Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “relationship

Fractured Women: Learning About Boundaries in Dating Again


We are all fractured after a breakup. Each of us must do the work necessary to heal the wounding before we venture out into the dating pool. Two fractured people cannot have a healthy relationship. And once you’ve begun to heal, the visibility of the fractures is much more clear.

Dating is what you do before you really know the person. Dating shows intent and a commitment of time. That’s it. Aside from that, dating is like a probationary period. What you’re looking to establish is compatibility and joyfulness together. What you’re looking to avoid, or put boundaries around are the things the don’t work. Sometimes we call them Red Flags. The “uh oh” moments in early stages of dating that signal something is off.

A relationship is what begins to develop over time. As you find time to be together things begin to progress forward or they don’t. The momentum and path of that arc is up to the participation of both partners. One person cannot create a relationship with someone else who is not willing. Perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps they want to play the field a bit, not sure if you’re the right one. Perhaps even the concept of “Relationship” freaks them out, and they will buck and run at the first sign that things are moving towards coupling.

There are no simple rules for navigating either of these plateaus of getting to know someone. I used to think I had some effective strategies and maps for doing better and better until I located the right partner. I was deluded. I thought I had a good handle on my boundaries and how many red flags I was willing to tolerate before kissing off a potential partner. Again I was wrong.

Then something happened that broke through my easy-going acceptance of our differences. We had a date planned and she texted me that she was running late.

Assuming you know anything about where things are going to go, is a bad idea. Of course we make assumptions, and that’s how we move forward. But you’re assumptions are often wrong, and based on previous experience. The person in front of you is unlike any previous experience you’ve ever had. Still, there are some concepts you can stay with.

Boundaries are imaginary lines you believe you will not accept. Behaviors you will not put up with, this time around. And positive boundaries about things you want to do and want to cultivate in a dating relationship. But boundaries are imaginary and can be crossed and broken at any time. So set them, watch them, believe in the idea of them, but know that this person you are negotiating with may jump the fence at any time. The jump may be towards you, as in “Hey, I kinda want to have sex with you right now.” Or away from you, “Sorry, I can’t do this anymore, can we still be friends.” Your response should be based in the present moment and not in some idea you have of what is right or wrong.

It’s still hard to negotiate this setting and breaking of boundaries. This building and crushing of expectations. It’s best to talk through as much of it as possible. Say something when you are uncomfortable. Risk throwing a red flag if things are going in a direction that feels wrong.

And an example from a previous post-divorce relationship involved a woman who was much younger than me. There was some disconnect there, to start with, but I was open-minded and willing. But something kept happening that I couldn’t quite reconcile with my idea of boundaries. She kept bringing up drugs. It wasn’t hard core stuff, but I was surprised every time she mentioned, “Hey we could smoke some pot.” I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but the idea wouldn’t have occurred to me. Ever. Back in college, perhaps, but today… Um, not so much. Still, I was willing to pass through that boundary to meet this woman halfway. We didn’t smoke pot together, however, but we moved along.

Then something happened that broke through my easy-going acceptance of our differences. We had a date planned and she texted me that she was running late. Okay, no big deal. I could go into her house, it was open, and wait for her. It was 10 pm. Still, fine, no worries yet. When she got there, around 10:20 she was loving and sexy as usual, and we moved on into the evening’s festivities without much discussion of what had held her up.

She wasn’t hiding from me, she usually said what she was thinking. As we went out to a club and had a few beers she told me she’d been visiting one of her friends and he’d invited her upstairs to get high. Um. Hello, red flag. A few more unexpected twists and we were done. Parting as friends. No worries.

More recently I had a very different experience of boundaries and red flags. I’d say things were going swimmingly with this relationship, but something was a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on what, but I was listening intently. There was something to the quality of her affection that seemed to reveal something underneath that was not being expressed. She liked to say how “sexy” I was. Not a bad thing, but also sort of focused on the surface, when it became the refrain. Okay, so sexy was good, right?

There comes a time when you have to pack your goodwill hunting and leave a good thing. Sadly that’s where it ends.

And as we moved along she would jerk back occasionally when things go too close. No Relationship at this time please, was the request. Okay. But the pullbacks kept happening at regular intervals. Hmm. Perhaps this needed watching as well. And my own denial of these hiccups was also something I became aware of. Okay, we’re watching the “relationship” discussion and I’m watching my own obsessive behavior that was allowing me to ignore some warning signs. But I was completely turned on by this woman and I was willing to jump boundaries together, as long as we kept going.

And then in less than 24 hours, she threw out so many red flags (well, technically she red flagged me right out of the relationship) that everything changed without any input from me. I was unaware that I’d been sidelined until we got together for dinner. But there was a strange quality to the night. Even the cadence and tone of our texting had changed. Come-on’s like “I really want you,” were simply ignored, where before they would always raise a sexy response.

And the responsiveness never returned although we limped along for a few days, apart, while she entertained guests. And then the well-considered FRIENDS email came. Okay, there comes a time when you have to pack your goodwill hunting and leave a good thing. Sadly that’s where it ends. Even though I was the one who was red-carded due to unknown fouls, she was the one who had thrown the final red flag on my playing field. And I knew it, felt it, that first night of disconnect.

And like that she was gone. The love was gone. The heat was iced. And that was much more telling than just being “sexy, and darling, and fun.”

So we set up expectations. We reset them and agree to different boundaries. We try and meet a person where they are, but occasionally (perhaps often) we run out of ways to accept the variations. And the final red flag can come from either party, in this case, it happened overnight.

In looking for a partner you have to be willing to stretch and reset your imaginary boundaries. You have to listen and adapt, learn, the ways of this mysterious other person. But when the real fracture comes you have to be ready to hear it and move on.

I’m still early in this re-partnering as an adult. I don’t have a huge number of “dates” to go on, but I’m beginning to understand that the percentage of wounded adults is a lot higher than the ones who have done the work to heal themselves after divorce. So we continue on down the path and look forward to the next learning opportunity.


The Off Parent

back to On Dating section

Related posts:


image: woMAN, caro paris, creative commons usage

Browsable Women: The Three Hells of Online Dating

the three hells of online datingLet’s talk about online dating and visual marketing. There are three forms of browsable women. (Substitute “men” if you like.)

1. Pornography

2. Mass media and cheesecake photos.

3. Online dating.

Each of these types of browsable partners has something to offer. Let’s see if there is a relationship between them, or if we can understand something about ourselves through a bit of exploration.

Only one of these pools of images has the potential for a real human connection. (With someone other than yourself, I mean.) One of these pools of images and videos has the potential for immediate sexual gratification, if at a lower level than the real human connection version. One of these pools offers but doesn’t reveal the potential for both of the previous pools.

I turned on my online dating profile again yesterday and I was a bit underwhelmed by the opportunities for real human interaction. (see “momentum” in previous post) But the non-human (self) interaction gets a bit boring when you’ve recently sampled something delicious and alive. I glanced at some nudie sites but there was ZERO arousal. And then I started finding myself looking at TheChive. (Home of the almost nude, cheesecake shots and teases.) And while this didn’t exactly fire me up, there was something more enticing about the tease.

Again, nothing physical about photos, but the covered breast often offers more than the plentiful and heaving breast.

Yesterday I spent most of my time hitting the HIDE button on profiles that could not possibly have been accurately returned by my search results. I was left with 20 smiling faces.

Either way, it’s odd, browsing for a pretty face online. It seems like there are several levels of this hell. 1. The topmost hell, cheesecake offers enticement without reward. 2. The second hell, gives plenty of sex at the expense of enthusiasm or potential. 3. The final hell is trying to browse actual women on a dating site and seeing how many are WTF?

Shopping for a house online is a similar experience. You browse by area then you look for the curb appeal. Without a nice preview photo you’re not even going to take the 10 seconds to look at the portfolio of pictures. That’s how it works.

And online dating, in my experience, is similar. And these days I’ve become even more selective in who I would consider. Yesterday I spent most of my time hitting the HIDE button on profiles that could not possibly have been accurately returned by my search results. I was left with 20 smiling faces. (This is from thousands, according to the site.) And from there I contacted 4 of them. I got a casual response from one of them.

So here we are, here I am, browsing women online and hoping to find a spark. A real live spark, not a fantasy one. And I’m travelling back and forth through the three levels of hell.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

< back to On Dating Again index

related posts:


image: a few of my “potential” dates from yesterday’s foraging.

Our Blinding Desire: When Dating Uncovers Our Vulnerabilities

She said she wasn’t ready for a relationship. She said she was pretty crazy and not reliable. She said she was not over her divorce. She objected when I spoke too longingly. She corrected my assumptions about lust and love by alluding to the problems ahead.

And somehow I blew right through her objections. I was ready for this one. I could move slowly if that’s what she wanted. I could move quickly and give her a workout to reawaken her libido. I could be even better than she could imagine. Even more confident and comfortable than she imagined. I could do this. I was certain. I did not need to rush it. I was simply enthusiastic and patient and a good honest man.

And tonight I got the dear John letter she had been hinting at. At least she was honest and could give me the blow-by-blow of why we weren’t going to work out. But the objections were the same mundane litany I’d heard before. But what I heard more clearly this time, what came through in spades on this fourth try of hers to wave me off was two concepts.

  1. Monogamy.
  2. Friends.

The first was an unwillingness, though just a week ago she had not imagined that she would have any relationship at all, to settle down and get monogamous. Of course, she had not been with anyone else since her divorce. And perhaps she imagined herself sewing the fields. She mentioned “older and wiser” as a potential enticement. (I’m three years younger but much younger in spirit.)

I can learn from the quickness of my heart to want and capture the imagination of someone else. And how several times, I responded to her objections with loving banter and sweetness.

The second she said something about wanting to remain friends. Of course, that would be fine with me. But it changed everything. I had just written the following lines today, describing our conversation on her porch.

“I am looking for a relationship. I desire to be “in-relationship.” If you were to tell me you were really only interested in friendship, that would be okay, but I’d probably start dialing back some of the time I’m spending with you. I don’t really need any more “do something together” friends.”  — Need vs. Want

But the rest was where I was searching for “what’s next” and she is still seeking “what do I want.”

It’s okay, but it’s a huge miss. My first IT girl, who seemed to be climbing on board for the ride. She has taught me a lot. She has blown through my life and my heart like a shiver of love. I am grateful that she got it out in language that I could understand. And we’re really only a week into the skin-attached portion of the relationship. And her subtle objections this time hit the mark.

I won’t create a lover. I can’t convince a partner. And when the “no” is given, there is little hope of regaining the magic. There is always the “no” that has been spoken, hanging like a dangerous warning in the air.

So I pass on a very beautiful, maybe the smartest woman I’ve ever met. I can learn from the quickness of my heart to want and capture the imagination of someone else. And how several times, I responded to her objections with loving banter and sweetness. And how she finally got the courage to let me down as easily as possible.

Better now than in a month. The part that I have learned is: now energy I might have given her, to convince, convert and woo should be put to better use. Time to get on with the tasks at hand, and move along. Sad but true.


The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

related posts:


image: shattered, by valerie everett, creative commons usage

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Waking Up My Passionate Lover

Okay, I have to use the word “girlfriend” at this point. It’s been well over 90 days, and she’s still around and still at the center of my off parent time. And… Well… It’s kind of hard to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

What I know is… She is my first relationship post divorce. Those other things were blips.

When she woke up my desire I screwed her like I really remembered screwing. Passion. Energy. And stamina.

She matches me in so many ways (love of music, sleeping patterns, creative ambition, ability to nap and rest rather than strive) that I think I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Here’s what happened. She came right out and said it on our introductory drink. “You are much cuter than your profile!”

I’m sure I paused at that. [Was this woman just forward? Was she a desperate?  What was wrong with her, couldn’t she see how fucked up I was at that very moment?]

And I walked her out to her car. An awkward moment, to be sure. And there, next to her cute convertible mini, she leaned in for what could only be a signal for “kiss me.” And I stepped up to the plate and planted a good kiss on her. Grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her even closer. Even as I was freaking out, “What the fuck? Am I insane? Oh to hell with it!”

And I walked back to my car, in a bit of a daze. Erect and ready, sure, but also confused.

And then on came the  relationship. She was “into me” she said it frequently and without shame. I know she was asking for the same response from me. But I was too busy trying to examine my own WTF response to her mere presence in my life.

So on she came. Like a force, like a drug. And on she came, asking deep questions, stroking me with every opportunity, and singing my praises.

I know the ADORE has to go both ways. Is that what’s growing within me? Am I growing to adore her, or just getting more comfortable in the relationship?

At the same time I was a little off balance, she was the definition of what I was asking for just a few months ago. (Yoga Girl Next Door)

A few nights ago, returning from a trip, I was bushed and just wanted to sleep. She wanted satisfaction. She missed me. She hungered for me. When she woke up my desire I screwed her like I really remembered screwing. Passion. Energy. And stamina.

The headboard of her bed banging against the wall.

And for the last few days, I’ve been the On Parent again, and my stomach muscles have been telling me, cheering me, about my prowess. Damn!

So am I jumping into the next phase because of the extraordinary stress in my family situation right now? Am I stealing the bootie by sexing and caressing and sleeping with someone who… how can I say it… who is not my erotic ideal? And really, what does that mean?

The only thing I can grasp on to: This is still an early relationship. There is no need to jump further into things. We are three months into things. I don’t have to marry her and settle down next week. So I am observing, with curiosity, my attraction to other women. Sure: younger, skinnier, darker hair, darker skin. But those physical things are NOTHING compared to the ADORATION.

I know the ADORE has to go both ways. Is that what’s growing within me? Am I growing to adore her, or just getting more comfortable in the relationship? I know there is tension in the place where she is CRUSHING and I am not. But that should not be a problem if we stay open and honest.

That’s the trick. That will be the trick. I meet an attractive ideal, and I want to… what? Kiss? Date? Go to lunch? At what point do I have to tell her, “I’m still kinda looking.” A sad moment that will be.

Until that point, or the point at which I succumb to her charms and beauty, I will be aware of what is going on inside of me, and try to sort out what is real and what is fantasy. She is certainly REAL. She is certainly WARM and TOUCHY-FEELY.

And I could go on about her great qualities. Solid. Financially stable. Beautiful eyes.

I sound like I’m still trying to convince myself.


The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

Related Posts: