Dear Chump Lady,
Finding your blog has led to my freedom. Your perspective and the perspectives of all who comment here have guided me thus far through the shit sandwich I was choking on. In the past ten months, I have transformed myself into the strong and courageous woman that I used to be. I have accepted that I was married to a narcissistic fucktard and that, for some sick reason, I chumped myself into near oblivion at the hands of this asshole.
My question is about dating/relationships. I have reconnected with old friends, family that I had been isolated from and made quite a few new friends in the last ten months. In my quest to move away from what my life had become, I got a new job in a field that I had left behind for chumpdom, I moved out of the traditional suburb I hated and into the heart of the nearest big city with my children. I started to re-expose myself to the experiences I want to have. And because of the “infidelity diet” I was forced into, I have lost 100+ pounds (not totally a bad thing). Many people (including some family members) don’t quite recognize me when they see me now. I look totally different than I did before — not only on the outside but I know the way I look out from my eyes is different too. Not surprising since I was a dish-doing, laundress zombie with a permanent scowl until this wake up call.
When I socialize now, and sometimes even when I’m just buying tacos for the kids from a taco stand, the response from men is often overwhelming. I know my “picker” isn’t fully tuned up yet but when family and friends say: “Take time to heal” or “you need someone who can help you heal”, both sound depressing to me. The way I see it is, I’ve made the most of the time I have had since I discovered that I had married a fucker and leaving was the radical surgery required to heal me. Any other healing required, is up to me, not someone I meet at a party.
I smile every day because I left. I have clarity about what I am looking for and feel I have a keen bullshit detector. I don’t want to marry anyone and I have limited time because my kids are important to me. But dinners out, adult conversation, and dancing sound appealing to me. I’m not into casual sex so that may be a hurdle for some men but I think I can deal with it.
Should I wait to date?
Hey, first change your screen name, because you ARE bright. You’re incandescent. You’ve navigated this shit astoundingly well — you moved to a city you enjoy, you got a better job, you lost 100 lbs (!!!!) — and you’ve got a great attitude. You aren’t afraid to get out there and engage with the world. Your narcissist ex doesn’t have a mental hold on you. You aren’t looking for a fairytale ending, you just want a dance partner…
So, yes, I certainly declare you ready to date. I assume you’re divorced? I was a bit unclear on if it was 10 months since your divorce or DDay or just 10 months of being kickass. Obviously, don’t date if you haven’t filed for divorce. You may think me a moron for spelling that out, but you’d be surprised how often people do it.
There is some controversy over dating while separated. I don’t have a problem with it personally, so long as you’re honest with yourself and with anyone you date. Some states (I lived in one once) make you wait one year and a DAY of physical separation before you can even FILE. So a divorce can take up to two years on average, and I don’t think you should have to put your life on hold.
That said, most of us are still very wobbly during separation. This shit is consuming. And if you want a healthy relationship, you probably don’t have enough emotional wherewithal to be a full partner to anyone else. So I’d say in the beginning, just work on yourself, being around people who love and value you, fix that picker, and just heal.
However, I reject all that bullshit that you have to wait a month for every year you were married before you can date again. Who made up that nonsense? After 22 years of marriage, my husband would’ve been obliged to spend two years in purgatory. A person needs to get laid! I don’t mean to be crass, but we all have needs. Cheaters steal enough of our time and mental real estate, must we really give them MORE?
There is no timeline for grief and rebuilding. You may need years, you may need weeks. Personally, I think you must conquer most of your grief, and realize there are residual issues you’ll need to manage your whole life. We’re all battle scarred. Doesn’t mean we’re dead. Get back up on the horse, I say.
So you want to date? Here are my precautions.
1. Don’t self medicate with other people. Everyone enjoys ego kibbles, even chumps. It’s positively liberating to get out of bad marriage and realize that other people find you attractive and worthwhile. But make sure you know your worth before you get out there and date again, otherwise you may be tempted to self medicate with other people. What does that look like? It looks lopsided. You’re all about them giving you attention, and you don’t have much interest or energy to give back. It looks like neediness. You need this person to validate you, to lean on, to tell you you’re okay.
Know where you start and the other person ends. If you’re whole, you can enjoy kibbles without being consumed by the quest for them. If you’re whole, you can be a good partner and friend. You can reciprocate — you can give and take, and not get too unbalanced on either side. Healthy partners want reciprocity. Unhealthy people are cool with lopsided kibbles. Be healthy.
2. Don’t dominate conversation with talk of your ex. This is a buzz kill, especially in the beginning. If you have to talk about it incessantly and you’re not open to a new person and what they bring to the table? You’re not over it yet. Take more time to heal. Yes, you’re going to have to discuss it at some point, especially if you have kids, and especially if your ex is a disordered person who wants to get in your business — but you are responsible for managing that relationship, and not putting the burden of your history on a new partner.
3. Prepare to dump and be dumped. Don’t date unless you can handle rejection and dish it out. (That’s hard for chumps.) Which is just another way of saying — be comfortable with boundaries. You’re going to find some people cross your boundaries, or are perfectly nice, but just not your cup of tea. You need to dump them, and you should be okay with that. Conversely, you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea either — and you may get dumped. Okay, you WILL get dumped — it’s part of the rough and tumble contact sport known as dating. Sure it stings, but it can’t destroy you. You gotta get back out there and not take it personally.
My husband heard it described this way — you’re an Armani suit, but you’re a size 8. Your date might be a size 12. It’s no reflection on the quality of your Armani suit, you’re just not a good fit. But you WILL be a good fit for someone.
If you’re not an Armani suit? You’re a lump of burlap with a bad smell? Work on that. Be a suit that someone would want. (Okay, this is a Chump Lady addendum, and not in the original advice my husband heard.) It’s important to work on being your best self whether or not you’re dating.
4. Know how to navigate your sexuality. This is what I hated about dating — how long can you be celibate before you tip off the edge and have sex with someone who is not wholly appropriate? Everyone is different on this, but I think most of us experience some sampling of the wares out there in the dating pool. If you’re not cool with casual sex, work on how you’re going to enforce your boundaries, and what you’re going to do otherwise. Hug friends. Get a massage. Adopt a puppy. We all need affection. It’s as human a need as hunger and thirst. So make sure you’re touching something — even if it’s yourself. (Hello BOB.)
Oh ick. Chump Lady is talking about sex. Well, yes, just because you’re a chump doesn’t mean you don’t want sex. (I know, we’re all supposed to be sexless… that’s what drove them to cheat on us, I get it.)
You need a fuck buddy? Get a fuck buddy. Have safe sex. You know, a nice romp with a nice person might be exactly what you need.
You’re terrified of intimacy right now? Be cool with that. Don’t force it. Take up contra dancing. Go be dorky in a group and swing around the room with someone. That works too.
Whatever you do though? Don’t sleep with your ex. DREADFUL idea. Common mistake, however, and one that I attribute to the bargaining stage of grief (okay, this person can’t be my spouse, but maybe they can be my fuckbuddy.) NO. Slap yourself. These are the worst sort of kibbles to give your cheater ex. It says What You Did Wasn’t So Bad That I Won’t Fuck You.
It was that bad. Don’t fuck them.
5. Be open. There are millions of people out there, get to know a few. Don’t get tunnel vision… I can only date Jewish dermatologists from Detroit. Okay, maybe you’re not that specific, but you know what I mean. Don’t narrow your options. The only criteria you need to have is character — which manifests itself into a lot of other qualities on your list like honesty and gainful employment. But beyond that there are a host of possibilities.
I never, ever would’ve considered a Texan that lived 1700 miles away from me — and yet, oddly it works. Thank goodness when he crossed my path I didn’t shut him down. A good person might cross your path too. Stranger things have happened. So keep your eyes and heart open.
NTB — enjoy the dabbling into dating. I hope you find a lovely dance partner or two.