There might be plenty of fish in the sea, but that doesn’t mean we won’t hook a bottom-feeder we’ll want to throw back. Sometimes, though, it will be hard to tell which fish are the keepers, especially when you’re freshly divorced and reentering the dating scene after a long marriage. Whether you were the one who wanted the divorce or not, dating after divorce can be baffling. As we begin, we are often finding out about ourselves at the same time we’re looking around at others for stability, for terra firma. This need for stability and love after divorce can lead to ignoring a lot of red flags when it comes to dating—or missing them all together—and ending up in a relationship that’s going nowhere because of incompatibility and insecurities. On the other hand, you might end up in a whirlwind relationship that moves too fast and ends up with you feeling excited and then, heartbroken. After divorce, are you only destined for rebound relationships? Rebound relationships are, by definition, almost always setup to fail. A lot of people believe that a rebound relationship is defined by time—that dating soon after a breakup or divorce alone indicates a rebound, but that’s not always the case. If you’ve set yourself free of your past relationship, you’ve been working on your divorce recovery, and you feel ready to get out there, then do. Rebounds are really about not being over your past partner and feeling insecure about being single. Generally, people don’t actively look for a rebound relationship but find themselves in one, looking for a “soul mate” or trying to find a substitute for their Ex, or they’ve moved into a relationship too fast because they’re afraid of being alone. The best way to avoid all the pitfalls of a rebound relationship might seem like not dating at all or to date but avoid anything serious—but then you’re cutting yourself off from moving on from your divorce and building a wall between you and a lot of potentially great fish out there waiting to be caught. Instead, here are some tips to help you avoid a rebound relationship when you’re reentering the dating scene after divorce.
1. Try to avoid dating men or women who are also freshly divorced if they seem as if they are still hung up on their Ex
It’s not bad to date other people who have gone through a divorce, and, hey, it even makes sense. But if they’re still fixated on their Ex and don’t seem to really be interested in getting to know you, then they aren’t ready to date, and you might end up as a fill-in for their former partner rather than a romantic interest based on your own merit. A sign that the person you’re dating is not over their Ex might be their constant reference to their Ex or even, their refusal to talk about her/him—so unless they are in a healthy place where they can discuss their past relationship, they aren’t ready to date. If this describes you, then you likely shouldn’t jump into a relationship but instead skip to #4 on this list.
2. Don’t try to recreate your past
Remember, you are divorced and that means some aspect of your past wasn’t working. While you don’t want to completely date off-type, don’t go after a person just because they remind you of qualities you enjoyed in your Ex. Your new partner cannot ever be a stand-in for your old partner. You want to like someone for who they are, not because of who they remind you of. Sometimes this can be hard to distinguish. Maybe you and your Ex enjoyed going to the beach, or skiing, and the new person in your life does too. But this is something you enjoy; remember that. If you have other things in common that make you compatible, things you did not have with your Ex—that’s better. This will move you beyond the history of your Ex and what your Ex liked, did, or said. It will foster your growth as an independent person.
3. Put yourself and your needs first
Don’t compromise your needs, no matter what. You’ve just gone through a divorce. You might find yourself not only feeling vulnerable but feeling like your newly-found singlehood means you’re somehow worth less. But you are deserving, your feelings are important, and you must not let others take advantage of you, especially when you are feeling vulnerable. If your new relationship isn’t fulfilling your needs and you find yourself repeatedly compromising your wants, needs, feelings, and even bank account to keep your new partner happy, it’s time to call your relationship what it is—a rebound. It’s time to call it quits. Consider focusing on more important things, like developing you and who you want to be before you share yourself again.
4. Play the field
No, this doesn’t make you’re “a player.” Chances are you honestly don’t know what you want after the divorce. It might be that you thought you had something perfect before, but time proved otherwise. Figuring out what you want after divorce is like asking someone who’s never had ice cream before what their favorite flavor at Baskin-Robbins is—it’s an impossible question to answer without sampling the flavors first. The best way to avoid a rebound relationship is to explore. Go on a few dates, see what you like and what you don’t like. Do this before you settle down or commit again. If all is said and done and you find yourself in a rebound relationship that seems headed for heartbreak, there is one last step you can take: break it off before it goes further. You’ve gone through a divorce already. It was both painful and a learning experience, and this breakup will be a learning experience, too — hopefully without the depth of pain; but be prepared, there may be heartache. Maybe you invested in the relationship too fast or you made compromises without fully realizing what you were doing. But you are a stronger person now, and you must not be in a relationship that doesn’t make you feel like your best self. After you break up with your rebound, you’ll be free. Free to explore and cast your line again, to see what’s out there and what is possible. And, who knows, maybe this time you’ll reel in a keeper. If you don’t right away, remember, this new time in your life is about finding out about you, your life, your values, and who you want to be. You’ve come too far to not recognize — you are the greatest keeper of all.
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