This disclaimer will sound familiar, but I have to say it – I am not a dating or marriage expert. I am just a guy who’s been through the darkness of divorce and who has, with God’s help, navigated the perilous road of singleness, dating, and remarriage. What I offer here are merely thoughts that have been brewing in my brain for 7+ years.
I’ve talked a lot about making a list of qualities you’re looking for in a future spouse – the “negotiables” and the “non-negotiables.” I’ve talked a lot about how it’s vital that you don’t compromise, that you don’t settle. But I’d like to suggest something that’s of even greater importance before even stepping a foot on the dating path, post-divorce (PD).
It is essential that people who go through a divorce (whether it was a deeply painful experience or if the two are still “really good friends”) take time to evaluate themselves. Again, the best advice I received PD was to resist the urge to date for at least a year. Heal. Grow. Recover. Discover. Live. Once you come to a place where you think you want to try your hand at the dating scene again, I suggest this exercise:
A MOST IMPORTANT EXERCISE
Write down on paper (a journal, a notebook, etc) these categories – Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Financial, Career. Underneath each of these categories, write “Where I Want to Be,” and under that write “Where I Honestly Think I am Right Now.” As you contemplate these areas of your life, the point isn’t to look for perfection. Heck, if that were the case, no one would do very well on this self-evaluation. The point is that you are making forward progress in these areas.
Even if you don’t see yourself as a “religious person,” I assure you, this is the most important category of your life. It must receive the most attention. You were born (Who constructs a baby in the womb???), and you live (Who equips your lungs to breath, your heart to beat, and your cells to reproduce????), and you will die (What happens in the end? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven? A hell?) These are spiritual questions. I urge you to come up with at least something for the “Where I want to Be” section here. How spiritually mature would you say you want to become? Where are you now? What are some things you can do to get there?
it’s not a for sure thing, but there is a good chance that in the aftermath of your divorce you dropped the ball regarding your physical health. Rate yourself on how well you are eating, sleeping, and exercising. Do you have any habits that feel beyond your control, i.e. smoking like a train, drinking like a fish, eating like a pig, flying high like a kite? Before you’re ready to be a stable man in some woman’s life, you need to have enough self-control to say “yes” to what’s good for you and “no” to what is not.
These two areas are certainly interconnected. How is your mental health? I would be willing to bet that PD you have experienced at least a little bit of depression. At this point, how are you doing? Are you managing your depression (any necessary medication AND counseling/support network)? Do you feel mentally sharp? How’s your motivation for doing life? Are you able to experience a healthy range of emotions in appropriate situations? How are you feeding your brain – Are you a voracious reader (I encourage you to become one!)? Are you a student? Are you learning new things? What brings you the most joy in life now?
Do you have a budget? Are you sticking to it? Do you control your money or does it control you? Do you have a debt-destruction plan? You don’t need to be debt-free to date, but I’d suggest that it’s important that you have a plan and that you’re working that plan.
Before your divorce did you have a dream to become an engineer? A mechanic? A baker? If your divorce derailed your goals, I want to encourage you to either get back on the same horse and move toward those goals, or find a new horse to ride. Come up with an updated dream job. How can you get there from here? Find a career you love and love the career you find…
The Litmus Test
Again, the point of this self-assessment is not perfection. Are you moving forward? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Have you slain the codependent dragon? I think that dating is a fun way to get to know someone. But I do believe that dating long-term should be for the purpose of testing the waters for marital compatibility. Give yourself time to grow in the areas above where you need some work. Also, one of the most important litmus tests is when you can say,”I’m okay if I remain single the rest of my life – While I WANT a relationship, I don’t NEED one to be okay.” Once you’re there, I’d say, let the dating begin!
However, if you find that you have a LOT of work to do in the above categories, if you feel like you just HAVE TO HAVE a girlfriend to be okay, I assure you, that is the last thing you need. Surround yourself with guys who exhibit wisdom, men who could be a PD group of advisors for you. Get healthy in these categories, THEN re-enter the dating world.