For a number of years I had the extreme privilege of being involved in, then facilitating a program specifically for those newly single because of a divorce – DivorceCare. As I healed up, I gradually worked my way into facilitating the program because I found it so helpful to me in recovering from my divorce.
I saw a lot of good fruit from those groups, and yet, group after group, year after year a pattern emerged that frustrated me. Men and women would find our group, begin to find a little healing for their battered emotions, and take a few baby steps in the right direction. Then, bam, they would meet someone and disappear. Later on, I would hear, usually second-hand, of them experiencing another heartbreak.
My wife and I also saw this same pattern repeated in the singles group we led. In fact, whether in DivorceCare or the singles group, the number one mistake I saw newly single adults make was jumping into a relationship too soon after being divorced or widowed.
Pressure to Start Dating Too Soon
Even though I am not currently involved in either of those ministries, I still constantly see this same mistake being made by friends and family. The pressure to start dating almost immediately is tremendous. In this post, I will start by dealing with the three main sources of pressure – our friends and family, our culture, and our own internal desires. And usually, it comes from all three at once.
Friends and Family
Most of us hear the same advice from our friends and family. It usually goes something like “just get over it and find yourself someone new.” Most people regard that as a cure-all for heartbreak. Friends and family can’t stand to see their loved one hurting and assume they know how to make that hurt go away. That advice is given with very good intent, but it is also very wrong.
It is not, however, absolutely wrong. There will be a time to “get back on that horse”. It’s just that there needs to be a certain amount of healing that takes place first. That takes time.
We hear the same type of thing from our culture. Society at large cannot believe that there is happiness outside of being in a relationship. The most common questions for any single adult of any age in almost any circumstance are questions like – Who are you dating? Are you dating anyone yet? Why aren’t you dating anyone yet? Would you like me to introduce you to my friend?
We live in a very couple-centric society where being in a dating relationship is the expected norm and real singleness is viewed as some sort of aberration. Yet, being truly single is a prerequisite for being truly happy, which is a prerequisite for being happily married.
Our Own Desires
Aside from all that, you cannot overestimate our own internal drive to be in a relationship. Most people don’t like being alone, especially if that alone-ness was thrust upon them by a loved one’s death or a divorce. Suddenly finding yourself newly single is a shock to the system. We are built for relationship, companionship, and intimacy. It is only natural that we seek these things. And there is a time and a place for doing so, but that time is further down the line.
There are reasons the term “rebound relationship” has such a terrible connotation, and there are multiple reasons for not rushing into a new relationship.
It Takes Time to Heal
After being widowed or divorced, it takes a while for your emotions to settle down. It will take some time to heal up from the grief of a death or the pain of a divorce. In either case, the loss must be processed. There is no way around it. These issues must be dealt with. It’s not just a matter of time passing, it must be time well spent.
DivorceCare, GriefShare, counseling, books on dealing with divorce or bereavement, or a support group of others who have been through a similar loss are all good tools. Either alone or in combination, they can help you deal with all the emotional issues that accompany those life events.
Staying away from relationships allows you space to complete your healing. Starting a new relationship tends to be a huge distraction and usually prematurely puts an end to this important growth period.
In the immediate aftermath of death or divorce, most people are not thinking clearly. It is way too easy to go looking for someone exactly like or exactly the opposite of the spouse you just lost. Either way, your thinking is extreme and needs to calm down a bit. There is a certain amount of healing that needs to take place, and this takes time. These efforts are short-circuited if you get emotionally involved with someone before your emotions have healed up enough.
The immediate aftermath of a divorce or death of a spouse is also a very vulnerable time when people are often taken advantage of. Predators can easily target and manipulate those who are desperate for a new love to replace what they lost. It is never a good idea to rush into a relationship, but this a particularly true after a loss.
Who Are You?
When you are newly single, it takes a while to figure out who you are. Who you were before was largely shaped by who you were married to. The two of you together formed a new identity. Who are you now that they are out of the picture?
Without their influence, what do you, as an individual, like to do, eat, listen to, watch, wear? What is your ideal schedule, decorating style, vacation? Who do you like to hang out with, be friends with, have over for coffee? Getting into a new relationship too quickly disrupts this self-discovery process.
Also, when you get into a new relationship too quickly, you bring a lot of baggage from your previous relationships with you. Many times I have seen people go from one relationship to the next without ever stopping to be single long enough for their emotions to heal. They don’t take the appropriate time to properly examine all the complexities and nuances of their relationships and understand what really happened. They end up repeating the same mistakes – both in their choices and in their way of relating.
Plus, they end up processing all their past relationships and their present relationship together in one giant blur. This is terribly unfair to whoever they start dating. That person ends up bearing the brunt of every mistake made by everyone they ever dated. To be successful in a relationship you need to focus on that relationship exclusively. You cannot do that if one follows the other too quickly.
My Advice to the Newly Single
If you find yourself newly single, here is what I recommend – stay single for a while. Don’t be in a rush to couple up. When we rush into anything, we make mistakes. Take the time to be truly single. Work through all the issues the death or divorce has brought to light. This time of singleness is a valuable part of the healing process.
When you are eventually ready to date, read my blog Dating vs Dating. As I point out in that post, there are major problems with our modern culture’s version of dating. I find this idea of dating as a long-term, “marriage lite” relationship to be very damaging to people and to society at large. There is a better way.
I addressed this post to people who recently suffered a divorce or bereavement, but it applies equally to serial daters. If you find yourself going from one dating relationship to the next, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and do something different. That starts with learning how to be truly, successfully, happily single. I have several good posts on this blog that can help. Check these out.
Are you newly single? Have you experienced a rebound relationship? If so, what did you learn from it? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
You can find more about dating here.
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