(Originally published June 29, 2017 on rbrw.org)

Before I delve into the dates, let’s talk about the D word. The first one – the one that leads to dating after marriage. Divorce. The best advice I got post-divorce was, “Just wait. In six months, in a year, your life will be completely different.”

It’s so hard to believe that when you’re in the midst of it. When I got married, I will fully admit I was a smug married – we had dated for six years prior to engagement, and for another two before getting married – so I went in with the attitude that we knew each other inside and out, and nothing would take us down. We were a team. I was patient, more patient than friends expected me to be. Indeed I had friends who encouraged me to put my foot down, to set limits. He wasn’t a limit setting kind of man. And, I was a second wife, had a great job, and even moved away for three years while we dated long distance. Therefore I decided to give us both the favor of not pushing hard, until it was time. We both knew when it was the right time to get engaged.

As I speak to friends about marriage or relationships in general, it’s often in the context of life changes. Marriage and relationships are about merging your lives together – but that doesn’t mean losing your entire identity. It doesn’t mean giving up everything that makes you the unique person you are. Too often, one or the other person does just that. I hear it all the time when I speak to my girlfriends. Indeed, I was very guilty of this in my marriage. When we were dating, I made a lot of choices to fit into his life and ignore what made my light shine in the first place. I take full responsibility for my actions.

Marriage is also about give and take, and whether you can take what life throws at you and adjust – a move, a job change, children going off to college, a retirement… it’s the adjustment that often creates the downfall. It’s the maladjustment of two people reacting to the same situation in different ways, and not being able to find their way back together. To liking each other, much less loving each other, and to deciding what each is willing to give or take to make the relationship work?

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable.” – Neil Gaiman

Love is a choice you make. There are all the biochemical reactions that come with attraction and being in love, but I honestly don’t think there is only one “right person” for everyone, no matter what your brain, your hormones, or your heart is trying to say. I believe that you can choose to love someone and you can choose to make a relationship work, no matter the obstacles.  It is also okay to choose to love someone but not stay in the relationship when the obstacles are too high to bear.

Unfortunately it can be easy to slip into the intention of thinking that the solution to becoming recently single, is to find someone to love again and give your heart to again. I remember vividly when I started dating again. One of the first people I went out with said he knew I was relationship material. He also knew that he didn’t want to be the first relationship I had post-divorce, especially after I had recently ended such a long relationship. He was right  – he didn’t want to be, because very few of those succeed. Honestly, I also wasn’t ready to be in a relationship.

I forgot about my earlier self – the younger version of myself who confidently went into and out of relationships and realized it was okay to to acknowledge that it wasn’t a fit.

I fell into a self-made trap – the line of thinking that I just needed to be in a relationship again. My comfort zone of not knowing how to not be in one after almost 18 years. I would date, and stop dating someone, and cry. Repeat. Those first relationships, they often don’t succeed. When you’re vulnerable and in that mindset, it is easy to let yourself go and open your heart to the first person who is nice to you, who jumps all in, who talks about marriage, who makes plans for the following summer with both of your children. It’s easy to put blinders on, and difficult when you come to the realization that maybe this isn’t the perfect relationship for either of you. You don’t want to fail again.

Then, I realized I wasn’t crying because I had failed or had ended yet another relationship. I was crying because I hadn’t given myself time to mourn my marriage. I hadn’t given myself the grace to let go. I hadn’t given myself the grace to realize that it was okay if I was alone. Alone didn’t have to mean lonely.

It’s only a little over one year post-divorce. Guess what? My girlfriend was right. Everything has changed. Including my mindset. That good advice girlfriend? She’s also the one who challenged me to 20 First Dates.

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