18 Months: A Post-Divorce Milestone

I Googled "Look of satisfaction." I got John Locke from "Lost." Fine. We'll go with that.

I Googled “Look of satisfaction.” I got John Locke from “Lost.” Fine. We’ll go with that.

I panicked when I lost my family.

You freak because those you love are gone. You freak because you feel broken on the inside. You freak because you didn’t know rejection could feel this way.

People resist change. We don’t like when our favorite menu items go away at the restaurant, or when our favorite television shows get cancelled, or when we’re forced to adjust our routines.

And then your family disappears. It feels like a lot.

Things were totally shitty between you and your wife. Cold and distant. But you knew her. There’s comfort in the routine and reliability. There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone. It’s the closest thing we get to the safety net most of us feel as children with our parents.

But then they leave. And you question everything you ever believed because now you can’t even trust your own judgment.

And maybe you have a son. Maybe he’s four, going on five, and getting ready for kindergarten. And maybe you’re not the best father in the world, but you love. Hard. You love hard. So much. Because that child is your lifeblood. That child in four short years has become your primary reason for even existing.

You didn’t know you could love something that much—this little person who you’d only imagined in some theoretical Imagination Land when you talked about having kids one day.

And here he is. Your son.

And then he’s not. Then he’s not there.

And so you lose your wife. Your pride. Your purpose.

As a prisoner inside yourself, there’s nowhere to run.

I’m always thinking about five years from now. I can’t help it. It’s a real problem after divorce, because there can be no five-year plan.

There’s so much just trying to figure out how to bleach your laundry without ruining it, and how to shop and cook for one, and how to fill the now-empty hours that your brain can’t fathom five years from now.

You thought you had the rest of your life mostly figured out and it all blew up in your face.

How can you possibly know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

You can’t.

And after years of believing your world was going to keep spinning as is, that’s a pretty frightening realization.

Dating After Divorce—A Double Life

I was overwhelmed by fear in the beginning.

In a week, I’m going to hit the 18-month mark. A year and a half since everything I counted on every day stopped being a thing.

And I need you to know, Person Who Just Lost Their Family And Is Totally Freaking Out: You’re going to make it.

It’s funny.

I was pretty panicky about this idea of dating after divorce. Right away I knew what a challenge it would be.

  1. I’m 35 with a son in first grade.
  2. I live far away from where I grew up, so I don’t have that large, institutional network or built-in family support system locally that some people have.
  3. Nearly everyone I know here consists of married couples that my ex-wife and I used to hang out with all the time—people who are friends with both of us, so it’s not exactly a breeding ground of like-minded singles.
  4. I’ve lost much of the confidence I possessed in my youth.
  5. I’m a 35-year-old divorced dad who works in a cubicle. When I was 20, there was still some question about my potential. Maybe I’d run a magazine one day. Maybe I’d write a bunch of books. Maybe I’d win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I don’t have those maybes on my side anymore. Now, I’m just this guy.

And let me be clear: Just this guy—he isn’t so bad.

I was pretty down on myself right after getting left, but I’ve fought my way back and will continue to.

I’m not such a bad guy. I’m not undateable. I’m not a failure.

I’m just not in the place in life I thought I would be when I imagined myself as a thirtysomething. And failed expectations are always disappointing.

I didn’t know it before. But I know it now: Life doesn’t always work out like you think it’s going to.

At the beginning, you feel something close to hopelessness.

But once you get through the initial emotional gauntlet of horror, you start to realize: I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But maybe that’s okay.

My dating life has been a colossal failure. I’m horrible at it. And I’ve learned to accept it.

But I guess if the goal is to end up with another partner again (and that idea appeals to me much more today than it did 18 months ago when I was losing my shit), then that means I only need to get it right once.

I never meet anyone because my social life is disjointed and weird and my various social circles pretty much only include married people hanging out with one another.

I also never meet anyone because I’m the world’s biggest chicken shit about introducing myself to strangers.

I could have a bunch of casual relationships, I suppose. And some people do choose that path in their post-divorce lives.

Maybe if I wasn’t a father, I would have too.

Maybe you’re different than me. Maybe we’re not all as much alike on the inside as I believe we are. But lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me except make me feel bad on the inside.

I wonder sometimes to what extent it’s a factor in marriages breaking up—people using sex as a tool to feel good.

Casual can work. Two well-intentioned, honest people agreeing to make one another feel good is a viable option. It feels morally bankrupt to me. But it makes sense. Because there’s an element of unselfishness to the proceedings. An element of giving.

If sex is only about pleasing ourselves, one wonders what the point of a partner is at all.

If sex is about service—an expression of love—an act designed to give more to the other person than we take. Then I think maybe the foundation is there for something lasting and meaningful.

I say all that because so much of these past 18 months have been about exploring who I want to be moving forward. If this is a second chance at choosing a life for myself, then I want—need—to get it right.

And my son is at the very center of that desire and thought-process.

I cannot teach that boy about the finer points of love and self-respect and choosing a partner down the road if I don’t know who I am, and if I’m not walking the same walk I wish for him.

That Was Totally Rambling and Disjointed

Sorry.

I just want people like me to know it’s going to be okay. That’s it. I could have saved you a thousand words, and simply said that: Just wait 18 months!!! Mark it on your calendars and look forward to it!!! Everything’s going to be okay!!!

Bam. Message delivered.

Because it’s true.

It is scary and horrible when you get divorced.

It is messed up and wrong when you lose so much time with your children.

It is daunting to think about how you’re ever going to move forward functionally in a post-divorce world and find someone to love you again.

If you’re in the beginning, I’m so sorry. Don’t give up. Because something beautiful is on the horizon.

If you’re here with me?

Smile.

We made it.

Still breathing. Still alive.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

*shrug*

That’s okay.

Probably going to be awesome.

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40 thoughts on “18 Months: A Post-Divorce Milestone

  1. JujyCakes says:

    I’ve missed your writings and know that you need the time to heal. I found this quote. It seems helpful when I lose my way and fall back a few steps, only to dig deep and find the courage to keep moving forward. Hope it finds a common thread in you, too. Best…Always.

    “Hope is believing that the sadness can evaporate, that if you try like hell to move on with your life, your smile won’t always be forced. Therefore in order to forgive and to move past fear, you need to find hope.

    And remember to love again…

    Once our hearts are bruised and burned from a relationship that ended, we have two options: we can close off pieces of our heart so that one day no one will be able to get inside. Or we can love again. Deeply, just as intensely as we did before.”
    – Therese Borchard

    Like

  2. After my divorce, my friends were quick to suggest I jump into the dating pool. I disagreed. I needed time to mourn the death of my marriage. And then… 1 year after my divorce, I found out the truth — the *real* reason my Ex-husband wanted a divorce. He was having an affair and married the woman he was cheating on me with. My ex stopped loving me and fell in love with her. BTW, she was also married. The two of them plotted their exit strategies from their marriages so they could be together. Everything I believed to be true, shift like quicksand under my feet. Matter of fact, I didn’t know what to believe and in turn suffered from cognitive dissonance.

    My friends felt distracting myself was a great way to “get over” what happened last year. To help me “get over and forget” the fact that I was lied to, deceived and manipulated.

    Thankfully I did not listen to my friends. I signed up for therapy, followed bloggers in same/similar situation, read countless books, wrote in my journal, blogged and meditated. I was willing to do or try anything that would help me work through my pain.

    The last thing I needed was to narcotize myself with casual sex and dating. F*** that!

    It was exactly 3 years ago this month that I stood before the judge in the probate court. Rather than date, I have chosen to work on myself. I hate that couples put so much pressure on those of us who have divorced, to date. Dating isn’t the answer. Self-reflection and work is. I know it sounds cliche, but I have chosen to use this pain as a means of growth so that I can figure out why I attracted a man who lied and deceived me throughout my entire marriage.

    Then again, you are younger than me so you have a chance at doing this again. Meeting someone, falling in love and having more children. I am 47. Children are not possible and quite frankly (at this stage of my life) so is marriage. I see no point to it.

    :-)

    Like

    • Don’t call it narcotizing. When I left my (abusive) wife, I ended up quite unexpectedly in a relationship with someone only 3 months later. She had separated slightly before me, and both of us knew–without talking about it–that the relationship was doomed. However, she made me happy, and I’d like to think that I lightened her burden a bit as well. It wasn’t just casual sex–we genuinely liked each other. It certainly made me feel better about myself (I hope that it did the same for her), and I look back at it with good feelings. It lasted about 7-8 months, and during that time it was a source of much needed solace.

      Like

      • Matt says:

        This makes sense to me, Richard. The key difference between what you experienced vs. “meaningless” is that you were both honest and genuinely cared about one another’s wellbeing. Really the key.

        Like

      • Hi Richard,
        I did not mean to sound like I was passing judgement. We all process pain in our own individual ways. For some, taking on a new relationship allows them to get over the relationship that recently ended. For me, it just doesn’t work that way, never has, never will. I needed to understand why this happened. Why my marriage ended and what dysfunction or issues did I bring into the relationships, because, let’s face it, we all have our baggage. I attracted a man who is a pathological liar. Rather than call him out on his shit, I turned the other cheek. Clearly I need work in this area.

        ANYWAY. I am glad you were able to work through your pain. :-)

        Like

    • Matt says:

      Don’t be in a hurry is a lesson I had to learn on my own. My inability to date well really worked out for me in that regard. :)

      Plenty of growth left to do. But I do look back on all this with a smidge of pride.

      Like

  3. completelyinthedark says:

    aw, buddy, this was great. “lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me…” yeah, trouble over here with this too. Especially remembering how soulful the sex was with my ex (or at least how soulful it SEEMED to be, but probably at one point actually was so let’s just go with that, ‘k?)…

    This past summer has been extra difficult because the ex has been giving me expectations she MIGHT want to date again. It has run warm and ice cold. I left her a belated bday gift (a book I thought she’d like) a week or so ago after we’d emailed a bit and that was met with silence so I figured I’d already expected too much. Still was glad I gave the gift and just have to move on with new people, if possible, I guess.

    It’s tough because I’m probably relying on the safe, enjoyable memories with her, and that time has come and gone.

    Loss sucks. That’s for sure.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Breathing, smiling, soldiering on. :-)

    Mike

    Like

  4. Robin says:

    Such an honest post. You know, rambling and disjointed and over-analyzing are common threads for any of us who’s lives have been torn apart by a divorce they either didn’t see coming or didn’t want.

    Jumping back into the dating pool and trying to do it right takes on a particularly difficult challenge. You are right – you are not alone in that. All of us just want to be accepted and perhaps even loved for who we are. When you are left it takes so long to even figure out who we are without our spouse, the person we thought we would be joined to into old age. There is nothing familiar anymore and trying to find familiar with someone else takes so much more work with all the baggage on our back to try to muddle through. You feel unworthy and unlovable and dealing with that is very hard. I can certainly understand why many decide not to bother; in some ways it would be easier.

    It is worth it though to try. I know you are not a fan of internet dating and to be honest neither am I. Since I work from home, I went into it with the mindset of human(male) companionship and if something came from that great – and if it didn’t I might meet some people (single) who would end up as friends. I got lucky early on; I ended up with a few friends who I dated but didn’t work out moving forward; and one I am still seeing and enjoying doing so. Am I making mistakes – sometimes painful ones – oh yes. I over analyze texts and conversations, I find myself wanting to cling and forcing myself not to. Rejection is an ongoing fear – “when will it end, because you know it will…., etc.” Most of all I have to remind myself to breathe – next to divorce it’s the scariest thing I’ve dealt with. But in the end, even if this one isn’t the next “one”, hopefully I will come out stronger, wiser, and healthier in preparation someday for the one who is. And if not, our happiness is only guaranteed from one person….ourselves.

    Keep your chin up and keep moving – so glad to see a new post from you.

    Like

  5. panikikubik says:

    A great, great post Matt!!

    Like

  6. Michelle says:

    This is kind of heartbreaking. I truly hope you find peace.

    Like

  7. Jaime says:

    I was happy to see this pop up in my feed :)

    For me for a while, the thought of dating again was too scary. Post-divorce, I didn’t understand how 7 years ago I trusted my gut and had absolutely no doubts that this person was the right person for me, yet there I was years later, alone with my daughter, with the harsh realization that I had been so wrong. I didn’t know if I could ever trust myself to make a decision or a choice like that again.

    I think once I got to the point where I had fully accepted everything that had happened and the whole “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and that’s ok” part, I was willing to open my heart again, trust myself again, and let myself have hope that just because it happened once didn’t mean it was going to happen again.

    I’m right here with you smiling…

    Like

  8. “There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone.”
    It takes some time to understand that it is the stability and familiarity we crave, rather than the person themselves. Once that realization is made there can be an uplifting of the spirits and new dreams.

    Like

  9. Smiling at ya! Have missed your words :)

    Like

  10. justagirley says:

    Thanks for the hope….

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It’s not just a lie people say to trick themselves into feeling better. Not just a campfire story.

      Be patient and kind to yourself.

      And you will heal. There’s no fast-forward button. And the scars probably last a lifetime.

      But you’ll find your smile again. Please hang on tight.

      Thanks for the note.

      Like

      • justagirley says:

        Thank you so much. It’s been over a year, that I left home…but divorced since April this year. It feels like……I feel no better or different than a year ago…:(. Like I haven’t made any progress.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          I don’t think there are any rules about how long it might take or what experiences need to happen.

          Grieving a loss of any kind is a different process for all.

          I’m sorry it feels like you haven’t made progress. I’m sure that’s not true. I always liked the large stone and sledgehammer analogy. You keep pounding and pounding and pounding and pounding.

          Finally. On the magic swing, the stone breaks. But it wasn’t that one strike. It was all the cumulative work out in prior to seeing or feeling results.

          I must believe the same is true here. And I hope peace and contentment fill you up soon.

          Like

          • justagirley says:

            Wonderful words. I know I have made progress. I have no real choice but to move forward and away from that pain, which seems to chase me and nip at my heels. You are right when you say there is no timeline. I try to be kind to myself. Give myself a break. My reason for leaving was beyond what anyone could even imagine. A burden I carry and can’t tell people. I didn’t want to leave….but I had to. Sometimes, I feel like I’m pushing a rock up a hill, and when I finally get there,,, to the top, I watch it tumble down the other side. And I start again! But what you say…..these things speak to my heart and I’m glad to hear them. Thank you.

            Like

  11. RR says:

    Nice to read something from you again. Nice to see that you are in a better place (or you read that way).

    You are putting one foot in front of the other. And so, soon you should pick up your stride again.

    Well done.

    Like

  12. Deepa says:

    This was good for me to read. ….I’m at just 3 weeks. There was definitely comfort in familiarity and you tend to forget the bad stuff. ….like the disconnect. ….when you are out of the situation.
    I am on my way to ok though. I once said to my therapist that I will never love anyone else the same way and she said that’s right, I will love someone another way and for other reasons.
    I am starting to believe her.
    Thanks for this post.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Please be patient with yourself and trust that healing can’t be forced.

      It will just happen.

      And it will be beautiful each step of the way as you have a new thing to feel grateful for, and new adventures to look forward to.

      Good luck! Thank you so much for commenting.

      Like

  13. Thanks for the Twitter follow. You’ll instantly regret it I’m sure.

    And thanks for continuing to write. I always like to read your posts and sometimes go back to re-read other things you have written. You’re like a rock for many divorced/separated people (in a way). I know that wasn’t your intention but your writing means a lot to a lot of people. I know it means something to me being one of the legion of people who peruse this blog who were married at one time and sometimes feel lost in our way back to some sort of “normal life.” One week (and a bit) from now will be the one-year anniversary of separating from my wife and moving out. Hasn’t been easy but I take solace in the fact that I am not alone in the struggle. And yes, this entire reply proves that I still can’t write coherently or without rambling.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Well I don’t read or write coherently without rambling much, either, so I understood you perfectly.

      You said a lot of nice things here, and things that make sense on the healing side.

      Really appreciate it. Thanks for reading stuff and caring.

      One year was still a rough time. I went back and read my One Year Later post a couple days ago, and I wasn’t in a good place.

      Today, I’m not perfect. But I’ve made huge strides the past six months. Not through anything in particular.

      Just staying alive and trying to maintain perspective.

      May never feel “normal” again. But sometimes I wonder whether that was all a mirage. Maybe it was never “normal.” We just didn’t know better.

      And now we do.

      Cool to hear from you. Thanks for taking a minute.

      Like

  14. Interesting. Many of the issues you are describing have crossed my path as well. And I am not divorced (but have been single for a loooong time). I’ll let that sink in a bit.

    Glad to read that you are experiencing such a great break through! I’m very happy for you, Matt. :)

    Like

  15. Samara says:

    If lustful, meaningless empty sex is making you feel bad anywhere, inside or out, then you haven’t had it with the right wrong person.

    Like

  16. SunnyLovely says:

    Thank you for your post and your compassionate responses to others’ comments. Your writing was heartfelt and struck a chord in me. It’s 1 year since I separated from my husband. We were together 18 years. I have been reflecting this weekend about how much I miss our relationship and family, and u guess that certainty of growing old with someone. I’m still grieving it seems whilst he’s moved on, new partner (well he’d moved on while we were married). I’m feeling similar feelings to others about feeling unlovable. Whilst logically I know that’s not true, emotionally I feek it, at the moment (this too shall pass). I’ve done a little dating and realised that I was not ready and also I’d rather be single than in a relationship that’s unsatisfying. If you could point me towards those blokes that are interested in an emotionally fulfilling relationship that would be awesome ;) Glad to hear it does get better!

    Like

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