Dating After Divorce
During the years leading up to my divorce, I began to map out a strategy in preparation for a new life. Much of my decision to stay in the marriage was that I felt financially dependent on my husband. I struggled with how I would make it on my own and provide for my daughter. I figured having a degree would increase my chances of getting a better paying job. In 2005 I started taking one or two general education classes per semester at my community college. I eventually transferred to a university and earned my BA in Human Resources in 2012. YAY Me!
Food had become a source of comfort during my marriage and I had gain a lot of weight. My self-esteem was on the rise while taking classes so I decided I would start a weight loss program also. It took me an entire year (2007) but I lost 20 pounds and was feeling very good about myself. I thoroughly believe that exercising everyday was my alternative to anti-depressants and it was fundamental in my transition through the divorce and beyond.
These changes helped me to endure the last five years of my marriage. After filing for divorce in fall of 2009, I was ready to begin a new chapter in my life with more confidence than ever before. I attended a divorce recovery workshop, and read books about starting over and forgiveness.
The summer of 2010 I began accumulating female friends that were also going through divorces. For a while, it was fun to commiserate and exchange war stories, party on the weekends when my daughter was with her dad, and expose myself to new people. Unfortunately most of the people I met were scorned, bitter, and depressed divorced people that kept asking “Why did this happen to me?” or “Where do I go from here?” I, on the other hand, was happy to be divorced and excited about new opportunities. I didn’t know exactly what the future held for me but I certainly wasn’t going to be bogged down by people who apparently had no clue how to move forward. I tried to help them by sharing the books I had read and my divorce recovery workshop experience but they didn’t want to hear about solutions. They just wanted to complain and feel sorry for themselves. I had a new lease on life and I wanted to live it without regret, learn about new things, grow as a person, and be successful at finding happiness.
The next several years were all about learning, forgiveness, and recovery. Learning who I was and what I wanted in life. Forgiving the people who I trusted to protect me…and didn’t. Forgiving myself for my ignorance throughout my life, and recovering from the pain that had built up over the past 43 years. I finally felt free from the shackles of a marriage that chipped away at my mental health and I was looking forward to my new journey.
After years of unsuccessful relationships and a disastrous marriage, I was not planning on marrying again so I didn’t focus on that as I began dating. The pressure was finally off...been there, done that! I didn’t want a husband. I wanted to enjoy being free to explore and have fun. I was no longer searching for a man who was going to scoop me up and carry me off into the sunset to love and cherish me for the rest of my life because I knew he didn’t exist. Okay so I was a little bitter but also no longer living in a fantasy world. I wasn’t looking for Mr. Right. I was looking for Mr. Right NOW!
I set up my profile on a dating site and scanned all of the potential men to see what was out there. So many men! It was like picking an item off a menu. “Hmm…let’s see what am I in the mood for today”? Italian, Polish, German…? It was all right there. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, profession, hobbies, and more. I could choose which one looked the most appetizing. I was excited to get back in the game.
My first date. I met him online and we spoke over the phone a few times and decided to meet in person. He joked about being honored to be “my first”. My first date after my marriage ended. I remember being nervous yet excited as I drove to the restaurant to meet him. His profile said he was 5’ 9”. I’m 5’ 6” and I like men that are taller than me so I thought, well he’s slightly taller so that’s good. When I got there he was sitting on the bar stool so it wasn’t until he got off the bar stool that I noticed he was not 5’ 9”…in fact, he was shorter than me. I figured it wasn’t a big deal because this was my first experience with dating and it was really just to “get my feet wet”. We had a great conversation and a delicious meal. We went on a few more dates but ultimately we both knew it wasn’t a love connection. Plus he had a lot of “unchecked baggage” to work through from his divorce. I was not willing to deal with the drama.
I had fun meeting new people and learning how to date again. I wasn’t ready to date anyone exclusively so this time around (dating after my divorce) I had a different outlook. I didn’t feel desperate to get married like I did during my younger years so it was nice not to have that pressure. I went into it knowing I had nothing to lose so my behavior reflected my outlook and I think that helped me be more positive and confident.
Even though I was more experienced in relationships at the age of 43, I still had a lot to learn. Online dating was a huge learning curve but it was also a new adventure. I went into it thinking everyone was honest and truthful because…well…why wouldn’t they be? What is there to gain from lying about who you are? I stumbled a bit at first because I suppose I had difficulty grasping the entire concept.
As I sifted through hundreds of profiles, I came upon one man who sparked my interest. We exchanged emails and spoke on the phone for several weeks. I thought he had great potential but he always came up with an excuse why he couldn’t meet me in person. I asked a more “experienced” divorced friend for her opinion.
Heather: “He’s lying to you.”
Jackie: “About what?
Jackie: “Why would he lie?”
Heather: “Because he’s a man and men lie.”
I thought it was suspicious that I asked for additional photos and he never sent them. We finally met and she was right, he did NOT look like his photo. Apparently his profile photo was from about 20 years and 100 pounds ago. I suppose if you have to go to those lengths to attract a mate, you are not a person that can be trusted. I didn’t want any part of that.
Lesson learned: if he sounds too good to be true, he’s lying!
Oh, and later I learned that women do their fair share of lying on their profiles too!
I got smarter and stuck to 3 rules:
- Ask for current photos. Current like “take a selfie and text it to me” current. And if he refuses…NEXT! There are plenty more where that came from.
- Email for a while so I can ask all of my qualifying questions. If he is willing to take the time to respond thoughtfully and volley the conversation, there may be potential.
- Talk on the phone. I always did a phone “interview” before committing to taking time out of my busy life to meet in person.
It was a good way to weed out the riffraff and I got good at identifying the players very quickly. I didn’t tell them that this was my vetting process. I simply had a plan for how I wanted to navigate online dating. I didn’t want to waste my time on men that were trying to get something for nothing. That’s a different girl on a different dating site so knock yourself out!
Rules for when I went on a date:
- Meet in a public location – on my turf. I wanted to stay fairly close to my home.
- Give a family member or friend my date’s name, phone number and the location we are meeting. And don’t forget to (nonchalantly) mention to your date that people who care about you know where you are and who you’re with! You can never be too sure these days.
- Always have an “out”- meaning a story to get me “out” of the date…just in case. This rarely happened because I was usually pretty confident during my “vetting” process that we would hit it off.
Overall, I had very good experiences and met some really nice people. It got me back out there and it boosted my confidence. One time however, I was off-my-game or becoming too trusting, and broke one of my rules. I let him come to my house. We both had way too much to drink and I suppose he thought I was a “sure thing” and when I asked him to leave, he became irate. At this moment I looked over at my knife rack and calculated how long it would take me to hurdle the countertop and grab a knife if this guy didn’t leave. I did some fast talking and tried to lighten up the situation. Laughing nervously I said “I feel really sick and don’t want to vomit all over your shoes”. I handed him his keys and assured him we would get together again very soon. I would have said anything to get him out of my house. As his tires squealed out of my driveway, I thought of my daughter and the possibility of her growing up without a mother if this scenario had taken a different turn.
When you’re having trouble keeping track of which story belonged to who, coupled with a scary experience, I decided maybe it’s time to step back and re-evaluate. I had my fun and reached my dating “goals”. Being a mom, going to school, and dating several people was becoming too much. I decided I only had the attention span for one relationship so I began focusing on finding one great guy that had the qualities I was looking for in a partner.
Spring 2011. He seemed great on paper so we began emailing. After I felt comfortable with his level of interest and commitment we began talking on the phone. He was kind, smart, funny and very responsive. We had a great first date and after a few more dates we really clicked and started dating exclusively.
We exchanged divorce stories, met each other’s families, and had fun spending time together. I was actually surprised thinking he was really someone I could see myself with long-term. I was falling for him. I had forgotten about my previous dating experiences and the “tell-tale” four month marker. I became attached mentally and physically during these four months because naturally he only let me see the Sam he wanted me to see. He was charming, affectionate, supportive, and we seemed compatible on many levels…but as tradition would have it, after four months, things started to change.
I was trying to overlook certain issues like the fact that Sam talked about his ex-wife incessantly; sharing stories of their fun vacations together, favorite restaurants, and jokes they both found funny. Apparently he kept in touch with several previous girlfriends also because every few weeks he would send a text to one of them, with a "happy birthday" message. Wherever we went Sam was always particularly interested in every attractive female within a 100 foot radius and sometimes felt compelled to ask about the meaning behind one of their visible tattoos. One time he asked a woman about a scar she had on her back as he ran his finger across it. It seemed everywhere we went he would find it necessary to engage in a conversation with other women by asking them personal questions. Especially young, cute, waitresses. In a round-about way I made a few comments about these things I considered red flags, but gave him some leeway since we had only been dating for a short time, we had a great connection otherwise, and I was already hooked.
Sam wasn't catching on so I decided to be more direct. I explained to him that women are like cats in the way that they can be cute and cuddly but also very territorial. I (and women in general) don’t appreciate it when the man I am dating is more attentive to other women's needs in a social setting. I (and women in general) don’t react well when the man I am dating touches another woman...for any reason! I further explained that the amount of time he spent communicating with and talking about his ex-wife (and ex-girlfriends) is problematic...well, seriously if you don't get why that's problematic then I can't help you.
Sam felt there was absolutely nothing wrong with his behavior because he was just being "friendly". He said he is still friends with all of his ex’s and especially his ex-wife because they spent twenty years together and they each share custody of their dog. Okay, so knowing how strongly he felt about their relationship, I was willing to compromise. I offered to meet his ex because this way I could dispel all my suspicions and embrace her into my life as well. If it was true that they were platonic, and they simply wanted to remain friends, than I was sure she would be willing to embrace me as well. That’s what friends do right? Funny, Sam wasn’t receptive to the idea and neither was she.
As the months went on this behavior continued and it became apparent Sam wasn’t willing to even consider my feelings. In the past I would have stuck around way longer than I should have to dissect the problems, look for solutions, and ultimately end up being the one to compromise my needs. However, the “new and improved” Jackie was not willing to be treated any other way than with respect, loyalty, and love.
It was Thanksgiving when I discovered Sam lied to me about his relationship with a female coworker. They were obviously closer than he was letting on and I wasn’t comfortable with how close I believed they actually were. He insisted they were platonic but lunches that he neglected to tell me about and phone calls at two o’clock in the morning, led me to believe otherwise. I decided to let it go until after the holidays and planned that I would end the relationship in January if things hadn’t gotten better. Now understand, my definition of “better” would mean him having to completely overhaul his entire personality. If previous failures have taught me anything, I knew this would be impossible.
Things were tense between us as I dissected his every move. It was exhausting and not worth my time. Instead of dealing with the uncertainty of his integrity, I ended the relationship a few days after Valentine’s day (2012). Eh a month past my deadline but who’s counting!
I had a little less than a year of school before I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. I decided I would take a year off from dating to really focus on myself , my daughter, and our future. In that year, I read several books and learned a lot about what I was doing wrong in my life and in my relationships. These books taught me to think differently about relationships, my worth, and how I would navigate this next phase of my life.
I began devouring books like:
- “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne (DVD actually)
- “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
- “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man” by Steve Harvey
- “Discovering The Mind Of A Women” by Ken Nair
- “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
- “Mars And Venus On A Date” by John Gray
- “The DNA of Relationships” by Dr. Gary Smalley
I saw Steve Harvey on a show and he was talking about women and relationships. He said something that made my world shift. He said women don’t value themselves and they give away their power to men. The light bulb went off and I realized I was doing this whole relationship thing wrong my entire life.
When I read his book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man”, I realized in all of my past relationships I was handing over my power. Power I didn’t know I had. My focus was always on what I could do to impress him and convince him I was worthy of his time and attention. I was always asking the questions: Am I good enough? Am I attractive enough? Am I smart enough? Am I thin enough? Am I funny enough…for him? I wasn’t even considering what I brought to the table and what it would take for a man to score me! When it came to dating, because I didn’t have my own set of rules I was letting the man set the rules. Oh wow this really changed everything for me.
I was giving away my power because I didn’t know my own value. This was truly an epiphany. Thanks Steve Harvey for putting it into terms I could understand. Steve Harvey did a great job of clarifying how men view themselves and how they view women.
Ugh! Now the task of learning how to value myself. Link to next post “Fake It Til You Make It" to see how I changed the course of the next 3 years of my life.
And read about how I met "My Person"