Happily Divorced: Bringing New Adults into Our Child’s Life

I have to say that one of the most threatening aspects of our divorce was the prospect that some other woman might someday claim parental rights – even mommy rights – over my child.  To me being a mom was and still is the most important contribution I will ever make to this world.  How can I bear the thought of that being taken from me?  I agonized over this possibility as Bob began to embark on new relationships.  Of course at the time, it didn’t even occur to me that Bob was facing this issue already since I went straight from our marriage into a four-year relationship with another man.  Shit this stuff is really painful to write about.

I feel Bob’s pain as I type this and the fears I had for our child at that time all over again.  I wish I could have stepped back from the moment to observe the situation with empathy at the time and consider our options a bit more.  But now nearly 19 years removed from these events, while recognizing I didn’t handle them in a way that would leave me with the most resolved emotions, I do accept that it still all had to happen as it did.

As explained in Chapter 10, the first lady that Bob dated seemed pretty shallow to me.  She had big boobs (something I lacked and which Bob desired) and she seemed to care for Bob.  But I had this nagging feeling that she was going to turn into some evil bitch from hell one day.  The thought that this might happen in front of my only son terrified me.  Bob really didn’t seem to wait very long before he introduced this woman to Ian either which I thought was completely inappropriate, unnecessary, and risky.  What if Ian liked her and then Bob ended it?  Ian would be hurt.  What if she was careless?  Could Ian get hurt in her care?  After all, she was not a mom.  What if she physically or mentally abused my son?  All of us know at least one person who experienced this from a step-parent, boyfriend, or girlfriend of a parent.  That would be all she wrote.  I’d have to kill her.  Then I’d go to prison and my life would be over.

Also in Chapter 10, I covered that I chose to wait six months to introduce my first post-marriage boyfriend to Ian.  I didn’t want a constant parade of potential step-parents being put in front of our son.  I wanted to be careful.  I wanted Ian to see that his mom was using good judgment and that I intended to protect him.  And I wanted to find out more about this person before putting my son at risk.  I really wanted to feel like Bob was exercising the same caution.  But all I kept fearing was that he would rush to reestablish the comfort he enjoyed being in a relationship.  Bob just never was much of a loner.  He liked being part of a couple.  I, on the other hand, enjoy solitude and only wanted to be part of a couple to the extent that it enhanced my otherwise happy loner existence.  This all sounds very ironic to me now since I’m the one that went straight into another relationship; but honestly I really didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to take time to be on my own.  Yet, I needed a ticket out of my current situation and going into another relationship, in some twisted way, seemed to justify me asking for a divorce.  After all, I had been telling Bob for years that we were headed for divorce and he would tell me I was stupid or just respond sarcastically, “Yeah, right.”  If I had taken up with another man, he had to believe it was happening for real and accept it, right?  Geez, I sure did find the most painful way to make my point.

Anyway, Bob continued to date this woman for a bit and I continued going to therapy, reflecting frequently on her advice to me that if I believed Bob was a good dad, I’d just have to trust him.  I had to accept it and put my trust in knowing he would continue to be a good father.  Fortunately in my case, I really did believe above all else that Bob would protect our son from any harm – either physical or mental.  He himself had grown up in a situation where his father really didn’t afford him the same concern and I knew Bob would never let that be the behavior his son saw him exhibit.  So with that I released my fears about that first woman and those that followed.

I continued to date “the other man” who also had a daughter a couple years older than Ian.  She and I met fairy soon after that relationship began.  That was her father’s choice and given his odd situation with his daughter’s mom, I can understand why he made this choice.  The couple had an excessively tumultuous relationship with restraining orders, an eight-year long custody battle, withheld visitation, and one instance in which she fled the state illegally with the child moving the two of them to Maryland.  The father had to hire a private investigator to track them down and force her to return with the daughter to Ohio.  What a mess!  So dad had been through a lot to remain in his daughter’s life and I think he really just wanted her to see a man and woman together who were not fighting.

I got along with the daughter well and she seemed to enjoy my company.  After about six months, we felt it was time everyone met.  The daughter and Ian.  Ian and the boyfriend.  Ian was only six years old at the time.  So I didn’t want to make this some big life changing event – at least not in his young mind. I just wanted all of us to get together and have a nice time.  I figured Ian and the daughter might play and get to know each other and Ian might at least become semi-comfortable with the presence of another man around me.  So I planned a gathering of my closest friends to play cards and invited the boyfriend and his daughter to join us.  I asked our friends to make it seem like nothing more than a bunch of friends getting together at mom’s house with a chance for Ian to meet a new playmate.

Everyone arrived around seven or so and we had a lovely time playing cards while the kids played.  And played.  And played.  In fact, it seemed these two were long lost relatives so glad to finally reconnect.  They really were like best friends immediately.  All my friends noticed and commented on how natural they seemed to be together and how much fun they were having – pretty much oblivious to the existence of anyone else.  Finally, the friends left and it was just the four of us.  The boyfriend and I watched a movie on the couch in the living room while the kids continued to play in the next room.  The kids had the time of their lives playing with action figures together and giggling their heads off.  The night was a success and a relief.  Now we could all spend time together and maybe even become a spinoff version of our family.

Meanwhile, Bob dated a few women here and there and then after about 2 years, he met a new redhed.  Her name was Brandi and yes she also had big boobs.  But she also seemed to have substance.  I could tell she cared deeply for Bob and had patience for some of his antics that I simply lacked.  She also had an obvious maternal instinct of her own and clicked well with Ian.  I’m so glad that Bob dumped the first girl with big boobs and kept looking until he found Brandi.  We are all better off with her in our family’s corner.

Happily Divorced: Single Life

Some of the frankly weirdest conversations Bob and I have had as a divorced couple revolved around our adventures as single people.  It’s probably hard for a lot of you to understand how we could discuss our evolving single-ness including sharing of some rather intimate escapades.  It’s probably making you a little squirmy right now in fact.  Like where the hell is this going?  No worries. It’s really not creepy.  At least not to me.

Perhaps it will make more sense to you if you consider that neither Bob nor I had spent any real time as adult singles before the point at which we divorced from each other.  We were both mid-30s and single for the first times in our adult lives.

Bob had begun dating a woman right out of high school who he eventually married and then divorced within a year.  I had pretty much paralleled this pattern.  I met a guy two weeks before my high school senior prom and proceeded to date him for three and half years.  I eventually married him when I was 21 and promptly separated from him six months later.  About 8 months after that, I met Bob and the rest is history so to speak.

So I guess for us, our union developed rather prematurely, before we were done experiencing single life.  Once the shock and sadness of our failed marriage had run a reasonable course and we had committed ourselves to remain friends, it was sort of natural for us to share about our single-life escapades.  I think this was mostly helpful since it allowed our friendship to continue to evolve to a natural state of post-marital bliss and remove all the awkward overtones of sexual jealousy and disappointment that I think other couples harbor against one another long after the possibility of ever having sex again with each other has evaporated.  It also helped us to truly learn from our experience together.  Basically, if you are sharing as friends do about relationships with others of the opposite sex, it becomes natural to offer opinions on what might work or not work.  It also offers a weirdly safe audience since no one knows your dating habits and style better than one who actually experienced it.

Of course, these conversations weren’t possible in the early days of our separation or divorce.  But Bob and I both accepted the fact we were happier not cohabiting pretty quickly, probably by the time a year had passed, and began to cheer for the happily-ever-after ending that we each felt the other truly deserved in spite of our failure with one another.

Of course, I didn’t approve of all of Bob’s dating choices and he downright opposed at least my first choice – someone who I met the weekend before I announced my intention to separate from him.  I have to say, given this circumstance, Bob put forth an amazing effort to be cordial to this man for the proceeding three years during which I continued to date him. Thinking back on it, I really don’t know if I could have done the same.  But I truly do thank Bob for doing this in spite of the pain he must have felt every time he had to look at the man he considered the “other guy”.  By the time I had moved on from this first new someone, Bob had remarried and seemed to want me to find someone too.  We even got to a point where Brandi, his new wife, and I talked about my dating situations.  Not in vivid detail mind you.  But rather on a more general “found anyone special?” level.

To clarify, sharing your dating experiences with your ex isn’t advisable for everyone.  And you certainly should not do it if it is even a remote possibility that it may inflict pain on the former spouse.  That will only do harm to your efforts as a happily divorced couple.  In my case, I didn’t consider sharing these types of things with my ex until he did it first.  Now of course, this assumes that I was in a position to handle it.  And I really couldn’t tell you if Bob considered that or not.  Either way, I was.  So it worked out.

If you are on the receiving end of this scenario – your ex is sharing his or her dating experiences with you – try not to assume it’s an attempt to hurt you but rather may be an effort to normalize your relationship as friends and remove the awkwardness.  Look, the fact is you’re not likely going back there.  Some people do this.  But I guess what I’m saying is if it is over for the two of you, why not move on to a place of comfortable non-awkward friendship which includes sharing our successes and failures in dating.  And if you’re lucky enough to have an ex-spouse who is as funny as Bob when telling a story, you might even derive a bit of entertainment out of it.

Beware of the Rebound

When people divorce, at least for many of us who had lost that loving feeling in our previous relationship, something pretty strange happens which I can only attribute to human nature.  When we become uncoupled we suddenly acquire a voracious appetite for that over-the-top love affair we see in the movies.  Yeah, I failed at that last one, but I can still be swept off my feet.  I can still have my happy ending!  In fact, I long for it.  I must have it and I must have it now!

So we become open, maybe too open, to new possibilities before we’ve really worked through our failings, taken inventory of our lessons and given serious thought to what we want in a future relationship.  Before we know it, someone shows us affection, respect, and tells us how beautiful we are and all at once, our rational-self forgets to go into a new relationship eyes wide open.  We plunge head-first into the deep end and are completely consumed not by the other person’s actual wonder but rather by the idea of the perfect relationship.  We discount any shortcomings we witness in the new interest and find it effortless to only focus on the immense feelings provoked when in the presence of this new someone.  We feel sexy again.  Our heart races with excitement.  Colors seem brighter.  The sun shines more intensely.  Our hearts feel warm.  We dance like kids again with complete reckless abandon. Just thinking about this new relationship is exhilarating.  But if only we paused, we’d realize that we’re not actually thinking about the new love interest so much as we are thinking about the ideas of love, lust, and excitement that this new relationship conjures up.  God forbid a friend tries to impose on the perfect imagery we’ve created around this new person, we dismiss it – that is if we ever even heard it in the first place.  Oh our friends just don’t understand.  They don’t remember what this feels like.  And they can’t know what they’re talking about.  He’s perfect.  We’re perfect!  So we pour our heart and soul into this new relationship losing ourselves and our perspective entirely.  One, or many in some cases, might even say we’ve lost our minds!

Yes, new love is a great thing – an enthralling experience.  Really, there isn’t much else like it.  I can think of few other events throughout our lives that provoke such intense positive emotion.  But this intensity can also be blinding and in many cases, short lived.  Further, it may deny us the opportunity to learn to love and honor ourselves.  Then one day, sort of like that moment when we reach the bottom of the first hill of a roller coaster, the lust ends, our eyes flutter open, and we’re not sure if we like this ride after all.  We feel a bit nauseous and through the fog, we can’t even figure out how we got here or how this person that seemed so perfect at first is suddenly revealing a reality we hadn’t even noticed was there all the time.  This isn’t necessarily because they are not a good person.  They may have lots of redeeming qualities.  The just may not have those qualities that will sustain the two into their elder years.  We may find they were worthy to reside in our life for a chapter or two but not an entire novel.  Surprised, shocked, and deeply saddened, we realize we just read the last page of our book together.

These experiences can certainly run the gamut.  Once we actually snap out of our dream state (the “honeymoon phase” if you will), we begin to notice annoying habits we just can’t come to terms with.  Maybe the other person doesn’t share our values.  Maybe they aren’t even as attractive as we once saw them.  Where did that beer gut come from anyway?  Cupid be damned I tell you!  In extreme cases, one may find out the person has a criminal record or has become abusive to either them or their kids. I was fortunate to escape these extreme circumstances.  But not everyone is.

Why am I telling you all this?  It isn’t to scare you or to suggest that you can’t find the perfect love again.  It’s just to raise some awareness that with that first relationship after marriage, you may be giving it more credit than it is due, so consumed by the idea of love, that you actually miss the fact that you aren’t really experiencing love at all but rather heightened human hormones, a.k.a. lust – an unsustainable illusion.  Now there’s nothing wrong with lust either.  But I would suggest that lust in the absence of real love can actually be dangerous because of how it manipulates our otherwise logical deduction processes.  And I really believe we are more susceptible to this in that first relationship following a long term failed one than after having a series of “learning relationships”.  These are the ones that provide us a feedback loop within which we consciously decide what we like and don’t like to experience.  We learn what type of conversations and experiences we enjoy having with another person.  We learn what type of lifestyle we really want to create for ourselves – what friend circle really serves us.

So as you become your new self, just be cautious of that first relationship that catapults you into the heavens.  Be mindful not to bury your head in the sand.  Don’t abandon your rational thinking.  And if you do have a rebound relationship that ends, don’t be surprised if it hurts even worse than the divorce.  A bubble that bursts is usually more startling than a ball that slowly deflates.