Dating a Man Who is Going Through a Divorce
This is one of those relationship scenarios for which I may not have set a great example, but I did become an excellent cautionary tale. I just didn’t realize I’d be telling it that way 30 years later.
Date a man going through a divorce? Yep, I sure did. And that was before the term “hot mess” got officially coined. In this article, I will share four important lessons I’d love for you to consider if you too face this situation now or at some point.
Opening the story with a disclaimer, 22-year-old women aren’t always the go-to role models for stable relationships, and I was about 22 years old at the time. (Lots of young women do master the harmonious partnership before their quarter-century mark. I just wasn’t one of them). I was also a serial idiot about transforming almost all of the men I dated into “The One,” with the romance novel starring the perennial “Him” already written by the end of the first week and the cover illustrated in my mind. Of course, making this particular tale a double feature was the fact that not only was this version of the “The One” going through a divorce — and not only was that divorce in its earliest stage — but I worked with the guy. In the same department. On the same floor.
(His butt in that three-piece suit was pretty catnippy, but still…)
Displaying an egregious lack of judgement wasn’t always my forte but it was in this case.
Lesson Number One
So let my lapse be your preemptive lesson number one with regard to Dating the Divorcing Guy: there’s already an 80 percent chance of this being an emotional rollercoaster chained to bumper cars, hurtling down a luge track through swampland. It might be best not to compound the situation with the possibility of unemployment or a career crash for one or both of you, especially if you have dependent children.
Looking for big and small steps to your adventure?
Check out “100 Must Do’s for the Newly Divorced, Independent Woman.”
Thankfully, all that happened at work in this case was that I became the Office Scandal for a while. I didn’t have children; it was a part-time job and I was immature enough to not see the big picture. I didn’t mind being a little notorious, so there were elements of shallow fun to the drama, since he and I worked for a business that didn’t mind a little notoriety in its work force on occasion. These were the 90s; the pendulum of political correctness had yet to swing quite so hard back then. And you could be fairly confident no one was filming without your consent.
That bigger picture I hadn’t yet learned to see still had a wife in it, though, and that’s a lesson for dating a guy going through divorce that carries much more emotional weight than being the water cooler story at the office.
I hadn’t experienced a divorce; my parents are still married after 52 years and I was still young enough that I hadn’t had a really long-term relationship, so I didn’t understand the steps people take as they approach the dissolution of their marriage, and that each one can fraught with indecision and turmoil. Simply because she had moved to another state with their child and they had both said they wanted a divorce didn’t mean it was a done deal. It didn’t mean that there was no room in that early stage of it for reconciliation or a change of heart.
Lesson Number Two
Came to me with the sudden opening of the front door and lamps flashing on as he and I lay entwined on their couch, not at all watching a late-night movie. There she was, his livid wife in technicolor pissed-off, glaring at us from the midst of her own realization about the state of her marriage, the commitment her husband no longer had, and the betrayal that had to have hit her in the face like a wave you don’t see coming — cold and salted with enough audacity to burn.
If you are dealing with other challenges post-divorce, consider reading “How to Overcome the 6 Hardest Things About Life After Divorce.”
If he and I hadn’t started dating, if I hadn’t been there that night when she drove across two states in the dark to see him, would they have been able to find their way to a healed and happy marriage? In hindsight, he might have been handsome, sexy and smart, but he was also volatile, selfish, emotionally stunted and alcohol-attached. When you’re 22, the charm that glitters on the surface of those shards can still dazzle.
That’s one of the many beautiful things that come with age: by 52, we are imbued with some of the richness of wisdom – enough to learn how our own selfishness can contribute to someone else’s pain, but also enough to recognize that she and I both were probably better off without him.
Reflections on Lessons Learned and Unraveling Relationships
But I’m not as arrogant as I was 30 years ago, so I can’t let myself get away with the “she was better off without him” rationale. At this age Lesson Two is sobering: I contributed to the end of that marriage in a self-serving way. If I could do that relationship again with the wisdom I have now, I’d like to think I would have waited until they had both completed their divorce agreement before getting that entangled. And that’s the advice I’d give. There’s messy and then there’s home wreckage. I don’t think I was a primary destructive element in that marriage, but my premature presence precipitated a faster end and a bitterness that might have been avoided. We’ll never know.
Interested in hearing more from wise women like you?
Read our “Starting Over After Divorce at 50: Five Stories on Finding Yourself.”
You may be up for an adventure; you may not be invested in this turning out to be a long-term relationship. You may be looking for passion or something more interesting than what you’ve experienced. That’s great. That’s part of your next chapter, your libido waking up, your comfort with yourself, the home you’re finding inside yourself that you are refurbishing and choosing to share or not. And dating a man going through a divorce definitely adds exciting elements of the unexpected and of re-awakening psyches.
But his wife is still his wife and possibly the mother of his children, and if they are just in the beginning stages of divorce – perhaps just separated – you can do better than adding to that mess.
Is less about not causing pain for someone else and more about not causing pain for ourselves. Some women might be inclined to “mother” a guy. Others are more inclined to be his therapist. Others still are pulled in by that undertow desire to be to him what his Ex is not. She doesn’t support his career choices? Well, we applaud them. She doesn’t like physical intimacy? Well, that’s the red flag waving in front of the bull of sexual challenge. And if we’ve also gone through a divorce, we empathize. There’s an instant connection, that sense of being in the same trench that is heady, seductive, and potent. It heightens all those delicious feelings of attraction and desire that come with a new romantic interest, only with dating a guy going through divorce, everything is intensified and raw and relatable in a way that you both need.
Beware that counterfeit passion and the declarations that often come with it. It’s like adding nitrous oxide to a car engine: it’s an incredible burst of speed but it’s only meant for the short-term sprint. Running an engine that way for any distance will burn it out, and running your emotional connection on the highs and lows that come with dating a divorcing guy will likely have the same result. And if you’re invested, you won’t realize that the incredible bond you feel is the result of a bail-out rush and the gratitude of rescue and respite in the midst of divorce’s frightening, painful flood current.
He may mean everything he says at the time, but it will be born of a situation that doesn’t actually have anything to do with you but does have everything to do with the process he is in. And when that truth reveals itself, it will hurt like hell.
Think about it. Many of us know exactly what that raw edge of freedom on the other side of divorce feels like, that exhilarating solo flight out of the familiar. The rush of it, the newness of everything, when you get past the grief and the anger and are excited again is a renaissance, a rebirth of spirit. There’s a point after divorce when most of us feel like we escaped a cage or finally got to put new vinyl on the stereo after years of listening to the same broken record.
For help self-connecting and moving onward, consider reading “46 Steps to Ensure Your Divorce Recovery: A Definition and Guide.”
Divorce is an intense and contrary rite of passage, full of changing minds, heart-rending decisions, reversals of fortune and easily fogged perceptions. If you’re young enough to take the risk and have plenty of time to recover, and enough self-awareness to learn from it, dating a man going through a divorce is certainly an adventure and likely a passionate one. It’s one doozy of a teachable moment. But if you’re looking for a relationship that has a decent chance of going the distance, dating a man going through a divorce isn’t the best formula.
There may be exceptions. A man who has born the loneliness of a wife who buried herself in work, substance abuse or stage mothering their children to the exclusion of other meaningful connections and pursuits – that guy might leave his marriage ready to commit to a woman who is also ready. But generally, divorce is a mess and it’s meant to be. It’s the rite of passage that forces us to clean up our lives and remake ourselves. How much disaster do you really want to court?
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and print journalist living in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Connect with Jennifer at email@example.com
Women who have completed the legal process of a divorce recognize there is still work to be done to be fully healed. Typically, they are not looking to replace their mates right away. Instead, as they begin to rebuild their lives, they are more interested in doing the work to uncover who they really are. For these women, we offer Paloma’s Group for thoughtful women seeking to create their best next chapter after divorce.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”