Entries in dating after divorce (2)


Some Thoughts on Jealousy


When women talk about the current romantic lives of their ex-husbands, it's common to hear refrains along the lines of "I couldn't care less who he's with. What a nightmare, she can have him, good riddance." And they usually add "As long as she's nice to my kids, that's all I care about."

Really? You don't care at all? No twinges of jealousy? You're not curious? What if she's prettier than you? Younger? Wildly successful? Or maybe she's just nicer, a more balanced person, a better fit, someone who can make him happy where you couldn't? None of this stings at all? I don't believe you.

I want my ex-husband to be happy, I do. He deserves to have a life, right? I have one, after all. It's better for the kids to see him settled and partnered than sitting home alone every night, like he did for ages. And we're very much through, over four years divorced at this point. But I can always tell when he's dating someone new with whom he might be serious, because he gets ever so slightly hostile to me for a brief period of time. Almost like an adolescent, it feels as though he needs to push me away in order to connect afresh.

So two or three months ago, I realized that there was a new woman on the scene, and now, for the time being at least, she seems to be a fixture. And she's about my age, pretty enough but not threateningly so, seems to be smart, has a couple of young kids. My children say she's totally nice, and when we scoped her out on Facebook, I was left with a perfectly likeable, if innocuous, impression. All good.

So why do I feel uncomfortable -- slightly bereft, like I've lost my footing -- when her name comes up? Why does my knowledge of her existence give me any pause whatsoever? Do I want Peter anymore? No, definitely not. Do I miss him sexually? No again, even though I liked him sexually. Do I suspect she's getting something I want? No, I know for sure, surer than I know anything, that he can't give me what I want.

Is it about my kids? Am I worried they'll like her more than they like me? No. I think that's a fear that you get over soon after you get divorced. Once you see a few boyfriends and girlfriends come and go on both sides, you realize pretty quickly that what matters to kids are their parents. Unless the new step-figure is a monster, which is obviously disastrous for everyone, these people are rarely going to become figures of monumental importance in your kids' life. Particularly once they are teenagers, which mine are.

But there is something about the kids, something about the idea of Peter and his girlfriend being with my children and hers, acting like a family, that can sting. The physical intimacy, that my kids might see this woman naked, or see her making out with their dad, that feels weird. In those moments I just have to pinch myself and remember what it's like when I'm with my boyfriend Joe's daughter, or my kids are with Joe. Is it threatening? Would anything about it be objectively unacceptable to Peter? No, not remotely. It's just life, everyone trying to fit slightly awkward puzzle pieces together. Never quite right, but not bad.

Another helpful mind-game is for me to visualize being in the shoes of the new girlfriend -- being there on that vacation, at that dinner table, by his side romantically wherever -- and it takes about three seconds of recalling what I know so well for me to think "whew, there but for the grace of God, go I."

Here's what it is, what the jealousy boils down to: this guy was my lover, my husband, my father figure (sorry, it's true), for sixteen years, the bulk of my adult life. Since we split up, he hasn't yet "replaced" me. He had one rebound relationship with a woman I couldn't stand, and then I think lots of adventures with women he'd never bring home to meet the kids. I've still been the only woman, aside from his mother, who really looms large in his life, for better or worse. And now that's changing. So it tugs at the wound. It makes me feel a little more alone; it's a reminder of the loss.

That's the crux of it: even though we've been separated for years, and we've both "moved on," the process of disentangling continues. My complicated feelings about a serious new girlfriend are about me being replaced (as opposed to no one filling that position), someone taking over the emotional slot I long held, about us all taking yet another step apart. It's not about her in particular; she could be anyone. It's about the sadness of divorce, of one family unit ending and morphing into something else.

Which is what it needs to do. This is inevitable, and healthy! And these twinges won't kill me, not by a long shot. But I do hope they go away soon. Hopefully I'll meet the new girlfriend before long. I imagine I'll like her well enough, and in the flesh we'll both realize how human (and thus flawed) we all are. And that will further break down any of the curiosity we both must have, and make it all that much easier to bear.


The Pros and Perils of Online Dating

Yesterday I had a blissful day in the country, the first day that really spelled summer for me, and I was crazy prolific...

My newest HuffPo piece:

When I got divorced at age 37, I'd never really dated. I'd met my husband at age 20, and in the five years before that I was basically serially monogamous with various men/boys I met through school. I'd never been set up, never gone home with a guy from a bar, never been asked out really, or been in the position of wondering if he'd call, wondering if I should make a move.

All that stuff was foreign to me, so I was pretty pysched to experience it. The idea of going to restaurants with handsome, interesting men, of flirting, of liking someone new. All very exciting! I spread the word, sent emails to friends and acquaintances I thought might know interesting men to pair me with, and started exploring the myriad online options.

What I found is that while set-ups were objectively more successful (over a two year period, of the 5 set-ups I went out on, we had a 100% success rate in terms of one date leading to two or three, maybe even sex), and the online dates were usually a categorical failure (maybe 5 of the 30 men I met during that same period, I saw more than once), overall I thought online was maybe the better course. At least for certain reasons:

With set-ups you have the tricky issue of dealing with the person who set you up after it all goes to shit. The poor well-intentioned friend inevitably gets caught in the middle. Either you've disappointed someone or behaved badly, or he has. Either way, there's usually some collateral damage, and it's awkward.

While it's true that the people you meet through set-ups are more likely to share your educational and socio-economic background, or be from "your world," and that can be an initial relief, I found that it still doesn't mean you'll connect, or ultimately even like the person. Think of all those dads you know at your kids' school -- how many of them do you want to sleep with? Not many, I'm sure. Connection's a mysterious thing.

So I'm a big fan of going online to troll for romance. Here's why, and this is what I tell all my recently single friends:

1. It's great practice. If you haven't been out there in awhile, or if like me, you've never dated, there's a huge learning curve. Having a dozen coffee or drink dates with selected strangers gets you into the groove of it, helps you develop some ideas about how you want to present, makes you work on your conversational skills, helps you perfect the quick and graceful exit. We should all be adroit at these things.

2. It's pretty good for your self-esteem. Sure, there are the winks (Match.com's way of flirting) that go ignored, the men you email who don't email you back (I was sure that many of my failures had to have been the fact that I had to come clean in my profile about having four children -- that's got to be a turn-off for lots of guys, right? Or maybe some men ignored me because I'm half Black?), but cest'la vie -- the fact is, you gets tons of email, more winks than you know what to do with, and a regular stream of men you can go out with if you're so inclined. That's a confidence booster, or at least it was for me.

3. If you're open to it, you hear a lot of interesting life stories, meet people from all walks of life, and that's stimulating. No matter how many loving and fabulous friends you may have, when you're single it gets tiring going out either in gaggles of women or with your couple friends. It's nice to get some fresh blood, to see the bigger picture.

People worry they might meet freaks, or have a nightmare experience. All I can say to that is that I didn't have a single one. The absolute worst encounter I had was with a manager of a five star New York hotel, who, half-way though our glasses of Pinot Noir, leaned over to ram his tongue down my throat. Ewww! But big deal, I just got up and left. And there were the funny dates, like the guy whose profile said he was an actor, but who confessed over sake that he was a professional clown for children's birthday parties. I just couldn't see myself dating Bozo, but he was super nice. There was a former alcoholic manic depressive drummer I found sexy for a couple of months, but then realized he had rage issues. A motorcycle-riding lawyer I just didn't click with. An opera singer into S & M. The list goes on, and it was often trying, but also funny, and great fodder for girlfriend conversations. Also, as I said, a great way to learn about what I did and didn't want.

At one point when I was crying to my therapist about the latest insult or failed mini-relationship, she said to me "dating is hard until it's not." Banal perhaps, but later I realized truer words could not have been spoken. You date and date, and get hurt, and hurt someone, and have bad sex, good sex, no sex, and then boom! one week you're on a third and then a fourth and then a fifth date with someone who seems to be kind and sane and sexy and maybe all the things you've been looking for.

That's what happened to me. I'd broken up with one of the set-ups and was feeling discouraged, not sure I could face Match.com again. I took a vacation alone to Miami and there on the beach read a self help book called "Meeting Your Half Orange" by Amy Spencer. Ms. Spencer's thesis, not totally original, but exactly what I was ready to digest, is that you can't meet the right person until you know exactly what you want and you believe that you deserve it. Basically another look at that oldie but goodie: "no one can love you til you love yourself."

I started to really think about that, not just my own list of must-haves -- a big reader, emotionally engaged, not a pothead, an interesting career, someone who would sleep in a treehouse with me if asked -- but how would the right person make me feel, how would we feel together? Imagine that, visualize it, and then believe that it will come, that you deserve it.

I met the man I now love, Joe, on Match.com, two weeks after I got back from Miami. Our first date was pleasant, but lackluster, in a local bar in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I remember thinking, "This guy's okay, smart and easy to talk to, but if he walks me home and sticks his tongue down my throat I will just die." Joe must have picked on my vibe, because he walked me about two blocks, gave me a chaste peck on the cheek, and took leave for his car. He didn't even walk me home! Not sure what to make of that, I didn't give him much thought that night, or even the next day, til he emailed suggesting we go out again. Two dates later we had our first real kiss sitting inside a Richard Serra torqued ellipse at DIA Beacon. That was over a year ago.

So give it a try, be adventurous, get out there