No matter how wrenching a break-up, at some point you’ll think: “Oh, no. I’ll have to start dating again.”
You may be surprised how early in your grieving process it hits you. Thoughts like, “What will become of me? Will I be alone forever?” –admittedly depressing and not ultimately helpful—are totally normal. When you are in a relationship, no matter how long term, the relief to be out of the dating scene is natural. You found the person you want and believe is “the one.” So when that doesn’t work out, even though you are dealing with loss, your mind will go to that place: “How will I ever find someone new?” (Before we go on, I want to assure you: you will.)
My client Kara, within weeks of an agonizing break-up, created a Match.com profile. She sat at her computer still in the throes of grief over what had just blown up, and filled out the forms, uploaded the photos, wrote a statement, and put in her credit card number. She knew she wasn’t ready. As soon as the emails started coming in, it hit her just how big a mistake it had been not to wait. She was immediately overwhelmed. But her desire to believe, in the midst of her current pain, that there was hope – that there was someone out there for her – got the better of her good sense and caused her to overlook all the warning signs that were screaming from her gut to her head: “STOP! It’s too soon!”
Human beings are social animals. We are built to live in groups, families, communities, and we want partnership. But there are a few important stages that you really need to go through before you look with all seriousness at getting back into “the dating scene.”
Whether you’ve experienced the loss of a spouse, the end of a marriage, or a significant relationship –it is the loss of a life dream. It is huge and should never be underestimated. Whatever the particulars, you have lost something that at some point was near and dear to you. Even the messiest breakups started out as something good. In many instances people feel as if they lost a good part of themselves. Even if you are the one who wanted to end it –don’t for a minute assume that means you should and can be “okay” right away. It is vitally important that you grieve. Grieving is a key part of processing the loss before moving forward. Grief, along with anger, guilt, frustration, not to mention the blow to self-esteem, financial challenges, and the upheaval in daily life, are all too big to shove under the rug. Unless you think elephants are about the right size to fit under the rug, you’re going to have to allow time to pass so that elephant can shrink to a manageable size. Don’t date until you are ready. You want to set yourself up for success by making sure your past is firmly in the past before giving love another chance.
There is an enormous amount of sorting out that has to happen after a break-up. The physical separation of belongings in a shared home is a perfect metaphor for what the separation of two people is like. Yours, mine and ours blurs over time, whether it’s flatware and CDs, or identity. If you’ve been together awhile, you are not the same person you were when the relationship started. You’ve grown up, grown older, changed, matured, and in many ways become who you are today as part of a couple. When the couple is no more, you need to rediscover who you are without that other person. Spend time reflecting on who you are and what you want in your life and in your relationships. Learn from your previous relationship. What worked? What didn’t work? What did you learn about yourself? What do you want to change? Now is the time to get to know yourself better, and get ready for the relationship you so richly deserve.
Take Care of You
One of the most difficult truths for people to accept is that we really do have to prioritize ourselves in order to be any good for anyone else. You know the airplane rule of putting the oxygen on yourself before you help anyone else? Tough one, isn’t it? It goes counter to many people’s natural instincts. But fight it all you want—it is true. You have to put you first. Stated bluntly, you’ll be useless in the dating scene, unprepared for a relationship, and setting yourself up to fail if you do not tend to yourself first, regularly, and with commitment. By doing things for yourself you heal faster and also increase your feelings of self-worth and security. Spend time with friends. Relax with family and ask for their help. Reconnect with activities that used to give you pleasure. Re-establish your emotional and physical boundaries. They are likely a bit frayed after your break-up. Doing so will ground you and give you a sense of wellbeing and security. Bottom line: give yourself a break. You don’t have to have all the questions about the rest of your life answered today.
So you’re thinking: “My marriage or relationship is over. Of course I have to accept change!” But seeing change happen and accepting it are not necessarily the same thing, and change is, for most people, the scariest thing of all. Fear of change is fear of the unknown. Whether it is a change in how you live, what you do, who you are with, or what you believe about yourself, when you let fear in, it holds you back from living the life you were meant to live. To be brutally honest, if you want to date again successfully, you may have to change some of your perceptions and beliefs. Perhaps you will have to start believing that you are lovable. That you are not a victim. That you have a great deal to offer. You may have to set aside your “story”–your beliefs about why you don’t have the relationship you want. Put on a new pair of glasses through which to view the world, and yourself. Remember that embracing new thoughts and attitudes and experimenting with new behaviors is the way to create the life you were meant to live and have the relationship you desire. Change is, in fact, your friend.
Whatever your personal journey, I’m here for you. If you want to schedule a one-on-one phone session to help you sort through the stages, from grieving to accepting change, give me a call.