Dating After Divorce: Diagnosing the ghosting

Ever wonder why, at first, a man seems to be completely awed by you, and may even say that he can't believe he gets to date someone like you.

Yet, only weeks later, he's finding fault with everything you say and do.  He seems to be, somehow, dissatisfied and not that into you.

You can feel your brightness and confidence dimming.  You begin to doubt yourself (even more than you usually might).

And then, he just fades away.  Ghosted.

Most of us have experienced this from hot-to-luke-warm-to-cold phenomenon more than once in our relationships.  But now, post-divorce, it's a wound that doesn't seem to heal.  Rejection on top of rejection.

As I've often said in this blog, if you don't absolutely NEED NEED NEED to be in a relationship, any relationship, at all costs, your opportunity for happiness and fulfillment are much higher. 

When you have the inner strength to walk away, you're in a much better position to find a quality man.  Sometimes finding a great relationship is a lot like buying a car.  You'll always get a better offer when you're ready to walk away from a bad deal.

What signals are you sending from the very start?

When we're treated by men in ways we dislike, sometimes we have to take some responsibility (hard to admit, but it's true). Other times, it has nothing to do with us at all, and we'll never know what was going on with him.

So, let's just skip ahead to situations we can have some control over.

Sometimes, we don't present ourselves as (and don't truly believe we are) independent, self-motivated, multi-faceted women who are fully capable of entertaining ourselves, making new friends, and finding ways to have the time of our lives.  With or without a guy.

We actually are capable of creating a rich life for ourselves even when it takes some extra courage.  Even when we're trying to get through all of the emotions of divorce.  Even when we felt rejected in marriage. 

Instead, we worry about how long it will take for a man to call, or how long it will take for a man to commit, or whether he's relationship material (even when he hasn't shown us red flags).

And, if he really seems special, do you start worrying about whether you're in his league, whether he's a player, whether you'll fit in with his family and friends . . . and it's only been two dates?

There can be the feeling, after divorce, that we really have to work hard.  We really have to sell a guy on the fact that he should be interested.  That we need to show him we care, and go overboard with attentiveness.  Because we've been reading all about how, over 40, it's a buyer's market for men, and they can have their pick from 20-year-olds and up.

At the same time that we're wearing all of our insecurities all over our faces, we're wondering why we're getting all kinds of strange, conflicting signals from our dates (that haven't even progressed to relationships, yet).

Valuing "him" more than ourselves, and the volcano inside

So many of us have never questioned why we feel we're expected to perform all kinds of extra services and emotional labor in order to attract and keep someone. Remember marriage?  All the caretaking, anticipating his needs, being a non-stop sounding board, having our needs ignored or unmet, going the extra mile every single day.  Having sex when we don't want it in order to comfort him or because we worry that if his ego is bruised it's our own fault if he cheats.

Here's a snip from a must-read blog by therapist Christine Hutchison, titled "Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor":

<<There were many turning points in Jen’s recovery, but that seemed to be the biggest one. “My life is my own,” she told me the next week, her face holding a lightness I had never seen before, even pre-divorce. “I don’t have to deal with his bullshit anymore. I don’t have to wonder what he’s feeling and what he’s avoiding feeling, I don’t have to be the one who supports him in his career, cheering him on and listening to his woes, acting as his most trusted confidant. I can do all that for myself now. I’m free!”

Jen’s marriage, I suspect, had contained what so many heterosexual marriages do: a pattern of unequal emotional labor that neither party is fully aware of. Tellingly, while Jen felt sad at her divorce, she also felt unburdened and free. Her ex-husband, possibly, had not realized that he had been receiving ongoing emotional support in the form of Jen’s mirroring, curiosity, acknowledgement, validation and empathy. Maybe his emails were sent out of a desire to continue getting what he’d always gotten.

And here Jen was now, in my office, confused and sad again because she’d just received another message from Christopher. This time, he wanted to tell her that he’d realized over the last year how poorly he treated her. That he was sorry. That he hoped she was well.

She read me the email. It struck me as not manic or fake like his previous ones, but gentler and more self-aware. They were the words she longed to hear last year. So why did she, and I, feel confused?

“Would you rather have not heard from him, that he’d kept his apology to himself?” I asked.

She looked startled. “You know, yeah! I don’t want to hear from him, ever, and I’ve told him that TWICE. Is he still looking for a response from me? Does he want me to forgive him so HE can feel better? Ugh! I am so beyond done with this shit.”>>

Earlier in the above post, Hutchison details how one of her clients was blindsided by divorce and was so emotionally exhausted from the marriage itself and from the divorce process that she was literally suicidal.

Many of us know, intimately, that "nothing left to give" feeling.  And the anger and weakness we feel is a volcano inside ready to explode, or to implode and hurt not him, but our own sense of worth (or lack of it).

So, now we're dating, and thinking "Why, why, why is he acting this way?" and the answer might be that we're presenting ourselves like a bargain Happy Meal.  But, at the same time, we're getting really angry about why he doesn't see our worth.

Does he make you feel lucky?

What would happen if we just stopped over-giving? Or, if cold-turkey feels a bit much, what if we checked our caretaking impulses one out of every five times we feel like stepping in to fix things or to make things better for others?

One of the problems about providing generous, unpaid, emotional labor (whether at home with the kids, or when out on a date) is that no one sees it, values it, or respects it.  

When dating, the combination of being overly nice while giving off invisible vibes of neediness could be a little bit suffocating to a guy.  But there's also a third quality to the mix: a vague undercurrent of resentment that we feel because all of this emotional labor moves only in one direction, outward toward others.

How confident do you feel when you're exhausted for handling everything for everyone in your life when no one is there, in the same way, for you?

Why do we do it? I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because we've been taught at home, at church, and in our society to value others -- especially the man in our lives -- more than we value ourselves.

Here's an opinion piece that I love about this topic.  And here are a couple of highlights from it:

<<Let's take a look at your current love interest. What exactly is it that you like about him? Really think about this, and don't be afraid to be critical of your own responses. Do you like him because he's nice and funny? Well, news flash: There are about a million other nice and funny guys I could find for you in a second.

The point here is to find out if the connection you feel with this guy is something real or just something you built up in your head. Does he bring something to the table that you truly believe no one else could? What is that thing? Pinpoint it.

“What do I deserve? “And am I getting it right now?” Sure, he may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But never forget that you're also great. You are the only YOU out here in this big, bad world, and he was lucky to have found someone so wonderful and unique — someone who really can see and appreciate how special he is. He is lucky.

But does he make you feel lucky? Is the type of relationship you have with him right now enough for you? Is it what you want? How is it that you think you deserve to be treated? Think about it. Maybe even write yourself a little list. What do you, an awesome, unique human being, deserve in a relationship? And does your current relationship give you any of this?>>

What to do instead

One of the best interpersonal skills to learn after divorce is to deeply value ourselves.  But what does that even mean?

It means that instead of fixating on a hypothetical "him", let's put that same level of attention and focus on learning about ourselves.  Become really fascinated by learning about your own likes and dislikes, preferences and talents (besides taking care of others) -- things you may not have thought about for many years, back to when you were single.

Learn to be more interested in your own plans and activities, scheduled weeks ahead of time, so that you're not waiting for some guy to fill the void.

After my divorce, I read many, many dating manuals about how to find love over the age of 40, and I was so discouraged to read about how, if an older woman was to have even a prayer of finding a relationship, she had to make finding a man her full-time job.  There would be time for nothing except work and the hunt.

I suggest that, for the first year or two after divorce, you spend on yourself the hours you'd be plowing into a dating site and the due-diligence of meeting every semi-reasonable dating-site guy who suggests coffee.  You can find my super-epic dating-after-divorce post here.

If you feel compelled to go get some quick sex as a touché against a cheating spouse, just be prepared for the grief that you may feel if you become unexpectedly emotionally unattached to your hook up.  I've coached many a client through this situation, and the worst part is the feeling of being taken advantage of yet again.

Nurture yourself to shine from the inside out as the prize that you truly are.  After you do that for a couple of years, you'll naturally be attracting the good guys.  And, you'll easily be able to turn heel on the guys who have overwhelming needs.

And, some final words of advice . . .

I can't resist sharing one final blog post I love from Maria Walley at Verily.

This one's about a college breakup, but we can learn a lot from the millennials, and here's a snip from it:

“I realized last night that—that sometimes a situation isn’t worth an emotional reaction,” she began. “And I realized that if a guy is making you feel like you’re insane, he’s probably not the one,” she smiled again, relieved. “So, I think from now on—any time a guy makes us feel like we’re inadequate, or utterly bewildered, we should just let him go his own way.”

The Introverted Divorcee

Way back the last time you were dating, there wasn't much talk about introverts versus extraverts.

If you're like me, you weren't thinking about the introversion/extraversion spectrum when putting together a list of the qualities you wanted in a partner.  In fact, there's a good chance that you didn't even have a list.

You met someone, ended up getting serious, and married him.  You may have married him even though there were one or more red flags that were bothering you.  But, you probably weren't thinking about whether you and he matched up when it came to your preferred ways of being social.

If you're reading this post at all, you're probably somewhere on the introversion spectrum.  But, just in case you think that introvert is just a synonym for shy, click here for a quick summary of these two basic personality types.

Now that so much is being written about introverts, you might be wondering how you can honor your own ways of recharging your energy -- during and after your divorce . . . as well as going forward in exploring new romantic relationships.

Well, let's take a look.

Is divorce more painful for introverts?

Yes, it might be a little more painful, since introverts don't tend to use social escapism to get through life's challenging experiences.  (Broad generalization, I know, but dividing all of humanity into two camps -- introvert and extravert -- is pretty broad, too.)  

Extraverts may tend to cope by getting as busy socially as possible, and move on much more quickly than the average introvert.  It may be years before they stop long enough to consider their deeper emotions, and start to process what happened.  Or, maybe they never will.

Introverts are more likely to blame themselves for far more of their share of the problems that led to divorce.  They can tend to drive themselves crazy with "what if" scenarios.  But, this deep-thinking quality can also help them avoid jumping into inappropriate and harmful new relationships.  And, it can also help them handle divorce negotiations and post-divorce communications with the ex in a careful and even-handed manner that benefits everyone.

We may even emerge from divorce in better shape than our extravert counterparts, since we, most likely, won't be spending too much time drinking ourselves to death or engaging in potentially dangerous sexual exploits just to avoid being alone.  It's less likely that we'll be screaming at our ex at every opportunity, or raving like a drama queen to everyone who will listen.

If we use our natural strengths of being measured and thoughtful, we'll likely come out of the divorce process with a deal that is not only fair to the ex, but fair to us (and protects our children) as well.

As an introvert myself, I think we're more likely to spend time sorting out what happened and learning from the experience so that our future relationship choices work better for us.  I also believe that the shock of divorce temporarily shortwires our social discomfort mechanisms, so during the divorce year (or two), we're more likely to step outside our comfort zone because exploring life without a spouse becomes interesting and worth the risk and potential energy drain.  This can be a reset that opens us to more experiences in the long term.

But, isn't it easier for extraverts to move on and find a new partner?

Move on, yes, but find a relationship-worthy partner, not necessarily.

You may be surprised to learn that introverts have many advantages over extraverts when it comes to dating.  And, many of them have to do with aspects I've already touched on earlier in this post.

Dating is a one-on-one activity, and this is the type of social interaction in which introverts are at their best -- as long as we're with someone who has something to say (and we're interested in whatever he's saying).  Introverts tend to know how to listen, and to love to have meaningful conversations.  This is an advantage in dating, and in relationships in general.

For more dating advantages of the introvert, check out this summary from the book Introverts in Love.  I especially liked the insight that introverts can be seen by the outside world as mysterious and intriguing.

Don't take the advice of your extravert friends -- you have nothing to prove

You're not in a race.  There is no finish line.  Don't let anyone try to convince you that you should be going out more, that you should force yourself to jump back into dating, or that you should force yourself to have casual sex "just to get it over with" for the first time after marriage.

Now that you can live more in tune with how you want to do things, don't replace your husband's expectations with the expectations of your friends or family.  This is the time to think about what you need, and what makes you happy.

This can be difficult for introverts because we're used to trying to fit into what is overwhelmingly an extravert's world.  But, if you are true to yourself now, the rest of your life will reflect this.  If you allow yourself to be pulled off your center, it's likely that you'll be living someone else's preferences (whether it's friends, family, your children, or a future partner).

This is your chance.  Take it, and be you!

Dating After Divorce: Guide to Online Dating Over 40 (or 50, or 60)

Are you recently divorced, and curious about online dating?  Or, have you been at it for a long time and starting to wonder why it's not the dating wonderland that you thought it would be?

This post is based on the experiences of my divorce recovery coaching clients over age 40, and my opinion of your potential for online dating success depending on what you want from a relationship or an encounter with a man.

As a multi-year veteran of online dating sites, and someone who has informally crunched data on women's online dating experiences at a variety of ages, here's the best (and, I hope, the most helpful) of what I've learned.

The subheads below reflect the desires and mindsets that I hear most often from the women I work with, along with my subjective opinion on how successful online dating may be for each group of potential daters.  Some women have more than one of the following deep desires, but in most cases, there's one big one that motivates them to take their search online.

I can't stand to be alone.

Does this describe you?  You say things like, "I can't stand sleeping in an empty bed," and "It's so depressing to come home to an empty house."  You're an easy-going lady who doesn't ask much from a relationship, and you're happy that way.  You just feel you need companionship, and "need" is the important word.  It's not just a wish, or something that would be nice.  You don't feel right without a guy in your life.

Potential for online dating success:  You're the woman online dating was made for, and you have a wonderful chance of success with it, if you create a profile that draws men in your preferred age group.  (More on preferred age group later on.)

I just can't help but suggest:  If you're easy going and easy to please, that's wonderful -- and it's what most men are looking for.  But, please be sure that you're receiving what you need in a relationship.  If you tend to use the word "empty" to describe your life, try exploring other fun actvities to fill the void before turning to dating.  If you feel that any guy is better than none, I would love for you to know that you are special and you can ask for more, if you want to.   

I just want a sex partner.

Does this describe you?  You feel like you're going crazy without a sex partner.  Sex may not have been part of your marriage for a long time, and you wonder if you're still desirable -- and you may feel the need to prove this.  Or, maybe you have nothing to prove.  You just want sex, and are not afraid to say so.  Maybe you're not at the place where you're open to a relationship at all.

Potential for online dating success:  You can be having sex within 24 hours.  Say what you're looking for in your profile, in a subtle way, and men will be crawling out of the woodwork.  Be careful of being too obvious because this will bring out men who can be more than you bargained for.  I've never met a man online who wasn't upfront about sex as highly highly highly important to him,  so be ready for some messages in your inbox that might be pretty direct.  

I just can't help but suggest:  If you can have casual sex with someone who is already a real-life friend, this can be so much safer.  If you choose to use online dating for this purpose, please be very careful.  And, please don't pursue this, if you have children.  Do not allow any of these men to know anything about you:  No phone number, no address, nothing about where you work.  And, please use condoms every single time.  They won't want to use them.  Too bad.  So many women contract HPV and worse this way.  

So many of my clients tend to jump into bed on the first online date, and are crushed when the man rejects them or continues to use them as just a booty call.  Please be careful on all counts.  You may think you just want no-strings-attached sex, and find out that you develop feelings for someone who sticks with the original program.  This has happened to many of my clients and it ends up as a terrible hit to an already fragile sense of self-esteem following divorce.

I need someone who "gets" me.

Does this describe you?  Friends say you're picky simply because you want more than someone with a job and a pulse.  You need to share at least a few important interests in common with a man in order for the relationship to be fulfilling for you.

Potential for online dating success:  On the face of it, you would think that online dating is perfect for you.  You can get an idea of a guy's interests by reading his profile, right?  Then, all you have to do is find each other.  Well, yes and no.

In order to have a larger pool of guys who may respond to you, I suggest the following:

  • Don't wait for men with your interests to contact you. Do send them a brief message mentioning what you have in common.

  • When they reply (which they will, if you are physically what they're looking for -- looks are almost always #1 in the male mind), don't exchange emails forever, and don't get on the phone. Suggest a brief meeting for coffee. You don't want to waste your time getting to know someone who's just a voice and a fantasy, and after weeks of long phone conversations, find out that the man, in person, leaves you cold.

  • If you're over 50, consider using dating sites exclusively for mid-life daters, and also consider shaving as many years off your profile age as you can get away with. If you meet someone you like, do not talk about age until he has gotten a chance to know you, and when you do come clean, explain why you took that step with your profile. To learn why I suggest this, please keep reading the next section about women over 50.

I just can't help but suggest:  Don't leave your romantic future up to online dating.  Pursue your interests and find ways to meet, in person, men and women who share those interests and passions.  The women you meet may know someone perfect for you.  Plus, the more you date, the more you will understand that happiness in life can be a lot more about friendship and connection than about just one guy.

I'm age 50 or over, and I want to be with a man my own age (or younger). 

Does this describe you?  You spent the best years of your life (so far) taking care of your ex and being deferential to his wants and needs, and you really can't get too excited about starting over with a much-older-than-you guy who's not in good health, or prefers to watch TV every night.  You've noticed that even most men in your age group aren't as healthy and active as you are, and aren't sexually attractive to you.

Potential for online dating success:  Not so much.  Men typically search for women 10 to 20 years younger than they are because they don't feel they can be sexually attracted to women their own age.  So, if you create your profile using your real age, you'll tend to turn up only in search results of men much older than you.  And, if you make the first contact, men may take a look at your age and simply ignore you.

It's theoretically possible to find someone nice online to spend some time with, but how many hours do you have available to put into the search, and to meet problem guy after problem guy (economically struggling, chronic health problems, unsocialized, or with problem children who would impact your life as well as his)?

Across all male age groups, a successful, attractive older man has the most choice.  And sad as it is to say, he most most likely won't be choosing a woman remotely close to his own age unless she outdoes him in every department (looks, wealth, social position), and even then, he'll probably try for a woman 20 years younger who still outdoes him in almost all of those departments.

I just can't help but suggest:  If you're an older woman, it benefits you so much to meet potential dates through traditional channels -- church, meetup groups, volunteering -- because, this way, age doesn't even come into the discussion until you've gotten to know someone a little.  If you truly look young for your age or have a bright and happy personality, you get to play to your strengths when you meet the old-fashioned way.  No one is asking your age, profession, or income level up front.  Maybe you're not exactly the type he's looking for, but you're so friendly and nice that he can't help but like you.  Men get to simply meet the real you, and find out, in person, how great you are.

Meeting real, live people, the old-fashioned way, is the best-kept secret of the decade.

My advice for any divorcee getting back into the dating world is to gradually build into your life more ways to meet people -- new women friends as well as new men friends.  Get involved at your kids' schools, go back to church if you're a person of religious faith, volunteer where you're likely to meet men.  Get creative.

The advantage of doing real activities with real people is that it will make you feel like you're part of something fun and you won't feel so alone.  As a newly single woman, you'll get used to interacting with men and feel more relaxed about pursuing online dating (if you decide to do so).  It's so much better when online dating isn't the only game in town, and you can feel more "whatever" about it.

Odds and ends . . .

Don't try too hard.  Don't let your ears visibly perk up when you see an attractive man without a wedding ring.  Just be friendly and nice, and move on.  Lather, rinse, and repeat.  Always be friendly, but don't start delivering casseroles to his doorstep : )

Choose the right dating site for you.  Take care in choosing a dating site that attracts men who are looking for the same type of relationship.  Be aware that the big dating sites (Match.com, OKC . . .) work best for women in their 20s and early 30s and the power shifts to the men from the mid-30s and up (while the choice of quality men declines as age increases).  There are all kinds of niche dating sites for different age ranges, religions, professions . . . you name it.

Don't give in to more intimacy than you want.  Know that men (especially on dating sites) will often be relentlessly pushing you for sex as soon as they can get it.  If that's not your wish, too, have a conversation and explain what you're looking for in a relationship.  I read somewhere that men think of sex as trying to figure out whether you're a candidate for a relationship, whereas many women think having sex means they're in a relationship.  Don't be fooled.  Don't be hurt.  

You have the power to say no.  If he doesn't understand, you haven't lost anything important.  (Men want to make sure that a woman likes and wants sex.  But that doesn't obligate you to do something you're not ready to do.  Just because he's not as bad as the others you've met doesn't mean it's time to give in -- unless you're happy with that decision.) 

TMI.  Please don't give someone your phone number or address, or let him pick you up from home or work when you really don't know him (even if you know a little about him, for example, his address or where he works).  Sensible men will understand why you want to protect yourself.

Married men are on dating sites pretending to be separated or divorced, so do be aware of this.  It's another reason not to jump into bed with someone just to keep him around.  Until you have known a person for a while (a couple of months, at the minimum), he won't be letting his skeletons out of the closet (whether it's that he's married, or comes with some other deal breakers).

Keep it casual.  If you are looking for a serious relationship, do wait as long as you possibly can before getting physical with someone.  Don't allow him to turn up the heat, or to see you more than a couple of times a week.  If you keep it casual, over time, he'll allow you to see sides of him that weren't in the dating profile:  He may be married, he may be involved in another relationship or two, he may have a very serious health issue, he may be heavily in debt, or he may have a mental, emotional, or substance abuse problem.  Or, he may just be a perfectly nice man with just the average, garden variety pros and cons to him that we all have.

Treat each person as a potential friend.  If you keep it casual for at least a couple of months, you can get to know each guy as a potential acquaintance and friend, and not worry about whether or not he's a potential life partner.  This way, you have no need to grill him about your deal breakers and scare the heck out of him.  Just as with people you meet in real life, you do get to know who they are over time, in a natural way, and you don't need to emotionally and physically involve yourself in a hurry.

Be ready for this to be a part-time job.  There's someone for everyone, and what's a red flag for one woman will be perfectly acceptable for another.  All I'm saying is, please be ready for a long slog, and many first meetings that go nowhere. That's why what I'd really like you to take away from this post is:  Don't pin all your hopes on online dating.  Get out and meet people.  Practice talking with guys -- without the pressure of a first date.  

Just be your own beautiful, human self and start feeling great about meeting new friends.  This way, your social life will bring you an ever-widening circle of fun and like-minded friends.  No stress.  No fear.  Just fun -- and maybe a new man or two in your life.