There are two schools of thought on dating post-breakup: (1) It’s good to get right back on the horse to help you get over your ex; and (2) It’s good to stay off the dating horse for a bit and take some time to re-group. I agree with the latter philosophy, and was reminded why this past week.
There are lots of good reasons to not date for a while after a breakup. It’s important to take time to grieve the loss of the relationship. You can’t grieve if you’re distracting yourself with a new man. Taking a break gives you space to re-center and regain your focus. If you haven’t recovered emotionally, you can’t make good decisions about potential new lovers. If you haven’t taken time to consider what went wrong, what worked and what didn’t, you might find yourself repeating the same mistakes in your next relationship or in your choice of partners. Breakups are tumultuous. And the relationship probably was shitty for a while prior to the breakup, which is why you broke up in the first place. The pre-breakup tumult, as well as the tumult of the breakup itself, can throw you off-balance. I found myself not sleeping well, not eating well, drinking too much, and exercising too little. I put on weight. I was surly and distracted. My work suffered. My friendships suffered. Worst of all, my self-esteem suffered.
Whether you broke up with a guy who wasn’t good for you, or a guy who wasn’t good for you broke up with you, you’re likely to have suffered a blow to your self-esteem. With me, it was being slowly worn down by a man who wasn’t really in the relationship, emotionally or otherwise. How could he be, when he lived with another woman? I spent a year in denial about things, and it’s left me wiped out. So here I am, slowly putting myself back together. I’m feeling a little better with each passing day. My sleep is improving, my running endurance slowly is increasing to pre-Mack levels, and I’m slowing down on my wine consumption. Even so, I was reminded this week of yet another reason for postponing dating in the aftermath of a breakup: Going out with a new man might leave you pining for your ex.
Wednesday night I met a man for drinks, and eventually a late dinner. I’d gotten together with Stuart once before, when Mack and I still were together. I wasn’t sneaky about it; I told Mack beforehand. Stuart and I have a lot in common. We went to high school together, and the same undergrad. We went to different law schools, but both ended up in Austin practicing law. When we became friends on Facebook, eventually he suggested we meet for drinks. Although Stuart recently was divorced, he knew I was involved with Mack, and so he knew our meeting was not a date.
Our first meeting was uneventful, save for the fact that being with Stuart was a very different experience from being with Mack. Stuart is a year older than me. Mack is ten years older than me. Stuart is the managing partner of his law firm. Mack has no job, and no career. Stuart is single and lives with no one other than his teenage son. Mack lives with Corinne and despite his protestations, never really was single. Stuart dresses in modern, albeit conservative clothing. Mack was always stuck in the 80s, and no matter how hard I tried to nudge him into the style of the current century, I always felt like I was dating John Oates. The biggest glaring difference between the two of them: Stuart paid the check.
After meeting Stuart for drinks that first time, I became even more disillusioned with Mack. I found it more difficult to rationalize being with a man who had no career, no income, and who lived with another woman. I started feeling really badly about myself. I started berating myself for putting up with Mack’s moods, and temper, and “lifestyle,” for lack of a better word. I started to see my relationship with Mack as my friends saw it, and I wondered why I held on to him. Hell, he wasn’t even very nice to me any more.
Fast forward to Wednesday night. Stuart and I met for drinks at an upscale wine bar; somewhere Mack would never go. I allowed myself to think of Stuart as a potential lover, seeing as I’m single now. Stuart is a handsome man, and very nice. After we’d finished a bottle of wine (which Stuart chose), he suggested we go to a nearby restaurant (again, trendy, upscale) for dinner. We sat in an intimate booth in the corner, ordered another bottle of wine with our dinner (which we did not finish), and continued our pleasant, if somewhat boring, conversation. At 10:30, in the midst of his regaling me with trial stories, I told him I had to end the evening because the valet stopped working. After the valet brought my car around, Stuart and I sat on a bench in front of the restaurant and continued talking, or he continued talking, for another half hour or so. I found myself wishing he’d shut the hell up so I could go home to bed. At long last, he did, and we hugged goodbye. I felt nothing, other than relief that I could drive home and crawl into bed.
As I drove home, I found myself ruminating about Mack. And missing him terribly. While Stuart is many things Mack is not, Mack is many things Stuart is not. I was always very physically attracted to Mack. Even though Stuart is good-looking and fit (triathlete), I didn’t feel attracted to him. I also found talking with Stuart somewhat monotonous, and I was not disappointed when the night came to an end. When I was with Mack, I never wanted the night to end.
The next day I was tired. And emotional. I kept comparing Mack and Stuart, and tearing up in my office. Instead of making me feel good, spending time with Stuart had me feeling a terrible ache for Mack. It had me second-guessing my decision. It had me off-balance again. I had to make a concerted effort to remind myself why I’d broken things off with Mack. I fell asleep Thursday night crying, and I struggled to bring myself back to reality by thinking about Mack’s finances, Corinne, his temper, his moodiness, and his drinking (and my drinking when I was with him).
Spending time with Stuart did not help me move on from Mack. It made me sad and lonely and I missed Mack more than ever. Getting back on the horse too soon, even with a “non-date” date, is not a good idea. I was still too raw, too vulnerable, for it to have a positive effect. All it did was remind me how easy it was to be with Mack, how great our physical relationship was, and how fearful I am that I won’t have that again.
It seems it’s best to avoid dating, including “non-date” dates, for a while longer. Otherwise, it’ll end up like Wednesday night, and the horse will go charging across the field to the nearest tree with a low-hanging branch, knocking me out of the saddle, and flat on my ass once again. Yeah, I need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and stay the hell away from horses for a while.