There is a delicate balance to be maintained between the need to process the trauma of divorce to recuperate, heal, and recover) and the need to maintain the interpersonal skills essential to dating and, later, to bonding and pair-formation (pairing). The main problem may be the temporary suspension of the ability to trust, to open up, to render oneself emotionally vulnerable, and to reciprocate. The pain of divorce is so enormous and so all-consuming that narcissistic defenses kick in and the new divorcee is often unable to empathize and selflessly interact with potential partners. My advice is: listen to your inner voice. You know best. Do not let yourself be coerced, cajoled, and pushed into dating prematurely. You will know when you are ready.
The only reason and justification to date online is if you have no access to venues where you can date “real” people face-to-face, instead of mere avatars. Online dating is a disaster waiting to happen. To start with, it is unsafe as it affords no way to establish the identity of your interlocutor or correspondent. It also denies you access to critical information, such as your potential partner’s body language; the pattern of his social interactions; his behavior in unexpected settings and circumstances; his non-scripted reactions; even his smell and how he truly looks, dresses, and conducts himself in public and in private. Frequently in online dating, the partners use each other as “blank screens” onto which they project dreams, wishes, and unfulfilled needs and yearnings. They are bound to be disappointed when online push comes to offline shove.
Divorced adults are surrounded with eligible partners: at work, on the street, in the elevator, the clinic, next to the traffic lights, buying a newspaper, pushing a shopping cart at the mall. The problem is that of mindset, not of opportunity. Divorcees are in such agony that many of them withdraw and “block out” new information, potentials, and possibilities. Additionally, their narcissistic defenses kick in and they feel entitled to “something or someone better”. They become overly selective, pose unrealistic demands, and subject people they have recently met to a battery of tests that all but guarantee failure. It’s like they are self-defeatingly punishing wannabe partners and would-be mates and spouses for the sins of, and abusive misbehavior and maltreatment meted out by their exes.
Some special topics:
Informing the Children
How should you inform your children that you are dating again?
It depends on:
1. Whether the divorce was consensual and amicable or ugly and rupturous
2. Who is perceived by the child to have been the “guilty” party
3. How old the kids are and
4. Whether one of the parents or both use the child to taunt, torment, and punish their counterparties.
The parent should explain to his children his or her emotional needs. The parent should not supplicate, ask for the child’s permission, or pose as the child’s equal or “partner”. He or she should simply share. The child should be kept fully informed at all times regarding developments that may affect it: a date that is turning into something more serious and may alter living or custody arrangements, for instance. The parent should make clear his or her priorities and, as much as possible, foster the child’s sense of safety, emotional stability, and certainty that he is loved. But, the child should not have a veto power over the parent’s predilections, choices, and, ultimately, decisions.
Dating in different age groups
The mechanics are the same, but the expectations are different. The divorced 20-odd years old is probably still looking for a partner to establish a family with, as her main priority. Her 50-something years old counterparts are more concerned with companionship, personal growth, and issues related to old age and security. Consequently, these two age groups are bound to home in on different profiles of potential mates.
Mr. or Mrs. Right
According to many studies, women look for these qualities in men:
1. Good Judgment;
4. Affectionate behavior;
5. Financial Responsibility.
Men seem to place a premium on these qualities in a woman:
1. Physical Attraction and Sexual Availability;
4. Protective Affectionateness;
The infatuation with Mr. Right or Ms. Right, common in the West, is very counterproductive and narcissistic. The romantic delusion that there exists, somewhere, a perfect match, a soulmate, a lost identical twin leads to paralysis, as we keep searching for the best rather than seize upon the good. It is the optimum that we should seek, not the illusory maximum. Dating and pairing is the art of compromise: of overlooking his shortcomings and deficiencies in order to benefit from your prospective partner’s good traits and qualities.
Having friends with benefits
There’s nothing wrong with short-term, interim, intermittent, and less committed liaisons that involve sexual gratification as well as companionship. It provides for an oasis of much-needed calm in between more demanding, serious, and sometimes onerous relationships. As long as this does not become a permanent and predominant pattern, it should be regarded as a welcome addition to the emotional and psychosexual arsenal of singles and the divorced.
From Bar-room to Bedroom
The sooner, the better. If he strikes you as a “candidate”, if she strikes you as a potential partner, it is time to hit the sack. Sexual incompatibility is the reason for a majority of breakups and divorces. Better to get this issue out of the way before things get more serious. If you find that he repels you sexually; if you find her unimaginative or frigid; if you find him clumsy and irritating; if you find her perfunctory or domineering – better put an end to it now, before you commit yourselves and get entangled emotionally.
Of course, all the precautions apply: gather information about your prospective partners from his/her friends, family, and colleagues; insist on protected, safe sex; make clear, in advance, what you are willing to do and where do you draw the line. But, otherwise, go for it now, before it is too late. Find out if you are a true couple in bed as well as away from the sheets.
by Sam Vaknin, PhD, the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” — a far-reaching book about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and abusive behavior — and other books about personality disorders.
Read “When Facebook erodes real-life relationships: ‘I’m only checking in with friends and seeing what they’re up to.’”
Read “Bragging on a First Date: ‘I graduated with top honors and live on Snobhill.’”