Guest Post: How to Adapt to Dating After Divorce

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The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.
The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m out of town getting a little R&R with friends and family. This post is from Lisa Arends, author of the book and blog “Lessons From the End of a Marriage.” I asked Lisa to guest post because divorce recovery is a central theme of MBTTTR, and I don’t believe anyone can bring more to the discussion than she. I can’t impress upon you just how important I think her story is for people dealing with divorce or the end of a meaningful relationship. And if you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll visit Lisa’s blog and immerse yourself in those stories. Healing and enlightenment live there. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous contribution.

When change happens,

You can complain.

Or you can adapt.

Guess which one the dinosaurs chose?

One of the trademarks of marriage, especially long ones, is that we become comfortable. We know our environment and we know how to survive within it.

And then divorce changes that environment as surely as an asteroid stripping the earth bare. The behaviors and habits that once served us well become vestigial or even maladaptive.

It makes me think of Darwin’s finches, stranded on islands with plentiful food and yet no way to access the sustenance as their beaks had evolved for other food sources. Some of the birds never changed and they failed to thrive, bloodlines becoming extinct. While others, slowly and over time, adapted to their new environments, their beaks changing to reach the available nutrition. And those are the finches that have thrived, their offspring populating the islands to this day.

Divorce treats us like one of those birds, suddenly abandoned on an island that may possess the resources we need to survive, yet we are unsure how to access them. Our metaphorical beaks developed for the married life, with its unique demands and challenges, not for the suddenly single world that we now find ourselves in.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

Adaptation occurs when you use your experiences and environment to create change and continually modify your approach based upon your circumstances. Adaptation is a process, not a state. It is ongoing, responsive. It is imperfect; using trial and error to make the tiniest steps forward. It challenges us, requiring growth outside our comfort zone. It forces us to continually reevaluate our self-image and assumptions.

Change is hard.

But it’s reality.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

I first became acutely aware of the need for adaptation not too long after my husband left. I started dating relatively quickly, probably from a combination of wanting to be more healed than I was and wanting distraction from the hell that was the legal system.

I didn’t have a problem finding men or attracting them. But I had a major problem with dating them. You see, I was adapted for marriage, with its intimacies and vulnerabilities. I knew how to be married, but I had no idea how to date. Those first few men (apologies, guys!) found me, almost upon introduction, acting as a wife.

It wasn’t intentional. I certainly wasn’t looking for a husband. But I was maladapted to the dating world, so I reverted to what I knew. And what I knew included being way too open too soon. Looking to my date to fill the role of life partner before I even knew his life story. And making plans for the next step before the first one was even taken.

Needless to say, that behavior didn’t work out very well.

So I adapted.

I learned to recognize my wife-like behavior and stop myself before I asked a man after a first date if he needed anything from the grocery store. I committed not to a single man but to practicing dating until I could get it right. I looked for clues to determine if my approach was appropriate or not. I looked to others who were more adept than I at dating and I used them as mentors, imitating what I observed.

I erred too far on the other side at first, going from wife-like to almost clinical detachment, keeping dates at a pro basketball player’s arm’s length. I would initiate a date with the proclamation that I was moving out of town within a few months and that I was doing just fine on my own.

Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well either.

So I continued to adapt, eventually finding a balance that led to a new marriage.

Where I then had to adapt again. Because one relationship isn’t like another. I may have known how to be married to my ex but that’s different than being married to my new husband.

Change is a certainty.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

You are more malleable than you realize. You can adapt to conditions that, at first glance, seem unable to support life. You can adjust and readjust until you have developed strategies that allow you to conquer your circumstances. You can use change, even unwanted change, as an opportunity for growth.

And it begins by truly seeing your environment. Look with your eyes, not your assumptions, at what is around you. It’s scary to face change. We often want to put our heads down and run through it as if it’s not there.

But it is.

See your new world. Feel it. Accept it.

And then try something new.

You may fail. That’s okay. Remember that adaptation is a process. And failures help us learn what works and what doesn’t.

Keep trying. It took Darwin’s finches generations to adapt. You can be patient with yourself.

Use imitation. Mimic the success of others, modifying it to fit your needs.

Slowly, ever so slowly, you’ll learn what works. And you’ll begin to adapt to your present reality.

And that island that once felt so barren and inhospitable will be teeming with possibility.

Control is an illusion.

Choice is a certainty.

And you can choose to complain.

Or you can choose to adapt.

Lisa Arends works as a math teacher and a wellness coach. After using her own sudden divorce four years ago as a catalyst for positive change, she now helps people navigate their own divorces and transform stress into wellness. She loves to lift heavy weights and run long distances, and she is still learning how to meditate. She can be found at her blog, Lessons From the End of a Marriage and on The Huffington Post.

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: How to Adapt to Dating After Divorce”

  1. Pingback: Connection | Lessons From the End of a Marriage

  2. Thank you Lisa, I hadn’t really understood or respected the need to adapt, it’s a process that needs respecting.

  3. This was wonderfully written, a nice, easy read and terrific points. I just wrote a post about “change”, in a different capacity, but similar message. I don’t want to be a dinosaur, lol! Thanks for the guest post, both of you!! XOXO-Kasey

  4. I love the clearity which shines through Lisa’s post. And, once more, I am finding that what she is writing about adaption is not only applicable for the topic of love relationships but also adaptable for various aspects of life. – Thank you Lisa and Matt! 🙂

  5. What a great post, and so true! I never thought of it in that way, I just thought I was very, very bad at dating, but this post lays it out so obviously. Yes, of course that’s why we suck at it post-divorce, duh! Seven years later and I am just reaching the point of being more comfortable, although I am definitely teetering on that clinical detachment. It’s so easy, b/c it offers protection from potential pain. But we can’t find authentic connection without being a little vulnerable. In the meantime, I guess we keep practicing. 🙂 Looking forward to more guest posts!

  6. Great read! I have been searching for the vocabulary for the limbo period after divorce. I have been divorced for a year and am realizing how bad I am at dating. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    1. Welcome to the horrible-at-dating party.

      I know of which you speak. Or type. Or whatever.

      Glad you liked the post. Lisa’s a smarty.

  7. Those last four lines are golden. Someone once said to me –life is much easier when you ‘choose what you got’…or accepting and even forgiving (not necessarily agreeing with) what IS…

  8. Great post. I am (was) also terrible at dating. Also interviewing. Which is one of the reasons I guess that I’ve stayed at my job and in my marriage so long. How hard it would be to start again. On the other hand, look where you are now! That is inspiring, and reminds me that no matter what the future holds it is possible to adapt and adapt well.

    You are right. Change is hard…in fact that is the name of my blog, but for reasons much less serious than your changes have been. I wish you well!

  9. I was just talking to someone this morning about liking what it feels like to be in a relationship like a marriage. I thought that was just the kind of relationship I needed to seek out — one that felt like a marriage. It hadn’t occurred to me that wanting that was just a stopping point on my way to being more independent and better equipped to date again. Quite honestly, it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, since the thought of having to find a relationship that immediately felt comfortable (likely an impossible task) was quite daunting.

  10. Pingback: A Flexible Marriage | Lessons From the End of a Marriage

  11. After my divorce, I had a difficult time adapting. One of my male friends finally let me know the only constant in life was change – after he had heard the umpteenth evening of complaining. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries, enjoy dating – and found a second husband who really fits with me.

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Matt Fray

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