Before Amal Alamuddin came out of nowhere and kidnapped George Clooney’s heart, I, along with the rest of the world, heard talk of how he’d never get married again. If, like me, you’re in possession of an embarrassingly massive amount of useless celeb facts, you’re aware that Clooney’s dramatic anti-marriage declarations once even prompted Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer to each bet him $10,000 that he’d get married for a second time by the age of 40. He won. After winning the bet at 40, Clooney returned the money and went double-or-nothing that he would be unmarried and have no children on his 50th birthday. He won again.
I never understood his aversion to marriage. I mean, God, Clooney. Quit being such a baby. So your first marriage didn’t work out. Get over it. Divorce is part of life. I figured he just wanted to keep his options open because he’s George Clooney and why would George Clooney tie himself down when his options happen to be limitless?
But now that I also have a divorce hulking blackly in my rearview mirror, I think maybe it’s more complicated than that. Clooney once said he’s not very good at marriage and now, as I contemplate the failure of my own marriage and attempt to date again, I realize that maybe I feel the same way; the thought of marriage fills me with a heavy dread.
I’m not very good at marriage. I don’t feel good at relationships in general, actually. Too bad there’s no one lining up to bet me ten grand I’ll be married before I’m 50. Because I just might win that bet and I could really use the cash. Divorce is a jerk-off to your finances.
So here I am, eights months after the divorce was final, sticking my toe in the dating pool. The water is warm, so it’s not like I feel nervous about dating after an 11-year hiatus. I like alcohol and good conversation as much as the next person so I don’t feel disoriented about the actual process of dating. It’s just that, regardless of what anyone says, dating inevitably leads to a relationship and I find myself paralyzed when it comes to the idea of being in another relationship. The whole notion of negotiating the living of life with another human being sounds exhausting, especially when limping out the failed negotiation of my marriage.
But all dating roads don’t necessarily lead to relationships, right? Wrong. Anyone telling you to go date for “fun” and to just meet interesting people is an idiot. Does dating a motley assortment of dudes sound like your idea of fun? Does anyone over 35 really just date for fun’s sake? Because that’s just straight up masochistic, no? Especially when it’s so easy to buy my own beer, burritos, and Netflix subscription. What I’m saying is who are all you people having fun on random dates?
Unless I really dig you, I ain’t abandoning my Girls binge-watching sesh for a mediocre date. Yet if I had a dollar for everyone who told me to just “get out there and date, it’ll make you feel better” I might not need that Clooney marriage bet I mentioned earlier. Like dating is some magical divorce tonic that will automatically improve my feelings about the shambles that is my life just now.
As if the one thing that will make me feel better is an evening with some rando guy holding me hostage with stories about his boring co-workers or his “psycho” ex-girlfriend. Riiight, guy. I’ve heard that one before; she’s the psycho and you’re a prince. Being a solo parent without backup is crazy hard and I feel lonely a lot, but I’ve actually never felt more lonely than when experiencing a crappy date. But what if the date is amazing? Well, a great date leads to more dates which could mean a relationship and then what? I’m not ready for that.
Divorced for eight months and separated for about a year before that and I still don’t really feel capable of jumping into a new relationship. If anything, I feel more broken than ever as I conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death of my marriage and each new horrible realization about myself dawns on me.
Dating immediately after divorce is anxious tiptoeing across a minefield. You make decisions based on one frame of mind and then you have this epiphany about yourself and you realize the decisions you made during the previous frame of mind are all messed up. Your brain is frazzled. You are emotionally destroyed. Your outlook changes every week. This is no time to involve yourself with another person or involve their emotions in your messed up world no matter how great it feels to experience romance after several months or years of a failing marriage.
You may feel ready to date, but you’re not. That’s loneliness. Or pheromones. Everyone loves love and when there is a lack of love in your life or even just nobody there to hear about that a-hole in accounting who is ruining your work life, you start feeling desperate and find yourself tangled up with the first person that expresses interest in your sad ass. Kind of like grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Slow your roll, my friend. Put the jumbo-size box of Rice Krispies Treats back on the shelf and walk away. It’s going to be okay.
Honest self-introspection is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. It’s so easy to delude yourself about yourself. But when I manage to take an unvarnished look at who I am and my role in the demise of my marriage, I realize how ill-equipped I am to be in a healthy relationship right now.
I’m a mess, frankly, and the more time goes by the more realizations I make about myself. How could I possibly inflict myself on a new person right now? I’d be bringing all kinds of unresolved emotions into a new relationship and I haven’t had enough time to break the dysfunctional patterns I created in my marriage or even really figure out what I’m looking for in a relationship. I’m learning to take deep breaths and power through the panic which occurs often, especially if, like me, you happen to be in your late-thirties, practically French-kissing your forties in the wake of your divorce. I’M GOING TO DIE OLD AND ALONE! NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME WITH THESE FLAPPY TITS!
Calm down. Your tits look great.
If you have to experience divorce, make it mean something. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. Learn from it, make yourself better, improve your life. Wait until you come through the other side before you allow yourself to invest in a new relationship or else you’ll end up multiplying the heartache you’ve just experienced. It feels good to be needed and wanted but that’s the trickery of dating too soon after divorce. You’ve got to deal with all the crap that caused your marriage to end first.
So here I am nearly two years out. I’ve gone on dates. There are people I enjoy spending time with but I feel paralyzed when it comes to moving forward in any capacity, and I’m realizing it’s unfair to put myself out there if I don’t feel capable of a healthy relationship. Maybe you’re being pressured by friends and family to start dating. Don’t date because someone tells you to or because you’re lonely or you feel like this is your one last chance at love. You’re only setting yourself up for another failed relationship.
Relax! Be patient. Figure out who you are and what you’re really looking for instead of knee-jerk dating in response to fear and loneliness. And hey! If notorious serial dater George Clooney can change his mind about marriage, then maybe I eventually can too.