August 8, 2012 – the day I found out I was officially divorced from my husband of nine years, a man I’d known for over a decade – was not exactly a banner day. I had strep throat. I’d called in sick to work and slept for eight hours. I was driving a run-down, beat up old SUV that I “won” in the divorce (he got the good car), and I still had several hours to go before the kids were fed and put to bed so I could collapse again. My celebration dinner was a smoothie.
If you had told me on that day that three years later I’d be in the best, healthiest, most fulfilling relationship of my life, I would have laughed my ass off. Knee-slapping, eye-rolling, wide-mouthed howls of laughter. Then I would have called you delusional and gone back to bed to be sick and miserable by myself.
The fact of the matter is that purely by accident I did the things I needed to do in order to get over divorce and be in what has become the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with another human being.
Yeah, maybe he dumped you right before your birthday. Or he cheated on you with your so-called “friends.” Hell, maybe you woke up one day and realized it was going no where, you were miserable, and you deserved something better. Whatever happened to bring you to the lonely single life you find yourself in, it’s not as awful as it feels. This is the perfect opportunity to get yourself on track to find the guy who’s actually worthy of your love and devotion.
1. Acknowledge Your Issues
I’m not going to give the tired, worn out advice about how you have to fix all of your self-esteem, abandonment, or anger issues before you can ever find true love (well, except maybe that anger thing – no one wants to spend all their time with someone who’s pissed off). What you need to do is at least acknowledge that you’re not perfect, you’ve got things you can work on, and that good or bad they’re a part of who you are.
Knowing yourself is half the battle. Understanding what makes you tick, how you function, and what your triggers are will help you navigate the world a little better. Once you admit to yourself what your issues are, then you can decide if you want or need to devote time to working on them. And if you do, remember, we’re all works in progress. No one has it all figured out, and no one is completely without their own personal demons, battles, or issues. Short of becoming an abusive asshole when you get angry, you are still worthy of love even when your demons are beating at your door.
2. Accept What You See in the Mirror
Yes, without a doubt, most of us would love to lose 15 pounds, tone up, ditch the cellulite, figure out how to make that one weird hair stop growing in (you keep plucking it, and it just keeps growing back, damn it!), get straight hair if it’s curly, get curly hair if it’s stick straight, get boobs, get rid of your boobs, and basically look completely different than the reality. That much loathing when we look at ourselves is exhausting – and it’s killing our confidence.
Look, you don’t have to fall in love with yourself, say mantras (although they totally work), and adore your current body. It would be great if it happened, but let’s be realistic. Instead, take the baby step of not looking at yourself and picking apart every single flaw you think you have. You have a squishy belly? So do millions of other women. You have dimples along your thighs that creep down behind your knees (when the hell did that happen?!)? Join the club. Our perceived flaws do not make us unloveable or undesirable.
3. Forget About Dating For a While
You got dumped or did the dumping. You’re worn out, exhausted, and a little gun shy about repeating previous mistakes. Take a break! There is no rule (written or unwritten) that says you always have to be attached to someone. Being the “girlfriend” or even the “Netflix and chill friend” isn’t a status you’re required to have.
Jumping from one relationship into the next without so much as a moment to breathe or think or feel anything is almost a guarantee that you’re going to repeat past mistakes. Ignore the Cupid-Friend-Tinder swiping thing for a while. Spend some time alone. If that’s a bit too much, go find your friends who may or may not have been forgotten in the blissful fog that was the first few months of your last relationship.
4. Focus on Yourself
Once I’d recovered from the crud that kicked my butt and realized the divorce was final, and I was free, I felt like I could finally turn my attention to myself. I went to movies I wanted to see. I took myself to the mall to window shop with no eye-rolling, huffing, or sighing going on behind me. I watched the TV shows I liked, listened to the music I liked, and did all of the things I’d been compromising on for years.
Whatever it is – art, books, bad reality TV – now is the time to do what you enjoy. Learn what you like again, instead of the inevitable likes and dislikes you had as a couple. Been craving raw cookie dough but hated getting the raised eyebrow over it? Get that tube out of the fridge. Think popcorn is a perfectly acceptable meal? Put the pots away. Go small or go big – like going back to school, moving, changing your career – but do something that’s all about you.
5. Learn to Trust Yourself Again
Acknowledging your issues, finding self-acceptance, focusing on yourself for a while, and leaving the dating scene alone isn’t so you can nurse your bruised ego or battered heart. Okay, so maybe it helps with that too. No, this time is about learning who you are as a woman and learning to like her again (or for the first time). It’s time spent alone or with friends but without the pressure of performing for another human being.
While you’re turning your radio up more often and spending Saturdays on the couch with Netflix or going to movies and plays you never would have gone to before, you’re meeting yourself all over again. You’re figuring you out. Over time, you’ll learn to trust yourself – and your instincts – again. When some skeezy guy says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, it’ll be easier to reject his advances. When you trust yourself again, it’s a lot harder to make bad decisions out of desperation or loneliness.
Those are the big guns. The things that if you can find the inner strength (or the kick-ass girlfriend who believes in you) to accomplish that will help you feel healthy and whole when you finally decide you’re ready to start looking for a new relationship. Or, you might be like me, and have a new relationship kind of fall in your lap. I wasn’t looking because I wasn’t interested, and then he came along. He was my friend first and respected me as a person long before he tried to seduce me.
In the meantime, there are a few small things you can do to get you ready, too. They don’t require as much mental and emotional effort but will give that rush of power and happiness that says, “Yeah, I’m a kick-ass chick!”
- Turn up the radio whenever your jam comes on. You know, the one that makes you jut your chin out, bob your head, and give off the “can’t-mess-with-me” attitude. For me, it was “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys and “So What” by P!nk.
- Go out with your friends, order that whiskey or tequila drink you’ve been eyeing, eat a decadent (and fattening meal), talk too loud, and laugh too much. Be completely present in the moment. Take up all the space you can. And don’t worry about who may be watching.
- Buy the pretty panties, expensive bra, low-cut dress, knee-high boots, or whatever else it is that you’re telling yourself there’s no “need” to own since you’re single. You’re not wearing it to catch a man. If it makes you feel sexy in your own skin, wear it and work it.
- Go on the last minute road trip. No plans, no rules, all fun.
- Go skinny-dipping, sky-diving, or bring your own candy into the movie theater – whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re living on the edge.
Find your voice, your power, and your confidence. Be the woman you want to be, that you were meant to be before you started telling yourself you had to change in order to find love. This isn’t about becoming the “perfect” woman for a new partner. This is about being your best self so that you can learn to love yourself again. Once you manage that, it’ll be much harder for anyone who doesn’t deserve you to get close enough to try.