I dated a ton of different men after my divorce. I downloaded Tinder and started swiping. I’d match with most of the guys in my feed, spend my day chatting with them, then make plans to meet up in the evening.
Sure, the going advice was to spend some time alone. I was single again after ten years of marriage. Shouldn’t I be taking at least some moments to mull over what I’d been through? Shouldn’t I do that alone? Shouldn’t I not be diving headfirst into dating? Especially with the way I was going about it — compulsively. What about figuring out why my marriage had ended in the first place? Maybe ruminate over what led me to marry my husband after only knowing him a year. Here I was, picking up the pieces of my broken life. Maybe I should have taken some time to stew on this experience, figure my darn self out.
I should have just felt the pain, taken up a healthy new hobby (yoga, et al), maybe gone on a trip. I could have hiked the Appalachian Trail or walked the Camino de Santiago. And while I was walking (alone), I could have thought about what’s next.
What’s the next step I should take in life? Namely, how could I make sure I didn’t repeat all the same mistakes again? If I married again, this time I wanted it to work.
Did I do any of this? Did I spend the time alone? Of course, I didn’t. Honestly, I was sick of feeling terrible. The last years of my marriage were a miserable mess. I wanted to do anything but feel my sadness, my hurt, my disappointment.
No, no, no — feeling lonely was just too painful. I just wanted to feel good.
I wanted a new man.
Okay, so I didn’t really want that either. Or I didn’t just want one man. Why have one man when I could have two, three…ten?
With all this company I’d never feel alone. I wouldn’t have to deal with the shattered mess that was me. Connecting with men was the fastest, most efficient way to avoid dealing with myself.
So I started dating a ton of guys.
Dating became my “project.”
Dating became my number-one project in life. Who am I kidding? It was my reason for existence.
During one of my first meetings with a Tinder date, he asked me what I did in my spare time?
“This,” I said.
I wasn’t kidding. Dating was what I did.
Sometimes I had five dates a week. If a night passed and I didn’t have a meeting scheduled, I began to feel itchy — needy. I was like an alcoholic without a drink. I was a lonely woman desperate for closeness.
So I went out on more dates. First dates. Second dates. Third dates. But I wouldn’t commit to a single man. They didn’t want to commit to me either. This was app dating. Why commit to anyone when there are so many other (possibly better) fish in the sea?
Besides, I wanted more than what one man alone could give me. I wanted to be smothered by attention, affection.
I wanted many men.
I didn’t want love. I just wanted not to feel alone.
I had wounds from my childhood.
This is probably where I should explain some things about my childhood — namely how I’m a textbook example of an adult whose needs weren’t met growing up. Would I have been so desperate for attention had I learned to love myself when I was younger?
My parents never really understood me. My mom passed away before I got married, but when she was alive, she was a practical person. Truth be told, I often irritated her.
Mom was grounded. I was a balloon without a tether, constantly floating around from one interest to the next. This week my hair was blond, the next it was red, the next it was black. I flitted from one social group to another, tried on this identity for size, then that one, constantly adopting a new mask.
New clothes, new friends, new boyfriends, new majors in college, new colleges altogether. And what about the new sexual identities? Was I straight, bi, or a lesbian?
My mom was a schoolteacher whose main goal in life had been to get married and have kids. She couldn’t comprehend me. And that just made me feel alone growing up.
I had no one to talk to about my doubts in myself, no one to support me emotionally as I developed into my own person. Or tried to do that.
But feeling misunderstood by my mother was a nominal issue in comparison to what I went through with my dad. My father didn’t just misunderstand me — he neglected me.
To this day, I’d say my dad still has PTSD from his childhood. He grew up dirt poor with a father who was a drunk. My dad had untreated issues that made it so he couldn’t parent me the way I needed. He was chronically depressed. Of course, I never got the love I needed from him.
So maybe you can understand why I was so hungry for closeness once my marriage ended. I was never taught to love myself. I was constantly stuck in a loop, looking outside for acceptance.
For someone like me, app dating was a drug. It was so easy to drum up a bunch of men who would give me attention. I’d get my fix, feel wanted, not alone.
My satisfaction was fleeting though. The guy would disappear. Or I’d get sick of him. But there was always someone else to help me fill my bottomless pit of loneliness.
I’d feel connected long enough to another human being to keep me treading with my head above water. I could survive a little longer. It wasn’t a great survival but at least I was still breathing.
What did I learn?
Please don’t think I’m writing about this to claim that I was channeling my “higher self” when I compulsively dated after my divorce. I wasn’t. And like I said, I should have followed the going advice to spend some time alone, figuring myself out.
I had a lot of figuring out to do. How to love myself more, for starters.
However, I can’t help but think that spending time alone after my divorce would have just made me more depressed. I think it’s entirely natural that I would have wanted to avoid feeling lonely in the immediate wake of my marriage falling apart.
In view of my childhood, the crushing loneliness after a divorce would have been too much to bear. So, yes, I had my crutch: dating.
You might not agree with my methods but this crutch was a lifeboat that kept me afloat in the tempest. I would deal with my other issues once the rain stopped.
At a certain point, my hunger did begin to dissipate. I felt more sated, didn’t feel so famished for closeness. I could stand to sit for a bit in the naked skin that was me. And I could do that alone.
It dawned on me: I’d healed some. I wasn’t in such terrible shape anymore. My pain from my divorce was fading away as time passed.
I realized I now felt strong enough to begin to spend some actual time alone. I erased Tinder from my phone and stopped meeting men.
I concentrated on making my new home a comfortable place to be alone in. I threw myself headfirst into my writing, an incredibly solitary activity.
I started to write about my marriage and my past. This helped me understand myself better. But I only got to the point where I felt safe enough to do this because I wasn’t in so much pain anymore.
I’d spent my most hurtful moments in the company of all those men. Some good did come out of compulsively dating after my divorce.
I’m not saying that I don’t still have issues to work on. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. I’m not saying that I understand everything about my past. I’m not saying that thinking about my divorce or my childhood doesn’t still make me sad. But remembering these things hurts me less now.
I still make mistakes, but at least I’m not acting out on my pain like I was. I’m closer to a place of what I’d call self-acceptance.
Strangely, dating a ton of men after my divorce helped me get to this place. So be it.