What do you get when you cross a professional writer with a passion for dating and relationships? This!
Dating with Dignity Part 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Breakup
‘Don’t you love her as she’s walking out the door’ – The Doors
2015: So, we broke up. After eight months, two articles (here and here) and one large dollop of naïve optimism on my part, it’s over. And it took me completely by surprise. In Dating with Dignity Part 1, I told you about a boyfriend who disappeared on me, and how I came to terms with it. In Dating with Dignity Part 2, I told you about all the new lessons I took back into the dating world to land myself a truly nice guy. In Dating with Dignity Part 3, I’ll tell you how it all went unexpectedly wrong with that nice guy, and where to from here.
My naïve understanding of what it meant to be ‘separated’
My now ex-boyfriend, the nice guy (let’s call him MNG – Mr Nice Guy), was separated. After well over a decade of marriage (including two kids), which ended for reasons beyond his control, I was literally the first person he went on a date with after they decided to split. This should have been a red flag, but it wasn’t. Being totally unable to relate to his situation – I’ve never been married and I don’t have kids – I figured, while crushing, the end of a marriage is really just the end of a significant relationship. Bah-bow! It’s a much bigger deal than that. However, it wasn’t really up to me to ascertain how big a deal it was.
He made out as though he was completely ready to move on, and he wanted to move on with me.
I mean, what are you supposed to do if the first person you date after you split from your spouse just happens to be your next life partner? So, I was all like, ‘Yippee! I’ve found someone special.’
While I didn’t need the relationship to move at lightning speed (I strongly believe in slow but steady progress), we did talk in the future-tense the way quietly confident couples tend to do: ‘Next Christmas, maybe this / For your birthday, maybe that / How about we go away over the long weekend in a few months’ time’, and so on. Our union was fun, effortless and mutual. I was so happy. We met each other’s friends and family. I met his kids. All of those meetings went swimmingly. I loved his friends, family and kids and, as far as I’m aware, they loved me. He loved my friends and family, and they loved him. They particularly loved me with him, and thought we made a great couple. Naturally, I was starting to relax into the relationship. And then, unbeknownst to me, a storm started brewing…
MNG was not as ready for a new relationship, or as ready for a new relationship with me, or both, as he made out. Unfortunately, instead of discussing his feelings with me or making the decision to break up, he just started pulling away. Long story short, we had to face facts that, for whatever reason, it wasn’t working. With all the dignity I could muster considering my emotional state, I tried to pull out of the relationship as quickly, fairly and open-mindedly as possible. I then put us on a no-contact break to give him the space I knew he needed.
He had a new girlfriend within weeks. No comment.
Should you date a separated man or woman?
In the aftermath, I did some research and discovered that what happened with me and MNG was pretty textbook. Here’s a quote from author, scientist and dating expert Dr Christie Hartman’s book, Dating the Divorced Man, which covers soon-to-be-separated, separated, divorcing and divorced men:
‘Separation is a strange phase: You’ve made the decision to divorce and made the break by moving out, so you feel a certain amount of relief and freedom after having taken that huge step. But you haven’t yet begun the difficult part of actually divorcing and dealing with all the trouble and grief it comes with. Separation is the calm before the storm, where a man will think he’s much further along in his grieving process than he actually is. If a man begins dating during this phase, things will often go fine until the reality of the divorce hits him – then things disintegrate as he begins to face the storm.’
Talk about spot on! She goes on to caution against dating separated men altogether:
‘I wish I could say dating a separated man can work out with the right guy, but that’s rarely the case in my experience. Often, they have little to offer a woman looking for something long term.’
When I told a remarried guy friend of mine about this, he said he was glad an expert had confirmed what he’d been saying all along – if he’d met his second wife, who he considers his soul mate, shortly after his separation or divorce, they wouldn’t be together. He just wasn’t ready, and regretfully admits to stuffing a lot of women around in those years he wasn’t ready. I found this incredibly depressing – I’m still not 100% convinced it’s ALL in the timing – but that was his experience.
So, does this mean you shouldn’t date separated or recently divorced men? Does it mean I’ll never date another separated or recently divorced man? Yes and no. Every man is different. Every separation and divorce is different. Looking back, I now recognise the separated men who were keen to waste my time – they’re out there! But looking forward, I’ll simply proceed with caution, as the chances of me ending up with a divorced dad are extremely high (I don’t really want kids, but am more than happy to be a stepmother). I just hope he’s emotionally out of the woods when we meet and start dating.
Strong communication is the glue that keeps relationships together
So, apart from being wary of separated men, what else did I learn? Well, in Dating with Dignity Part 2, I referred to MNG as ‘the sweetest man on Earth’. That was perhaps a little premature. Don’t get me wrong. I still think he’s a decent guy. We had a wonderful time together, and I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt me. But when I got to know him better, I came to realise I’m someone who needs to be with a fearless communicator. While most therapists, relationship experts and dating coaches will tell you how important communication is in a long-term relationship or marriage, I know couples who don’t communicate well and still seem happy together. I just don’t think I could be one of them.
I associate open, honest communication – even if it’s something I don’t want to hear – with kindness. MNG and I weren’t a match in this area. So, my fearless communicator, I’m on the lookout for you!
The all-important step of living together before marriage
Finally, what are your thoughts on living together before marriage? Before MNG, I always thought it was a good idea, although I’d never really experienced it. After MNG, I KNOW it’s a good idea. While we didn’t move in together, I lived with him for over a month and discovered first-hand the vast difference between dating and living together.
It’s a crucial step, and you’re mad if you say ‘I do’ before taking it.
You’re no longer seeing each other. You’re doing life together. Issues come up. Kinks need to be ironed out. If you can live together in harmony while retaining at least some of that spark you had when you were dating, you have a great shot at ‘happily ever after’.
Top three lessons to take into my next relationship
So, there you go: 1. Beware of entering into a serious relationship with a separated or recently divorced man. 2. Find a fearless communicator. 3. Live with someone before marrying them – and don’t assume because you moved in together you’re going to make it down the aisle. Three great lessons for me to take into my next relationship. But to be completely honest…
I’m sick to death of great lessons and having to start over with someone new. Of course I just want to find a wonderful boyfriend / husband and get on with my life (well, love life).
It’d be nice to grow WITH someone for a change. That’s what I wanted to do with MNG. But he didn’t. As they say, it takes two to tango – and I need a willing tango partner.
So close but yet so far
‘Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted’. This is one of my favourite quotes.
But while I had my heart broken, I can’t say with complete conviction a life with MNG was what I wanted.
Yes, I was happy. No, I didn’t want the relationship to end. But I always had a lurking suspicion he wasn’t the right man for me<, as I discussed in detail in this article. However, I felt as though we were blossoming as a couple, and would continue to do so over time. He treated me the way I’d always wanted to be treated (until he didn’t), which I thought was definitely worth exploring. But perhaps, in the end, my gut instinct was (yet again) irritatingly accurate.
Update: 3.5 years later in 2018
I successfully moved on from MNG and found the ‘fearless communicator’ I knew I needed. My partner, David, and I have been together for over two years, living together for over a year, and planning to get married in 2019. (We’re not officially engaged yet, so that’ll be a fun surprise!) I’m so much happier in this relationship. MNG having a change of heart was a huge blessing in disguise. Had we stayed together, I probably would have ended up in a pleasant but far less fulfilling marriage.
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