The more I write about things like this, the more email I get about things like this. And a few days ago, I got an email from Ed, who was very moved by my piece on Getting Over The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To You. He shared his story (which sounded very familiar to me), and had only one real question: when should he start dating again? As an answer, I’ll share my own experience.
I went on a date a few weeks ago. My first date in nearly a year. She was amazing (and still is… She’s become a great friend). I felt like, after all this time of processing what happened in my marriage, and a year of “no dating” as a life policy, maybe it was time.
And it WAS time… Time to address the fact that I am far more hurt by what happened in my marriage than I ever realized. And it took some time and space and rebuilding and finally operating in a space where I am “together” and “with it” and “better” enough to realize it.
Two and a half years later, I’m still figuring this shit out.
When shit goes down and a relationship ends (especially one where you cared as much as you can possibly care about a person), you’re off kilter. When you’re off kilter, you cannot think clearly. This is nature. When chaos reigns, you are in emergency mode, and in emergency mode, you’re operating off of instinct. Sure, it is tempered with as much logic as you can muster at the time, but emotion rules the day.
Once that is over, you have recovery and rebuilding to do. To introduce a new variable into that mix which calls to mind situations where you opened your heart and were hurt… It’s a scary and dangerous thing. Not that you shouldn’t — in fact, you should. Sitting on an emotional desert island alone is not going to get you much of anywhere.
The trick is to know what you are going through and be honest and up front about it — both with yourself and with anyone else you decide to mix into this stew of emotions. To do anything less is, at the very least, unfair, and at worst a crime against the other person. Because you’ll just be using them to make yourself feel better.
But if both parties can be open and honest and come to the table as emotinal equals — that’s when you know you can start trying this thing out. The other person will need to be almost as patient as you will need to be. Your instinct will be to rush. You spent years (YEARS!) opening your heart to another person.
I imagine it like building a new building with someone. It’s a metaphor. Just go with it.
You spent some time dating when you were younger, and with each new person, you both started on the surface and dug a little. Sometimes you didn’t need to dig very far to realize you’re not digging at the same pace. Sometimes, you both dig for a little while and hit a huge bed of grainite and can go no further.
Then, you met The One. You both start digging. You dig at the same pace. You have a great rhythm. You get further and further and further and eventually opened up this huge space for the two of you. You build in that newly excavated spot. The foundation is laid one year. The frame is built the next. The building goes up the next year. You add on additions the next year. You upgrade and decorate the next year. To celebrate five years of building, you refurnish the place.
So on and so forth.
Then, SOMETHING HAPPENED™ and they’re gone. The building begins creaking. They don’t come back (or, aren’t welcome back). The building can’t stand without both of you. It falls down. There’s wreckage everywhere.
The first few weeks, you’re just digging out of the wreckage. A month in, you’re looking around and saying “Good God, look at this horrible mess of a place.” A few months later, you’re so tired of digging through the rubble. It takes a while, but eventually you clear off the devastation and all that’s left is this huge, huge hole.
So now, you’re tired and exhausted and still hurting and you’re in a huge freaking hole. And you get it in your head that you really miss the building and all the things in it and you decide it’s time to get the hell out of the hole and get into something else.
So you meet new people. And because you’ve seen the glory of the building that was, and you know exactly how much work it took to get there — months or years of digging, a year of foundation building, a year of framework building, a year of furnishing… That’s a lot of damn work.
Why bother doing all that again, right?
I mean, logically, you know that’s what needs to happen. But logic isn’t running the show, remember? Logic left the building the second emotions showed up… And because it’s been years (YEARS!) since you dated and stayed surface with anyone, your instinct is to just run past all the hard dumb long shit and get going on the GOOD STUFF.
Because that’s where you really want to be — where you were. The only touble is, everything that was there, isn’t there anymore. And in very short order, you drag this poor new person into your emotinoal hole, because that’s all that’s left in that place you were.And that’s all you’ve ever known.
You’re going to have to learn, all over again, what dating is. What it’s like to start on the surface and begin digging a new foundation with someone brand new — but only after a whole bunch of realizing people don’t all dig at the same speed you do, or synch up with you the way you’re used to.
It’s gonna take a long, long time.
Or maybe it won’t. There’s stories all over the place about people who found true love after the end of a long-term relationship that went south. A lot of these stories involve people who were in the wrong relationship all along and left to be with whom they really love. Some of them are people so emotionally crippled they will bend themselves to fit whatever mold is presented them lest they end up alone.
While I know there are relationships that end up forming out of the wreckage of a prior relationship that are real and last forever, these are akin to people winning the lottery and not ending up miserable, penniless and broke. It’s so rare that to use it as a point of data is unfair.
By and large, I believe my metaphor applies to the vast majority of cases for anyone who has been in a long term relationship where, regardless of what the other person did, they loved that person with all their being. And suddenly, they’re alone.
You don’t “deserve” to be alone. But you really need to figure out how to be, before you decide to go involve yourself with anyone else. Because if your heart is still broken, and you give it to someone, you’re handing them a broken heart as a gift. You might have duct taped it up pretty good, but it’s still broken. That’s not a very nice gift to give anyone.
Yes, you should go out and see what’s out there. You should just do it honestly.
Or, you can do what I did, and pretend about a thousand different things are true when they aren’t, and drag someone else into your hole.
If you’re willing to go explore new territory, take it slow, and give people a fair chance to not only succeed, but also to fail and move on… Then you’re ready to date, and I hope it goes well for you.
If you’re not… Well, no one’s stopping you. Just know that there are concequences. And if there’s one thing worse than trying to get over someone, it’s trying to get over two people at the same time.
You’re going to be okay. This much I promise. But the sooner you can get honest with your situation and, in turn, be honest with anyone else you bring into it, the more okay you’ll be.
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