When meeting a prospective date, one of my first questions —after my standard soul-searcher: “Will this be worth the lip gloss?”— is “How long have you been divorced?” You see, I have a Two-Year Minimum Rule, as in no dating anyone who isn’t two years past the “who gets the TVs/children/friends” personal-sized hurricane that divorce wreaks upon a life.

Why? Some personal experience —as well as the “can’t believe I did that” revelations of my single friends.

“Rule” sounds so unromantic. “But what if we click on every level?” “How can I not build a relationship with him?” And yes, occasionally —in a blue moon, in an alternate solar system, in another dimension— rules are meant to be broken. But, read on for some items to consider before breaking this one.

He isn’t over it. Divorce is trauma. Recovery takes time. Steps to healing include grief, acceptance and a massive rebuilding process. The reconstruction should include more than simply building a new life. Without some personal evaluation and growth, the newly single will fall into the same negative relational ruts. Aren’t you looking for more than “Train Wreck 2?”

Divorce is the public parade of two broken people. Almost always, there is a history of dysfunction and accommodation. There are obvious communication issues. Adultery, alcohol/drug abuse and financial problems are often part of the mess. Dysfunction is drawn to dysfunction. Unless the newly divorced corrects his part of the dysfunction equation, he will “fit” with a woman dysfunctionally similar to the wife he just escaped. Is this really who you want to be?

Think about it. The physical changes of a divorce are the least of it. Establishing a new residence, adjusting parenting schedules, developing a personal life… these take time. It’s hard. After six years, I’m still struggling to get the garbage out on trash day. Recreational dating is an easy distraction —the pursuit of another person is simple compared to fixing the one standing in your own gym shoes. It’s tempting to use dating as an escape from the essential and more difficult mental work required to truly prepare for a healthy relationship. What are you looking for? Casual entertainment —or a long-term love?

If you choose to date someone within the two-year post-divorce realignment time, here are a few of the men you are likely to encounter:

The Cling Wrap Man:
While excellent for preventing splatters in the microwave and filling your fridge with decomposing leftovers, Cling Wrap in human form is completely stifling. This is the man who will fall in love with you before he knows your middle name, the guy who is interested in matching himself to your life —“I LOVE museums/racquetball/whatever you just said”— and the man who starts planning for the holidays after one good kiss. He is needy and you represent his life preserver. He may lavish you with compliments and praise, but does he know you? Really know you? Consider how empty a man must be to decisively choose a woman he has yet to discover. He will follow you like a puppy dog, be jealous of your friends and try to pin you down on travel plans for next summer. Your friends will notice you deflating like a punctured balloon as this man encircles your life in a bear hug that leaves you no breathing room. I used to think this issue could be worked through as a couple. Now, I firmly believe that addressing Cling Wrap tendencies is part of an individual’s own post-divorce repair process. This man is wounded and needs to heal himself before he can be a whole man with you.

The Comparison Shopper (aka The Player):
He’s the high school stud back on the playing field. You feel instant chemistry with this accomplished and dynamic man. He is deeply appreciative of your wit, your professional accomplishments and your well-toned physique. But here’s the thing: He’s browsing women as if they were on a dinner menu. He has a basketful of warm bread at his fingertips. It’s far too soon for him to choose an entrée.

Yes, he may appear close to ideal. But he’s not ready. This guy simply doesn’t know what he wants yet. How could he, just removed from fifteen years with a woman who suddenly went from washing his socks to taking him to the cleaners? He needs to make a few dating mistakes: the unrelatable younger woman (Madonna who?), the entrancing goddess who has nothing to say after her verbal replay of the week’s best reality TV, the no-strings bed partner… Nice, normal You won’t look good until he’s been burned a few times and is ready for real. He’s seen the good, bad and butt-ugly end of a marriage. Expecting him to recognize quality before he’s dated a quantity of women is like peddling your heart at a flea market.

The Vacationer:
He behaves similarly to The Comparison Shopper, but this man’s motives are completely different. The Vacationer is facing significant life challenges and is basically looking for a break from real life. He’s still battling with an ex-wife or struggling with financial and custody issues. He is seeking diversion. You want connected conversation over candlelight; he just wants the Happy Meal. “To go.”

Ultimately, this man may want more —a life partner, even. But, he can’t handle “more” while he’s handling the downsizing of his dreams. This guy has a journey in front of him, but he has yet to shoulder his own backpack. He may appreciate your sympathy and your wisdom, but he’s hurting and unable to wash the wound yet.

This may be the guy you will wish you had met five years later, but we can’t help timing. Wish him well and point him toward the trailhead.

The Damaged Soul:
Chances are you won’t even be tempted into a second date with this guy. You may want to pass on the name of your therapist and proffer a tissue, but this guy is living in the past. He’s angry or he’s devastated. He’s guilt-ridden. His wife was a bitch or a saint. It’s his fault or her fault —not their fault. There is no perspective because he’s still wallowing in the middle of a mess.

Be kind, but do not get sucked into coffee counseling unless you’ve a strong deflecting mechanism for all the negative energy this guy exudes.

If you do venture into any sort of relationship with this guy, hoist up your confidence and pin it in place. The sensitivities of a Damaged Soul remind me of a fragile tooth, vulnerable to the slightest changes in temperature. You may be required to determine if/why/when he is offended. You will wonder why he doesn’t just speak his mind, but remember that it’s engaged elsewhere or even temporarily lost.

The Vault:
He’s new to dating and unsure of how to connect. He was probably shocked at the collapse of his marriage: a partnership that played out as parallel lives with no connecting communication. His idea of conversation won’t extend deeper than rudimentary chat. His bar is low because he has yet to experience true emotional connection.

You can try with this guy, if he professes a desire to build intimacy and you’re motivated to work with him. But understand, that what feels momentous to him will feel minimal to you if you’ve had a previous connected relationship. It will be uphill, and he may be tempted to pause indefinitely on a plateau because, again, the view will be better than anything he’s known before. The question will be: Is it good enough for you?

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Would I ever date a guy within my two-year window? “Never” is a fairly random limitation. However, before allowing access to my heart, I would check to see if he bears any resemblance to the men I’ve described. A “perfect for me” guy at the wrong time of his life will still be unable to provide his steady half to the intimate stable grownup relationship we all desire. Hot, witty and handsome? Well…  OK. I might take his number, mark the two-year anniversary of his new single life on my calendar and check back to see if he still wants coffee.

From “Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt and Advice Between Friends”
© 2013 Heather Dugan All Rights Reserved.

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