Recently an acquaintance asked for my opinion regarding the “Four to One Rule.” As it was explained to me, The Four to One Rule refers to a method of figuring out when you are ready to date after divorce. The equation is simple-for every four years of a marriage you should wait one year before dating! I can almost hear you gasp as you read this. So, let’s say you were married forty years before your divorce then you have to wait a whopping ten years before seeking another romantic relationship. Assuming you were at least 18 when you married the first time, you could begin dating at 68!

Now, we might laugh at this as absurd. But in truth, we like things simple, don’t we? To have a sure fire way to measure/ evaluate things is very appealing. How many miles we need to walk to burn off that slice of cheesecake or tracking how many miles we get to the gallon, makes us feel as if we are in control. We have methods to describe the effectiveness of everything in our lives from our sunscreen to our stock portfolio.

Measuring emotional recovery is a bit more complicated and not measureable by a simple formula. Oh, but we want rules! With someone else’s rules, we don’t need to risk using our own judgment.  The illusion is that adherence to a “rule” can diminish risk and we will therefore avoid being hurt.  Trusting our gut to find our own answers requires a self confidence, some real introspection and finally, a leap of faith. Now that can feel scary!

Over the years I have met many people whose marriages did not last forever. The question of “when to date?” always came up. Some were ready to date before the ink was dry on the final divorce decree yet others needed years to get over it. Still others, after careful reflection chose to maintain a single life. The one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that the decision of when to date and if to date varies from person to person.

Are there any factors that contribute to a quicker recovery from the blow of divorce? Is there any way to evaluate your own “readiness”?

  • If you were the one who wanted out, then you were probably emotionally divorced (or close to it) before the actual divorce was legally over. If you were NOT the one who wanted the divorce, your journey through loss and grief begins when your partner tells you that he or she is done. It is clear that the emotional recovery time line will be quite different for you than for your spouse. So, while your ex-spouse may be out speed dating before you can even consider getting out of your sweatpants on a Saturday night, don’t compare yourself to his/her journey. The time line is different, because the starting point was different.
  • If you don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the feelings of loss, rejection, disappointment, hurt and anger, you will recover sooner. Using numbing substances may seem to take away the pain, but it only masks it. There is no way around this journey.  Do it sober and drug free and you will get over it sooner. Otherwise you simply delay the process of recovery.
  • A qualified therapist or support group can be enormously helpful. Always check qualifications. Just because someone wants to help doesn’t mean they have the tools to do the job. As of late, the term “Career” (as in “Career Politician”) has become a dirty word. I personally prefer career professionals in my life. If I am having heart surgery, I definitely want a “career” surgeon rather than someone who had experienced a by-pass!  Just because someone has had heart surgery doesn’t qualify them to wield a scalpel.  The same goes for your divorced friends. They mean well, but each person’s experience is unique to their situation. Friends are invaluable for support, but get your information from professionals.
  • Hire an attorney who doesn’t want to ratchet up the matrimonial angry to increase their billable hours. Avoid the drama. You might think revenge through the courts will make you feel better. It will just make you poor and bitter. That is not recovery, you are still holding onto the marriage-only now it isn’t with love, it is with anger.
  • Have a clear your vision is of what you want in a relationship. Dating is a little like shopping. If you know what you need before you start looking, it is far less likely you are to make a purchase that needs to be returned. When you shop for a car, you have some idea of what you need before you go to the showroom. It wouldn’t make sense to live in a rural, mountainous, snowy region of the country with a couple of kids and a St. Bernard and then buy a two-seater sports car for your family car! No matter how convincing the sales person is or how attractive that road rocket might be (or how young and sexy you look in it), it is not a good choice for you. That little red sports car may attract you, but you know a sturdy reliable SUV suits your life. Of course, you can only make the right choice whether in a vehicle or partner, by knowing yourself, your lifestyle and your value system and that takes time to figure out. How much time? Well, that is up to you. Listen; really listen to both your Heart and your HEAD.


Finally, in a larger sense, The Four to One Rule is a good reminder for all of us that thanks to the internet, a glut of information is out there and we have easy access to it all. However, we need to be careful readers and consumers. Information is not always good information. Consider the source and trust your gut.

Next week: Considering Divorce? The lawyer you choose may be more important than you think.




  1. Peggy on the 23. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    Fabulous article Donna!

  2. CJ Golden on the 23. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    So, where were you when I had been recently divorced and began dating? I did figure this out, eventually, but would have been great to know you back then!

  3. barry on the 23. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    You do hit it with this piece….you are dead right, measuring the recovery is an individual process, better done in a sober state. Having someone else’s rules to live by does make decision-making easier, but that is also akin to always putting blame elsewhere when it is we who are the responsible parties.. it is always easier to rationalize it away than to confront and admit….

  4. Judy on the 30. Jan, 2011 remarked #

    It is so much more of a science than it was 40+ years ago!!!

  5. Donna T. on the 30. Sep, 2011 remarked #

    Really insightful article. It’s true, there is no set rule that anyone can follow to know when it’s just the right time to date. But knowing yourself, and spending time in self-examination and ensuring you at peace with yourself is critical to know when to take the leap into the dating pool.

  6. Geoff on the 04. Mar, 2013 remarked #

    Good article. I actually just did a web search to find out what the formula was after a woman telling me I needed to wait two more years. I am currently 3 years out of a 20 year marriage. You are absolutely right that each person is individual. Yes, my marriage was 20 years, and I was a faithful husband who walked a “FireProof” approach the last half of that marriage. That is ten years of loneliness before the divorce was filed. I concentrated on what was best for the kids during the divorce. It has taken a while to heal, but not 5 years. Besides, life includes time to heal and time to move on… and there is always overlap because healing is a lifelong process. Realize healing takes time, but trust your heart, not a reader’s digest formula.

    • Donna Ferber on the 04. Mar, 2013 remarked #

      Well said.
      Trust you gut and you’ll know when you are ready!

  7. Mar on the 31. Oct, 2013 remarked #

    I married at 19 now I’m 56 , 37 years of good very good marriage but it ended so fast I didn’t visualize until he left me for other person !! It’s been 5 month but I don’t think I can wait so long to start looking for other in my life .

    • Donna Ferber on the 31. Oct, 2013 remarked #

      I could not agree more. best of luck-get out there and have fun!

  8. RubenDLR on the 06. Jun, 2016 remarked #

    I don’t know if I’ll ever find love again. I have only just begun this horrible journey. I just can’t let fear rule, like it has for so long.

Leave a Comment