"They say I should start dating as soon as possible. Do I have to 'get right back on the horse' immediately or risk being alone forever?"
How do you see dating? Do you see it as a means to an end -- to find someone with whom to live happily ever after? Do you see it as a cure for your loneliness and pain? Or do you see it as a way to have some fun, share some good times with another, and learn more about yourself?
Before you start dating, however, take some time to be alone and quiet. Figure out how you got into this predicament. Ask yourself what took place in the marriage, what was your contribution to the situation, how were your needs met (or not met), what would you want to have been different about your partner. Consider getting some therapy. Work on your self-esteem, take care of your needs, and understand yourself: what baggage do you carry to all your relationships? What are your issues? Work through the pain of the loss of your partner -- the loss of your future together. Remember that you can only find true emotional security within yourself: no other person can hand it to you.
The bottom line is that in order to be the best you can be in your next relationship -- and in order to make it a successful, satisfying one -- you have to do some work on yourself first. And, of course, the work doesn't stop once you are in a new, meaningful relationship. According to the famous psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, "Love is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing working together."
There is a temptation to get right back into a new relationship. Falling in love so early on can be an avoidance strategy, a way to put your anger, depression, and ambivalence on hold. It can be easier to dive into an exciting, revitalizing connection than to mourn your loss and see yourself through the pain. There is a tendency, when one is on the rebound and vulnerable, to over-glamorize the new partner and demonize the ex-partner. Falling in love really has more to do with you than the wonderful attributes of the other person. This is especially so if the separation or divorce was not your idea.
Margot Feferman, B.A., M.S.W., R.S.W. is an experienced, professional psychotherapist, specializing in helping people in their relationships and with loss. She has offices in Toronto and environs.