I panicked when I lost my family.
You freak because those you love are gone. You freak because you feel broken on the inside. You freak because you didn’t know rejection could feel this way.
People resist change. We don’t like when our favorite menu items go away at the restaurant, or when our favorite television shows get cancelled, or when we’re forced to adjust our routines.
And then your family disappears. It feels like a lot.
Things were totally shitty between you and your wife. Cold and distant. But you knew her. There’s comfort in the routine and reliability. There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone. It’s the closest thing we get to the safety net most of us feel as children with our parents.
But then they leave. And you question everything you ever believed because now you can’t even trust your own judgment.
And maybe you have a son. Maybe he’s four, going on five, and getting ready for kindergarten. And maybe you’re not the best father in the world, but you love. Hard. You love hard. So much. Because that child is your lifeblood. That child in four short years has become your primary reason for even existing.
You didn’t know you could love something that much—this little person who you’d only imagined in some theoretical Imagination Land when you talked about having kids one day.
And here he is. Your son.
And then he’s not. Then he’s not there.
And so you lose your wife. Your pride. Your purpose.
As a prisoner inside yourself, there’s nowhere to run.
I’m always thinking about five years from now. I can’t help it. It’s a real problem after divorce, because there can be no five-year plan.
There’s so much just trying to figure out how to bleach your laundry without ruining it, and how to shop and cook for one, and how to fill the now-empty hours that your brain can’t fathom five years from now.
You thought you had the rest of your life mostly figured out and it all blew up in your face.
How can you possibly know what’s going to happen tomorrow?
And after years of believing your world was going to keep spinning as is, that’s a pretty frightening realization.
Dating After Divorce—A Double Life
I was overwhelmed by fear in the beginning.
In a week, I’m going to hit the 18-month mark. A year and a half since everything I counted on every day stopped being a thing.
And I need you to know, Person Who Just Lost Their Family And Is Totally Freaking Out: You’re going to make it.
I was pretty panicky about this idea of dating after divorce. Right away I knew what a challenge it would be.
- I’m 35 with a son in first grade.
- I live far away from where I grew up, so I don’t have that large, institutional network or built-in family support system locally that some people have.
- Nearly everyone I know here consists of married couples that my ex-wife and I used to hang out with all the time—people who are friends with both of us, so it’s not exactly a breeding ground of like-minded singles.
- I’ve lost much of the confidence I possessed in my youth.
- I’m a 35-year-old divorced dad who works in a cubicle. When I was 20, there was still some question about my potential. Maybe I’d run a magazine one day. Maybe I’d write a bunch of books. Maybe I’d win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I don’t have those maybes on my side anymore. Now, I’m just this guy.
And let me be clear: Just this guy—he isn’t so bad.
I was pretty down on myself right after getting left, but I’ve fought my way back and will continue to.
I’m not such a bad guy. I’m not undateable. I’m not a failure.
I’m just not in the place in life I thought I would be when I imagined myself as a thirtysomething. And failed expectations are always disappointing.
I didn’t know it before. But I know it now: Life doesn’t always work out like you think it’s going to.
At the beginning, you feel something close to hopelessness.
But once you get through the initial emotional gauntlet of horror, you start to realize: I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But maybe that’s okay.
My dating life has been a colossal failure. I’m horrible at it. And I’ve learned to accept it.
But I guess if the goal is to end up with another partner again (and that idea appeals to me much more today than it did 18 months ago when I was losing my shit), then that means I only need to get it right once.
I never meet anyone because my social life is disjointed and weird and my various social circles pretty much only include married people hanging out with one another.
I also never meet anyone because I’m the world’s biggest chicken shit about introducing myself to strangers.
I could have a bunch of casual relationships, I suppose. And some people do choose that path in their post-divorce lives.
Maybe if I wasn’t a father, I would have too.
Maybe you’re different than me. Maybe we’re not all as much alike on the inside as I believe we are. But lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me except make me feel bad on the inside.
I wonder sometimes to what extent it’s a factor in marriages breaking up—people using sex as a tool to feel good.
Casual can work. Two well-intentioned, honest people agreeing to make one another feel good is a viable option. It feels morally bankrupt to me. But it makes sense. Because there’s an element of unselfishness to the proceedings. An element of giving.
If sex is only about pleasing ourselves, one wonders what the point of a partner is at all.
If sex is about service—an expression of love—an act designed to give more to the other person than we take. Then I think maybe the foundation is there for something lasting and meaningful.
I say all that because so much of these past 18 months have been about exploring who I want to be moving forward. If this is a second chance at choosing a life for myself, then I want—need—to get it right.
And my son is at the very center of that desire and thought-process.
I cannot teach that boy about the finer points of love and self-respect and choosing a partner down the road if I don’t know who I am, and if I’m not walking the same walk I wish for him.
That Was Totally Rambling and Disjointed
I just want people like me to know it’s going to be okay. That’s it. I could have saved you a thousand words, and simply said that: Just wait 18 months!!! Mark it on your calendars and look forward to it!!! Everything’s going to be okay!!!
Bam. Message delivered.
Because it’s true.
It is scary and horrible when you get divorced.
It is messed up and wrong when you lose so much time with your children.
It is daunting to think about how you’re ever going to move forward functionally in a post-divorce world and find someone to love you again.
If you’re in the beginning, I’m so sorry. Don’t give up. Because something beautiful is on the horizon.
If you’re here with me?
We made it.
Still breathing. Still alive.
I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Probably going to be awesome.