some fun or entertainment. But then you have your children.
Some single dads mistakenly rush the process hoping to glom onto the first woman they meet and force her into the role of stepmother. Many just want uncommitted sex. Some don’t know where to begin. Many are afraid of being hurt all over again. Most just want a break so they can overcome the pain and anxiety that accompany the change. Dating after divorce doesn’t need to be complicated. It needs clarity.
Your dating life can’t be your emotional processing center.
You can’t expect a new partner to be responsible for helping you get through your day. You and you alone are. Which is why you will responsibly want help from a coach or mental help professional. Your dating life is where you get to show up as whole. And during a breakup, most single dads and their kids aren’t whole. So you’ve got to become whole first before a great relationship (and often, great sex) can show up in your life. This takes time and energy. A real commitment to your well-being. Your health. This doesn’t fit that profile of the cool, single dad out to re-live his forgotten youth. This process describes a man who understands that his breakup and his children’s first divorce actually have emotional consequences and needs to be respected.
Figuring out where you are emotionally is essential.
At first, you’re not going to want to do that. And that is okay. It’s okay to not know how to date after your divorce. It’s even okay to have lousy sex or perhaps, the best sex of your life but not be able to commit to a relationship. In today’s culture, most of us are open to different forms of intimacy and can tolerate what’s going on without judgment. However, you’re the one who’s got ideas about what makes you a good dad and what makes you a good man. You’re the one bringing your stuff to your new dating life whether there’s the “best sex of your life” or not.
When I work with single dads, many of them respect the institution of marriage. They understand commitment and the rules of monogamous sex whether or not they also had affairs. They know that many women are open to having uncommitted sex but also, they get that such relationships probably aren’t sustainable. Many don’t want a committed relationship at this time. Most single dads reeling from a divorce get it. Which is why dating after divorce also becomes confusing. So let’s make this simple –
You’re using sex to overcome the pain.
Dating is a lot of things but mostly it’s about using sex to overcome the pain of the breakup. Everything else is secondary to a single dad dealing with a divorce. The confusion you bring to the experience is colored by ‘wanting a good woman to talk to’ ‘wanting her to look a certain way,’ wanting her to ‘meet your kids,’ and the biggy – ‘not wanting to hurt her’ when it all falls apart as it’s bound to do. When you rush the natural connection, you implode the opportunity to build a meaningful new love. When you deny the natural desire, you’re lying to yourself and to any potential new partner.
You can’t force getting over a breakup.
Mostly what I see, most single dads don’t know how to date after divorce because they don’t know how to deal with the loneliness. When they’re not with their kids, they’ll do anything and almost everything to avoid it. And this is where we on the outside need more compassion too. If a single dad became single because his wife died, the entire community would rally to help. The community would understand his pain and loss. People don’t usually rush in to help a single dad. Too often, he has to deal with the enormous changes (wanted or not) by himself. That loneliness adds to the confusion of knowing how to date after a divorce. It’s that loneliness or pain that’s being avoided. The natural grieving that accompanies all monumental change.
If you’re now more scared of dating after your break up now, you’re right with me. You really can simply add to the heartache you and your children are dealing with. The wrong person can make things more complicated for everyone. That single dad dating life can’t involve your kids.
She won’t like it.
With most of my single dad clients, a big struggle they deal with also includes the girlfriend who wants to take over and immerse herself in their life. As a result, my clients feel trapped all over again and begin to balk from the responsibility. Emotionally they’re simply not ready to commit. They know on the one hand they shouldn’t bring her into their kids’ lives too fast but on the other, they don’t want to hurt their new lover. They also really like having a warm body next to them at night. The intimacy feels right.
Too often, when kids are pressured into making it all work, the relationship falls apart. Forced intimacy isn’t healthy. The statistics for second or third divorces verify this pattern isn’t sustainable. In fact, it makes things so much worse for everyone in the long run.
Slow down the dating after divorce.
Resentments build up and misunderstandings take hold when a new partner forces a bond with step-kids. These relationships have to be properly nurtured and developed. In these circumstances, kids make life very difficult for their single dads. I see this time and time again.
When intimacy is forced or everyone pretends to play house together instead of clearly defining the boundaries and expectations, relationships crumble. And children develop trust issues having to confront their own fears later on in life.
There need be no rush to date after divorce.
There’s no rule that says you must develop an intimate relationship immediately. You don’t have to force a dynamic that doesn’t serve your kids or a new partner. You really don’t have to commit to someone just to have sex even if you were raised differently. What you must do is process your feelings and develop a new understanding of what’s going on. You must grieve the loss of your marriage away from your dating life. You have to figure out how to parent your kids on your own. And you must become whole again. When you do that, knowing how to date won’t be difficult.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach. Laura’s a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce™ School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.