My divorce was finalized in 2013. After working on healing, I met several men who were interested in dating me. Before you ask how I met them––several were met on dating apps, a couple live in my community, and one was by an introduction from a friend. Looking back now, I realize that all of them made me feel somewhat uncomfortable, even though I ignored my intuition on many occasions over the years.
There are always lessons to be learned both before stepping into the dating pool and while trying to navigate it. I’d like to share with you a few things I have learned on my restoration journey.
This list is not to criticize anyone for where they are in their healing journey after divorce. Many people start dating too soon and others choose to never date at all (choosing to stay single). The choice is always yours. But as you decide when is the right time for you, you can still see the areas that you need to work on within yourself… most importantly, for yourself. Work on you for you, not to “get a guy” or to keep a guy that may not be right for you.
Note: If you’re a man reading this, please just change the pronouns. My main audience is women (98%) but all of this applies to both men and women; I’ve seen both sides of the dating pool, no need to tell me anything.
You Should Probably Skip Dating For Now If…
1.) You cannot assert your boundaries or stick to them with other people.
Women ask me how they should let their dating partners know that they’re not interested in sex before marriage. Usually, this couple is at the point of taking things too far and she wants to put on the breaks. If you can’t state your boundaries and standards up front with a man or anyone, you’re not ready to date. If you are waiting until marriage to have sex, then that should be one of the first things you talk about (or add it to my dating profile, as I do).
If you feel as though you need to conform to the other person’s beliefs or lower your standards to fit, rather than sticking to your own predetermined morals, you have found an area that needs your attention. Getting emotionally healthy and learning boundaries should come before practicing them. If you can’t assert your boundaries with your own immediate family, friends, and/or children then how will you assert them in a dating relationship? (Remember boundaries are always words first and actions second. Speak up when you feel disrespected and tell people what you will and will not allow in your life.)
If you state a boundary and another person seems upset or threatens to “break things off” (or the many other manipulative statements), that is a huge red flag that this person doesn’t respect you. If you set a boundary and they seem to push you to do more. Or you change your mind, which makes them upset, you’ve found where there is no respect and they only want something from you. An understanding, caring, and healthy person would honor your wishes and respect your boundaries without trying to push for more. Also, you have to be able to state your boundaries, assert them, and be willing to walk away when someone doesn’t honor you and your relationship preferences.
2.) You’re not willing to walk away when someone is not good for you.
Unfortunately, a lot of us know this problem too well. We had a hard time leaving a man who didn’t treat us well. We stayed long after the abuse and/or affairs ruined the marriage. But that doesn’t mean we need to repeat this pattern in any future relationships. We have to be willing to walk away from anything or anyone that is not good for us.
In the years since my divorce, I’ve realized my gut intuition is working well; I’ve just not always listened to it right away. The first couple of times meeting a new man, I did immediately run away from the person, especially after one incident of lying. But more recent times, I allowed things to continue just to see if it was my gut feeling or some sort of C-PTSD hyper-vigilance going on. But in the end, I realized that I need to just listen to my body and stop trying to question it.
God created me with a strong intuition about people. I usually read people right away just like they are a book. I need to trust that if something is off, even if I don’t see exactly what it is right away, that indeed something is off and this person is not for me. And then not feel bad about it at all. Part of knowing that I’m ready to date is knowing I will be fine whether I have someone in my life or not but no one is worth having if they disturb my peace.
3.) One man is the focus of all your attention.
You’re praying… maybe begging God… that this will be the one. You think about this person constantly. Wanting to speak to him and see him every day. Finding ways to spend more time together even giving up things you like to do just to be with him. You can’t seem to live without this person. And spending the day daydreaming about your future together.
This may seem like love but it’s probably more of an obsession, lust, or an addiction. You may be trying to fill a void inside of you that you think this one person will fill. You may be tempted to believe this man is for you, when he’s only a lesson. Even if you do date and someday marry, healthy marriages have boundaries and each person still needs to have their own lives separate (not secret lives) from each other. Don’t start off this relationship on the wrong foot, and get yourself into a co-dependent relationship. Keep your friends, enjoy your hobbies, and continue to work out or exercise for your health while allowing the relationship to grow naturally… instead of too quickly or in an unhealthy way.
4.) If you allow someone to decide how quickly the relationship progresses.
If you know anything about a narcissist, you know that they will tell you that they love you on the first or second date. They already know that they are going to marry you. They follow that up with love bombing when you barely know each other. Dictionary.com defines love bombing as “the practice of showing a person excessive affection and attention as a way of manipulating them in a relationship. Love bombing typically takes the form of showering a person with a combination of seemingly genuine expressions of love or attention, such as excessive praise, gifts, and grand gestures.” (Source)
I’ve also seen a similar type of manipulation from the self-proclaimed “nice guy” who says all the right things at first but has a secret motive behind that “nice guy” façade. He always wants something and the things he “put up with” in the beginning, he becomes irritated with after a few short months, especially when he’s not getting what he wants. Just like the narcissist, he pushes a woman’s boundaries. But instead of getting outwardly angry, he always says, “It’s fine!”
The self-proclaimed nice guy will seem like a nice guy by always giving you your way. He’ll say how nice he really is, how he can be trusted, and how different he is from other guys. He would never… [insert what other guys do.] He’s “not a bad boy” and often acts very passive, sometimes even self-deprecating. He will follow up your requests with, “Anything you want!” But the truth is, he is a liar and only looking after his own self-interests. At the core of his demeanor is a man who is misogynistic, entitled, and passive-aggressive. He wants everything his way and has something to hide; dirty secrets he doesn’t want you to know about. But he’s perfected hiding behind the “good guy” mask and making excuses for his behaviors and beliefs.
Both being powerful manipulators, you need to know when to put on the brakes, how to assert yourself, and when to walk away (OR RUN!) when you see a glimpse of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” behind the mask. It’s not always easy to decipher when you’re dating one of these types of people, but you will see their true colors when you try to break things off. How do they act then? That will show you all you really need to know. Most times the “nice guy” will act passive-aggressive and the narcissist will go into a rage or discard. Either way… you’ll know that it really needed to end. Don’t chase! Just let him go.
5.) You’re still angry with your ex and all he’s done or continues to do.
If you’re still really busy ruminating on what has happened, how everything is your ex-spouse’s fault, and how you were the victim, you’re not ready to date. I know that seems harsh but your heart needs to be clear to make room for a new dating partner. And although there can be a time for anger in your healing, you eventually need to come to a place of acceptance and restoration, through healing. Part of restoration is realizing that all of what has happened didn’t happen to you but for your good. How are you better now after the abuse or adultery, and divorce? How have you grown as a human?
If you’re still feeling all the hurt feelings, you may not be emotionally available to be 100%-100% in another relationship. You could even self-sabotage that next relationship because of your unresolved feelings and/or issues. Furthermore, if you meet someone that is also still early in their healing process, you could connect with that person because of shared trauma rather than a real connection. These things are not healthy and should be avoided.
The best way to deal with your shame is to give it to God and release it. As I share in my book, Your Restoration Journey: Rediscovering Your Faith & Yourself After Divorce, shame only holds power in your life when you carry secrets. Once you share those secrets with others and ask for forgiveness from God (if needed), they lose their control over you. Those secrets can no longer harm you if you accept God’s forgiveness and realize they are part of your bigger picture, the masterpiece of your life. Once you no longer feel shame and are able to honestly share and you are free to experience deeper emotional intimacy with another person.
7.) You can’t be honest with yourself or others.
First, you have to be willing, to be honest with yourself. And you have to be able to be 100% authentic and eventually (not always right away) share your current circumstances and your past with others. If you carry any unhealed shame you can’t honestly share your life with others because it will block emotional intimacy. And if you feel shame, another person could use that shame against you. Don’t give shame that much power! Learn to let it go.
The best way to ensure that you are emotionally healthy enough to be emotionally intimate with another person is to deal with the parts of you that you cannot share with others. If you feel the need to lie about anything, you will ruin relationships; dishonesty in any relationship causes disharmony. Lying destroys trust which often cannot be repaired; so always be honest in relationships that you want to keep around. You need to either set boundaries (by saying I’m not willing to share this with you right now) or tell the truth. Anything else is unfair to another person.
8.) You see unhealthy individuals or hurting people as “a project” to fix.
In order to get into a healthy relationship with someone, your emotional maturity should match. If you meet someone, thinking of all the ways their life would be better if they would only _______ then you have found yourself a project, not a partner. Do NOT date potential! Find yourself someone that has done the work to prepare their heart and their daily habits for the next steps of their life.
This is why I conduct myself as a married woman even though I am single. This includes keeping my boundaries as high as my standards and not allowing anyone to compromise my values. And I conduct myself in a way that if God has a plan for me to meet an authentic, Jesus loving, and truly kind-hearted (not a “nice”) man with the fruits of the Spirit, then I haven’t done anything that shows a lack of integrity on my part.
Sadly, most of the men that I’ve talked to or met after my divorce, have conducted themselves as a bachelor without any clear understanding of how their actions, which include their social media posts, show their true character and especially how they see women (as sexual objects rather than human beings with high value and worth). I tried to communicate this to one such man, who proceeded to block me from seeing all of his posts like I wouldn’t know.
Yes, I know it seems like there are a lot of “projects” out there in the dating pool. But for me, I’d rather be alone for the rest of my life than settle for someone who is not emotionally healthy or mature enough, or ready, to be the husband that I need and deserve. I know people don’t change because someone asks them to. People only change when the pain of continuing to do what they do is higher than the pain of trying to change.
A man who likes all of the cleavage shots on Facebook is going to continue to like all of those pictures as a married man; he just might find a way to hide it from you or come up with better excuses. The man who is extremely angry with his ex-wife and calls her all sorts of nasty names, will do the same to you when you act in a way that is similar to her (he hasn’t healed and is just repeating the cycle). The man that treats his mother poorly, will treat you the very same way one day. You can’t fix him! And it’s not worth the stress of trying!
The same goes for you. If you haven’t worked on your healing to a place where you feel 100% whole in Christ, you will look for and stay with someone you think can fill that void. I talk about this in my book, Your Restoration Journey. It becomes easier to realize that you are better off without someone who is not right for you when you’ve done the work to fill the empty space in your heart with God’s loving-kindness. And you understand that you deserve better than poor treatment because you know your Abba, Father would only bring the best person into your life to marry (if that is what you desire).
9.) You feel lonely and want to fill a void.
Two unhappy people don’t make for a happy couple. You will mate and stay with a person who is exactly where you are in life. If you are depressed, you will think you are the perfect match for someone who is depressed. If you are not depressed and you meet someone who is bringing you down, it will be easier to walk away knowing this is not the right fit for you.
This is true for all areas of life. If you are active, then date someone who is active. Don’t expect him to make you active or vice versa. If you have life goals and kingdom work to do, you need to meet someone who is doing these same exact things. You need a supportive partner, not a project. Someone who is lonely and just filling a void will pull you backward and expect you just to be there when it’s convenient for them (when they’re lonely).
I often joke that if I meet a man who is a vegan and is willing to cook all our meals, I’d become vegan because I’m tired of cooking. But if I’m being honest, that’s really unfair of me to expect anyone to do all the work that I could and should do for myself. I have cut out most cow’s milk dairy (milk, ice cream, etc). And I limit my bread intake and red meat for my own health (I have Lupus and those food products cause inflammation and discomfort). But not only do I not want to police someone else’s diet (I also try to eat clean; less processed meals and mostly cook/eat at home) but I don’t want someone else to have to force me to change my diet to fit them. We need to fit well together… or not be together. I don’t need another child and hopefully, he doesn’t want me to parent him (or he parent me).
10.) You keep making the same dating/relationship mistakes, without learning from them.
After a time of healing, dating should be the time of exploring to see what you like and what you don’t like. You should also be noticing how you behave around certain people and how you are in a relationship. Are you seeing the red flags or missing them? Are you listening to your intuition or ignoring it? Every date or relationship is another experience to learn a lesson. If you don’t see it this way, or you are emotionally damaged after every relationship, you need to take a break to focus on yourself and your healing for a short time.
Not everyone is going to be a good fit. Actually, in my experience, most won’t be a person you want to go on a first or second date with. Or after ten dates, you realize this is just not a good fit for you. Either way, you learn and grow with each new experience. And in time you start to realize your strength as a woman who is able to assert her boundaries in these dating relationships.
But, also, being honest with yourself means that you will take a time-out from dating if and when you keep making the same mistakes. There is no shame in realizing you have work to do; I’ve been there several times. In the end, the most important relationship is the one between you and God and the relationship you have with yourself. Get that right and all other relationships after are much easier to handle.
Have you started dating yet? What lessons have you learned that you can share with others so we can all learn together?
God bless your healing journey after divorce,