Generally speaking, children are less enthusiastic about their parents' divorce than the parents themselves—and are also less-than enthusiastic about the prospect of any new partner in the picture.
My ex-husband and I separated after 16 years of marriage. High school sweethearts, we married a year after I graduated and by the time we separated we had three kids, ages 14, 11 and 9. The day we sat on the sofa and broke the news, my daughter could only yell, "I just started high school!" My sons were equally unenthusiastic. As for me? Well, I hadn't been in any relationship except the one with my husband since I was 18.
The world of dating seemed terrifying. But I conquered it, and I'm grateful I did. Having personally navigated the scary, thrilling, messy world of dating post-divorce with three kids in tow, here's some advice I can share with other brave souls out there.
Finding Your Next Partner
The truth is, finding people to date post-divorce may be more difficult. Say, like me, you're 35 and have three children. You will now need to consider not only whether or not your prospective partner is suitable for you, but also if said partner is suitable to co-parent. This narrows the field right off the bat. Also, where are you going to meet people? If you're like me you have absolutely zero time to spend bar-hopping/surfing Yahoo personals; you're too busy trying to raise people to spend any time on all that nonsense. My advice is to pay attention to potential singles in the produce aisle, as right away, you know they're healthy. One box ticked.
There is also a lot less frivolity. The nonchalance with which you may have approached dating in the past will likely be replaced with a renewed vigor to find a "partner." Maybe you want to spend a few years post-divorce fooling around because you have soundly sworn off all.serious.relationships. But, at some point your mortality is likely to catch up to you, and you will realize that you don't want to be alone forever. Therefore each first date becomes a sort of internally conducted interview for your future. "Pardon sir, but I would like to inquire, how many pair of dirty boxers are strewn about your bedroom?"
I actually had the good fortune of meeting my now-husband Matt in the 6th grade spelling bee when we were 11. We "dated" in junior high and high school, so becoming reacquainted via the miraculous Internet at 35 was actually pretty easy (even if it was over several hundred miles). Matt is the first and last person I dated, and since I didn't really want to be single (I just didn't want to be married to my ex), we wasted no time getting serious. To quote the great When Harry Met Sally, when you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
Body Image Issues
You may find that you spend more time thinking about your motherly (or fatherly) physique. Marriage has a way of allowing you to become a bit, shall we say, soft. Maybe you haven't been hitting the gym regularly. Maybe if you've had a few kids you have some saggy bits. Wrinkles. Grey hair. Keep in mind that if you're dating in your age range, the people you're dating are probably thinking the same things about their body that you are. Love really is pretty blind, and the right person won't give two shakes about your stretch marks. The first time I disrobed in front of Matt, who hadn't ever seen any woman who had three kids naked, let alone me, I was nervous, and it took a while before I stopped sucking in my gut. Kind of a long while. But those issues were mine, not his, and eventually they dissipated.
Sex may be a little, er, weird, and also potentially difficult to orchestrate with kids around. Right off the starting block, if you've been in a monogamous relationship for a long time, you've probably fallen into a Sunday/Friday missionary position (or similar) pattern. Maybe you weren't having much sex at all. Maybe you haven't had many partners overall. The good news is this means the excitement of a new relationship. The bad news is you may carefully plan your sexual escapades only to be walked in on by your toddler (or worse yet, your 14-year-old).
This happened to us. Twice.
Are The Kids Alright?
No matter how much you love the new person you bring into your life, your children are unlikely to share the same warm feelings right away. This is less the case with very young children. Older children will not usually filter their true feelings and may be heard saying something like, "You have ruined my life!" (which my 11-year-old actually exclaimed). Each of the kids had their own reactions to having a new person in our lives. Some were positive. Many were negative. But it got better.
Just know that children have literally zero desire to have the existing parent "replaced." Even if you would sooner see your ex disappear into the Bermuda Triangle, your children are unlikely to share this sentiment. It is helpful if the new partner verbally expresses love and a mutual understanding that they are not the father/mother but rather the boyfriend/girlfriend/stepparent. Our approach with the kids has always been frank honesty. "This isn't easy for anyone. How can we make this better?" Matt generally leaves any "disciplining" to me. And we try to talk as a group when things aren't going well. We have made it clear that he loves them like a father, but is not their father.
If the new partner has children of his own, a completely new dynamic exists. Children are naturally competitive, especially when it comes to their parent's attentions. Your children may not want to share the spotlight, and that may never change. Matt came into our relationship with a cat. So that was pretty easy. But we added two more kids eventually. Jealousies arise just as in any sibling situation. We deal with this by trying to spread the attention around.
The Awkward Factor
If you live in a small town you are highly likely to run into your inlaws/shared friends/people from his office. In fact, even big cities can feel pretty small in these situations. This may be awkward. Really awkward. How you handle this is personal. I could be found either holding my head high or, alternatively, cowering in the darkest corner of a restaurant. If you are out with your children, this can be confusing for them. So talk about it.
Depending on how mature your ex is, they may express a distaste for your new partner to your children. This may happen a lot. No matter how much you'd like to say "Your father/mother is a complete moron. Don't listen to a word they say." Resist. The. Urge. Slandering your ex will only make your children hate you, and the new partner as well. When my ex married someone I didn't necessarily approve of, who spent too much money on buying the kids sunglasses instead of school clothes, stayed out too late, drank too much, etc., keeping my mouth shut was . . . not easy. But it was essential. Our approach was to always try to make our house a place of safety and stability.
You may very well find love again. Seriously. You may find it. It may take hold of you with both hands in a grip so tight you can't, and don't want to try to, escape it. It may not be exactly easy to integrate that love into the life you had with your kids before that person came along, but it's not impossible. In fact it's not only possible, it's completely worth it. I know this because I waited a long time to be with someone I really wanted to sit with at dinner and lay with at night and raise a family with. There were some rocky points along the way, but we made it.
And we only got walked in on during sex twice during the process.