Maybe you met online…maybe through work. He’s very recently divorced. He’s going through a lot of emotional and legal stuff. Contentious litigation. Vindictive ex-wife (or soon-to-be ex-wife). His kids are unhappy.
But then he met you.
You’re a break in his storm clouds, a compassionate ear, a warm embrace, not to mention you’re hot, sexy and fun.
He says you’re everything his ex-wife wasn’t. He’s so happy with you. Can’t wait to spend time with you. You’ve never felt such a connection with anyone else you’ve ever met before. And he feels the same way.
You take a weekend away (even though it’s mostly spent in bed, but oh well, you don’t mind). It’s a whirlwind romance. Everything is great, fine, wonderful…
Then, one day he doesn’t pick up the phone or answer your texts as readily as he used to. Oh well, you say to yourself, maybe he had a busy day at work. We all have deadlines. Right?
But then he cancels plans. Unlike him to not give you notice or find some workaround. But he said his ex has a last minute business trip and he has to take care of the kids. Oh well, you say to yourself, he’s adjusting to being a single dad, you can understand, right?
Then he goes AWOL. Doesn’t call you back or return your texts.
Ten days later your phone lights up.
He says he’s sorry. He loves spending time with you! That you’re his dream woman, you’re everything he wants!
But then he said he thought he was ready for this but realized he’s not. “It’s not you, it’s me,” he says. He says he needs time…
Suddenly, you’re heartbroken, bewildered and pissed all at the same time.
You’re Not Alone
Unfortunately, this is a very common scenario.
I receive handfuls of letters every month from women who describe, more or less, this same hot/cold story line. Falling into the rebound trap is a painful thing to go through, it really does put your heart through the wringer.
Wondering whether you’re the transitional woman is a common concern (in any relationship), but it’s especially a concern if you’re dating a recently divorced or divorcing man.
It’s a concern because – let’s define it – a rebound woman or transitional woman is the woman or the relationship who ultimately gets used (consciously or unconsciously) to get over a previous relationship or to get over a recently dramatic change in his life.
That is not to say that in every case the next relationship after a guy’s divorce will be a rebound relationship. The man that I married was a recent divorcee and we’re still going strong.
But there are some key differences between rebound relationships and relationships with long term potential.
What is a Rebound Relationship?
Rebound relationships typically serve short-term needs and have a short-term outlook.
Rebound relationships might have all the comforts of being in a relationship such as physically intimacy, and the social perks of dating such as fun and recreation.
But the thing that is often missing is a sense of depth and open and honest outlook toward the future.
Or if there is a sense of depth and outlook toward the future in a rebound relationship, it is often short-lived.
In other words, one week he might tell you he sees a future with you and even take steps toward demonstrating that sort of commitment (like introducing you to his family) but the next week you notice a definite shift in is energy – he pulls away or goes AWOL.
This is a big red flag that shows that he’s unsure of what he wants right now and is kind of just doing what feels good in the moment but not really being conscious and intentional about this relationship.
Before I move on, though, let me just say that short-term, recreational, just-for-fun dating is not bad in and of itself.
If you’re not looking for long-term love right now and just want to date for fun…dating a guy on the rebound might be your opportunity! (This is assuming that the guy is conscious and forthright about just wanting to date for fun right now)
But if you want a long-term relationship with someone who is emotionally available in a consistent way, you’re going to get your heart broken if he’s on the rebound.
If he doesn’t know what he wants and he tells you that he doesn’t know what he wants (sometimes this happens; sometimes guys realize “wait, I don’t know what I want right now” or, even better and more clear: “this isn’t what I want right now”) – this is actually to your advantage because then there’s no guessing game at that point, there’s little or no ambiguity (unless he’s giving you mixed messages, which often happens).
But if he says he doesn’t know what he wants or he says that this isn’t what he wants, this gives you
1) a clear awareness of his sense of readiness and where he’s at, and
2) a clear opportunity to choose whether or not you want to continue in the relationship given where he is at.
Why Rebound Relationship Can Get so Damn Confusing, Messy and Heartbreaking
But, unfortunately, relationships are often not that clear.
In many cases, he’s not aware of what he wants or aware of his readiness for a long-term committed relationship.
In many cases, he’s just taking it day by day, week by week, doing what feels good or what feels right for him in the moment (or for that week) without being conscious and intentional about whether this really makes sense for him (and for the both of you!) long term.
When a guy is on the rebound and not conscious of it, he might say he knows what he wants or think he knows what he wants…but in reality, he’s not thinking that far ahead.
He might be saying (through his words or his actions) that this is what he wants because this is what he wants right now.
Often after a divorce, there’s a void in his life – a lot of big changes, a lot of unknowns – and living with that void and sense of uncertainty can be very uncomfortable. For anybody.
Change, by its nature, is uncomfortable because change is the death of a previous position.
How to Avoid Being the Rebound Woman
So how do you know whether you’re being used if he’s not even aware that he’s using you?
And how can you avoid it?
In short, be VIGILANT about spotting red flags and don’t gloss over them. Here are some other guidelines:
Trust your intuition, not your fears
Your gut feelings point to valuable information.
If you feel some level of discomfort about the pace of the relationship, for example, the relationship is going too fast (or too slow) for your comfort, pay attention to that; your feelings are an indication of something.
Your feelings are telling you to notice the direction you’re going.
If you’re uncomfortable about the pace of the relationship, the key thing to do is to first examine why.
What, exactly, makes you uncomfortable about the pace of the relationship?
And then really tune in. Tune in to discern if your discomfort is insecurity or if it is coming from a grounded place.
How do we know the difference between our inner guidance and just plain ol’ insecurity and fear? Intuition and insecurity/fear will feel different. Intuition feels right, it has a grounded, affirming tone to it. And intuition tends to be rather neutral and unemotional.
Whereas fear and insecurity is highly emotionally charged. Here’s a graphic by coach Rosalie Puiman that I like that distinguishes the two. She also has a great suggestion for how to practice noticing the difference (because it does take practice!)
“Make a list of everything you are afraid off. After that, it will be easier to recognize when a gut feeling is referring to one of your fears.”
Also, practice feeling it in your body. What does your intuition feel like in your body? And what does insecurity and fear feel like in your body? Notice and tune in.
Get clear on your needs, wants and relationship requirements
When you’re super clear on your relationship needs, wants and relationship requirements, you’re less likely to overlook red flags.
Your needs, wants and relationship requirements serve as your guideposts, the things that you hold true to you.
Knowing your needs and relationship requirements help you more clearly discern whether they are being met and honored in your relationship.
Pay attention to your lived experience
I talk about it this in more detail in my free guide, but what this basically means is to notice when his words don’t match his actions.
And don’t get attached (or blinded) by what you hope will happen or what you hope will change about him and your relationship; make relationship decisions based on your lived experienced.
Make decisions based on what’s actually happening in your relationship in the here and now, in your actual experience – not the experience that you hope for.
Notice when he’s not emotionally available
There are usually some telltale signs when a guy is not emotionally available and not over his previous relationship.
If he still harbors a lot of emotionally energy around his previous relationship, sadness or bitterness or other demonstrations of being emotionally occupied with his ex, rather than being more matter-of-fact about it, it could mean that he still has some unresolved emotional baggage.
And in a rebound relationship, he’s often happy to be with someone, anyone, who can help soothe his wounds (whether he’s aware of it or not).
Oftentimes, he just wants to have his short-term needs met and so there may be a lot of physical connection, maybe even a strong spiritual and emotional connection, but no lasting emotional connection.
For example, after an intense romance…he might pull away, says he needs space…but also mention that he wouldn’t mind if you continued sleeping together.
If he’s not emotionally available, but you really want someone to connect with on a deep level in a relationship, chances are you’re not going to be happy being with him because he can’t meet your needs.
Don’t try to rescue him
I know that when he’s going through a pending divorce or recovering from a recent divorce, he might look like he’s a complete mess. He might look like he needs you. He might even say that he needs you.
But I urge you, if you don’t want to be the rebound woman, don’t fall into the trap of trying to rescue him.
Know that he’s responsible for, and is the only one who can control, his own emotional well-being.
There’s a difference between being a compassionate friend and being someone’s crutch or being someone’s medicine.
But when you’re a crutch…sure, crutches are a godsend when we can’t walk. But what happens to crutches once a broken foot heals? We discard them. They’ve served their purpose. In other words, we don’t need them anymore.
When you’re a compassionate friend, you empathize, you feel for him, maybe you offer verbal solutions if he asks for it, but you maintain emotional boundaries, you don’t own his problem for him, you don’t try to manage or control his pain.
You don’t try to fix his life for him (because ultimately you can’t). Only he can manage and control his own pain.
Compassion is different from control. The desire to control is ultimately based in fear and in self-sabotaging beliefs. If you let go of trying to heal or protect him from the pain of his divorce, or let go of trying to rescue him—if you let go of the notion that he NEEDS you—what does that ultimately mean about you?
What if he doesn’t need you?
What if no one needed you?
What would that mean then?
Does it mean our life lacks purpose?
If no one needs us, does it mean we’re not loveable people?
These were questions that I had really struggled with in the past. I unconsciously fell in love with guys who seemed to have a lot of problems. I was drawn to them like a magnet. I thought I could save them. I made it my purpose.
But ultimately it left me wrecked.
I failed every time at rescuing.
And it further damaged my self-esteem.
I had gotten attached to people needing me because it fed my sense of self-worth. And when I wasn’t needed, when I wasn’t trying to be the hero, I felt deeply alone and worthless. (if you really struggle with this, get help from a trusted friend or professional)
So if you find yourself having the tendency to rescue him…ask yourself:
Could you be attached? Could your sense of self-worth be tied up in outcomes over which you have no control?
When we’re attached, could we be equating love with trying to fix people?
Could we need to change our view of what it means to love?
Here’s a poem by Nayyirah Waheed to inspire your thinking..
not wanting me
the beginning of me
– nayyirah waheed