Dating after divorce

Often, getting back in the saddle is more about learning to be

When 38-year-old Brian Snyder got divorced after eight years of
marriage, a sense of freedom washed over him. The South San Jose
resident and father of two dove back into his younger days of going
out, meeting women and picking up dates.
When 38-year-old Brian Snyder got divorced after eight years of marriage, a sense of freedom washed over him. The South San Jose resident and father of two dove back into his younger days of going out, meeting women and picking up dates.

He frequented singles hot spots, joined online dating groups and attended get-togethers organized by friends.

At first, the singles scene was new and exciting. But for Snyder – and countless others who have been divorced – the thrill began evaporating once the fear of dating edged its way in.

Dating after divorce, although intimidating at first, can be a fun, rewarding and self-discovering experience – as long as it’s done with care, said Donna Cohen Cretcher, a Morgan Hill-based marriage and family counselors.

Cretcher said the majority of her clients going through a divorce have a goal to remarry, which makes them eager – sometimes too eager – to start dating again.

But delving back into the dating scene too quickly is one of the biggest and most common mistakes divorced people make, she said, and the key to successful dating has much more to do with yourself than other people.

“When you’re emotionally needy, the choices seem so much greater than when you’re satisfied, so you’re more likely to take whatever comes along,” Cretcher said. “It’s like going into a restaurant or grocery store when you’re hungry. You’re going to buy a lot more food or eat a lot more than if you were full. It’s the same thing (with dating after divorce). You need to find out what happened in the other relationship on your part that made it not work. Because chances are, there was some dynamic of yourself that played into why that relationship didn’t work.”

The appropriate length of time between the divorce and dating varies from person to person, but one suggestion is that one year without any dates should pass for every four years the marriage lasted, said Mindy Scratch, recovery director for the Family Community Church in San Jose.

Scratch directs the church’s DivorceCare program, a 13-week, video-seminar-based recovery workshop that addresses issues associated with divorce – such as anger, depression and loneliness – from a biblical perspective.

The seventh session discusses entering new relationships, and the 10th session discusses how to deal with sexual urges as a single person.

A handful of local churches, including Morgan Hill Bible Church, refer families going through divorce to the program, which runs three times a year and serves anywhere from 25 to 65 people per session, Scratch said.

Similarly, Hollister’s Hillside Christian Fellowship offers Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step program aimed at encouraging healing for people struggling with a range of issues including drugs, alcohol, depression and divorce. Although the program is not intended to provide licensed, clinical counseling, it is a first step for those seeking solace to connect with themselves and each other, said Andrea Galindo, the church’s receptionist.

“It’s a chance for fellowship. It’s about God and his healing power in our lives as we go through difficult steps and are changed,” she said.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 17.1 percent and 17.6 percent of the populations of Santa Clara and San Benito counties, respectively, were divorced, compared to 19.4 percent of the U.S. population.

Divorce rates in the country have climbed over the past few decades and hover around 50 percent, and between 60 and 80 percent of all second and subsequent marriages fail, according to Divorce Magazine, a support resource for divorced adults and their children.

For Snyder, becoming a statistic was an emotional experience, and his knee-jerk reaction was to find a new partner.

“When (my wife) first left, a vacuum was created, and I had the feeling I had to go out and be free and meet women,” he said. “You want to validate that you’re still attractive. I thought Miss Perfect was out there waiting, and as soon as (my wife and I) split, there she’d be. It didn’t take long for me to realize that wasn’t the way to do things.”

Snyder said one of his biggest fears when he first started dating again was that of rejection. He also found himself wanting sexual intimacy but was leery of the possibility of being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.

Another challenge was deciding whether to explain to his kids that he was seeing women who were not their mother, something Cretcher said isn’t necessary until the relationship progresses to a more serious level.

“Kids have to be able to trust you as an adult to make good decisions,” she said. “It’s not necessary for the child to meet the person unless the person is coming to the house, or you know it’s someone you might get serious with.”

Children also are included in the DivorceCare program, as there is a separate workshop where kids are encouraged to discuss their feelings about the divorce and also how they feel if their mother or father has started dating again.

Although the adults in the program sometimes organize barbecues or other social activities, meeting a new partner is not the primary objective, Scratch said. The biggest lesson most participants take away is a sense of wholeness and satisfaction in being single.

“A new relationship doesn’t fix your problems. It only exposes them,” she said. “This program is all about developing healthy relationships without feeling like you have to take it to the next level. The goal is to bring healing.”

Once a person feels healed and truly ready to move on, the challenge is meeting people, Cretcher said. She recommended joining singles groups at churches, volunteer organizations or activity-based groups such as art clubs or sports leagues. As for meeting singles online?

“The Internet isn’t a horrible way to meet people, but don’t think you’re necessarily going to fall in love,” she said.

Tired of the bar scene and Web sites for singles, Snyder decided to sign up for the program at church. He said the casual, support-based atmosphere was a welcome change.

“It’s a much more friendly environment, especially when you’re not intoxicated,” he said. “It helped me break that cycle. I needed to identify what it was that went wrong and not have the same thing happen again. I guess I had learned a lot of the mistakes I had made in being honest with myself and dealing with my regrets.”

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