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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Unexpected Twist in Life : Navigating Dating and Life 101 After Separation and Divorce

Separation and divorce, and particularly when it blind sides, feels very much link being trapped on a run-away train. Despite feeling out of control, it is interesting how even on a runaway train, you can realize it may have very well taken you to a really cool place in life. Don’t get me wrong — a ride on a runaway anything is scary as hell but then again so are most things in life and particularly those along very unfamiliar paths. What can we learn about ourselves as be negative through separation and divorce? Who is that person that emerges from the other side? In this post, I explore these questions and more in Dating Life 101.

The Reality that We are Heading for a Divorce

For the past few years life has felt out of my control — trapped in a dark room, feeling and fumbling along a wall, tripping over life here and there and not really knowing how I arrived in this maze, and even worse, not having any idea where the exit may be. You grow up expecting life has this typical pattern, school, more school, even more school, work, and hopefully if the cards fall into place, a home, family, a  fish, a dog, you know the story.

We all hear the statistics, forty-one per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce, notes a recent study from the Vanier Institute of the Family (1), however we all tell ourselves that we will beat the odds, we will do better than our parents, our aunts or uncles. We will be that old couple holding hands and laughing well into retirement.  For many of us, me included, we didn’t even come close.  However, looking back, was that necessarily a terrible thing?

As a species, we have had mind-blowing success at evolving and mastering our universe no matter how you define it.  We can survive in the harshest of climates, from the depths of the oceans to a race across our solar system and beyond.  We adapt to change, to conflict, we grow, we mature. So how much different is being thrown into single hood?  Is it simply another hurdle in life we need to conquer, learn from and move on.

When we emerge from a depths of conflict, hopefully we can step back and look at ourselves objectively and recognize that relationships  are always a two-way street. Although “we” may not have been what put the final nail in the metaphorical coffin our past lives, in most cases I think we had an equal part to play in our relationships getting to that point.  Where did we make a wrong turn, where did we forget to compromise  in our past relationship over sacrificing ourselves or our partners needs.  Over the past few years I have tried to reflect on these questions, the big proverbial “What the fuck happened in my life?”  Do I have all the answers, now what would be the fun in that, however in that time of reflection I have come to realize two principles that I will call emotional resiliency and emotional confidence that will become pillars as I move forward with life’s next adventure.

Emotional Resiliency 

I admit, like most, my past life became routine at best, work, kids, sanity break where me and my partner literally forgot the other existed.  Honestly, when was the last time you and your partner sat down and just chatted over coffee for hours at end?  If one was not battle kids to bed, or cleaning it was the other.   You fall into that parental trap and forget about the most important characteristics in yourself and with that,  your partner.  Truth be told, we spend 95% of our lives worrying about stuff that really does not matter at all. Imagine worrying day in and day out about breathing or your heart beating.   Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Us breathing or our heart pumping, is essential and will happen not matter what else is going on.

The truth is that many of the aspects in life we spend our time stressing about are as essential as breathing and will happen no matter what else is going on around us.  The kids will be fed, or bathed, and always loved.  You will eat, and even the messiest of us will make time. No matter what else is going on, those basic necessities in life will happen no matter what, so why worry about them.  Yet, we are consumed by these little things in life. We need to stand back and realize the power of worrying about ourselves and with that our partners.

There is a great children’s story book called “Have you filled a bucket today?”  The general idea is that “the bucket” represents your mental and emotional self.  When your bucket is full, you feel more confident, secure, calm, patient, and friendly. Your thoughts are positive and you expect positive results. When your bucket is overflowing, you experience an intense happiness that can spread to those around you.

We fill our buckets in many ways, from our work, our community, where we volunteer.  It is incredible when you see someone’s  passion shine so brightly that even when they talk about a bad day, they radiate happiness, how  incredible and  overwhelming of a feeling we experience when your child snuggles up to you, or the tingle from the tips of your toes to your fingertips when someone special simply looks at you and smiles.  No matter how we fill our buckets our emotional resiliency grows stronger and with that us as stronger individuals.   You can tolerate the day-to-day ups and down, the stresses of life are that much easier to handle and we become much more resilient, and with that more patient, better parents, partners and friends.

Emotional Confidence 

Relationships are incredible high and even more so as a way to supercharge our buckets.  Just think back and remember that incredible awe that you felt from something as simple as a kiss, a touch or a hug.  Don’t get me wrong, relationships come in countless shapes and sizes and no one definition fits us all.  However no matter if you are looking at your best friend, a confidant, a coffee buddy to waste away the hours, or an incredibly amazing person to share the other side of your bed, you need the emotional confidence to  realize that in a “relationship” you should not be the one doing all the bending and that emotional compromise is two-way street.   The truth is that Tom Cruise’s famous line in “Jerry MaGuire” of “You complete me” has it all wrong.  Never look for someone to COMPLETE or supplementary to you but rather the confidence to look for someone who is complimentary to you.

Compromise is critical to any successful partnership – it is based on a fine balance of two people – their wants, desires, needs. The reality is that not having the emotional confidence to voice your emotional needs by sacrificing what you want and need in life and out of a relationship; ultimately settling for anything less will not make you happy – in fact it will become a hurdle over time. What is even more important is that a relationship consists of two WHOLE individuals, who are growing and changing with each breath, experience and desire, and much like the two people in the relationship, a relationship must evolve with those people, and build on each others strengths and support their weaknesses. Just stand back and try to remember yourself when you met your significant other and how much both of you have changed since that time.  Are you still as active, what about friends, or weekend adventures?   How do you spend your time, alone or as a couple?  When you dated, what was it like, what did you do, what did you talk about?  How is life different now?  It is a given, we change, life changes, and so does our load of responsibilities.  However, it does not mean it is the end.  As a complementary couple, you will mould to this change and to each other.  Don’t get me wrong, this takes work and time, and ultimately the commitment however, will only make us stronger.  After all, relationships are both rewarding and require work, painful at times yet, fulfilling beyond imagination.

The Next Steps

So where did this runaway train take me?  Well, to that I can honestly say I do not know.  However, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know I am not the same person I was when I was pushed onto the train a few years ago.  Am I perfect, well, truthfully, who is?  Do I like the person I have become, absolutely.  Am I strong, and confident, and can hold my own in most awkward adult situations  – well ok, I am getting there, however, know for sure that I will stand up for me, no matter the consequence nor I do not think there will be a personality that will overshadow me when push come to shove.  After all, a resilient Mark is a powerful force.  I have an amazing and incredibly supportive group of friends who will put me in my place, and pick me up when I stumble, the confidence to hold up my end of a coffee / conversation marathon (the record is about 5 hours with a near stranger, are you up for attempting a PB), and know I can kiss a girl and makes her knees buckle, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.  As I noted, life is evolving as am I.  We make mistakes, and we growth from them, we make decisions and live with the consequences, we kiss and we cry, yet with each breath, chisel away with a new version of us.   Some come on train — lets see what you have in store for me as this is only the beginning.

(1) http://vanierinstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/BTN_2013-12-11_Separation-and-Divorce.pdf

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Mark Hanlon


Mark is an avid photographer, Starbucks addict, motivated cyclist, struggling runner, and rocking single parent living outside of Toronto, Ontario. Living with two chronic ilnesses, Crohn’s Disease and Diabetes, life for this Transportation Planner and Registered Professional Planner (RPP) can be an interesting mix.