Some days as I sit behind my desk in my well-worn leather chair, I feel like a fancy version of Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon. Remember when she would hang her sign for “Psychiatric Help 5¢?” Oftentimes clients seek practical advice from me. Not so much the brilliant legal analysis that I am poised to provide, but the do’s and don’ts of divorce. They want to know how to be a good parent in the face of divorce, if they should sell their house considering their changing financial picture, or how to decide where the family dog should live.
But the advice I give most often is that which is most often completely ignored. I always counsel my clients, whether asked or not, to resist dating during the pending divorce. Initially they always say, “I will never date or marry again.” To wit I immediately wish in my head that there were a sign posted in my office that read: Never say never.
And I get it. In fact, I am guilty of it. In the wake of my divorce, I longed to be acknowledged and maybe even adored. I wanted to feel attractive and alive after years of feeling like I wasn’t being seen as my authentic self. I can remember craving compliments and blushing when they came. I also made the mistake of dating someone during his divorce process. And how could I after making this recommendation over and over? Why? Because falling in love or falling into infatuation feels good in a time that otherwise feels awful.
Studies have long looked at comparison of divorce and death based grief. There is no dispute that both events are traumatic and beget a significant grieving period. It strikes me that widows and widowers are not immediately encouraged to date. Men and women and society as a whole generally accept and encourage a grieving period. In fact, signs of shock might surface if talk of dating happens in the first year. But we do not afford this same wisdom, space, and patience to those during their divorce.
So I stand back up on my pulpit today and yell it out again – please do not date during your divorce. And if you must, if you cannot resist the urge, please keep your dating mates and habits away from your children and your family and friends at this time.
Your children do not want to feel like a replacement parent is stepping in and more importantly, they themselves are grieving their parents’ divorce. Your family is grieving the loss of a family member and is prepared to support you in grief, not giddiness. Your friends won’t know how to react, because they will likely see what you can’t – that you are blinded by your grief and cannot recognize that this relationship doesn’t deserve the seriousness you want to give it.
Instead of dating, get real with your grief. Tell your life story to a counselor instead of to a stranger in a Match.com chat. Focus on the friends who know you and can help you feel like your “old self” again. Be present to your children and what they are experiencing. You have the whole rest of your life to date and remarry. It isn’t a race and racing into relationship may very well land you right back in my office.