Published December 22, 2010
So it’s over. Maybe it was a divorce, maybe just a breakup, but, in any case, she’s gone. Chances are she left you, because two thirds to three quarters of divorces are filed by women, and probably most breakups in dating relationships are initiated by women.
Now you’re alone — maybe for the first time in a long while. The longer you have been in a relationship, the more daunting this may sound. But a new girlfriend may be the last thing you need right now.
Many men start lining up prospective dates and bed partners even while the smell of their ex’s perfume is still lingering in the air. You may fantasize about having choices again, and as soon as friends see you as “single” they may offer to “fix you up” with their coworker or their cousin who is also newly single. It can be flattering, and it can be exciting, but more likely it is confusing. You may not have dated in years, and you may find the whole process more anxiety-provoking than fun.
When a relationship ends, both men and women often say that they are going to be very cautious about their next one. Yet, the statistics show that single life tends to be short-lived for most people. About 50 percent of divorced men remarry within two years, and maybe 30 percent remarry in less than one year. For guys whose girlfriend called it quits, that period of single life is probably even shorter.
Rushing into a new relationship?
Why are we so quick to rush into another relationship? After all, if you have been in a committed relationship that has lasted for a year or more, what are the odds that the first or second woman you meet after the breakup is the perfect match for you?
One major reason for men getting too quickly involved with a new girlfriend is that they are accustomed to having their emotional needs met by women. Most guys are not very good at connecting emotionally with other men. We may have buddies, but we usually are reluctant to bare our souls to them. Instead, when guys are hurting, we turn to our wives or girlfriends. But if these women have left us or, worse, are the source of our pain, in whom do we confide?
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Furthermore, for many guys, especially ones who have been married a good while, their female partner is the key to their social life. We may go to her family’s house for the holidays, and she probably has accompanied us to most social events. Guys also may quickly start a new relationship because they dread the idea of being alone. But being alone does not necessarily imply being lonely. After all, some of the saddest cases of loneliness occur when you feel unloved in a relationship.
Some of us are anxious to jump into a new relationship in order to find a new sexual partner. If this is you, remember to use your brain, the part above the belt, and not the part below that all too often wants to call the shots.
Avoiding the pain?
But the major reason that men prematurely get into a new committed relationship is to avoid the pain associated with the loss of the previous relationship. This is quite natural. Almost everybody will use aspirin to quell a headache, for example.
However, the pain after a relationship ends is part of the recovery process. It makes you reevaluate the relationship, its history, the mistakes you made, and the meaning of it for your life. Most importantly, the pain can help you avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Unfortunately, people don’t really learn very well from their mistakes in relationships. For example, the divorce rate of second marriages is even higher than that of first marriages.
You are not ready to engage in another committed relationship soon after a breakup. You may think that you, but you are overestimating yourself. If you have ever sustained a sports injury -- say, a sprained ankle while running -- you probably remember being anxious to get back on the track as soon as possible after getting hurt. But if you rush to resume your old regimen before your ankle is fully healed, you will most likely re-injure it -- but this time the injury will be more severe and put you out of commission for a lot longer. This is exactly your situation now, but instead of your ankle being injured, it’s your “heart” that's suffering. Give it the time it needs to heal before you get into a new relationship.
Tempted to find a new girlfriend?
Consider these thoughts as you get tempted to find that new girlfriend:
Don’t look to another woman to make you feel OK: If you are still hurting, don’t try to bandage the wound by explaining your plight to another female. She can't make it better, but you can. Instead of distracting yourself or looking to a new girlfriend to ease the pain you feel, work on self-improvement and self-understanding. The last thing you need is another failed relationship.
Find comfort in being alone: Strangely enough, unless you are comfortable being alone, you are probably not ready for a new relationship. The best relationships grow out of a desire to be with a particular person, not from the fear of being with no one at all. To be comfortable with being alone means you: don’t feel depressed when you don’t have someone with you; can take care of your own basic needs; don’t need someone else to entertain you; and can deal with not having a regular sexual partner.
Let go of your anger at your ex: Consider doing some small thing to communicate kindness and forgiveness to a person that you once loved. Yes, she may have hurt you, but you learned in elementary school that two wrongs don’t make a right. Practice forgiveness of her and of yourself.
Be careful not to party too hard: Drowning your sorrows via drinking or drugging won’t change anything for the better. Instead, focus on improving your health habits for the New Year or getting back to “catching weight” (i.e. your ideal body weight). Psychologists Fred Rabinowitz and Sam Cochran note that we men are most likely to externalize our psychological distress through action, distraction and/or compulsive acting out. Consequently, men are more likely than women to get in trouble because of substance abuse.
Develop some new part of yourself: In order to connect more with others, look for situations in which you can be yourself, have fun, learn something and, later down the line, make contacts. Developing pastimes is very important, and they can make a huge difference in the quality of your life.
when are you ready for a new girlfriend?
You will know you are more ready to have a new relationship when you:
* Can consider the possibility of going out with a woman without masses of anger or anxiety welling up in you.
* Have reconnected with people in non-romantic ways.
* Are not preoccupied with thoughts of your previous relationship or marriage.
* Can tolerate living on your own and being by yourself.
* Can find meaningful and interesting things to do even if you are alone.
* Have developed ways to meet and engage with new people.