Dating After Domestic Abuse: Stay Single for as Long as You Were Abused

An unpopular opinion.

I think we should be single for as long as we were in the abusive relationship.

Will this always be the ruler by which to measure our healing and health and readiness? No, definitely not. Because a short-term abusive relationship (half a year, for example) may require much longer to overcome, while a significant long-term partnership (twenty-five years, say) may not need more than two decades from which to “bounce back.”

But it takes time, my friends and fellow survivors.

Time to both hurt and nurse our wounds

and study and learn why the abuse happened

and set some coping skills

and begin to replace the negative with the positive

and experience who we really are, want to be,

and shed all we cannot carry any longer

and figure out just exactly what a “boundary” is

and set some ground rules for what we will not allow again

and adjust the patterns to which we ourselves contribute,

thus breaking the unhealthy cycles of our own making,

and also understand that we are whole without a partner

that who we are to ourselves matters more than who we’ll be to the next date, more than caring too much about how they’ll perceive us,

and that we validate our own existence by prioritizing self-love and -empowerment over what anyone else may assume or interpret about us, our journey, our worth,

that no one else is responsible for our happiness and well-being,

and so on.

Let me share this.

When I left my abuser in 2011, we’d been married for twelve years. I had every expectation that I’d find love soon. I deserved it, after all, because who doesn’t, but also because the abuse and neglect I’d experienced had been so thorough for so long that my gaps were so wide and so deep that I assumed someone would swoop in to save and repair me in no time at all.

It was so naïve of me. And, of course, there were friends who had blazed the trail before me who knew better.

As I was taking on the process of divorce, one such friend told me not to rush. To put a cap on that expectation. It had taken her five years after her own divorce to find the love of her life, and I thought, “Pfft! It’ll never take me that long. I won’t be single forever.”

And (LOL, groan) guess what? Here I am, mere months from the twelve years-divorced mark, still single. If you had told me I’d be alone for as long as I was married, I’d have laughed and cried then cried some more.

Oh, I dated a fair amount, especially early on. Too early. Too eagerly. Without knowing me and having my own foundation from which to operate. Because of this I didn’t see clear red flags, or stay true to myself, so there were men who weren’t right for me at all—and because I hadn’t yet taken the time I needed for everything listed above, those connections resulted in more heartbreak and lesson-learning than successful relationship.

To be fair, there were probably a few men in the mix who were decent enough, just not my type. And I wasn’t wrong to move on. That’s our choice. We earn the right to be selective. “Picky,” some like to say. We owe ourselves nothing less, in fact.

Today I can tell you that my “unluckiness” in dating and relationships doesn’t mean I haven’t been worthy of love, or that I have somehow failed to flip a magic switch, hit a required button, unlock a certain door. It just doesn’t work that way. It also doesn’t mean I’ve failed to “work on myself” or that I have to “love myself more” to somehow earn the love of someone else.

I didn’t always know this, which is why each year on my own has helped me find the distance and clarity I needed to internalize my worth, to build upon my independence, and experience so many amazing and powerful things — as a woman, as a mom, as a survivor — that I simply had to experience without a partner to take away from the Power of Me in it all.

I’m thankful for this. Do I sometimes feel lonely? Yep. Do I sometimes crave companionship? Absolutely. But whereas twelve years ago I believed I NEEDED romantic love, even when I had no idea what that should look like for me, today I can tell you all I NEED is me, and that the eventual partnership & interdependence coming my way will be a gift that only has to be what I want and deserve. I’ll cherish it because of that. Never take it for granted.

I dabbled on Facebook Dating last fall. It was an experiment with myself more than anything, to observe how I interacted and what my expectations have come to be after all this time. After a few months I realized I wanted to see out this twelfth year as single as I’ve been since the divorce. There’s some beautiful accomplishment, a milestone in that, especially as it aligns with the high school graduation of my youngest, the expiration of the legal custody agreement with my ex, and my return home to Kansas City. I just have to see it through this way, you know?

And I’m so thankful I didn’t end up tied to another bad dude. That my vulnerable efforts to snag one of those early guys, before I really knew me, didn’t spiral me down the path of another toxic long-term partnership.

With each year that passes I am more comfortable being me, and coming into the person I want and need to be for ME, as much as for the right relationship.

I hope this for you, too.

What do you think? Where are you in your dating-after-domestic-abuse journey?

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