From Divorce to Finding True Love in One Year

13 min readMar 1


Divorce was the most brutal thing I have ever endured in my life. As an athlete, I trained all year round and raced 2–3 hour events over my 15 year career. As an entrepreneur I spent my last $300 and turned it into a multi-million dollar empire. I hiked the Inca trails to Machu Picchu and broke my foot on the second day. For the next two months, I crutched my way through Peru, Italy, and Ireland.

None of that compared to the pain and difficulty of my divorce, because I faced the possibility of losing everything I had worked so hard for. It was all happening because of one big mistake.

If I’m being honest, I never loved my ex-wife. I just didn’t know that during the ten years we were together. That sounds terrible, I know. However, for perspective, consider that I married the second girl I went out with who I met at the age of 19. At the time, I lacked the bold confidence that I now have in my life. I settled for the first attractive woman, and ignored everything else (including personality and compatability). We pretty much had nothing in common. We fought endlessly from the start, and it never got better. It only got worse. Of course, all of this is only obvious in hindsight — when you’re in it, you never see it this way.

The big mistake was marrying a woman who was a terrible match for me. As the years progressed, the second mistake was knowing something was wrong and doing nothing to rid that horrible parasite from my life.

It was a Tuesday over a decade ago when she left and never came back.

There had been many separations, and in the end she did me a favor when she finally left and filed for divorce. (In fact, she had filed for divorce a year earlier and simply not filed the papers.) I was never going to file for divorce myself, as I was dedicated to make it work even through three sets of marriage therapists (the last of which told us to stop coming, because there was nothing worth saving.)

The partners we choose are a very important part of our happiness, success and drive. Unfortunately, a lot of times you won’t know you have the wrong partner until its too late.

While she was working at her parent’s gas station, I was building a multi-million dollar business. Without realizing it, I retreated away from my marriage and spent more and more time working. It became evident later that I was doing this because I did not like being around her. It was great for business but that “affair” with my work was bad for my marriage. As a result, I had everything to lose and she had everything to gain. As she attempted to claw everything away from me that I had built, the divorce was messy, expensive, and dragged on for two years.

The first few weeks were brutal. I told the people at my company that I didn’t know when I would be back, but what I really meant was I didn’t know if I would be back at all. I was facing complete failure and losing everything in my life — my wife, my house, my business, my retirement, and it was my first real breakup because I had married the second girl I dated. It was everything all at once. Everyone has a breaking point, and that was mine.

That’s when I was hit with the profound feeling that I had wasted most of my life working. That is when my life stopped. Everything stopped.

Face The Situation Head-on

The head and the heart don’t listen to each other, which makes it hard to focus and think rationally during a breakup, but it was worse. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t function. I would tell myself that I needed to get out of bed, but in my depression, I believed nothing mattered anymore and hours would fly by as the thoughts raced through my head in an endless spiral of thoughts. You can drown yourself in alcohol, self-destruction, or bury yourself in work, but at the end of the day, none of that will actually help you move on. I went sober for two months and spent an enormous amount of time thinking over those first few months.

Recovery from life’s setbacks won’t start until you get started.

Read Books or Get Expert Help

After going through dozens of marriage therapy sessions, when the relationship ended I had pretty much tapped out that resource. I continued for a few more sessions but it did not help.

Instead, I ordered several books online. The only book I read during my divorce that truly helped was “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” and I recommend it to everyone I know whose marriage is in trouble. It is based on real-life couples and the decisions they made (and whether it lead to happiness later).

Talk About It

My Dad frequently told me he didn’t know what I saw in my ex-wife and that I would find someone better. I didn’t believe him, but he was right. In fact, I eventually found many people better. The anxiety I felt that was keeping me in the relationship and stopping me from moving on was predicated on a false belief.

Divorce is upsetting and there is a ton of baggage. Its important to talk it out, otherwise you’ll carry it with you for the rest of your life. I talked to everyone I knew about everything on my mind.

It was hard, it was embarrassing, but being honest not just with other people but with myself was what gave me a kick in the ass. I only started to feel better when I got tired of hearing my own words.

Talking it out, no matter what your chosen audience will help. Even if you don’t want to.

Find Yourself

Once I came to accept that the life I had was gone, it meant that I could decide what my life was going to be. With my future uncertain, my focused shifted away from business to finding myself. It sounds cliche but if you do not know what “finding yourself” means, that is probably because you do not know you have lost yourself.

During a relationship, we all “give up” pieces of ourselves. Sometimes we change in positive ways and that’s personal growth. We also adjust to our relationships and make compromises in situations and within ourselves. We become different people over the course of time, and in a good relationship you grow together as a couple. Unfortunately, for many people they get so trained to compensate for the broken relationship that they stop being themselves and become someone else. That’s changing not for yourself but for someone else, and it rarely lasts.

There was a moment when I realized that I was alone, and could do anything I wanted. I stayed out late. I drank at the bars and went clubbing. I smoked a big cigar in the house. I drove my sports car way too fast. I went out to a restaurant for nearly every meal, every day, for over months. I was constantly on a plane and traveling. Many of those things did not last very long (they weren’t really me) and that did not matter. What mattered was breaking free from the restrictions of my bad relationship.

Finding yourself is the only way to finding someone else.

Work on Yourself

Even after finding the lost pieces of myself, there were things about myself that I wanted to change now that I was free. It takes two for a healthy relationship and part of the failure my fault. There is no point in trying to convince yourself (or others) that everything was “their fault.” It wasn’t. It always goes both ways. The only option for me was to own it as soon as possible, to become a better person.

Even though I had lost 20 pounds and was eating only 400 calories a day, I hired a personal trainer to force myself to eat and start rebuilding my life. Eventually my eating improved and I started cooking for myself every meal at home — and I don’t mean out of a box. Real cooking. My training at the gym continued for almost two years, and I got into the best shape of my entire life. My trainer and I later became good friends and business partners.

Hiring a trainer was entirely strategic. It forced me to be accountable and distracted me from the misery.

Traveling had always been a passion of mine but my ex was not a good travel partner. When I finally started to travel on my own, it was actually easier and less stressful to do alone than it was when I was married. I came to the realization that I didn’t regret things that I had done. I regretted the things I had not done. Up to that point, I had been held back from what I wanted my life to be.

I decided I was never going to make that mistake again.

In the face of losing everything, I bought a sportscar. I traveled the world. I hosted big parties for hundreds of people. I bought a bar and restaurant. I said “screw it” to my comfort zone and I wasn’t afraid make mistakes or to take huge risks, because I was no longer afraid of failure.

Purge Everything You Do Not Love

I still remember the night that I felt my ex-wife’s presence “leave” my house. It is something I still cannot explain well, but it is as profound today as it was then. During the process of the divorce, I let go of my materialistic lifestyle. I sold nearly everything I owned.

At one point, my living room was devoid of furniture. My bedroom was just a mattress on the floor and I was using boxes for end-tables. Not exactly what you’d expect of multi-millionaire, but everything had to go. I often felt like I was back in University when I was broke and happy.

The criteria required to keep something was that had to need or be actively using it, or I had to love it. Anything I liked but had not used within the last three years, I sold or gave away. An added complication were the things I used but held memories of my former life, which I had to purge. Some I replaced but most I did not. I gave away a lot of stuff, and it made me feel great.

It was a process that was tearing down my old life, purging the old, and then building on a new foundation, built on love. The biggest discovery (even looking back over 10 years later) was that I regretted getting rid of none of it. I missed none of the things I disposed of. Today, I continue a minimalistic footprint (but I own gorgeous furniture now!)

Move On and Start to Love Again

Early on, the realization occurred to me that people stay in relationships that are bad not because of love but because they are comfortable. Replacing that missing companionship in your life will fast-track your recovery. My relationship failed for many reasons. There is never a purpose in staying in or hanging onto a relationship after it is over.

Listening to yourself and realizing it has run its course is the hard part.

My initial despair eventually turned into determination to resolve my fears about being alone and never being able to find someone — by committing to finding that someone.

Get yourself out there. You’ll never find your true love sitting at home.

I didn’t have criteria of what I was looking for when I started that journey. I barely knew who I was myself anymore (but I would discover that along the way). It was my assumption that I would find the person I wanted through compatibility and physical attraction.

Within two weeks of the split, someone gave me the advice to start dating to “see what was out there” and make me feel better. It was terrible advice, and I took it.

I put profiles up on every dating site and I even got rejected by eHarmony. I have to say, when you’re already bummed about your dating potential, being rejected from a dating site is not a morale booster.

It was unfair to the people I dated, because I wasn’t ready even when they might have been. Maybe some of those dates would have turned into something else. With experience I learned how to date and to not be the kind of person other people liked — but the person I truly was and beyond that, the person I wanted to be.

As a true affiliate marketer, I split tested my dating profiles to figure out what worked best. I dove in deep and was dating many woman at once, and took it very seriously. Its a little embarassing (and maybe a bit horrible) but I kept notes and spreadsheets about my dates, what I wore, what we talked about, and important details, because I couldn’t keep it all straight.

Be a better person than me, skip the spreadsheets and listen to your dates and internalize the information.

I learned dating etiquette, idiosyncrasies, and the nitty gritty like when a woman says “This was fun, lets do it again sometime” really means “I don’t like you and I’m never going to see you again.” There were so many bad dates, I don’t even know where to start because I’ve seen some sh*t.

For some reason the one bizarre story that sticks with me was a massage therapist. She seemed really nice and we ended up back at my place one night. We were watching some TV and she was giving me a massage when she started rubbing my feet (which was great). The next thing I knew, my toes were in her mouth and she was really into it. It was a shocking and confusing moment.

They weren’t all toe suckers, and I was convinced that it was a numbers game. However, after a year of dating and going out with 67 women (yes, it was a full time job) I felt like I was fighting for scraps and that I was never going to find someone. Breakup after breakup was emotionally draining and sometimes I fell back into depression, but those bouts never lasted long.

Many people won’t agree with that aggressive dating strategy and approach I took, but I can’t argue with the fact that it finally worked.

Just after a year since my marriage ended, I found myself on a flight to Las Vegas to go make some bad decisions after yet another breakup. I had given up on dating and decided my heart had been broken enough times. Finding myself alone in my hotel room after a few days, I decided it would be more fun to spend some time with some local Las Vegas girls, so I lined up some dates.

My first date was incredible. Even though we had grown up 2,000 miles apart, we had everything in common. We were not just compatible, it was like we were the same person. After our first date, I had no interest in seeing any other girl. I joke that if I had gone on just one more date she would have been lucky #69. Regardless, I canceled my other dates and we spent the next 5 days falling in love.

Instead of taking years to date and find “the one” I found her in just over a year. That’s when my life started again.

Perhaps it was that change of venue. I had been dating in a place dominated by farmers and country music — and I wanted nothing to do with any of that. I was lucky enough to be able to travel a lot and date outside both my country and my comfort zone. That’s when I found women who were much more interested in who I was rather than who they wanted me to be.

I don’t believe in fate, and maybe (just maybe) it was in fact a numbers game. But, I have no other explanation for how we somehow found each other. Without all of those terrible failed dates and my failed marriage, I would have never found my new wife, or recognized how amazing she was. I most likely would have screwed it up if we had met sooner.

When you find the one.

It blew my mind when I realized how good a relationship could be. For the first time I cared about someone more than my work (which took care of that whole work-life balance and affair with my work thing). I was on a plane every two weeks for the next two years, and we spoke every single day. We got married, traveled the world, built a home, and started a family. Words cannot express how great it has been to start over and get it right the second time.

In the final divorce settlement, my ex gave up nothing. But, because I knew what I wanted, I kept adding zeros to the check until her greed was finally satisfied. Let me tell you, anyone who says money can’t buy happiness, has not paid for a divorce.

Let’s just say I’m really happy.

All of the greatest moments and accomplishments in my life have been since letting go of that toxic relationship I once had. Still, over a decade later it was still the most horrible experience of my life, but without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Happy.

My advice — If you’re not happy, something has to change. Make a change today and don’t wait for your new life to begin.

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Rich in Life, Love, and Business. Jay Van Ginneken is the founder of LifeCandy, a venture capital, strategy and marketing firm. Email: