When you get divorced, you often find yourself going to events where you meet other divorcees. As you talk to these people, you may start to notice a few things. For example, I’ve noticed that many of the recently divorced in the 30s-40s groups tend to adopt the attitude of absolute openness; they each seem to possess a willingness to do practically anything, no matter the consequences.
Some might argue that this attitude results directly from no longer having to think in terms of coupledom. In other words, divorced people are free to do whatever, since they no longer have to worry about how their choices will affect their spouses.
Although the above explanation could be correct, I feel that another explanation is being overlooked. Essentially, I think many divorcees adopt this carefree attitude because they experience a sort of mental time travel.
Before you shake your head, allow me to elaborate.
Throughout our lives, we are consistently reconstructing our identities. As different life events occur, we change our identities to correspond with the new data. For instance, when you’re young, single, and dating, you tend to be more open and willing to do anything because you’re looking for potential mates. You don’t know exactly what you want, so you’re willing to play the field and try out your options.
As people play the field, they start to get into relationships. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a serial monogamist or a polyamorous person. Bottom line: getting into relationships completely changes your perspective and how you (S)elf-identify.
If you want your relationships to succeed, you may no longer be able to do whatever you want when you want to do it. Instead, you change who you are, in part, to accommodate your relationships. Ideally, both you and your partner(s) will change equally so that the give-and-take is fair.
After you’ve been in a long-term relationship, such as a marriage, your identity has changed DRAMTICALLY, especially compared to who you were when you were young and single.
Everything you’ve done throughout the long-term relationship has been done under such premises as the following: “How will WE reach our goals?” or “How will these obstacles affect US?” I’m not trying to say that you lose your individuality in a long-term relationship. In a good relationship, each of you can still pursue your individual goals. You just have to plan how you AND your partner will achieve those goals together.
So what happens after a long-term relationship ends?
First off, no matter how amicable you try to be, there’s no such thing as a mess-free breakup. Part of the mess includes you rediscovering your identity. As you search for who you are NOW, you will travel through time . . . mentally, at least.
You may start asking yourself what it means for you to be single again. How do you ACT single? What do single people do? What did you do when you were single all those years ago? As you try to figure out your new identity, you will travel down memory lane to the last time you were single. For most 30+ divorcees, such as myself, the last time we were single was probably in our very early 20s. And, whether we like it or not, for a period of time after the divorce/separation, we will all find ourselves reverting back to our younger, SINGLE selves.
Logically, it makes perfect sense. At the end of a long-term relationship, everything you’ve defined yourself as was based on the premise of being in a relationship. Without that basic foundation, who are you? In order to function at all, you search for some sort of identity that makes sense. So, you travel in time through your mental Rolodex of prior identities until you find your last single-person identity.
Even though you know you’re going to be a post-breakup time traveler, and even though you will most likely revert to a much younger version of yourself, (YIKES, for some of us), you shouldn’t feel trapped. Personally, I think if you know this is going to happen in some way, shape, or form, then there are certain precautions you can take to make the experience a little less crazy.
First of all, give yourself some time and space to be unorthodox. You just had a major, life-changing event. You won’t be okay in a day. You may not be okay in a year. The healing process will hurt. You’re going to hate parts of it. You’re most likely going to break down and start crying or screaming. All of these are normal reactions to grief and loss. And, YES, a major breakup or divorce constitutes as a reason to experience grief and loss – those emotions are not reserved strictly for dealing with the deceased.
Next, if you are going to time travel and revert to your younger self – and we all will – realize that when you were young and single, you didn’t have the same job or life responsibilities that you have now as an older single person. Therefore, while you may act like your younger self, you can’t necessarily BECOME that crazy 19-year-old again. Have fun, but don’t risk your career or your livelihood.
Finally, take a step back and consider the following. You get to be single again and act out those immature moments, but you get to do so with all the knowledge you’ve gained. That knowledge includes realizing which qualities you like in other people, and which qualities you could never live with again.
Self-knowledge is an important factor in all of this. As you do your own mental time travel, and as you think introspectively, you will have the opportunity to gain a wealth of self-knowledge if you choose to do so. In doing so you can figure out who you have become and who you may want to be as this new single person.
As horrible as the journey has been to go through such a breakup, you really do find yourself in a unique position. The last time you were single, you probably had no idea of who you were or where you were going. Now, after everything, you will hopefully have a much clearer vision of what you want out of life, so you can figure out how to move forward. Maybe you jump back in the dating pool, maybe you don’t. Remember that being single doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the prowl for your next partner. Being single just means you’re not currently attached to anyone.