Which Dating Stage Are You In?

After divorce, most people go through three phases of romantic recovery…how about you? Do you know where you stand?

By Theo Pauline Nestor

ight after my husband and I split in 2003, I became a hound for divorce self-help books. I scoured the shelves of Barnes and Noble looking for answers to my many searing questions. The primary one: When will I be happy again? How long until I can expect to throw back my head in laughter or to feel my heart skip a beat in anticipation of a new day, or a new man? All my afternoons in the bookstore taught me that marriage — like hard drinking — is something that one has to “recover” from in stages. While the time you spend in each phase may vary depending on a slew of factors (How long were you married? Was the split sudden and unexpected?), the three stages of divorce recovery are as distinct and identifiable as caterpillar’s predictable journey from fuzz ball to butterfly. Here’s what I learned:

Stage #1: Denial
Most often, recent divorceés kick things off with a period of hibernation (i.e., in my case, watching reruns of Desperate Housewives deeply buried under a down
These new feelings might leave you somewhat unmoored and untethered.
comforter). Fresh from the pain of the split, your idea of a fun night out might be more like a night in, sipping cocoa and licking your wounds. You may even feel tempted at this time to swear off all future dating. Look where all that business got me last time, you may be thinking. Like Greta Garbo, you just want to be alone—alone to process all that’s happened and figure out who you want to be as a single person in the world.

After this isolated stretch, though, most people are ready to come out of the cave, roar, and take a poke around the jungle outside their door. Once you reach this point, don’t be surprised if your inner wild child comes to the surface, demanding to hang out with friends, go to hot spots, and flirt recklessly. Often sexual desire, which may have slunk into hibernation during the end of your marriage and initial depression over the divorce, comes back—and sometimes, stronger than ever!

Understandably, all these new feelings might leave you somewhat unmoored and untethered and just a little confused about your identity. Maybe by day you’re the soccer mom in the minivan, and now on your nights off from the kids, you find yourself at a packed club downtown at 2 a.m. It suddenly occurs to you that you can do this. You’re not married anymore! But, as you’re trying out your new shiny self in the world, don’t be too surprised if all this heady new freedom sends you into a freefall of social vertigo. You may feel a little shaky about the rules of the dating world, and you wonder how much things have changed since you were out there last. Should you call? Do you give out your phone number or email? Sometimes, you feel as clueless as you did in junior high and at others, like a wild party animal. Expect a lot of up and downs; one day you may be depressed; the next—excited about the possibilities of your new life.

Stage #2: Adjustment
After the Wild Child phase, you can enjoy the calm after the storm, a time of settling into your new life. “Adolescence” is over, and now you’re in a period of adjustment and getting used to the new terms of your single life. You feel more at ease with the dating scene. You know the café where you’d like to meet that special someone whose profile you just read, and you know you’re not going
There is a feeling of being steady on your feet in the dating world.
to talk his or her ear off about your ex. Yet, this is still a time when you can expect to be occasionally in the grips of any one of the strong emotions from the divorce gamut—rage, guilt, or even ambivalence about the divorce. But take heart, this adjustment stage often ends with what’s been called the Phoenix Phase: a time of rising up, letting go, and facing the future with confidence. Nicole, a chef coming out of a sudden divorce, used the energy of this period to begin her own highly successful catering business. By the end of this period of adjustment, you may very well experience a startling new excitement about creating a life that’s just your own and connecting socially on your own terms. It’s a time for new friends, new experiences, and maybe even new love.

Stage #3: Acceptance
In this final stage, with the emotional, legal, and physical work of divorce behind you, you accept, maybe even rejoice in, your singlehood. You’ll redecorate the living room if you want to, or maybe tonight you leave all the dishes from the spaghetti feast (with your new pals) in the sink. It’s your choice, and finally you feel the full glory of that. You know your place in the world again. You’re ready once more to trust, to take reasonable risks and make solid choices. There is a feeling of being steady on your feet in the dating world and often a true readiness to love again. In this phase, Paula, a Phoenix pharmaceutical rep, cautiously began dating one of her doctor clients. After weeks of hikes around Camelback Mountain and long Sunday breakfasts, she began to fall sensibly and realistically in love with the man who would a few years later become her husband. Whether you wind up remarrying or staying single, this final stage of divorce recovery is all about moving on and enjoying your new life—the one you built yourself!

Theo Pauline Nestor lives and writes in Seattle. Her memoir, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, is available now.
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