How long should I wait to date after a breakup?

Dear Lisa,

My boyfriend (who I lived with) of 4 years and I just broke up and among all the other difficult things to sort out, I’m encountering this tricky issue of seeing other guys. My ex and I had an open relationship so these guys were already in the picture, but now I’m feeling social pressure to “take time” and be on my own. I feel judged by others (and myself), and I’m unsure if it’s a legitimately important feeling or just prudish social conditioning.

Plus, I’m getting so much advice, but it’s often conflicting. On one hand, I’m afraid of the idea of a “rebound”, the idea that I’m just avoiding the sadness or distracting myself. On the other hand, a very real part of me wants to give in to the comfort, support and love that’s offered; it’s nice and fun and makes me less sad.

How can I have it all? I want to be single and independent and experience this sadness authentically, but i don’t want to be lonely (and sex and affection is nice!)

Thanks,

–Rusty ( ♀ )


 

Dear Rusty,

What I’m hearing you say is that you don’t want to avoid the grief process by distracting yourself. The very fact that you’re saying this at all means that you are too aware of yourself to pack your feelings away in a closet somewhere. But let’s say these people are right. Some people say you need to be alone to feel feelings, or that you should start your next relationship fresh and baggage free. Unfortunately both the grieving process and the baggage is totally dependent on the relationship you’re coming out of and and you.

When it comes to grief, for some folks, taking some time out can be a valid plan after a break up. Some people have to. Others are more or less over the grief before the actual break up comes to pass. Some people don’t grieve until they’re ready, sometimes years later. Personally, I’m not a solitary processor. I will often spend a lot of time brooding and looking at whatever heavy thing I’m dealing with out of the corner of my eye… while I watch 6 seasons of reruns and knit myself into oblivion alone. Over the course of time I can feel feelings and tears building, but they rarely come out until I’m around other people. I might shake some loose in a 5Rhythms class, talk some of it out huddled on the couch with my BFF, but the deepest scariest stuff comes out while I’m laying in bed safe in my man’s arms. I could force myself to go to that depth if I wanted to until I’m ready. It is my experience that readiness comes when you are nourished and safe to deal with the risk of opening up as well as the pain inside.

In other words, take comfort in being aware that you need to grieve. Trust that you aren’t going to hurt yourself by taking some time away from the intensity of all the feelings to nourish yourself, however that is. You’ll know when you’re ready.

With respect to baggage, it is also my experience that relationship baggage can only really be dealt with in relationship. By this I mean that no matter how hard you try to deal with whatever issues you had with your past partner, so that you can ‘start fresh’ with the next one… it’s a different ballgame when you’re standing in front of another person. Of course personal development goes a long way to help clear the slate, but you can ignore the folks who are yammering on about ‘rebounds’. And logically… what relationship isn’t a rebound? Isn’t ever relationship, in part, a response to previous relationships? Just be conscious of how far the pendulum swings; there are a lot of great things in between ‘bad boy’ and ‘mamas boy’.

If you want my opinion, I would say that only you know what you need right now. If you want my two cents to add to your pile of conflicting advice, I say go for it, see other people, date, make love – nourish yourself. But also allow what can’t be helped to come up – tears, fear, pain, love for your ex, the nostalgia of the dreams you had together, whatever. I suggest that you be honest with your other partners and let them know what you are going through; tell them that you want to keep seeing them and enjoying their love and intimacy, but that you are going to let it all hang out for a while, which might not be pretty or comfortable. Encourage them to be honest with you about what they can handle, and if everyone’s game, party on. You can always change your mind.

Let me know how it goes.

– Lisa

 


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3 Responses to “How long should I wait to date after a breakup?”

  1. Rusty

    Thanks for such a thorough answer Lisa! A lot of what you said sounded true to me. and I guess that’s what i’ve been looking for in all this advice – affirmation of what I already in some way know is right for me.

    It’s more the grief and processing that I’m concerned about rather than the baggage (I totally agree that only relationship will really help me work on relationship). I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of “starting fresh”, but was more worried about what was “fair” to this new person. I don’t feel like I’m able to share as much as myself as I would like. Sort of like my heart is a bit preoccupied, but still wants to give and receive in some way. So far it’s really working for me to just be really honest about where I am and what I am going through. It’s unrealistic to try to compartmentalize these things!

    I’ve just been lacking confidence in knowing that this is what i need right now, and that it’s ok for me want to explore these desires and accept the comfort that’s offered in being with another man. and that it doesn’t make me weak or unfeeling or dishonest.

    Reply
    • Lisa Haché-Maguire

      I’m glad to hear that you are feeling more able to trust that you know what is right for you! There are so many variations of kindness, and all of them start with listening to what is in your heart.

      My heart is a bit preoccupied…. I love the way you said that. It really is the nature of love, especially in a world where we expect to (and are expected to) date many people to find ‘the one(s)’. A consequence of this that is taking some time to catch up with our new way of finding relationships (it wasn’t long ago that ‘dating’ had a whole other label!), is that there are little places in your heart that will always be occupied by past loves, and current crushes. It doesn’t make the love you have to give right now any less profound or real. It’s just… the truth of it! Thank you for sharing your story!

      Reply
  2. Jeff Maciejko

    It makes sense to me that a lot of the healing would occur in relationship, and not necessarily all of it out of relationship. I had never thought about it that way before.

    Reply

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