Tag Archives: the loss of divorce

Rebuilding Myself Into the Person I Was Before We Married


It’s been a long road back from the divorce. And I’m not done, I know, but I think I’m out of the woods.

“You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.”

Everything changes when you get married. And again when you have kids. As you adapt your life to the life of being a parent a number of hobbies and habits fall away. For me those things were playing music in a band and getting enough exercise. Now, I’m not blaming my ex-wife for those things, a lot of changes come with the territory and the new responsibilities of being a grown up. A grown up with kids, even.

THEN you lose everything. Divorce.

Dad’s sort of take divorce on the chin and we’re expected to roll with the death-blow and come back up swinging, or not swinging as it were. Once the decision is made between you and your spouse, and the divorce is in progress, a number of dramatic changes happen immediately.

  • You stop being compassionate towards your soon-to-be ex.
  • You start looking for signs of life beyond the world as you’ve know it.
  • You have to start thinking about where you might like to live as a single man.
  • You really have to start thinking about where you can afford to live, that’s not too far from your old neighborhood and your kid’s school. (Because 80% of dads will wind up with a hefty child support payment and no house.)
  • You have to address the rapidly approaching chasm of alone time and what you’re going to do with yourself.

The only part of the process of evolution that I can tell you for sure about is this: “You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.” For me the shock and disorientation was extreme. My neighborhood with running trails and nearby friends, my tennis club with summer swimming pool, my music studio in the garage… All vaporized as I left the house behind.

It’s not all bad, this divorce thing, take heart. There are a number of things you get back as well.

  • Time to do whatever the hell you want.
  • An extremely reduced “getting the kids ready for school” mornings.
  • Dropping the little favors and chores you use to do for your then-wife.
  • Doing laundry whenever you feel like it. (Like when you’re out of clean shirts, for example.)
  • A limitless supply of new eligible women and willing women. (Well, at least that’s one of the things that might pass through you mind, what with all this talk of hot cougars these days.)
  • You can eat whatever you want. (No need to consider the kids diets all the time.)
  • You can drink whatever and whenever you want. (Though this could be a problem.)
  • You get to sleep all the way across the bed diagonally if you want. (This is much less fun when you are “borrowing” a twin bed at a friend’s house while you catch your bearings.
  • The entertainment agenda is up to you every single night when you’re solo. (Want to go to a movie at 10pm on a weekend, go for it.)

That’s a fairly good list of how things balance out, somewhat. Emotionally, for me, however, things didn’t go as imagined. First off, my recent employment loss took a lot longer to replace. Needless to say, I wasn’t in top form on interviews for a several months. Second, my fantasy about online dating was about as far from the reality as porn is from real life. Um, sure, there are a ton of women on Match.com right now, but they’ve ALL got issues. That’s why they’re on an online dating site in the first place.

Then comes the bigger problem: 6-nights of alone time in a row is a killer if you’re not happy or busy. When it’s “not a kids weekend” things can get pretty rough quickly, if you’re not careful. I wasn’t careful nor was I prepared for the emotional fallout of being alone.

I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

Immediately upon leaving the house and starting the customary SPO (standard possession order) the dads of the world are going to get a lot less than 50% of the time with their kids. Accounting for the laughable “month in the summer” clause that tries to make up for the time imbalance, dads in general see their kids about 30% as much as the moms. It’s not fair, but that’s how the old laws were written. The phrase, “In the best interests of the children” will become very familiar, over time.

Okay, so that’s the first big hurdle. What are you going to do with yourself? And for me, I have struggled for years trying to answer that requirement with a positive attitude. And when you are recently divorced you might be missing your kids a lot more than you can imagine. Their entire lives you’ve had little playmates, companions, dependents. Suddenly, as a divorced dad, you’ve got nothing and no one to talk to. I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

I’m pretty close now, however, to being the happy person I was before we got together. I’m playing music and tennis regularly. I’m waking up singing and going to be early. Alone… But early.

The main thing to remember as the divorce s-storm is heading your way is to take care of yourself. Like on the airplane when they say to put your mask on first and then your kid’s masks. That’s so you are conscious to be able to help them. Divorce is the same way. Take the time you need before jumping back into a relationship. Enjoy your freedom. Explore your alone time. Take up new hobbies if you didn’t have any before. It’s kind of like dating yourself. Get to know your happy-and-alone self before you start looking for another happily-single mate.

Before I got married and had kids and then got divorced I was a happy and highly creative person. I’m getting that back little by little these days. I’m still a ways off from my goal of getting down the same pants size, but that’s in-progress as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: dinner for one, pascal, creative commons usage

How Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness


Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process.

I can sink, as I did in the early years, or I can rise and draw power from the emotional impact and love the sadness indicates. Even sadness is energy. If we let it sink us we can spend days or weeks in a fog of sadness and self pity. And I have to admit, I spent some time there after my divorce. And it’s never quite so difficult as the time you are dropping the kids back at school when you know you won’t see them again for nearly a week. What? That was not in any of my marriage advice books, I didn’t know this was a potential outcome.

Getting over the loss of my kids is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in divorce. I thrive on their presence. I cajole, support, nurture, and laugh with them a lot. When they are gone, I don’t have near as much opportunity for that connective joy. And of course, with teen aged children, the off-time communication is less critical to them. It’s still massively important to me, but they are more preoccupied with school, sports, and going steady.

For me, the time I have spent, not getting back into a relationship has been invaluable. I believe my inner resolve has been strenghtened. I know my innate joy and passion has returned, and it’s not dependant on anyone else. In fact, that’s the rub. You can’t count on any one else to do the work after your divorce. Sympathy from friends and counselors is fine and helpful, but the “work” is completely up to you.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process. You might be trading in the old failed relationship for a “next” relationship that is built on the same unstable foundation. I think that’s a mistake.

I tried dating again, I jumped on match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid almost immediately after I was asked to leave the house. It was a miserable experience. There were a few cute women, but nobody that caught my attention expressed any interest in me. Bummer. But I know now, that I was in no condition to date. For me it was about sex, touch, cuddling, nurturing. And those things, in the real world, come with a lot more entanglement than we might imagine.

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me.

I know now, having had two serious relationships since divorce, that there is no such thing as casual sex FOR ME. Friends with benefits sounds like an interesting concept, but in practice, I always get attached. From that “cheating site” the advice for a hookup-type relationship is to make it 100% about the sex. Don’t date. Don’t go out. Just do it and move on with the rest of your life. Um, that’s not what I’m after.

So here at four years and counting, I’ve had two relationships that lasted 3 months and 4 months respectively. And while neither ended up being the “next” relationship for me, they both taught me valuable lessons.


I had read The 5 Languages of Love during my divorce, but it was a bit too late to figure out how to bridge the gap between us with some philosophy. But the information was vital to my recovery from the divorce. What I learned in my first serious dating experience was how it felt to be in relationship with someone who spoke the same love language: touch. She changed my life. I won’t ever settle for anything less than “touch.” Because it is possible to be in relationship with someone who has a different primary love languages, but it’s always a compromise. My first relationship showed me what was possible and it blew the mystery off what had gone wrong in my marriage.


This woman taught me that no matter how much you want it, when the other person is not ready, or is unwilling to build up a committed relationship, it’s not going to work. There was no amount of flexibility or compromise I could provide to keep my second girlfriend from breaking up with me every other week. She would tell me she didn’t want a relationship. She would tell me we weren’t going to work out. And I would dive right back in at the first opportunity. Perhaps the physical attraction was just that high. Perhaps it was that she shared my love of tennis, and the cute tennis skirt. Either way, I learned, that no matter how fantastic I think the person is, and not matter how hard I’m willing to try, push, encourage, nurture, if they are not ready, they are not going to be convinced that they are ready. It’s not our job to get the other person ready. Either they are or they are not.


I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me. I am as transparent as I can be. And so far, I’ve had one near miss. This time it appeared we had a YES on both sides. And then after three fascinating days, she went dark. Again, I couldn’t pushed, I could’ve worked my romance. Instead I listened and responded. I asked about what was going on. She said it was a timing thing, and her life had just turned topsy turvy.

I had to accept her word for it and move on. As excited as we both seemed on day two, when the connection goes from 50-50 to 90-10 it’s time to back off and reconsider. It’s in those moments of reconsideration that we can have the greatest clarity. When we stop and ask again, “What do I want?” we have an opportunity to refine and redirect our energy towards what is most important in our lives.

For me, most of the time and energy has been redirected towards being a great dad, and being present for my kids above all else. I’d like a relationship, and I’m still casually working the online dating options, but I’m not in a hurry. The first YES woman, the most recent near miss, had me just a tad nervous. I think that’s healthy. What will happen when SHE shows up?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. Patient to make sure it’s a solid relationship, but I’m ready. I’m asking the universe to “bring it on.”

So, in answer to the original question, “How long will it hurt?” I think the answer is always. But the next part is the critical work for your divorce recovery. What are  you going to do with that hurt? Get over it by sublimating your feelings with another relationship? Or are you prepared to dig in a bit, pause, and explore what went wrong? And then by building back yourself, while you are alone, you can re-find your own priorities and joys in life. When you’ve got someone who’s ready to join you in those, and who speaks the same love language, well… I don’t know, but then perhaps the hurt will be nothing more than a mosquito bite.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Dating After Divorce

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image: the kiss, the prophet, creative commons usage