By KT Hawbaker Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) How should you handle going public with a new relationship after a break-up? Debra Alper, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of "Life Transitions Counseling", cautions people to think twice before posting to social media (especially if children are involved).
My almost-ex-wife and I were sitting across from the Daley Center's courthouse, about to finalize our divorce, when I told her I was seeing someone new.
"I know. Chris, right?" she smirked, maybe out of pain, but probably out of satisfaction. Earlier in the year, as we began to split, she and I went out to a bar where she accused me of being straight after a few beers. My new relationship with a man, queer as he was, suggested she was right.
"Yeah," I said. "How'd you find out?"
"His college girlfriend and I are theater buddies. She called me when you put it up on Facebook and said, 'You might want to know about this.'"
Taking the new relationship public was total trial-and-error, another entry to the long list of guidebooks I wish they had for divorced, pansexual 20-somethings.
It just seemed like there was nothing out there I could relate to.
Though all of my friends said otherwise, I knew that I should have told her myself. Instead, I flew off to New York with Chris, the poet I'd fallen wildly in love with. We took a bunch of joyful selfies throughout the Village and posted them all over social media, the modern day equivalent of yelling from a mountaintop. I let the city's grapevine of LGBTQ artists take it from there.
A couple of months later, Chris and I hit an impasse when the pain of the divorce resurfaced. It was a huge slice of humble pie served freezing cold. And, while thinking about him stings, the nutritious parts of my pain have been a wake-up call.
Taking my new relationship public, making it "Facebook official," meeting each other's friends, was an exercise in honoring my desires. I had big feelings, and instead of stuffing them down, I chose to proudly throw them out into the universe.
At the same time, the emotional free fall that came with the breakup also uncovered how sloppily I'd skated through any self-reflection after my marriage ended.
According to Debra Alper, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Life Transitions Counseling, people often use these relationships as the easy way out. "For some people, the fastest way to recovery is by quickly finding somebody else," Alper says, "as opposed to sitting with the loneliness and all of the bad feelings that happen naturally with a divorce."
There are essentially two stories when it comes to post-divorce relationships: There's the version with kids and the version without, says Alper.
She said parents must put the kids first and should only involve a new partner if they feel the relationship is stable and ready to become a regular part of the children's lives. "You don't want to be the parent who introduces their kid to a revolving door of partners," she explains. "Until there is a high level of certainty that this is going to be a long-lasting, long-term relationship, the partner should not be introduced at all."
Valerie Shepherd and Holiday Miller, authors of "The Ex-Wives' Guide to Divorce," agree with Alper. They say that parents should be especially cautious when it comes to social media. "You need to ask yourself how your child will perceive the new relationship," says Shepherd. "If they are old enough to be on a device, you need to be mindful of what you post."
So, what about childless folks like me?
"Without kids, it's a different ballgame," Alper says. "What I see most often in my practice is that post-divorce is an incredible time in a person's life that brings about lost emotions."
"I think you've got to ask yourself what your intention is with taking the new relationship public," says Shepherd.
She and Miller both believe it shouldn't be a matter of getting even or "winning" the breakup; even without kids, you're still bringing in your family and friends, raising the relationship's stakes. With that in mind, taking a new relationship public should be an expression of the trust you're building with this partner, an invitation for others to share your happiness.
Going through a divorce is a lot like chasing a pinata, it felt like I was blindfolded and spun around until I was dizzy.
Right now, I'm staggering around in the dark for a few moments as I try to find my target, maybe walking in the wrong direction a few times.
The promise of sweetness, however, keeps me swinging that bat.