Helping men navigate the dating scene after a divorce
Dating after your divorce can be a lot of things: terrifying, exhilarating, humbling, a blast.
One thing it won't be? Simple.
Which is why noted psychologists Sam Buser and Glenn Sternes have set out to provide a road map in their comprehensive book, "The Guys-Only Guide to Getting Over Divorce (and on With Life, Sex and Relationships)" (Bayou Publishing).
After counseling hundreds of men throughout the divorce process, Buser and Sternes decided to write a book that would tackle some of the more common questions they encounter. Written in a Q-and-A format, "Getting Over Divorce" addresses everything from breaking the news to the kids to choosing an attorney to whether to use a dating service.
Dating, the authors acknowledge, is one of the most complicated of post-divorce topics. We chatted with them about some dos and don'ts for men who suddenly find themselves back on the singles scene.
DON'T RUSH BACK IN
"Divorce is one of the most painful experiences in our lives," Buser says. "And the natural tendency is to look to women as an antidote for the pain."
Better to face the pain on your own, the authors say - before you seek out another potential mate.
"As men, we run away from pain through our behavior, alcohol, work," says Sternes. "But you have to experience pain and heal from it, otherwise you're going to be revisited by it."
So how do you know when you're on the road to healing? When you can say yes to the following questions:
Can you consider the possibility of going out with a woman without masses of anger welling up in you?
Have you stopped being preoccupied with thoughts of your previous marriage or the divorce?
Can you tolerate living on your own and being by yourself?
Have you reconnected with people, especially with other men, in some concrete ways? ("You need some other outlet for your feelings so you're not dumping them on your new date," Sternes explains.)
DO REALIZE DATING HAS CHANGED
Unless your marriage began and ended very recently, the dating world has changed quite a bit since you were last on the market - texting, social networking and online dating sites may not have even existed when you last dated.
"People find it very daunting," says Buser.
Familiarize yourself with the new ways of meeting people, the authors say, but don't feel pressured to use technology in which you have no interest. So-called advances, the authors say, can have their downsides too.
"What often happens when you meet in some kind of Internet capacity is you get 'bow tie behavior,' where you only see people on their best behavior," says Buser. "You don't see each other very three-dimensionally."
DO PURSUE YOUR PASSIONS
A person's true character - warts and all - is more likely to reveal itself during some shared pursuits.
"We tend to like interest groups," says Sternes. "Green groups, volunteer organizations, political groups. Where you're helping people and having fun, and if you meet a woman, that's just an extra. Maybe a group where you're creating music or creating art. You're in a group and enjoying yourself, and if a date doesn't turn out well, you still enjoyed yourself."
DON'T HIDE YOUR DIVORCE
If you meet a woman online or through friends, she'll probably already have a heads-up that you're divorced. But if she doesn't know, put it out there early.
"It's not a thing where you need to wear a red letter 'D' on your chest," says Sternes. "And you don't have to introduce yourself, 'Hi, I'm Glenn Sternes, and I'm divorced.' But you're going to work it into your first meeting. You don't have to go into a clinical description, but to mention it is a fair deal."
With roughly half of all U.S. marriages ending in divorce, Buser points out, your particular split should hardly stand out. "It's not something to be ashamed of, but I do think it's relevant and tells your date where your head is likely to be," Buser says.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF BAGGAGE
It may be tempting to avoid other divorcees - or, vice versa, only date other divorcees - as a way to limit complications. Not wise.
"If you're seeking someone without baggage, that's someone who hasn't lived or hasn't expressed herself," says Sternes. "There are people with less baggage or more baggage - whether it's children or high-earning potential or whatever - but if you try to limit yourself, you're cutting out whole categories of people."
Besides, Buser points out, "I'm 59. If I met a woman my age who'd never been divorced - who had always been single - that might be more indication of baggage than a divorce. Why hasn't she committed to any long-term relationships?"
DO BE YOURSELF
A cooking class might be a great place to meet women - unless you hate to cook.
"If you are not acting like yourself and you find a special someone, she will like you for this not-you facade," the authors write in the book. "Later, when you inevitably begin to act like yourself again, she may not like you as you really are."
Your divorce was a painful, jarring experience, and dating can represent a fresh start of sorts. And while you want to be open to new experiences and new types of people, it's also important to present your genuine self. Which is another reason to take your time with this whole dating business.
After all, as the authors write, "Being yourself means taking a little bit of time to get to know yourself."
RESOURCES FOR MEN GOING THROUGH DIVORCE
Buser and Sternes offer an "annotated bibliography" at the end of their book that serves as a field guide to divorce Web sites, movies, books and other references. A few of their suggestions:
If you want to know about other men who have experienced divorce, read: "Men on Divorce: The Other Side of the Story" (Harvest) by Penny Kaganoff and Susan Spano.
If you want to avoid a custody battle, check out: "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep).
If you want more Internet resources, take a look at: divorcedirectory.com and/or divorcemagazine.com.
If there has been infidelity in your marriage, read: "Infidelity: A Survival Guide" (New Harbinger), by Don-David Lusterman.
If you want to see how miserable you can make yourself and your ex, check out: "The War of the Roses" (1989 film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner).