Using the Time Productively

What now? I won't let you date, so are you supposed to become a hermit? Nah, that just makes you vulnerable, and you lose all that hard-won poise. Time is really the only cure for healing emotional bruises, and the healing can't go on if you're busily diverting yourself with growing new tendrils and sending them out. If you don't take time to heal, those tendrils will be super sensitive, not very healthy, and very, very needy — not an auspicious beginning, and beginnings are hard enough as it is.

The first rule is to stay away from romance. How can you convince your heart and your bruised ego to avoid flirting back or using that soft or strong shoulder of that person you sorta had your eye on to cry on? Stop it — and divert yourself. Here are some suggestions on how to use the rebound in a productive rather than destructive way:

^ Work on same-sex friendships. Friends are those people who sustain us through breakups and traumas and share our good times. I'm sure you're sensible enough to not ignore or neglect your friends when you're in a love relationship, but now is a terrific time to really work on and polish the part of you that is a terrific friend.

^ Shift through the ashes of the old relationship. This is the time to become an emotional archeologist. No one is completely to blame when a relationship tanks, so get out that trusty paper and pencil and see what you can learn. This exercise isn't much fun, but it's truly time well spent. If nothing else, it should absorb enough time and energy temporarily to put you off dating until you've figured out what to do next time to avoid the bruises.

^ Stay away from one-on-one. That well-meaning buddy can easily turn into a wrongheaded fling if you're not careful, and what an icky thing to do to a friend. There is strength and safety in numbers. Hang out with friends, large groups, small countries.

^ Work out. This is a good time to join a gym or a softball team or play some b-ball at the local high school. Take tennis lessons (avoid the cute pro) or learn to swim. Keeping physically active helps cure the blues and the blahs, and once you're ready to get back in the swing, you'll look fabbo.

^ Paint your house, clean out your closets, trim the hedges. Taking care of those chores you never have time to do when you're involved will make your living environment that much more pleasant and give you a real sense of accomplishment. Planting a community garden, cleaning up a park, or helping construct a home for Habitat for Humanity also gets you being physical and social with a specific goal in mind without pairing off or staying alone.

^ Become a workaholic, temporarily. In the flush of a new dating situation or one that is going poorly, work often suffers. Now is a great time to spend that available time at work, which allows you that much more time and money to lavish on yourself once you begin dating again.

Taking the rebound time to work on yourself and your world pays gobs of dividends: You'll sleep better, look better, and act better (and the alternative is really awful to contemplate). If you don't give yourself time to get out from under the shadow of your bruises, you're going to go postal (overreact and blow everyone away) or batmobile (put up impenetrable shields that will deflect any potential incoming hazard). For example, if your old date was always late, the first time your new date is three minutes late, you're going to be convinced that you're the last polite person left on the planet and start ranting and raving. Very nice, right? Wrong! — and so much fun to be around. Not exactly the frame of mind conducive to getting to know someone and letting them get to know you, which is the only purpose of dating.

The person on the rebound either clings for dear life or begins to run through dates like Kleenex tissues on the assumption that there is either something wrong with everyone else or something desperately wrong with them. Disposable or cement — not a nice choice.

Projects under construction

I was walking down the street beside a building that was being rehabbed. As I stopped at the light, the foreman came over, took my arm, and said, "Projects under construction are dangerous. Things can fly off and hit you. Why do you think we're wearing hard hats? Anytime you see a project under construction or rehab, cross the street. It's dangerous."

I think his advice works for situations that aren't new buildings in the literal sense. Any dating situation is an attempt to build something on a firm foundation. If it feels dangerous, you'll end up wearing a hard hat for your heart. If one of the pillars of the relationship (you or your date) is on the rebound — the person is unstable and trying to rebuild their own life — walk away until the rehab is done, and there's time and energy to work on your new project together.

Remember, lives under construction are unstable and therefore dangerous foundations on which to build a new structure.

Waiting It Out

Please, please, please do yourself a favor and give yourself enough time to recover. How long does the process take, you ask? Some who are stricter than I am think you need to wait one month for every two you've been involved. I think formulas are a bit rigid here.

A good rule of thumb is to double or triple the time you think it will take, and no fair cheating. The basic idea is to wait until you can think about the ex without pain or embarrassment or sadness, and you can avoid talking about them. There is nothing more tedious than having to listen to your date's recitation about why their ex was terrific or terrible. If you still need to talk, find a therapist, not a date.

djf^R The longer you dated, the longer the recovery period. If you talked about the L word (love, not lust) or even the M word (marriage — don't you dare break out in hives), or you dated for more than six months, the ratio gets closer to one-to-one — it will take as long to get over it as it did to get into it. Sad, but true (it's the tendril thing). If you were talking about the M or the L word, and the relationship had been less than six months, you were rushing things and that may be part of your problem. It takes six to nine months to get to know anybody.

If you dated for over a year, the waiting period is at least a year. One whole calendar sequence so that you know you can make it through your birthday, Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Easter, Passover, the ex's birthday, the anniversary of your first date, the anniversary of your first kiss, and so on. Once you know you can do it by yourself, any future relationship will be based on choice, not need, and that's a much healthier beginning.

Dependency offers a really useful short-term basis for a relationship, but it simply doesn't work for the long run. Any good relationship nurtures, and in ~~ a nurturing relationship, the dependent one becomes less needy. This leaves the powerful person in the position of feeling useless or trying to make the other person still need them, and the best way to make someone needy is to belittle them. In psychology, the tendency to use power to make someone dependent is called the Bad Mother Syndrome: You're a bad, ugly, nasty child, and no one will love you but me, so you had better never leave me. It's bad mothering, and it's lousy relating.

The need to go back to the good old, needy days is destructive and dangerous, like ouch.

If the person you're thinking of dating has been married or you've been married, the rules get even stricter. The waiting period is one whole year after the divorce has become final. This is such a crucial and important point, I'm going to say it again: WAIT ONE FULL YEAR AFTER THE DIVORCE HAS BECOME FINAL! No exceptions.

Advice for the friend of a friend

One day on the street, I ran into a friend who introduced me to his friend who was just divorced. My friend explained who I was, and I explained that I was writing this book. The guy, without taking a breath, launched into a feverish account of his date last night. He had mentioned that he wouldn't buy an apartment until he found the right woman, and he'd want her to help him pick it out to make sure that it was big enough to have kids (this was a first date). Fifteen minutes later she said, "I really don't want to have kids." He was offended, couldn't understand why she was making such a big deal of it, and then he immediately said, "My ex-wife always. . . ."

I said, "How long have you been divorced?"

"Three months," he said.

I said, "You ought not to be dating at all right now."

He said, "You don't know my situation; there was no emotional____"

I interrupted, "I know everyone's situation."

"I'm different," he said.

Yeah right. This guy could be the rebound poster boy. He's an accident actively seeking a place to happen. He thinks a woman being honest when she hears something that doesn't suit her is overreacting. I told him to buy the book.

Everybody universally hates my one-year rule, but instead of viewing it as a prohibition issued by the Wicked Witch of the East (cute lil ol' me), what if you view it as a gift to yourself: a gift where for a whole year you don't have to be altruistic, thoughtful, generous, or compromising. You can do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it, without explaining it to anybody. What a gift! That way, you can get it all out of your system, and you understand a lot more of who you are and when it's time to start dating. Then when that year is over and you start dating again, the idea of compromise or doing it someone else's way is going to feel like a novelty and a pleasure as opposed to a burden. So please give yourself the gift of the one-year rule.

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