Police Psychology | Divorce Part 4: Starting a New Life
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
So, it’s done! The lawyers are gone, the courts are played out, the property and kids are separated and one of you is living in the house or it has been sold. You are situated in a comfortable but “not exactly home” place of your own without a spouse living with you. What do you do now?
The last time you dated you were really young, in fact in your twenties, if not your teens. There has been a lot of life since then. Internet dating has taken off, but we all have heard the horror stories of that. There is no college bar anymore, at least for middle age people. Perhaps you already have a girl or guy lined up, maybe even dated them while you were still with your ex. What problems happen now? Could this ever work? The good news is you are free again to remake your life. The bad news is this is the time people make huge mistakes. We are all going to deal with this in ourselves, a colleague or a friend, so you might as well read below.
First place, don’t buy into the theory that someone has the answer for you. “If you go and get hooked up again I am going to shoot you on the spot?” “You don’t need anyone else in your life, you need a break from men.” “You should wait three years before you date.” “Maybe you should play for the other side for a while.” I have heard well-meaning friends say everything to a guy or girl getting divorced. Turn the hearing aids off, turn the noise way off. Advice is easy to give and hard to live with if you take it. You are in pain, and you will be in pain for a while. If in the divorce, you are the one left or you are not the one to make the divorce decision, your spouse is emotionally way ahead of you. Don’t try to catch up quickly. The advice about when to start dating can’t be determined for each person with an overall phrase. But you do have to make some sense of it.
You should start dating after you have other parts of your life re-established. Meaning, don’t be looking until you have a lived a few months on the new amount of money you are getting, you have established healthy relationships with your kids, and you and everyone important to you has adjusted to you being a single man or woman again. You must know who you are now before you start letting someone else in. You must avoid emotional pinballing. Before that, you are asking for trouble. Get yourself stabilized. If you are living in a refrigerator box, don’t bring person home until you can afford an apartment (or perhaps a refrigerator box in a better neighborhood). What about using people for sex in the meantime? Use the sexual energy to motivate you to getting yourself setup. Emotions get involved when you start cheating on these principles, so don’t cheat. Okay reality, sometimes it is just too tempting, but really moderate the attachment.
Remember, if you stopped dating when you were sixteen, you will have the same confused 16-year old mentality when you pick it up again. If you stopped dating when you were twenty-five, you’re going to go back to 25. Don’t expect progress in your psychology when you have been in the storage bin of marriage. You will pick up quickly, but don’t expect to start somewhere else.
Where the hell do you meet people when you are single again and haven’t been on a date in years? We have all heard horror stories about online dating, finding a woman from a communist country, finding a man from work, etc. And most of them are true. But not all are horror stories. You need to get rid of your urgency to hook up or else you won’t make good decisions. This time is about expanding your social networks and finding other single people. Go to parties, go to social events, fund raisers, clubs, just expand whatever it is you enjoy doing and meet a lot of people. When you get someplace leave at least a quarter of the time to meet new people, not just hang with the people that you came with. Just do it. Meet waiters and waitresses, and people who are running the show and people who are shy. Just be sure to get your name out there. It’s not sales; it is not bravery; hell it can’t be worse than what you have been through getting a divorce. People are mostly receptive to meet you.
I make a logical rule with men and women alike. If you date the first girl or guy you meet, you are limited to the one guy. If you meet the first person’s friends, you have five, ten or maybe more people to choose to date. Make lots of friends during the pre-dating time and meet their networks.
Now what are you looking for? The old advice was “don’t fall for the first pretty face you see.” I would expand that and say, don’t fall for any pretty face. Find someone that likes to do things you like to do. You are going into a different part of your life than before, so look at what it is you will do at your age. If you are fifty, you want someone different than if you are twenty. You might want someone more travel-oriented or more exploring that can expand your horizon. Or someone to eventually be a homebody with. If you’re thirty, then you might be looking for someone that will be a good partner to raise kids with. You don’t go picking the party animal who is focused on their friends, and look to change him, even if he says he’s willing to change. Look for their lifestyle and get a sense of what they like to do. And finally, don’t ask them. People present their ideal self when they are single. So you may hear their ideal, but it is not what they are doing. Don’t ask, observe.
Now for the worst news. The first thing you should look for is character. And character is hard to determine. The girl or guy that is criticizing waitresses or clerks is not who you want to be with unless you want your life to be criticizing a lot. A guy or girl who is always looking at the positive might not be attractive to you, or it may be. A guy or girl that doesn’t handle money well, or has a ton of credit card debt, may take a different kind of person to be connected to them. Be sure you want to spend you life rescuing someone because that is what you will do. Look at the subtler signs. Don’t be impressed that they serve meals to the poor if everything else is not in place. Remember, the bad patterns get emphasized in relationships, so be wary.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt if they have a pretty face, a rockin’ hard body and you fit together really well behind closed doors, but that should be your strongest measure.
I always say to people let four seasons pass before you look for results. That goes for any type of stress. There is no greater stress in the world than a divorce. People don’t kill themselves over anything else as much as a divorce or relationship problem. Death of a loved one, especially with a terminal illness, comes close, but as far as what it does to your life and after, divorce tops the mountain of psychological effects. I would say give it four seasons until you are acclimated before you dive into the dating game. You may be alright if you don’t, but I’d still give it four seasons. If a year is too long, you will need a lot of luck because you won’t have enough information about yourself to date seriously.
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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