I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in the dating scene, but none come close to the misery of dating a separated man. To be clear, I’ve never claimed the insidious title of home wrecker. They were all legally separated, marching to the divorce finish line (or so I was told). One of them was the love of my life. He eventually got his divorce, but tragically, our timing was never in sync and he wasn’t too keen on becoming a father figure. The other guy was on the rebound. We had a great time, but the separation from his son and his soon-to-be ex wife was too much. He went back to her and I kindly stepped aside. It was clear he was truly heartbroken, but at least we had a wonderful time.
With that being said, I’ve learned a few things on my dating journey with separated men:
1.) Don’t talk about the ex. Let me repeat: DON’T TALK ABOUT THE EX.
This seems like common sense, but it’s a tempting topic. Inevitably the conversation will progress to questions of “Why are you still single?” Since the separated man is living in the moment of pending divorce, he can’t help but talk about all the misgivings in his marriage to a captivated audience. This is why they pay marriage counselors and therapists the big bucks. I naively fell into this trap with my true love, I’ll call Ron. I was trying to seem supportive. It was seductive, playing this role of being the good witch vs. the cheat-and-run bitch. I didn’t come with the baggage of a 10 year marriage. I was fun. And above all, I listened. However, our relationship turned into a counseling session rather than discovery and exploration of our common interests. This is the foundation of a healthy relationship.
2.) Don’t rush to be too available.
I’m not advocating for game playing. I am advocating for the maintenance of your life, your self respect and your interests. A separated man is use to having his life intertwined with another. Suddenly, he has all this free time and has a need to fill it with a partner. It’s what he knows. This is a slippery slope because the more available you are, the more he will withdraw as he grieves his former relationship. In the beginning, everything is new and exciting. The pending divorce hasn’t had time to sink in. But when it does, he will need time to process it. Respect your time and his by maintaining appropriate distance until the divorce is finalized and/or he has accepted it and is wholeheartedly ready to move on.
3.) Don’t demand first priority…yet.
As the divorce looms, it isn’t uncommon for him and his ex to have second thoughts. This is part of the process- people fear change and find comfort in the status quo. His ex will also expect him to pay the bills and remain active in his children’s lives. These are going to take first priority as they adjust to their alternate realities and new relationship. Unfortunately, you do not have the right to be the first priority until his wife is out of the picture. Even after a divorce, he may be financially tied to her for years or in constant contact to organize visitation schedules. However, you do have the right to set reasonable boundaries. If you feel he is unreasonably helping her with things she can accomplish by hiring a plumber or is inappropriate in his communication with her, you have the right to tell him you are uncomfortable. Eventually, you must leave it up to him to reinforce those boundaries with his ex. It’s on him.
4.) Don’t force ultimatums.
Similar to #3, it’s “me or her” arguments never work nor will ultimatums for his time. You chose to enter into a relationship with a man who has baggage. In doing so, you have accepted he still has a responsibility to his ex and his children. By forcing his hand to make him chose, you are in a losing battle and unhealthy situation. You will make yourself crazy as he stonewalls for more time. Move on or accept his situation with understanding and patience.
5.) Don’t plan for a future too soon.
I learned this one the hard way. No matter what, realize his early pronouncements of love are a farce. It’s a comfortable word to sling around when you’ve been saying it for years. Most likely he is projecting his feelings of loss. The separated man is prone to planning because his life was once filled with family aspirations and dreams. Now that he is on his own, he is trying to find his way and being alone is always scary. Have authentic conversations where you can openly discuss his planning urges. Let him know you want to respect the relationship and yourself by experiencing the delight of getting to know someone. When there is so much pressure to define the early stages of a relationship, it is easy to lose sight of living in the moment and allowing love to blossom over time.