Tag Archives: Lessons From the End of a Marriage

They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Guest Post: How to Adapt to Dating After Divorce

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m out of town getting a little R&R with friends and family. This post is from Lisa Arends, author of the book and blog “Lessons From the End of a Marriage.” I asked Lisa to guest post because divorce recovery is a central theme of MBTTTR, and I don’t believe anyone can bring more to the discussion than she. I can’t impress upon you just how important I think her story is for people dealing with divorce or the end of a meaningful relationship. And if you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll visit Lisa’s blog and immerse yourself in those stories. Healing and enlightenment live there. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous contribution.

When change happens,

You can complain.

Or you can adapt.

Guess which one the dinosaurs chose?

One of the trademarks of marriage, especially long ones, is that we become comfortable. We know our environment and we know how to survive within it.

And then divorce changes that environment as surely as an asteroid stripping the earth bare. The behaviors and habits that once served us well become vestigial or even maladaptive.

It makes me think of Darwin’s finches, stranded on islands with plentiful food and yet no way to access the sustenance as their beaks had evolved for other food sources. Some of the birds never changed and they failed to thrive, bloodlines becoming extinct. While others, slowly and over time, adapted to their new environments, their beaks changing to reach the available nutrition. And those are the finches that have thrived, their offspring populating the islands to this day.

Divorce treats us like one of those birds, suddenly abandoned on an island that may possess the resources we need to survive, yet we are unsure how to access them. Our metaphorical beaks developed for the married life, with its unique demands and challenges, not for the suddenly single world that we now find ourselves in.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

Adaptation occurs when you use your experiences and environment to create change and continually modify your approach based upon your circumstances. Adaptation is a process, not a state. It is ongoing, responsive. It is imperfect; using trial and error to make the tiniest steps forward. It challenges us, requiring growth outside our comfort zone. It forces us to continually reevaluate our self-image and assumptions.

Change is hard.

But it’s reality.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

I first became acutely aware of the need for adaptation not too long after my husband left. I started dating relatively quickly, probably from a combination of wanting to be more healed than I was and wanting distraction from the hell that was the legal system.

I didn’t have a problem finding men or attracting them. But I had a major problem with dating them. You see, I was adapted for marriage, with its intimacies and vulnerabilities. I knew how to be married, but I had no idea how to date. Those first few men (apologies, guys!) found me, almost upon introduction, acting as a wife.

It wasn’t intentional. I certainly wasn’t looking for a husband. But I was maladapted to the dating world, so I reverted to what I knew. And what I knew included being way too open too soon. Looking to my date to fill the role of life partner before I even knew his life story. And making plans for the next step before the first one was even taken.

Needless to say, that behavior didn’t work out very well.

So I adapted.

I learned to recognize my wife-like behavior and stop myself before I asked a man after a first date if he needed anything from the grocery store. I committed not to a single man but to practicing dating until I could get it right. I looked for clues to determine if my approach was appropriate or not. I looked to others who were more adept than I at dating and I used them as mentors, imitating what I observed.

I erred too far on the other side at first, going from wife-like to almost clinical detachment, keeping dates at a pro basketball player’s arm’s length. I would initiate a date with the proclamation that I was moving out of town within a few months and that I was doing just fine on my own.

Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well either.

So I continued to adapt, eventually finding a balance that led to a new marriage.

Where I then had to adapt again. Because one relationship isn’t like another. I may have known how to be married to my ex but that’s different than being married to my new husband.

Change is a certainty.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

You are more malleable than you realize. You can adapt to conditions that, at first glance, seem unable to support life. You can adjust and readjust until you have developed strategies that allow you to conquer your circumstances. You can use change, even unwanted change, as an opportunity for growth.

And it begins by truly seeing your environment. Look with your eyes, not your assumptions, at what is around you. It’s scary to face change. We often want to put our heads down and run through it as if it’s not there.

But it is.

See your new world. Feel it. Accept it.

And then try something new.

You may fail. That’s okay. Remember that adaptation is a process. And failures help us learn what works and what doesn’t.

Keep trying. It took Darwin’s finches generations to adapt. You can be patient with yourself.

Use imitation. Mimic the success of others, modifying it to fit your needs.

Slowly, ever so slowly, you’ll learn what works. And you’ll begin to adapt to your present reality.

And that island that once felt so barren and inhospitable will be teeming with possibility.

Control is an illusion.

Choice is a certainty.

And you can choose to complain.

Or you can choose to adapt.

Lisa Arends works as a math teacher and a wellness coach. After using her own sudden divorce four years ago as a catalyst for positive change, she now helps people navigate their own divorces and transform stress into wellness. She loves to lift heavy weights and run long distances, and she is still learning how to meditate. She can be found at her blog, Lessons From the End of a Marriage and on The Huffington Post.
Tagged , , , , ,

The Write Stuff: Lessons From the End of a Marriage

Lessons From the End of a Marriage is important work. It's a must-read for anyone going through divorce, and a should-read for everyone else.

Lessons From the End of a Marriage is important work. It’s a must-read for anyone going through divorce, and a should-read for everyone else.

Their 10-year marriage ended with a text message.

A marriage she believed to be wonderful.

Then, one day, one week, one month at a time, she learned that she’d been unknowingly living a lie as all of the pieces of the twisted puzzle came together.

If you’re anything like me…

  1. Divorced
  2. Searching for answers and healing
  3. Moved by compelling stories
  4. Inspired by courage…

… then you NEED to read Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Even if you’re none of these things, you owe it to yourself to read this made-for-Hollywood story.

I pray that by praising the drama and intensity of the story itself, I’m not doing a disservice to its heroic author.

In my darkest days of divorce recovery, no writer has had a more positive impact on me than she has.

The way her marriage ended is no less dramatic than Neo waking up in The Matrix. To discover that nothing she had believed—for 16 (SIXTEEN!!!) years was real.

My admiration for this woman knows no bounds.

She, in this writer’s occasionally not-so-humble opinion, sets the standard for how to be courageous in a post-divorce world.

From her post I Was Married to a Con Man:

“My husband was a brilliant and talented man whose skills included creating and maintaining a separate existence. He had two cameras. Two bicycles. Two wallets. Two wives. Two distinct lives. When the financial mess he created in his life with me became too great to keep hidden, he broke up with me via text and vanished. That was when I learned that my husband… was a con man. My life was a virtual reality—my home a movie set consisting of false fronts.

He was an expert lie crafter; he always knew the exact proportion of truth to weave into the falsehoods to make a story believable. He always had an answer; he never hesitated. His office must have been like a busy air traffic control tower as he directed emails, texts, and phone calls to support his various tales. The extent of his deceptions was made clear when I sat with an auto insurance card in my hand—my name had been digitally removed—while I pulled up the file from the insurance company and verified that both names were present on the actual document. He thought he could erase me as easily as he could my name using Photoshop.

While my husband was in jail after being arrested for felony bigamy, I talked with his other wife, who was as stunned by the situation as I was. No woman should ever have to have a conversation about “our husband,” even if it is a cordial and informative discussion. I learned that when he was pulled in for questioning, his lies became increasingly absurd as he struggled to maintain his façade. My favorite? He claimed that he and I had divorced years earlier and I had since married a chiropractor named Mark Mercer. Mark, if you’re out there, I’m sorry that I have no recollection of our marriage and that I have never recognized our fictitious anniversaries.”

About the Author

Her name is Lisa Arends.

She is a magnificent writer. One of those writers who occasionally strings words together that make me think: Damn. I wish I could do that.

She is a school teacher.

A wellness coach.

And now, because of an UNIMAGINABLE con job by a husband of 10 years, she has an incredible story to tell. And she has.

It must be read.

About the Blog

It documents everything.

You can read the CliffsNotes version of her story here.

The content is straightforward and self-explanatory.

Lisa got screwed in ways human beings aren’t equipped to handle.

And maybe she didn’t. Maybe she completely fell apart four years ago.

I know I came apart when my marriage ended, and I didn’t have to endure an epic shock-and-awe campaign that dismantled my entire life as Lisa did.

If she did fall apart, she got back up again.

And now, Lisa’s mission is to help people.

People like me.

People like you.

And I think she succeeds. She has for me.

Why It Matters

Because Lisa’s life came undone in unimaginable ways. And yet she lives.

And I don’t just mean she breathes and moves around.

I mean, she lives.

Her spirit endures.

She pours energy into helping others. Into friends and family. Into continuing to grow and evolve as a person.

It would have been so easy to quit.

But she didn’t.

She just kept breathing.

Asking questions.

Exploring.

Thinking.

Writing.

And today, her story continues.

And now there’s a new guy. A new love. And a new wedding date.

After everything Lisa’s been through.

She perseveres.

Hope endures.

Love remains.

And it reminds all of us to be courageous, to be hopeful, to never quit, even if our hearts are telling us opposite.

The story is amazing.

The blog is amazing.

The author is amazing.

And she invites us all to be a part of it.

We should take advantage.

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: