hard mistakes

The Tough Lessons I Had To Learn Dating After Divorce

I needed to find out who I was and what I really wanted.

Pensive woman sitting at home, with hand on chin.
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I’d been divorced for eight years before I thought about dating again. Dating after divorce can be fun, exciting, and downright stressful. Most of us getting back out there to find love (or something casual) after ending a marriage are finding out things are a lot different than we were young. Here are some hard mistakes that I made in the process I hope I will never make again.

Thinking I wanted a relationship when I wasn’t ready

I have mistaken my desire for intimacy for wanting a relationship. The story goes: I meet someone, there is an attraction, we get along and before I know it, we are in a relationship BUT I didn’t really want one. I have had this happen twice. Once I am months into the new relationship I realize how much I value my alone time.

I remember I liked sleeping by myself, waking up when I want, and heading to the gym without having to wait for them or feel like I was neglecting them. I also need to be 100% present for my kids and there have been times that meant having to cancel plans with a partner.

I discovered it’s more than okay to want a friend with benefits or something casual but I need to be honest with myself and communicate that to those I am seeing.

Compromising who I am to make a partner happy

I’ve tried to act social and easy-breezy. I started dating someone I really liked and we agreed to be exclusive. He liked to go out at night and stay out late. Meanwhile, I need at least nine hours of sleep, and have a full-time job, three kids, and a home to take care of.

I tried to loosen up and go out and have fun at trivia nights and late get-togethers with his friends, but I was burning the candle at both ends. I couldn’t do it, my work was slipping, and I was forgetting too many things.

Turns out I am who I am: An introverted homebody who is fine with going out sometimes, but I like my routine. I also need to get lots of sleep if I want to wake up feeling refreshed so I can tackle my days as a single mom. Trying to be all the things for everyone is a compromise of my needs.

Watch what they do over listening to what they say

This was a hard lesson to learn. I will bet money: If someone tells you they are going to do something and they don’t, that’s who they are. If their actions don't match their words, it’s going to lead to disappointment and I can tell you from experience they likely won’t change.

If someone does something that bothers you early in your dating relationship — even something as simple as saying they are going to call you that night and they don’t — it’s a red flag. They say they won’t do it again but they do. Paying attention to actions over words is invaluable information.

Try to get them to change

Dating after divorce when you have kids is a whole different ball game. If a person isn’t comfortable with unexpected kids' stuff or has to cancel a date, I’m not going to try and get them to be okay with it. If he doesn’t want to stay in with me on a Saturday night because he’d rather go out with his friends, I’ve no energy to try and talk him into it. If I don’t like his habits — whether that’s following an eyebrow-raising number of women on TikTok and Instagram, drinking a lot, leaving his dirty boxers on the floor for days, or just chewing in a way I find disgusting I now know we aren’t a match and it’s easier to recognize we aren’t a match than try and get him to change. Changing our own habits and lifestyle is hard enough. I don’t have the desire to try and change anyone else.

These have been hard lessons, but I’m thankful I’ve learned them. And honestly, it feels really good to be in a place where I have no questions about what I’m looking for. If I can say one thing to all the single mothers out there who are starting to date again it’s this: Remember you are doing the choosing. You. Don’t worry whether or not someone will like you. Just be yourself and see if the person you are on a date with is good enough to fit into your world. It may take some time but I promise, it will be worth it.

Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.