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Separated But Not Divorced Yet? Here’s How to Date Without Making It Weird

Dating as a divorcee is difficult enough but when you’re still legally married, navigating the early stages of co-parenting or thoroughly wrapped up with your previous partner in some way — well, those potential minefields are magnified.

If you’ve been looking to get back into dating after a divorce or separation, there are ways to do it in a way that minimizes the drama or stress. Here’s some advice.

Don’t date unless you are emotionally divorced

The first factor to continue is whether or not you are still emotionally tied to your previous partner.

Two weeks after catching her husband of 15 years cheating and almost immediately filing for divorce, Dani* told me during a session that she was going on a blind date. We discussed why she was leaping into the fray. The 38-year-old said, “I need to show Jeff that other men are interested in me. It’s his loss.”

I advised her to wait before jumping into the fray. She was understandably a walking emotional wound after the shock she’d just undergone and needed time to heal and embark on self-discovery. Dani acquiesced and held off dating for a solid year.

How to judge that you are truly emotionally divorced and ready to date:

  • You have no desire to reconcile with your ex.
  • You have looked at the positives and negatives of your marriage, and understand why you were in the relationship and why you are ready to leave it.
  • You are not looking to fill a void and end the loneliness of being single.
  • You know what your romantic goals are at this point — i.e., a chance to socialize and meet new people or to eventually find a new partner.

Don’t antagonize your ex

While there is no law barring you from dating while separated, you should be careful not to do anything your ex and his lawyer can use against you. Certainly consult with your divorce attorney.

Debra, 26, made what turned out to be the costly mistake of posting pictures of herself and her new boyfriend frolicking at the ocean on Facebook. She felt safe doing so because she and her soon-to-be ex Carl had long ago unfriended one another. However, the two still had many mutual acquaintances — several instantly shared the photos posted by Debra. About to sign a generous agreement, Carl reneged and ordered his lawyer to play hardball. The divorce became a protracted battle and the end result included much less favorable terms for Debra.

Other than sharing details of your dating life on any social media platform, here are other tips to adhere to:

  • Keep your dates away from your children. No need to confuse them until you are involved in a serious relationship. Minneapolis divorce attorney Mike Boulette also cautions, “If your new partner is spending time around your children he/she may get sucked into a whole world of custody litigation… So, until the divorce is final, schedule dates when your kid is with the other parent.”
  • Resist any impulse to forward your attorney’s emails or include your new partner in legal proceedings. Boulette warns, “Communications between lawyer and client are privileged, meaning your ex can never force you to divulge what you and your lawyer talked about.” That privilege can be lost if third parties are brought into the mix. In that eventuality, a new partner might have to testify about sensitive discussions with your lawyer.

Do date yourself

This might sound odd but it’s crucial for you to get to know yourself as a single person, to know what you like about yourself as well as what you will look for in the future in a relationship.

After the first shock of her separation passed, Katie felt relieved. Her nine-year marriage had been bad for a long time. But being in a toxic situation for so long had negatively impacted her self-esteem. “I needed to start feeling good about myself and enjoy spending time by myself,” she said, adding, “I went for walks alone, to movies, I even took a solo vacation to Club Med. This was all healing for me.”

Develop a support system. You need good friends and family around who are on your side and can be counted on when you need a shoulder or ear.

Don’t lie to your dates

Many of us meet partners online and via apps these days and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it is wrong to lie on your profile about your marital status or mislead others about that part of your past.

Sheila’s profile listed her as “divorced.” And when the 33-year-old, who was in the midst of a divorce from her husband of eight yearsm met someone she liked online, it became more and more difficult to fess up and confess that she wasn’t there yet.

“By the time I finally told him, we’d been dating a month and he was so hurt and angry that he ended it with me, saying, ‘How can I trust you?’”

Other points to be honest about:

  • Let your dates know if you are looking for a serious relationship or just getting your toes (and perhaps other parts) wet.
  • If you’re nervous about dating again, say so. Don’t pretend to be anyone other than who you are. You’ll have to end the facade anyway, so why create a false self in the first place?

*Names of sources have been changed to protect their privacy. 

A version of this story was published in December 2015.

Before you go, check out our favorite podcasts for turning up the heat in your relationship or solo:

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