Conducting a rigorous self-examination to help determine my own readiness for dating.
Let’s talk about joy for a second. How do you recognize it? When you see a joyful person do you gravitate towards them? Certainly we can spot the absence of joy a mile away. Steer clear of the hottie in the black dress with the angry eyes and enhanced frown. She’s packing heat of a variety we’re much too familiar with from our 11 years of marriage, six of them happy.
As a divorced adult, we have been freed of all (most) of those constraints. Now, instead of suffering through the bad times, we can just move on. When a few too many red flags come up early in a relationship, it’s OK, at this stage in our lives to just say, “Later. And good luck.”
The closer we get to our own innate joy (even when alone) the more we are able to recognize the same joy in others. And it’s a process—we don’t emerge from divorce happy and hopeful. We might think we are, we might hit the ground (dating sites) running, for example, but most likely the divorce process, the recovery from divorce, will take a number of years. I’m sorry to break that news to you if you’re just emerging from an unhappy marriage, but relationships, even starting out, take work. And when you are still reeling from the collapse of your marriage, you might be ready for some free love, but the completion of the work needed to actually enjoy it is still a few months or years down the road.
For me, it was indeed, several years before I was ready (am ready) to enter into a joyful relationship. Before that time, I was interested in a relationship, but I was not bringing a full and healthy person to the table, so to speak. I was showing up, smiling as much as possible, and telling my happy tales, but I wasn’t able to fake it ’til I made it. I just wasn’t very good at covering up the real emotions that were still wrestling within me. It’s OK. It was actually better for me NOT to get what I wanted. It was necessary for me to spend some time alone, to sort through my regrets and triumphs and decide from a balanced perspective, what I was looking for in “next.”
So, maybe by examining and sharing some of the joyful things I look for in a woman, I can better understand my motivations, and you can better understand the male sex impulse that is often troublesome and misguided. But first, let’s get one thing straight: I am not an apologist for men and their bad habits. I am a thinking and feeling man in search of my next relationship. I’m not clear on what exactly that means, and I am clear that I don’t know. But I do know what I will and will not tolerate in my search for Ms. Lovejoy.
Here are five signs I’ve identified that the man you are looking at is more of a fractured soul than he is letting on.
ONE: He’s too positive.
Everything is great! My kids are great! My ex is great! And my, you are great too! I’m so happy I could sing the Pharrell song all day long. I’m the most positive person most of my friends have ever met. I just radiate positive energy. “You can feel it, right?” Stand back from Mr. Yes. I’ve been this dude. And while I do profess to have a very positive and happy outlook on life, I know that I can overdo it. I once floundered in a lopsided dating experience, because I was so damn positive I was going to be able to shift it from the friend-zone to something more intimate. I was wrong. But even the woman mentioned, “You’re one of the most positive people I’ve ever met.” Yeah sure, I thought, just kiss me then. We never really kissed. And after a few months, I woke up and smelled the coffee. She was not ready for any relationship beyond just holding hands and a sweet peck on the lips at the end of a snuggly evening. Fine, but that’s not what I was looking for. It too me a while to get beyond being so UP. But when I sense it in someone else now, I put up some more awareness filters and look to see if it’s covering up something that’s deeper and unresolved. For me, it wasn’t really about unresolved issues, but I did let a distant dating relationship go on for a long time, thinking my yes-mind was going to convince her to sleep with me. Nope. When the person is too happy, move along.
TWO: He’s too accommodating.
“Oh sure, we can reschedule,” I texted her for the third time in a month. We’d not been able to work out the first “hello” date. Each time there was some event that came up. And all of them about an hour before we were scheduled to meet. I was accommodating even after the third, “I can’t meet this morning. Sorry.” But I was too accommodating perhaps, and denying that she was giving me all the signs she was not ready at all for a date. When it’s too easy to move the date, you might be looking at someone who’s desperate. Even though she was resetting and I was being accommodating, I was ignoring my own over-accommodating tendencies. And I realize, just as I’m writing this, that she’s a disaster waiting to happen. If she’s reset three times, and within an hour of our meeting … Why do I think she’s going to be a different person in actual relationship. Um … Oops. I’m too accommodating sometimes. I need to move on from this one.
THREE: He’s too eager to listen.
“Women really want you to listen.” It’s advice you’re going to get from both men and women when you start dating again. And the premise is correct. Listening is something we’ve become less and less adept at over the years, and with the increasing pace of life and technological interruptions. So slowing down and paying attention to what the other person is saying, IS important. But it can be over done. When the listening is too animated, too connected, you need to gauge whether someone is being attentive for their own needs or as a strategy. I listened like a therapist. I listened to women complain about their marriages. I listened to them talk about how great their kids were. I even listened to their funny online dating stories. And I listened too much, and too long, when I should’ve ended the “going nowhere” date. But I didn’t. I was trained to listen to women. Almost as a technique to satisfy my marriage, a counseling recommendation, “Just listen. Quit trying to respond before you’ve heard what she’s saying.” Yes, that’s true in relationship, but in a dating, and early dating situation, you need to listen, but do it lightly. When I catch myself listening for overtones and hints, I try to stop. I try to just listen lightly, respond naturally, and just have a conversation. I am not a therapist. And when I listen hard, like I am a therapist, I am really just trying to get you to love me, or to trust me, or to sleep with me.
FOUR: He’s touchy-feely.
I’m a hugger and a toucher. It’s my love language. I express myself through touch. And I feel most loved when I’m being touched. So if I go in for the arm brush too early, be aware that I’m feeling you out for your touchy-feely level. And if I’m too touchy I might be showing my own emptiness or hunger. You might not be ready to be devoured. Are you responsive? Do you recoil when I touch you? (We’re talking first dates here, so either way it’s OK, but it’s giving me a lot of information.) Do you touch me back? Do you lean into the touch? I can tell a lot from a first intentional touch on your shoulder. Sure, I am illustrating a point, but I’m trying to sense out your touchy-feely scale. Are you a 10 like me? Or does touch/hugging/kissing/sex come with deeper reservations? I admit this is a learned technique. And when I touch you, it IS casual, but I am looking for clues to how you will react later on. I’m not doing it in a creepy or manipulative way, but you need to know I’m doing it. And if you are a touchy-feely person as well, we’re going to hit it off wonderfully. If you’re touch-adverse, I’m guessing you’ll give off these clues fairly quickly.
FIVE: He makes smoldering eye contact.
When I was in my early, and very passionate, months of trying to date, I tried to convey my seriousness and earnestness with my dark and smoldering eyes. I wasn’t trying to affect them. I was just peering out of very emotional eyes and I wanted you to see and notice how sensitive I was. How deeply I felt things that you were saying. And how deeply I wanted to drink you in. That hunger is evident in the eyes. My pools of reflection were deep, and I thought I was showing my deep feeling. What I was doing was using my “honest feelings” as a way to hook you. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it didn’t ever really result in the date I was looking for. But I was deep, deep, I’m telling you. When you see an infinite and sensitive soul in your date, you might sit back a bit and see how desperate that searching feeling gets. Being a pussycat, I never pounced with this dark killer instinct, but I knew I was not 100% ready for what I might get had I leapt into the frenzy from this wounded place.
What’s the Solution?
Now, most of these things are not tactics. They are simply how I am in real life, only exaggerated about 10X. I do have deep and sensitive eyes, but I shouldn’t really be lasering you with them on the first date. When I’m doing that I’m too hungry, I’m too aggressive, I am too enthusiastically in pursuit of you. And asking me to back off is going to give me the signal and information I’m looking for anyway. When the chemistry is right between us, it’s possible that these clues, or tells, are going to resonate between us. That’s happened a couple of times. And while none of them turned into the long-term relationship I am ultimately seeking, I learned a lot from every experience.
And really, that’s the message I want to get across. We are learning. We have no idea what life is supposed to be like after divorce. And dating and relationship building are things we last thought about in our twenties. The world has changed quite a bit. And our expectations and what we will and will not tolerate have changed quite a bit as well. I am aware of my tendencies towards obsession or over-thinking. When I am free of these habits I am more confident that I am actually ready to try for a relationship again.
Be aware of your seeking patterns and when they are out of balance, or overblown, you might dial back your intensity a bit and examine what’s going on for you. In my case, when I find I’m hyper-extending any of my dating super powers, I try and spend some time not dating, so I can recenter on my goals and needs. With a date in sight, and the potential for sexual intimacy, I’m less able to make rational and self-centered decisions.
When I am clear, I can make rational and appropriate decisions. When the chemistry is ON but the warning signs are also shining bright, I can walk away from the temptation. I don’t want surface relationships. I want whole relationships. Or a single whole relationship, that’s my ultimate goal, one relationship. But I’ve got a long way to go before settling down. And I promise I won’t settle for less than awesome.
When you’re dating again after divorce you’ve got to remember to remain a bit more self-centered. You’re not in this next relationship to compromise. You’re in it for the win. Sure, we’re going to fail, we’re going to make mistakes. But knowing where we play games, or where we accentuate our own desires, the better we can adjust and get more real about what and who we want to be with next.
The Off Parent
back to On Dating Again
- Casual Sex. What? I Have No Experience with This…
- Vengeance Dating Syndrome (a Post-divorce Pattern)
- The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray
- Burn the Maps!
- Little Turnoffs: On a First Date with a Woman
image: bliss dance, rulenumberone2, creative commons usage
I don’t think I ever caught her cheating on me. I’m going to assume that she told me the truth about things when confronted. But, without taking her clothes off, there was a moment, a very painful moment, that I can now see was really an affair. It didn’t wreck our marriage, but it put a huge hole in my trust. And when things got difficult it was occasionally hard for me to not imagine she was seeing him, or someone, for lunch again.
After all, she was in a relationship when we ran into each other again. And she took some lunches and even a date with me before calling it off with me, so she could go figure if she was IN or OUT with the other guy.
IF I had owned that this behavior was a problem, I MIGHT have avoided the marriage and divorce all together. That of course, is not the way things worked out. She called me about six weeks after asking for a “moment of silence” and simply said, “We’re done.” My first question, “What are you doing tonight? Wanna go over to a friend’s and watch a movie with us?” “Sure.” Swoon. Remove brain from cranium and move to other head. Again, water under the bridge, but looking back, to uncover my mistakes, this was the biggest one. IF she was willing to have lunches with ME, while still living with HIM… (I didn’t really know the status of their relationship at the time.) I just don’t think that was very CLEAR. For the other guy or me.
Jump cut about 4 years later and we’re married with a child in the crib. Wow. A wonderful life.
And then we were unjustly interrupted, like everyone else, by the prosperity ending 911 tragedy. The comfy lifestyle and happy home became a source of stress and “oh my goodness.” And unfortunately, my self-employment viability came crashing to the ground as my clients all FROZE all business. I struggled. I got depressed. I got on medication. I hated life. I loved my wife and kid. But I was suddenly not sure how I was going to support them or the lifestyle I had hoped to accomplish at this point in my life.
So we soldiered along and the second child was born into this rough world. We got what we wanted, a boy AND a girl. Happy bouncing babies. Not so happy and bouncing parents.
One day, during this “rough patch” I came home and pulled up a browser on her computer. We always used whatever computer was on the desk at the time. (this was before universal wifi everywhere) And her gmail account was open. Nonchalantly, I noticed some spam in her inbox, and as I was the gatekeeper, I clicked on one of the spammy messages.
It was not spam.
It was from a younger man, who she had recently started working with as part of a freelance team. He was thanking her for sharing the local library with him as a place for coffee and respite within our community. He was talking to her about “dealing with your husband’s depression” and “let’s do it again soon.”
In my fragile mental state I almost cracked. I can see how this kind of thing would make people go mad. At that point I was not all that comfortable with my anger, so I turned it inward and go sad. And fat. And what hope I had was lost to my wrong-headed fantasies about their tryst.
I did tell her and she apologized and said she saw how this would hurt me and that she would stop. She claimed to be unaware of how it “might have affected me” since she was innocent of any real transgression, but she would abide by my wishes and not see this guy for lunches any more. And she would tell him as well.
But the wound was slow to heal for me. She seemed to move right along, except when I would bring it up in counseling. But even then, it wasn’t anything all that important, other than how I perceived it. She said. I’m certain she understood how it hurt me, as I expressed this fairly well. But she was unwilling to really dig into what had made her share intimate details of our lives with a stranger. How she would turn to him for comfort rather than explore the pain with me. We were already in therapy. What was she doing with THAT time?
I took screenshots of all of the messages and put them away somewhere. But later, as I was purging my own pain and guilt, I deleted them. I would not want to look back on them now. But this experience does allow me to reflect on several things.
- My ex-y was having honesty issues, even with me, when we met.
- While she wasn’t very expressive of her emotions, they did exist.
- The warning flare around her intention in going to lunch with me while living with another man, should have been a deal killer. But she was/is very beautiful. I fell for her charms and did not listen to the concerns I should have been hearing.
It reminds me a little bit of the woman, who more recently stopped responding with positive reinforcements when I asked her to do things. Truth is, she liked to drink. And though I occasionally have a glass of wine or a beer, it’s not part of my normal day. Giving up alcohol for Lent would be trivial, not a hardship. (ice cream would be hard)
I am getting clearer and clearer in my request for a relationship. And I am honing my listening skills. And ultimately I am attempting to learn about my heart, my communication styles, and my needs. THEN, and only after I have some clarity for myself, am I open to having a new relationship enter my life. The one I am ready for.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff pages
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
- Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
image via creative commons: how to make an angry face out of someone’s body