"Five years, honey. It will take five years."
I remember when she said this to me, four and a half years ago. I got so angry with her. How dare she put a timeline on my healing, on my ability to have an intimate, healthy relationship with a new partner. But she, my mother, was right. She's usually right.
The research I've done and the experts I've spoken with, have led me to a conclusion: what my mother said is accurate -- it takes at least five years to recover from a divorce, declare a personal identity and rebuild a solid foundation equipped to support and withstand another relationship.
I speak from experience. Over the past four and a half years, I've jumped into two relationships because I didn't want to be alone. I thought I needed the attention as I attempted to recreate the structure, consistency, security and commitment I was accustomed to, but I was forgetting something really important -- I didn't need a man for that, I needed to discover and cultivate all of those qualities within me before I looked for them in anyone else.
I've learned the hard way, but at least I've learned that there are steps to take before even considering being with another person. Once I reach the place where I am able and willing to engage in a relationship, I need to approach it with intelligent foresight and an analytical perspective based in reality, not projection or what I hope he will be or we will be.
Fantasy only goes so far and usually does best in the bedroom (or in poetry). This is our sacred, precious life, it deserves our conscious attendance, fierce protection and pragmatic awareness.
Here are five seeds of love advice I offer from what I've learned thus far:
1. Take Time, Years of Time.
Be patient, take time to be alone. I'm not suggesting we don't date or have fun, but refrain from a serious relationship -- it is imperative for our growth.
Honor solitude as a trenching, leveling, concrete pouring and settling period.
I've only had short bouts of alone time in between my relationships. It's never been enough time, not only to clear the recently broken relationship from my system, but to grieve and release my marriage too. I've brought all of it with me over the years and therefore, I've been living without stability -- emotionally and mentally.
I have given myself permission to be in a relationship only with myself, for at least a year. I'm almost halfway there already which is hard to believe, and I am at a point where I relish in my aloneness. Maybe a year won't be enough, I won't know until I get there. All I know is that I'm enjoying this process of digging and building. I've discovered feelings and experiences I buried, cleared them out and spent my time strengthening the bonds I have with my friends and family.
Not only am I fully recovering from my last relationship, but I am preparing for the partnership which will become a compliment to my strong, sturdy life. As an adult, I haven't spent enough time alone (until now) to understand, feel and believe that I am whole. I am the person I need most, not a man or a relationship.
The reason I have suffered so much in the past, holding onto soured relationships for dear life, was because I didn't have a solid structure of my own.
I highly recommend, if you have not spent at least six months alone, do it before you commit to anyone else. If you've met someone who you are head over heels for, great, tell him you need time. If he is the appropriate partner for you, he will wait and he will honor your wishes.
"Nothing of value can be lost by taking time." I don't know if Abraham Lincoln was speaking about love relationships when he wrote this, but it applies. Repeat this as a mantra to yourself, write it on your bathroom mirror and take this step slowly -- time is on your side.
2. Be A Detective.
When solitude has done its work, your foundation is built, and you are ready to open to the possibility of a relationship, move slowly, at a snail's pace, so you can get to know the person you are interested in.
Be a sleuth. Listen to his actions, more than his words. Study him, not in a conspiring, skeptical way but with an intention to build trust.
Allowing for ample time to get to know him before committing is imperative. We get to know people over time, there's no other way.
Don't fall prey to the outside. Anyone can make themselves and their lives look enticing and pretty.
I think attraction is a distraction.
There are many handsome men in the world, but I see through "looks" immediately. Get past the lusty part quickly and turn on your thinking cap and your x-ray vision. Observe how he acts and how he responds to life. Examine his life with a freshly buffed perspective.
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself.
Does he ask you questions and does he listen to you as you answer? Do you feel heard?
Does he have a healthy relationship with his mother? Does he speak to her and of her respectfully? Does he do the same with his father and his siblings?
Does he have strong bonds with both men and women (long term friendships, not just acquaintances)? Does he have an inner circle? Does he see them consistently?
If he was previously married, does he have a good relationship with his ex wife? Do they communicate fluidly?
If he has children, how does he treat them? How does he communicate with them? (It is a warning sign if he has minimal visitation and/or does not live in the same state as his children.)
Does he have faith or a faith and does it resonate with you?
What are his political views? If you have opposing views, can you debate in a respectful way? Does he have passions/hobbies? Does he adhere to a daily routine of wellness, exercising and eating well? Does he have a career, a long term one?
What is he committed to? And/or what has he committed to?
As a mother, it is vital to have a partner who understands the devotion it requires to raise a family. It is a red flag if a man in his late 30s and upward has never made a commitment, especially to a profession or a partner.
Observe his actions and inspect his foundation. Everything in his life presently, is a symptom of how he has lived before knowing you. Understand that the way he is right now, is the way he will be. Move your imagination aside, be realistic.
How old is he?
While being with a younger man can be fun and fulfilling for the ego, there are things to consider, principally, does he have the life experience to meet you where you are, equally?
Does he understand what it's like to nurture a long-term relationship? Has he experienced fathering a child and the level of responsibility that entails? Is he equipped with the skills and understanding of how to support you as your partner and co-parent of your children?
I hear it said, "Age ain't nothing but a number." I mildly agree, however with age comes inevitable life experience that can't be created any other way than putting in the years and the time. Choose a partner who meets you where you are, not behind, not in front, just right there with you, in experience.
3. Protect Your Children.
I learned the difficult way, how being in a relationship before I was ready impacted not only me, but my children.
I never wanted to be the woman who had a revolving door of men through her home, which has not been remotely the case, however the two relationships I did have, didn't work and it is unclear the damage it has done to my children.
Although both of my partners were respectful of my children and we kept our relationship G-rated in their company, I can only imagine what the loss of their presence in the girls' lives has done, and how it has affected them.
While children are resilient, they also attach and trust deeply.
This is why I've learned that it is crucial not to introduce my children to a man until I know he is a stable force in my life. I will not live with a man until I have either fully committed to a life long partnership with him or I marry him. Period.
Children need a sacred place to grow up, a nest, a safe house to return to after a day out in the world.
Anytime we bring someone new into our home, we disrupt the energy, even if they are a positive influence. Be certain in your mind and your heart, that your relationship is secure and long lasting before integrating another person into your family.
4. Trust A Man with Responsibilities.
I used to be desperately attracted to the wander type, highly creative, severely lost and unattached in almost every way. I wonder why? Because I was.
I had been so tethered and hyper-responsible during my first three decades of life, that when I detached from my marriage I disassociated from the responsible person I had always been. I wanted to see what existed on the lot next door.
I've come full circle, yet slightly altered -- instead of tethered, I am grounded now and I find myself attracted to men with responsibilities, devoted to their work and to the people in their lives.
When I decide to be in a relationship again, I sense I will be drawn to a man who is divorced and/or has children, because it says something to me.
It says, this is a person who is not afraid to look to the future, to take a chance and make a promise, to love not only himself but to care for others and, if he has children, he gets it, I don't have to explain or teach him how to be a parent.
Although, I'm open and if I meet someone who doesn't have children or has never lived with, been engaged to or married a woman, I won't shut the door of possibility on him, I will just look at his life.
Has he committed to a profession in which he dedicates most of his time and has for years (years being the operative word)?
It's important to peel the onion and get past the first few layers. If he has a degree but flits from job to job (even if it is in the same professional realm), it's a warning sign--he can't stick with it, he has a lack of integrity and work ethic.
"How you do one thing, is how you do everything," so the way he conducts his life is the way he will conduct himself in a relationship with you.
Dedication to a routine is a non-negotiable when you are raising children. As mothers, we must have a partner who resonates with that and upholds these principles in his own life.
Our children are developing, they need solid modeling from you first and foremost, but if you do have a partner who is a presence in your children's lives, make sure he represents the qualities you embody and are teaching your children to embrace: loyal, consistent, gentle, kind, respectful, nurturing, patient, devoted, dedicated, ambitious and most importantly, loving.
5. Be Like Bamboo.
In the book Aleph Paulo Coelho describes the growth of Chinese bamboo:
"Once the seed has been sown, you see nothing for about five years, apart from a tiny shoot. All the growth takes place underground, where a complex root system reaching upward and outward is being established. Then, at the end of the fifth year, the bamboo suddenly shoots up to a height of twenty-five meters."
You are bamboo. Strong, rooted, indestructible as long as you prepare yourself first.
Take time, as much as you need. Remember to always listen to that seed of intuition. It will guide you well, if you allow it.
A yoga teacher of mine used to say, "Root to rise!" Root first, you'll rise when it's time, I will too.
First published on elephant journal