Be intentional and avoid emotional chaos.
Make peace with solitude. - Eckhart Tolle
That's how long it had been since I was single when my marriage ended. No wonder I had to ask myself the question.
"Who the hell am I now that I'm on my own?".
Being single again after a long-term relationship or marriage ends is an extremely disorientating feeling. At times, it's almost as if you don't recognize yourself.
When my marriage ended, I had to sit with the broken pieces of myself, wondering where to from here. Sometimes, the silence was deafening.
Our custody schedule was 50/50, week on and week off. So every second week, I had to come home from work and do the slow walk around the house. Peering into my kids' bedrooms and feeling like a complete failure.
All my negative self-talk would rain down on my head.
In the early days, it wasn't unusual for me to spend some time in the hallway crying and trying not to fall apart entirely.
I didn't know how to be single. I didn't know how to be alone.
Before my marriage, I'd had long periods of being single, which wasn't a big deal. I had many friends I could catch up with, or I lived with roommates who provided company.
Divorce is so different because you go from years of having a house full of noise and kids to absolute nothingness. Most of your friends are still married or in new relationships.
Initally, you're emotionally raw, so trying to socialize with the people you used to see as a couple can trigger feelings of shame that you were not able to hold your family together while they were.
Often, this is when people start to think about meeting someone else. It feels like the cure for feelings of loneliness and despair. Many of us believe that being in a new relationship is the natural next step after one ends.
But there's a risk you take when you try to date too soon after a significant relationship ends; beware the rebound!
What defines a 'rebound' relationship?
Rebound relationships are built on a foundation of neediness rather than genuine connection. When you're going through a divorce, you are still reeling from the emotional upheaval, and the need for companionship can be overwhelming.
Rebound relationships are a way of masking pain. They relieve the overwhelming loneliness that blindsides us after being in a partnership for so long.
These feelings can drive you into a relationship for the wrong reasons rather than an honest desire to begin building a solid and healthy relationship based on mutual love and respect.
The problem with rebounds is that they are only temporary relief. Imagine if you broke your leg and someone offered you morphine but didn't set the broken bone back in place.
You'd feel good while you're on the morphine, but once it wears off, the pain of your broken leg is still there, only it's worse because you haven't correctly set it.
It's similar when you try to mask loneliness and a fear of being alone by entering a relationship without truly knowing what you want or, more importantly, what you're realistically able to offer to someone.
This doesn't mean that you can't entertain the idea of dating again. But to keep yourself and others safe from more emotional chaos, you should be clear about what you're prepared to give someone.
Don't jump in without being honest with yourself and the person (people?) you are dating about what you want.
If you only want a physical relationship, being upfront is ok. When I was first divorced, it was music to my ears when I dated someone who told me he wasn't looking for anything serious because I knew that I wasn't in a position to make a serious commitment either.
We both agreed that it was only casual and when we parted ways a few months later, we maintained a friendship.
You may hold back from being honest with someone because you think that they'll reject you, or because you don't want to hurt their feelings by admitting that you only see them being in your life for the short-term.
But by being upfront, you get the opportunity to see if they want the same as you. If they don't, trust me, it's much better than trying to extricate yourself from an awkward situation further down the track.
Not only that but if you are not upfront and that person is triggered emotionally by feelings of rejection, it can turn bad quickly.
This happened to a good friend of mine a few years ago. He was dating a woman who he considered casual, although they'd never had a conversation about what they both were to each other. In the meantime, he was still talking to other women on a dating app.
One evening she saw a message come up on his phone from another woman and she accused him of 'cheating'. She took his phone and bit it so hard that the screen cracked. He eventually had to call the police because she refused to leave his house.
Granted, this is an extreme case. But it highlights how indecision and miscommunication can put you in an emotionally charged situation. By being clear with the people you are dating, you are avoiding putting yourself in a position that you may not be ready to deal with.
Suppose your relationship has ended within the last two years. In that case, the chances are high that you are still carrying a lot of unresolved feelings and thoughts about your experience, which could impact the quality of the relationship you're trying to create now.
Two years is obviously not a timeline that is set in stone. Some people will take less time to fully heal and some will take more.
I've unintentionally used someone as a rebound and been someone else's rebound. Both feel bad.
I felt guilty when I had to end the first one and completely heartbroken when I realized the second one had used me. That one took a very long time to get over and put my recovery back by years.
In an ideal world, we would all be equipped to face our solitude and loneliness without reaching for others to try and take away our pain and discomfort.
The reality is that most of us will want to connect with someone else and date again before we feel truly sure about the type of commitment that we are wanting.
You can avoid the pitfalls of ending up in an unhealthy relationship by being intentional and mindful about what you are looking for. Take some time to reflect on what you hope to gain by entering into another relationship.
Write down in detail what you want before you put yourself out there. Casual? Committed? Purely physical? Friends only?
Get clear before you go out there, and you can protect yourself from the trap of a painful rebound.
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