Talking about sex and dating post-divorce

I have a friend who's in the process of a divorce after having been with her soon-to-be-ex-husband for a decade. She has two young children and a full-time job and has been thoroughly demoralized by the last few years.

The last time I saw her, she told me that someone from her past had heard that she was getting divorced and told a mutual friend, "Maybe now I have a chance with her." This was shocking to my friend, because she really thought she was over. Done, undesireable, on the shelf.

I knew she wasn't (she's hilarious and pretty and wild), but I vividly remember feeling like that myself, as I dragged my worn-out, soul-weary ass through every day of the end of my marriage and the beginning of the divorce process. I could not fathom that anyone would ever want to be with me. Not least of which because I had kids, but also because I felt like a dried-out shell.

Has anyone else experienced that? Feeling like everything was completely over for you? Being the bitter, '70s-style divorcee, sitting alone and lonely with your cats as soon as the children go to their father's for the weekend?

That was not at all what happened, though. To my everlasting shock, men seemed to pop out of nowhere and want to date me. And some of them seemed to want to date me even more because I have kids and weren't afraid of that side of me.

So I got that my frend was shocked that someone wanted her, but I wasn't surprised at all. She is a catch, and even though she may not feel like it right now, she's the It Girl. I plied her with a few drinks, and then her real question came out: "How do I know how to have sex anymore and what I like?"

Ah, yes. Terrifying. A decade with the same person in a huge rut disconnects you from your body. Plus the pregnancies and all the accompanying stretchmarks. I had years of thinking I didn't have any sex left in me anymore. For me what helped was doing burlesque (that link describes my experience taking the class and glosses over my having done one public performance–I was invited back for an "all-stars" performance [!!] two years later and I did it, again, in public), but not everyone can or will do that. Some people start exercising, or buy a lot of sexy shoes, or run a marathon, or jump out of an airplane. Some people just watch Nicholas Sparks movies and drink a lot of Diet Coke.

So I told my friend what I figured out: You find someone you're really physically attracted to, and you just screw up your confidence and do it. And the details come back to you, and that person brings something new to it, and if you like it, you keep doing it.

The first person you date post-divorce is probably not going to be your life partner, but you can learn so much about what you like and don't like and who you are now from dating. It's ok to make mistakes (as long as they're on your time and not your kids' time) and have fun. It's great to have fun. It's awesome to have fun. Fun is fun.

Also: Therapy. You need to see someone for a few months to help you figure out why you married someone you couldn't stay with (no matter who asked for the divorce) so you can avoid getting into the same situation again, and can move on to a life full of friends and forward motion and, you know, fun. A few months with someone who can help you sort it out and figure out how not to repeat mistakes is the best investment you can make in yourself and your children. In all areas of your life, but also sexually.

Readers? Dating post-divorce? Sex? Therapy? What have you got for my friend?

57 thoughts on “Talking about sex and dating post-divorce”

  1. No data points as I am not divorced, but my brother is newly divorced and never dated much before he met his now ex-wife in college. I think this would be good advice for him too.

  2. “How do I know how to have sex anymore and what I like?”Aw, man. Post-divorce sex. Such a simultaneously terrifying and giddy and intense and gleeful time. You know, about a week ago, my boyfriend and I saw “Cabin in the Woods”, and midway through, I leaned over and whispered, “No one told me it would be this much FUN!” The same could be said of post-divorce sex. And it has fewer zombies!
    The weird thing for me was how I went into it thinking I was in a weak position (I had a kid, and was dumpy-looking, and I had baggage, and blah blah blaaaah), but how it wound up being TOTALLY empowering (guys wanted me! I looked hawt once I put on makeup! Guys REALLY wanted me!). So if I were her, I’d keep that in mind… that how, for many of us, it winds up being this fun, self- and life-affirming thing, NOT the horrible, awkward uphill trudge we’d imagined.
    Oooh, and: casual hook-ups are awesome, if you’re the kinda person who can do that sort of thing. The less you care about the person, the more you can totally BE YOURSELF, because you’re not worried about what they think of you. It’s like eating dinner when someone else is paying – you MIGHT AS WELL try the foie gras stuffed with live sea urchin!

  3. I’ve been divorced almost two years and separated for a year before that. My first post-split sex was a bit nerve-wracking, but in all, I have dated more in the past two years than I ever did in my twenties, before I met my husband (I’m 39) and my confidence in myself has never been higher. It IS terrifying, but almost all the divorced women I know go through a phase after the split when they discover that they are desirable and that sex is enjoyable — a lot more enjoyable than married sex ever was — and that dating can be fun.I admit I’ve had more trouble finding any kind of long-term dating relationship than I thought I would, but at the same time I’ve also realized I’m a lot more ok with short-term, flings, and a lot of flirting than I ever thought I would be. And I’m fairly confident that the right guy will come along. I’m also being a lot more proactive about looking for him than I was before — being married to the wrong person, and the dating I’ve done since, have taught me a lot about what I do and don’t want in a partner.

  4. I just read your post. As a married person, creeping up on 40 this year, I can’t imagine that anyone besides my husband finds me attractive. Yes, I’ve always lived in the oblivious zone, but sometimes I wonder if I’m still attractive to men.

  5. Totally agree with Jul that if you are open to the safe, casual hookup, they can be GREAT learning experiences. No fear of being judged, no worry about what happens if it doesn’t work out . . . total freedom to see what really works for you in the physical realm.That said, the benefits apply to serious relationships, too. I’ve also found dating in my late 30s and now 40s that as I’ve become more comfortable with myself in every way, sex is no exception. I know how to speak up for myself, and also how to listen better. I’ve also found partners who are similarly more in tune with themselves and others, and the maturity of those emotions makes the sexual relationship all the better.
    In general, I find the dating at this age more fun and less fraught than dating when I was younger. It lacks that awful desperation I sometimes felt when I was younger. I know I’m OK on my own, and I know what my short-term and long-term needs are and how to meet them. I can enjoy relationships of various levels of meaning without feeling like something is wrong with me. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve found it all to be surprisingly great.
    Oh, and one more thing: I’ve also found navigating dating and having kids to be much less problematic than I had anticipated. Sure, it’s logistically complicated and dating adds a whole new demand on already short time. But dating has also brought a dimension of fun and happiness to my life that’s had a positive influence on my patience and general parenting. And now that I’m dating someone who has a presence in my children’s life, I’ve found that to be really great, too. The more respectful, loving, supportive adults kids have in their lives, the better, I think, and Maddie and Riley have really enjoyed developing that relationship, too.

  6. So scary, and yet exciting. Went through this a couple years ago, and I found the main thing is to try not to put your baggage (both sexual and emotional) into the new relationship – even if it’s a short one. If your marriage has just broken up, that can be really hard to do, and it’s hard to live in the moment when your whole life has just fallen apart. But practice sure helps…

  7. I was with my husband for >10 years and have now been separated for nearly 2. We are currently in the process of divorce. 6 months after separating I started dating a colleague and have found it completely eye-opening and wonderful. It’s not necessarily a life-long relationship but it has been good for me in many ways, not just sexually. I was someone who hardly dated at all before marriage and this relationship has been really important in giving me a foothold outside my marriage and allowing me to see that there are other possibilities for me. It has also been fun–by far more fun than any dating experience I’d had in my teens or early 20s. Best wishes to your friend!

  8. Perhaps sex is more than bodies and drives and hormones and feeling desirable to someone else (although it is all these things).Perhaps a little piece of your soul gets left behind or crushed with each casual or non-committed encounter.
    Perhaps I sound like a narrow-minded kill joy with values from another era.
    Perhaps the greater joy is to be found in waiting for a truly committed relationship and letting sex be an expression of that mutual love, respect and commitment.
    Perhaps I’m a lunatic to even type such a comment here.
    All the very best to everyone who is figuring out the best path post-divorce.

  9. Freed by the fact that the divorce wasn’t actually my choice (i.e., I was relatively guilt-free), and liberated by the fact that I already had all the children I wanted, I was finally free to explore sex with the same sex. And lo-and-behold! It’s fantastic.

  10. I just wanted to say that as someone with three little kids and married for 12 years, but separated for 16 months and recently divorced, this is exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks, everyone.

  11. Divorce has helped me realize that I cannot separate sex and intimacy. Some people can, I can’t. This was a factor in marrying my ex husband, in that we were sexually involved early in our relationship. I became quickly attached and this clouded my judgement. Knowing this about myself (thank you, therapy) I am über careful about dating and becoming close to men. Which may be another issue entirely (to be discussed in future therapy sessions). Just my story here, everyone’s is different.

  12. i certainly hear all this – my ex and i didn’t sleep together for the last 3 years of our marriage, and my dry spell continued for another year and a half. it was crushing. i’d cry that i’d never be loved again, i’d fantasize about everybody with xy chromasomes (and some xx, thanks for the reminder sharon!) over 15 in the grocery store or mall or park, i read more one-handed romance novels than the law should allow, and bought some really great vibrators.then finally got back in the game & had a wonderful couple of years thanks to the yahoo personals and getting into diving – which also led to a baby, but that’s another story.
    and now have a wonderful boyfriend, we’ve just moved in together, he adores my son and is as perfect for me as a separate human being instead of a fantasy can be.
    but the preceding years helped me figure myself out and what i wanted and while i wanted out at the time, they were worth it for what i get to have now.
    and hi, snick! i think of you often & i’m glad you made an appearance.

  13. I recommend two things:1) find someone you feel safe with
    2) get drunk
    In all my years dating and then married to my ex, I never had as much fun as my first post-divorce sex. Safe man… A lot of gin.
    And then I married him. So back to the married sex. 😉

  14. In the throes of separation here after 10 yrs of marriage. I’m alternately weeping and giddy. This post makes me so so so happy. Destruction and creation, right Moxie? Thank you!

  15. I also really needed to hear this. I was with my husband for 10 years and he cheated on me with my best friend for the last year of our marriage. It was all very Jerry Springer and to say I was broken is an understatement.We’ve been divorced for a year now and I’m terrified to get into the dating/singles thing. You all reflected my very own thoughts – late 30’s, children, cats, mortgage, baggage – who would want a piece of this?
    Thanks for giving me a little confidence boost 🙂

  16. i had a relationship, sexual, with a married man at work before i was married. now i am nine years post sex and six years divorced. my relationship partner resurfaced lately and wanted to get together. we had a lovely lunch, wine, awesome hotel room, sex but no orgasm for either, dinner and mucho talk. it was awesome and awakened my sexual side after much too long. i feel tingly and open and although he has closed off – too much shared- i’m ready …

  17. Okay, weird. I came to your site tonite Moxie, thinking I would do a search on dating and single-parenting or some such, and there it is – the issue right there, second from the top. I’m in a different space than those who’ve posted, because I am not divorced but widowed. I’m also likely older than most of your readership. Anyway, I suddenly find myself with a strong case of what I characterize as serious spring fever – and it’s terrifying.I don’t even know where to start the finding of people to date. Like FunnyWhiteGirl, I have never been able to separate physical and emotional intimacy. So that makes me even more leery of jumping into these waters.
    But after 1 year of dealing with my spouse’s horrendous terminal illness and closing on 2 years since his death, I am coming to the realization that I was wrong. I would be open to a new relationship.
    But how to find that, how to maneuver the minefields of dating and parenting (it is reassuring to hear that no one is finding that to be a huge issue), …
    terrifying, to say the least.

  18. your motives and ertfofs are good and laudable.but you are playing the savior game. and you will have to be very cautious if you do not get sexual satisfaction from this girl. rather you may get sexual frustration. she has clarified to you that her brother and cousins abused her. now whoever does sex with her ,, her mind, unconscious mind commands person involved is similar to her brother who violated her and hence it is sin to have sex, and thus body does not get aroused no feelings or warmth , may be she becomes frigid woman latter on.Secondly your idea of taking to sexologist is well intended. but sexologist help for physiological malfunctions and not mental complexes. she needs to get cleansed of her trauma and she needs prolonged therapy with self understanding. this needs lot of effort and work , exercise, and patience. on part of both of you. and money for therapy is pretty good amount.the child issue too will surface when she become normal and ready to give birth to your you are inviting Troubles responsibilities and that to ONEROUS one.! think patiently. Love is emotions but love is not only emotions it is wrapped in physical too. Mental too. So you have first to educate yourself first , understand the gravity of the situation you are jumping in and the solutions of it all.with best wishes Was this answer helpful?

  19. Dear friend i would like to ariepcpate you for accepting that you love a girl you are ready to take responsibility of her and her child. you truly love that girl . You should respect that girl for her honesty and her faith in you. if she was only concern about the future of her child she could have hidden these fact from you. but she love you and truly respect you. The problem you narrated is definitely not a big deal. Please consult a sexologist /or psychiatrist, will definitely help you both out. have faith in your love and it will workout.I wish you all the best and have a great life ahead Was this answer helpful?

  20. I have not been married or divorced, but often times what I have noticed in my friends and loved ones that have been divorced is that they really lost touch with who they are in their marriage. It can be a really terrifying realization to think that you no longer know yourself. It can, however, also be really empowering and invigorating to begin the journey of self discovery. I think dating and sex post divorce are an exciting part of that journey, so enjoy!

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