It's a sad fact of modern American life that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. There are dozens of factors that contribute to this statistic, but this book is not the place to discuss them. We will say this: In the United States, there is a prevailing idea that you should be happy. When you're in an unsatisfactory marriage, you're not happy. What is confounding, however, is that getting divorced and becoming single doesn't mean you will immediately turn into a happy person. In fact, many divorced people sink into a greater state of unhappiness or depression following the end of a marriage. Against this backdrop, friends start trying to set you up, you feel sexual yearnings that are unfulfilled, and eventually you start wishing for a new romantic partner. It is not going to be easy, but most divorced people who live in the United States eventually do remarry. This means they first rejoined the ranks of the dating. Let's take a look at what's in store.
Some marriages terminate fairly quickly. The good side is that usually these couples don't have kids or a great deal of personal property with which to contend. The bad side is that the hurt, frustration, and “what if” stuff is present. It's never a clean break.
The decision to date again following a childless divorce is easier in some ways than if children are present. You don't have to worry about how the children will feel about you dating again or that they won't like your dating partners. Still, it's wise to be cautious. A former spouse may quickly remarry and even have kids, leaving you filled with questions and resentment, especially if you wanted children and your spouse didn't. It's easy, under those circumstances, to question yourself: “Wasn't I good enough for him?” or “Why would she have kids now, and not with me?” Self-doubt can rear its ugly head as jealousy and unresolved anger, and you have no good place to vent it. It makes for a tough dating situation, because you may find yourself dumping far too much on someone who just wants to enjoy drinks and dinner.
Focus on the positive side of this new era in your life and look at rejoining the dating scene as an adventure.
To make it work, the best approach is to think about the exciting aspects of going out once again. There is the intrigue of meeting someone new. Getting to know a person better can be enjoyable. The challenge of presenting yourself well may lead you back to the gym or to the library to catch up on reading, so you'll have something interesting to say.
Ten Signs That a Romance Is Over
You'd rather polish the silver than have sex.
He says he's going to walk the dog and is gone for three days.
The complaint-compliment ratio drops to 10:1.
All of the time you spend with friends revolves around talking about how miserable you are.
Fighting with your partner just isn't worth the bother.
You fantasize daily about being free.
You're thrilled when he asks to take a weeklong trip with friends.
Seeing a happy couple makes you want to hurl.
You constantly invent reasons to work so you don't have to go home.
You begin discovering signs that your partner is seeing someone else.
Divorce with Kids
Trying to date while raising a family is one of the more difficult complexities of modern living. A vast range of issues comes into play. Each one has the potential to slow down a blooming romance and even lead to the end of a promising relationship. Of course, the alternative is to wait until the kids are grown, an option some people choose. For those who intend to try to find a new lover, here's a quick look at some of the complications.
Item #1—Finding time. Every child from one day old to eighteen years demands a significant amount of time and emotional energy. Early on, there are diapers and feedings. Later, practices, lessons, school meetings, sick days, and lots of unexpected events take up hours and days. Preteens require a unique kind of chauffeur service, while those who drive worry you sick with their comings and goings, not to mention all of the temptations lingering out there.
If you're trying to date with these distractions, the first rule of business is to learn how to compartmentalize. You have to be able to set aside time and energy for a romantic prospect as well as time for yourself. If you don't, it's not going to be right for your partner or for you. Sitters, grandparents, and friends can make a huge difference. It's critical to balance your social life with some personal time to spend alone, and with your kids. Otherwise, guilt may play a major role, even when someone is watching them for you.
Item #2—Budgets. As a divorced parent trying to raise children, you usually have to think about money, especially if you've gone from two incomes to one. Besides funding all of your children's current activities and the monthly bills, there are worries about a college fund, plus money for emergencies. Paying for a night out can be a budget-buster in those circumstances. And, as we mentioned in Chapter 6, you have to figure out the issue of who pays for both the date and a sitter. It's bad enough that married couples fight about money. Here you are trying to work out financial arrangements with someone you're seeing casually.
The keys to these potential budget battles are honesty and candor. You simply have to tell your date that you're financially strapped. Another great remedy the two of you can work out is cheap dates. You may not want to include the kids at first, but you can split the cost of a sitter, and then just go for a cup of coffee, a drive, a picnic, or some other inexpensive date. Reducing the cash flow problem means you're more likely to relax and enjoy the time together.
Item #3—How the kids react. This is a tough one. You don't want to run your kids through a whole series of dating partners, each of whom reacts differently to them. This can create a confusing home. On the other hand, it's impossible to pretend you're not dating or seeing anyone. Somewhere in between are the times when your date is exposed to your kids, and vice versa. They are probably going to resent this individual for a while. It gets complicated quickly.
We suggest keeping lovers away from your home life for as long as possible. To some extent, how long depends on the ages of your children. When you reach the point when you know the involvement is more than just a passing fancy, the time is right to slowly and carefully introduce this new person to your children. Expect blowups and rude behavior from your kids. It is vital to show compassion and concern. Let your children know they are still the most important part of your life.
Those who don't have children but are seeing romantic partners who have kids have the toughest job of all, especially if the children are old enough to realize what's happening. The best you can do is to be kind, friendly, and patient. Many mixed families and dating couples manage to deal with this issue, but it isn't always smooth sailing.
The greatest complication of all is the “Brady Bunch” effect, in which two adults, each with children, date and then marry. There are a number of potentially difficult problems in blending two families. Everyone has to adjust to everyone else. You'll need all of the compassion, caring, empathy, and love that you can muster to make this situation work.
Item #4—New sexual partner. Another major entanglement is sex. For one, the first time you make love with a new partner, there are going to be some odd feelings. After all, you had a child with your previous lover, and no matter what you think of him or her now, that echo is present. Also, every single partner is a little different. The sex may be fabulous and fulfilling, or it may be stilted. That alone is cause for discomfort.
Then there are additional issues such as whose bed are you going to use. Making love to a new partner in an old marriage bed is likely to feel very strange. Having sex in a hotel room may feel “cheap” at some level. Going to his or her place is probably the solution, but even then the new environment feels strange. Do you stay the night? If you rush home, what kind of signal does that send? And all of this takes place as you struggle with other issues such as sexual history and safe sex and contraception protocols. Putting it mildly, we don't envy people going through this stage in a relationship. There are no easy answers and there are lots of questions. As with everything else, good communication is key. It also helps to have a friend and confidant you can talk to freely. It's not so much advice you'll be looking for, as emotional support and understanding.
Give your children time to adjust to your new romantic partner, but remember that you are entitled to happiness, too.
Item #5—The ex-factor. Divorced couples with children usually work out some type of arrangement for the kids to spend time with both parents. Among other things, this means an ex will soon find out that you're seeing someone, and may even get reports from the kids on how serious the new relationship has become. Some former spouses are hurt, angry, and depressed by the news because they have unresolved issues. For example, they may secretly wish to get back together. As a result, you may find yourself dealing with some chiding or anger from a former partner. There are also those inevitable comparisons between past and present loves, which don't do anyone any good.
The flip side may also turn up. You may find out that your ex now has a new boyfriend or girlfriend. There may be a natural tendency on your part to want to “compete” or “get even” by seeing someone yourself. That's not going to bode well for a new relationship. Work hard to avoid falling into this trap.
Another unpleasant scenario is that of midlife to late-life divorce. The kids may be grown and the financial arrangements worked out, but the bitterness and baggage that results can be awful. Of course, the relationship that tends to get most of the press is the man in a midlife crisis who leaves his wife of many years for a younger woman. Other couples just grow apart over the years. When the kids have left the nest, the parents discover they have nothing left to share.
Date because you want to date, not because of anything your ex is doing.
Later-life divorces create a variety of individual dilemmas. The hurt of the breakup may affect how a person views him- or herself and others. It's easy to become suspicious of others and to resent people of the opposite sex. The sense of abandonment may be overwhelming. Others may be so relieved to be out of the relationship that they feel guilty about feeling so good. Even then, showing up to a party or dinner without a companion may make everyone feel a little awkward. After all, your friends are used to seeing you as part of a couple. And they aren't quite sure about your mental state. You may not want sympathy, or you may be begging for comfort.
To make matters worse, even after time has passed and you decide to take the big step, you may not have dated for a quarter of a century or more. Certainly the rules of the dating game have changed. You may not know how to ask for or accept an invitation. Clearly, the things you did on dates as a young person are not the same things you would want to do now. And, just to make matters a little more complicated, there are fewer potential dating partners.
If you divorce in later life, our advice is to find a way to rediscover a sense of adventure and a willingness to take emotional risks. It won't be easy, and it can't be forced. We've noticed that people who've had to deal with late-life divorce seem to have a tendency to panic, leading them to “settle” for someone they know is less than an ideal match in order to avoid loneliness. Unfortunately, such a move often leads to yet another divorce or breakup. Use caution and listen to your friends’ candid advice.