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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Dating 101 For the Divorced Dad
If you’re familiar with The Upbeat Dad blog, you probably know that I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. You probably also know that I got remarried in 2009. I am fortunate to have two children – one from each of my marriages. Now, that’s not the way I planned it when I got married in the mid ‘90s but that’s just the reality of the situation. I’m happily married now and I intend to remain that way for the rest of my life.
Today’s post is about an issue that I think ought to be addressed. I’ve never met anyone who really planned to get married, have kids, then divorce, then date, then get remarried. It’s just not something we think about. Most of us – men and women – get married “till death do us part.” But in reality, half of the population doesn’t exactly fulfill that vow. Life happens and when it does, sometimes marriages fail. Sometimes these failed marriages produced children and that’s when it can get complicated.
I recall that when I experienced the failure of my first marriage, I was torn in so many ways. The process was difficult for all involved, particularly my daughter who was 3 years old at the time. What I realized was what so many around the world experience. The ending of our marriage was not on the most friendly of terms.
Then I went through something that was so difficult to understand and explain: the apple of my eye – my daughter and little angel was my direct connection to the person from whom I was getting a divorce. And that's a lifetime relationship – not like in the past when we could just go our separate ways and never see or hear from each other again. We were breaking up but we'll forever be connected. I had mixed emotions, to say the least. One, I loved with my whole heart; the other, I once loved but we were now moving on to a different phase in our relationship.
Have you ever experienced that? It’s something that you’d probably have to go through to really understand. My emotions were torn as my daughter and soon-to-be former wife were on totally opposite ends of the spectrum.
I really don’t write much about my former marriage other than to say it ended and our daughter was a product of that relationship. But I’ll just say quickly here that for me, the thought of dating and going through courtship all over again wasn’t something I really wanted to deal with.
When I said, “I do,” I thought it was for life. So my entire focus was on that vow. I didn’t make a contingency plan - a plan B, in case the relationship didn’t work out. Why wouldn’t it? My parents got married in the early 60s and are still in love to this day. So you couldn’t have told me that we would’ve gotten divorced. Anyway, my reality was that my marriage ended.
You might wonder why I share such a personal story. The fact of the matter is that marriages all around the world end every day. And the emotions that people feel are very real. Having gone through the pain and the loss of appetite and disappointment of that experience, I believe that I can help others navigate their way through this crossroads that life presents.
One of the best things I can recommend to newly divorced dads is to give yourselves time to heal. When you get married, your heart is involved – or at least it should be. And even though you and your wife are two different individuals, in a sense, you’re really one unit. Your heart is the center of your being. So your heart merges with your spouse’s heart and you become one person, in a figurative sense.
When your marriage does end, your heart needs to become whole again before you can really move on. For many of us men, we jump right from our marriages into a new relationship. More often than not, that relationship is short-lived. It’s what some refer as a rebound. We’re used to having someone in our life so we find someone new but our heart is still not mended. So we subconsciously compare the new person to the person that we’ve just broken up with. And that’s not fair to them.
This point isn’t something that I’m just saying for the sake of saying it. I experienced it personally and I know the reality of that situation. I realized that until I was healed and ready to move into a new relationship, I really shouldn’t be involved emotionally with anyone. Have you heard the expression “hurt people, hurt people”? Well it’s true. It’s not something you intend to do but when you’re hurt, you end up hurting others, at least until you’re whole.
The next phase I’d like to touch on is this: when you’re healed and whole and ready for a relationship, be very careful about how you handle the courtship as a parent. For your kids, it’s not good for them to be exposed to new people in your life when you’re just feeling out the process. Not every person you date needs to meet your kids. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that that’s a good thing. What happens all too often is that the kids get attached to a new person and then if that new relationship doesn’t work out, to them it’s like their parents are getting divorced all over again. Believe me, this is real.
In the 5 years between my divorce and me beginning to date my new wife, I dated on and off. But none of those relationships got close to becoming a marriage. Even though my daughter met some of the persons I dated, she just knew them as a friend of her father – nothing more. We didn't spend hours together as a pseudo famiIy. I really didn’t want to confuse her because I was determined to shield her from what so many kids experience. I didn’t want her to get attached and then get disappointed if a relationship didn’t work out.
When my wife and I started dating in 2007, it didn’t take me long to realize that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She was a keeper for sure! As the months went by and we started discussing marriage, I knew that the inevitable discussion with my daughter about her needed to be initiated. They met and got along just fine so that was good to know.
When I told my daughter that we were planning to get married, I wasn’t really prepared for her response. What resulted was a teachable moment and I’m glad I had the insight to share the words with her that I did. She said that she liked my soon- to-be fiancée but she was concerned that for so long, she had my heart all to herself but now she had to share my heart and she wasn’t prepared for that. She expressed concern also that if I got married, she would be less significant to me.
One thing I learned as a single/divorced dad was to always reassure her that she’s my priority. And as she shared these concerns, I listened to her. Whether I liked what she said or not, her emotions were very real so I had to acknowledge that. We had a series of open discussions about the pending new marriage. And as time went on, she warmed up to the idea – especially as she saw that she wasn’t being replaced by any means.
My wife has been an angel through all this. Perhaps I should ask her to write her own blog post on how she handled the process of coming into my daughter’s life. What she did was simply genius. She didn’t force herself into her life. She was simply very nice towards her, without being pushy. And she let my daughter know that she wasn’t trying to replace her mom in any way. She was just calm, cool and collected.
Next month my wife and I will celebrate our 2nd year of marriage. Our 12 year old daughter and 5 month old son are in the home with us. And thanks to my wife’s wisdom and my daughter’s understanding and the way I chose to introduce a new person into my daughter’s life, we have a happy home, one where love truly reigns. I don’t have to worry when I’m not at home because I know that they get along just fine and do love and respect each other.
I hope that this post is of some help to dads and moms who might be in the process of dating after a divorce or a broken relationship. It’s not easy to move on but there’s a way that it can be done while reassuring the kids that all is well.
I believe in life after divorce. I believe in love after divorce. With the right approach we can write a happy ending to our stories that often start out far from happy. Life goes on, believe me. And it’s good to make lemonade from the lemons that sometimes come our way.