These aren’t really rules in the sense that I enforce them, or that there’s some artificial penalty to breaking them. They are really more suggestions, or guidelines. Rather than fight over what they say, I’d prefer people think about the principles and reasons behind them.
The New Divorce Rule
No dating nor flirting of any kind for at least a year after a divorce is final. You need that year to heal and explore your own contribution to the divorce. You didn’t end up with a failed marriage because you were too perfect, and you’re not going to get better without time, effort and help. Take as much time as you need to get your head straight. Get used to standing on your own two feet, without depending on someone else. Wait until your fear of dating is greater than your fear of not dating, at the very least. Single life isn’t terrible, so find and enjoy the good parts of single life. This protects you from the rebound marriage and the consequent next divorce.
The No Transitions Rule
Don’t make any long-term decisions while in the middle of a transition: new job, new location, new divorce, new child, early recovery, major illness. You won’t be the same person after the transition that you were before, and the person who would appeal to you and who you will appeal to will be different after the transition as well. Give the transition your attention until it stabilizes.
The Friends Only Rule
No courtship dating anyone until you’ve known them for at least a year. Courtship dating is dating with the idea that it could lead to marriage, as opposed to friend dating, which is having fun and getting to know someone without any expectation of exclusivity, physical affection, or reference to being a girlfriend/boyfriend. This gives you a full four seasons of knowing someone before putting yourself into a position to consider making a courtship decision about them. This can protect you by keeping a bit of space so you can think about them before the tinglies start, or can give you time for the tinglies to settle down before making a courtship decision. The tinglies are fun, and feel great, but they make you stupid.
The Courtship Rule
At least a year of courtship dating before agreeing to marry. This gives you another four seasons to learn more about them and about yourself with them, so you have a better idea of what a marriage with them would mean. It also offers some more protection from residual tinglies. It is not required that the tinglies totally go away, but it is important that the tinglies and hormones not be decisive factors in a marriage decision. Courtship should be exclusive, and using words like “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” are appropriate. Physical affection should be used with caution.
The Engagement Rule
At least a year between the decision to marry and the start of the marriage. This gives you another four seasons to plan how your married life will go. There are many things to discuss and explore about that married life that won’t be as real until you’ve made the prayerful decision to marry. There will be time for cold-feet to come and go. There will be fewer surprises after the wedding. There will be a plan to work from when life imposes itself on your marriage.
And, for those who aren’t angry yet, this should do it:
The Kids Rule
No romantic involvement until your kids (if you have any) are grown and gone. Your divorce is not their fault, and they have a claim on your time and attention that comes before anybody else. Their injury by your divorce should not be compounded by a division of your time and attention by some new romantic partner. They should not have their hearts put on the line while you head into a marriage with a higher probability of divorce than your first one, and all of the consequent damage to their understandings of marriage and the tangled feelings that come from disrupting their step-family. Also, step-parents are more likely than bioparents to have conflict with growing children. You can live without sex, but they can’t have the life they should have without you. If you’re non-custodial, they really don’t need to watch you raise a second family, or a step-family, rather than them. This also gives you a chance to work off the New Divorce Rule time and the Friends Only Rule time.
The Bathrobe Rule
Don’t date anyone who is younger than the oldest article of clothing you own and still might wear (heirloom pieces don’t count for this rule). For me, this was my old bathrobe. I have replaced this with the Decade Rule.
The Decade Rule
Don’t date anyone more than a decade younger or older than you. It’s easier to keep track of a decade than it is the age of my bathrobe.
The God Exception to Every Rule
Disregard any of these rules that God directs you to. This only applies to God’s direction, and can be subject to verification (asking for ID is okay). Neediness, anxiety, hormones, or impatience should not be confused with God. Also, this exception only applies to my rules — the rules of the Church and those found in scriptures require more than checking ID to get an exception.
For the record, I developed these rules based not only on what makes sense, but on the experiences I had for not following them, as well as from learning from the experiences of others who have not followed them. With one lapse, I have followed the Kids Rule, and I only regret the lapse, not the rule. My time under that rule is coming to an end in a little over a year, and there are some potential romantic options I plan to explore after that time.
Oh, and then there are my suggestions for LDS women when looking for a mate. It goes like this:
- Someone who will treat you well.
- Someone of good character.
- Someone who will respect you on your spiritual path.
- An active priesthood holder.
Prioritized in that order, and the first three are non-negotiable. It is easier to turn someone who fits 1-3 into someone who fits 4 than it is to turn someone who isn’t 1-3 into a 1-3.