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Dating After Divorce

Getting a divorce is one thing, figuring out your dating life after is another!

dating after divorce

With an ever-rising divorce rate in Egypt, especially among recently-wed couples, more and more uncoupled men and women are looking to get back into the dating game – but has their updated relationship status changed the rules? 

A NEW CHAPTER

“I was excited to be single again,” Lobna, 51, tells ELLE about the early days of her separation. The interior designer had left an unfulfilling marriage to the son of family friends behind after many ups and downs. “We got married because it was what was expected of us. But there was no meaningful connection, no real intimacy,” she reminisces. “I had resigned myself to the disappointment of it for a while, but when we  decided to end it, happiness became a real possibility again.” The joy described by Lobna is not unusual, especially for people who felt trapped in an unhappy relationship for many years. Popular culture is awash with stories of fresh divorcées embarking on journeys of self-discovery and finding new love in the process. We watched with delight as Julia  Roberts traveled across the world solo, sampling gelato and falling in love in tropical Bali,  as Diane Lane’s character in Under the Tuscan Sun bought a villa in rural Italy and enjoyed a romantic fling with gorgeous heartthrob Marcello and as Stella got her groove back in the eponymous film with an islander twenty years her junior while on vacation in  Jamaica.  

But, alas, divorce is not all roses and hot men in exotic destinations. “It was a strange period,” recounts Yara, 39, a social media consultant who started her own digital media agency post-divorce. “I felt free but also scared and strangely vulnerable. I tried to be  cheerful and to focus on my everyday tasks, but there was a heaviness dragging me  down.” A couple of her friends offered to set her up with single acquaintances, but the idea of putting herself out there was too intimidating. “I found myself looking in the mirror constantly, examining my face and body for signs of aging. I couldn’t imagine anyone  finding me attractive again.” 

The breakdown of a marriage can bring with it all sorts of challenging emotions, explains  Nouran Nazer, life coach and founder of wellness platform Maeisha. “It can have a strong impact on how people feel about themselves – am I good enough? Did I do something  wrong? Do I deserve somebody good?” She counsels clients to focus on themselves during this difficult phase. Grieve the loss. Take the time to heal. Dating from a place of hurt and negativity is never a good idea. 

THE STENCH OF STIGMA

‘As a woman, you’re either a virgin, a mother or a whore,’ declares Laila, 37, a public relations executive who split from her husband at a young age after a short-lived marriage that ended with his infidelity. ‘Plenty of men approached me after my divorce – but none of them were interested in a serious relationship,” she continues. The men she did date made it clear that they did not consider her to be marriage-material and that their parents would oppose the match.  

Noha, 44, a divorced special education teacher, describes a similar experience. She met and started dating a man through a brief work project. Things were going well and they 

were planning a trip to France when she found out that he was engaged to be married.  “His plan was to make me his second wife. He was hoping that I would warm up to the idea over time. His fiancée was the woman his family approved of, the one who would  appear in his Facebook photos – and I would be the other one.”  

But with divorce becoming practically ubiquitous and traditional patriarchal notions on the decline, the stigma appears to be lessening. Popular TV shows like Netflix’s Finding Ola and Ramadan series Faten Amal Harby are depicting divorced women in a much more favorable light and the demographic subset is finding more social acceptance. Asked  about any negative reactions she had encountered in regard to her new relationship  status, one young millennial divorcée replied “Nobody cares.”  

THE ONLINE ODYSSEY 

Ghosting, mosting, phubbing… Another day goes by, and another social-media-coined term for bizarre behavior displayed in the digital dating world appears. Having firmly established themselves in the Egyptian market, dating apps like Tinder and Bumble seem like a practical way for singles, regardless of their romantic histories, to find a match.  Swipe right, swipe left, and BAM – you’ve got yourself a date. But not so fast… 

“He was good-looking, cultured and well-mannered,” says Salma, 37, a divorced banking executive about a stranger she matched with on Bumble. They agreed to meet for lunch at a casual bistro on a Saturday. “We just clicked. We spoke about everything – our families, work, travel. I could have talked to him for hours.” Halfway through the lunch, her date made a reference to his wife. Confused, Salma asked for clarification and was informed nonchalantly that she must have overlooked the code ENM in his online profile –  ethically non-monogamous. He and his wife had decided to open up their marriage –  meaning both partners agreed that the other may have sexual relations with other people  – shortly after the birth of their second child. “I knew it was too good to be true,” she laughs. 

Stories of married men using apps for extramarital sex (unethically non-monogamous?),  casanovas juggling multiple girlfriends, and men who look like they have aged a decade or two since their profile picture was taken, are scaring women away from the online experience. They prefer being introduced to someone via a mutual friend or in a more exclusive social setting. ’When you’re with a guy who is a friend of a friend’s, it’s very  difficult for him to get away with bad behavior,’ Noha tells ELLE. ‘We need to have  at least a couple of mutual Facebook friends for me to consider him.’ 

This attitude seems to extend to men. Divorced real estate agent Aziz spent three years matching and chatting with women on both Tinder and Bumble. Only twice did it come to a face-to-face meeting with a potential suitress, but neither meeting led to anything beyond that first date. Drained and defeated, the 41-year-old turned his efforts offline. He says: “I started meeting women who were from a more similar background and with whom I had more in common. When you meet someone through your social network, you have a reference – there is accountability on both sides. It opened the door to more  meaningful connections.”

PARENTAL ADVISORY

If dating after divorce is starting to sound a bit like climbing a steep hill, imagine doing it with children in tow. Single parents, especially mothers, often carry the double burden of work and childcare and struggle to find the time and energy to go out anywhere, much less on a date. 37-year-old single mom Kamla explains that with long days filled with e-mails, meetings, household chores, temper tantrums, and story-time, dating is usually the last thing on her mind. “It would be nice to meet somebody, of course, but I don’t even  know how I would manage it logistically.” The bank employee shares that she also worries about introducing a significant other into her children’s lives. “At this point, I’m not just  looking for a good partner, but for somebody who will be a good stepfather to my  children.”  

Many women express concerns that their ex-husbands might misuse what power they possess in a legal system skewed in their favor to prevent them from moving on romantically as the idea of the mothers of their children remarrying and introducing another father-figure into the little ones’ lives is unpalatable to them. Soraya, a 39-year-old single mom, remembers being on edge when she started dating. She was nervous to be seen out in public with men – a fear that increased when she started getting closer to one particular suitor. “When my girls finally met him – they were quite young at the time – I  was worried that they would tell their father, who would find ways to make things  unpleasant for me.” That became a reality when Soraya’s ex refused to authorize her daughters’ travels and she became unable to leave the country with them, even for a brief trip to visit her aging mother abroad. “He threatened to take my daughters away, but I  know he’s bluffing. Single parenting… it’s not easy. He doesn’t have it in him.” 

While men undoubtedly have the lighter domestic load, it is not always smooth sailing for them either. Single father Youssef, 42, reconnected with an old schoolmate on Facebook after his divorce and the two started seeing each other romantically. But soon interference from his ex-wife started causing trouble in paradise. “When she began suspecting that things were getting serious between us, she started calling and texting at all hours of the day with news of some fake emergency related to our son,” he says. Despite having asked for the annulment of their marriage, Youssef’s ex couldn’t cope with the idea of him moving on and used their son to manipulate him. “I’m a responsible and caring father so I always show up, but it’s definitely causing tension in my new relationship.” 

A BRIGHTER FUTURE

“The biggest myth about divorced women out there is that they are desperate to meet someone,” Laila says. Contrary to this belief, divorcées across the board seem to be investing more time and energy in themselves than in chasing men. They are traveling,  starting businesses, getting promoted, hosting dinner parties, and overall pursuing bigger and better dreams. Moreover the consciously uncoupled – of both genders – have learned valuable lessons. They have more self-awareness, a deeper understanding of their needs  and limitations and are better at setting boundaries, communicating effectively and  reaching compromises.“I reflected on my six-year marriage and realized that marital success is a joint responsibility. I made mistakes as well. But I understand myself better now. I have a clearer picture of what compatibility is and I know what I want in a woman,”  says Aziz.

Asked if she would like to get remarried, our young millennial replied confidently “Unless it  is a value-added relationship, I would rather stay single and be in love with myself.” 

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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