Dating the 'Divorced Dad'
February 21, 2014 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Everyone I talk to seems to have a negative attitude about my dating this older, divorced man with children. I adore him. Thoughts?

I've been happy to be single for the past several years, enjoying my freedom and developing and growing emotionally. However, I now feel grounded and in a good place to be able to offer someone the love and support they deserve, and I would like a partner.

I adore a man who has been pursuing me relentlessly for two years now, but I've been hesitant because of his ex-wife. Now that I feel ready for love, I've been focusing on him and taking the whole thing very seriously.

The situation isn't horribly nasty between potential beau and his ex-wife, they communicate well enough about their children and aren't constantly embattled. However, she does seem to pester him and rely on him to 'help' her with certain things as if she's a child.

Two of the three children are driving and off doing their own thing most of the time, and the youngest is a joy. He's adorable and loves to hang with his pops. Potential beau is a great father, always making time for his children and caring for them properly. He goes above and beyond for them. I don't worry about the dynamic with the children, the mother is definitely a presence in their lives and he is great with them. If I were in the equation I would be a 'safe place' for them to come to for help, not really a maternal figure. With the little one, I'm sure I would be a solid adult female figure in his life, and I would help in whatever ways I could, but even he is old enough to not look at a new woman in his father's life as a parental figure at this point.

I do worry that I wouldn't be respected as the woman of my own house in the event that we married, but there's no way I'd tolerate anything else. I just wonder if it would be a battle. Some women in my life have alluded to the (moronic in my opinion) fact that my wanting to be respected and my wanting my household to be my own, (i.e. house rules that the children would need to follow) shouldn't be something that I should expect. As if I'm not entitled to that. I think that's absurd. Hypothetically, I shouldn't be expected to just be shoved into this man's life and to not have anything the way I would like it. It wouldn't be all about him and his life that already exists, it would be about his life that already exists, and mine merging with that. My desires and needs would absolutely be respected. The comments from these people I know make me wonder if I'd be met with all kinds of resistance in setting basic house rules, or in my expecting that I receive what I need in my relationship, too.

This man is sturdy, successful, emotionally sound, and has a great sense of humor. He's a catch. But I'm so reluctant to dive in. I can see myself getting embroiled in conflicts with his ex-wife, because her defining word is "take," and all she does is gobble up alimony and do nothing, when she isn't picking fights with him. I cannot tolerate lazy, incompetent people and from everything I've heard that's how she is. He doesn't speak ill of her frequently, which I admire, but I've gathered that she's spoiled and lazy from all the details he has given over the past couple of years. If anything, he is flawed in that he takes care of people almost too well, and doesn't expect much in return. Which I think he's resolved to change in his next relationship. I think that's great, and I'd love to be that person who takes care of him, too.

Some points

-She cheated on him with someone half her age and then divorced him 4 years ago
-He offered to quit his job to find one that didn't require him to travel (this is a position he's slowly graduated to over the course of 20 years at the same company, he loves his work and is incredibly successful) if it meant that it would save his marriage, and she refused to try
-Her children are always having issues with her- they don't respect her and sometimes express their frustrations with her in the form of disrespectful comments and name calling
-She just moved right down the street from beau's new home. It's like she's tapped a vein and won't stop sucking the life out of him. He sees it as a great thing because he adores his children and they can come and go between the two homes freely now, but for me it would be a burden having her so close. She relies on him to handle 'big' (translation: normal adult) things for her, and if she were calling my home wanting his attention and for him to fawn all over her and her 'needs' I would blow up at her on a regular basis.

Have you ever dated a divorced man with children seriously, and what was it like? Are you that man and what have been some challenges you've had with new serious relationships? I really want to meditate on this now that I'm ready to be pair-bonded again, but I don't want to get in over my head. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
posted by OneHermit to Human Relations (32 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- taz

is he a good dad? does he have a positive relationship with the kids? if so...

you need to stop listening when "everyone you talk to seems to have a negative attitude" because everyone you talk to are busybodies to whom you should say "could you please mind your own fucking business?"
posted by bruce at 7:48 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unless you were a cause of the divorce, he's just a guy, with kids. Date him.
posted by efalk at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Give it a try. You'll find out quickly if the situation with the ex is toxic enough to cause problems. It's a good thing he doesn't badmouth the ex even when she's not behaving the best, also.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:56 PM on February 21, 2014

He needs to manage his relationship with her in a way that doesn't create strife for the kids while also keeping strong boundaries that prevent her from intruding into your home and relationship. Communication with the mother of his children should be about the children only and should be between him and her, not between the three of you. He needs to do his part to make sure that he doesn't foist dealing with her onto you and you need to be able to stay out of it and not be pulled in by her. Do you think that you can he can do that?

As for your home with him, of course your agreed upon rules are the rules. She doesn't get to make rules for homes that are not her own. Period.

Make your expectations and needs clear to him. If he's serious about building a life with you, he'll find a way to continue to be a great father and partner while making sure his -ex's drama and nonsense doesn't bleed into your home. If you think he can do that, then I'd go forward and ignore the naysayers.
posted by quince at 7:56 PM on February 21, 2014

If your assumption is that you can enter his life, and the life of his kids, and establish an entirely new set of rules and boundaries, then, no you should not be dating this man.

It wouldn't just be "your house," or even "your and your partner's house." You ABSOLUTELY need to respect the parenting structure -- including house rules -- that he already has established with his kids, and you ABSOLUTELY need to respect their mother as their mother.

If his kids are still young enough to be living at home, you don't get to sweep in and change everything up just 'cuz. That's not how parenting works.
posted by jaguar at 7:58 PM on February 21, 2014 [19 favorites]

I'd think the worrying about having ' my rules in my house' aspect is very premature. Just, you know, start dating and really get to know the dynamic from thge safe spot of being able to bail if it doesn't work. Yeah the ex wife thing sounds agravating but none of us is blemish free.
There are no HUGE flags, just ordinary human messiness that comes standard.

Try it and find out, that is how we progress in life.
posted by edgeways at 8:00 PM on February 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Watch how he sets boundaries with her, and watch how he prioritizes the children's legitimate needs and concerns. If you're happy with both, go for it, and if you're not, consider that you may not have much influence to change those things (but still give it a try.)
posted by davejay at 8:04 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are married, it will be your house, your rules (jointly). I would be cautious, however - dating a guy with an active ex is full of minefields and can test the strongest relationships. This is coming from a stepparent.
posted by hockeyfan at 8:07 PM on February 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

How are you already so embroiled in this drama, and judgemental of this woman?

If he's traveling all the time, I presume she's done the bulk of the parenting and household management for three kids for 16 years...that's not quite the useless loser you've made her out to be.

This level of hostility from you, towards her, does not bode well for a future with this man.

And frankly, good for them if they're coparenting well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:11 PM on February 21, 2014 [49 favorites]

As a divorced father of three let me first say that should this progress to marriage, you should absolutely have a say in how the household runs and how the kids behave in that household. As for the ex, it is my opinion that your potential beau will back off being her adult backstop if he is in a relationship with you (or anyone). He sounds like he can prioritize his attention and gives it to her now because it is the line of least resistance, that is his nature to be helpful and because he has the time. I suspect if he has a higher priority, he will back off.

I would date him, but keep an eye on where you stand in the priority line. Make your view known too so he understands your expectations.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I felt like it was okay until this part:

-She just moved right down the street from beau's new home. It's like she's tapped a vein and won't stop sucking the life out of him. He sees it as a great thing because he adores his children and they can come and go between the two homes freely now, but for me it would be a burden having her so close. She relies on him to handle 'big' (translation: normal adult) things for her, and if she were calling my home wanting his attention and for him to fawn all over her and her 'needs' I would blow up at her on a regular basis.

Drama. You see it. You know it's going to be there. So you either go in, date him and have drama, or don't date him if you don't want any. Their post-divorce relationship is one thing. But that proximity sounds like a bunch of nonsense waiting to happen. Good luck.
posted by cashman at 8:13 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your letter is so full of spite toward the ex-wife that I cannot see how you'd want to get more entwined with him. You would blow up at her on a regular basis? He's carefully cultivated a respectful and cooperative relationship, and you'd be unable to avoid blowing that up? That would not be good for you and your potential partner, and especially not for the children. You have such a hostile attitude towards her. I don't know if you're right or somehow overreacting. But my advice is that you do not pass go unless you get this resolved.
posted by salvia at 8:17 PM on February 21, 2014 [23 favorites]

I'm with the young rope-rider. You say he rarely speaks ill of her, yet you have an incredibly negative opinion of this person who you don't know, and only have one side of the story about. It kind of scares me how angry you are about her presence in his life. To me, if you're fairly amicably divorced, it seems like a great and convenient thing to be nearby to each other for the kids. You see it as her sucking the lifeblood out of him.

Also, the way you say "my desires and needs WILL ABSOLUTELY be met." seems a little frightening too. It makes it sound like you have no interest in compromise and kind of sounds a little empathy-deficient, considering the other people in question are a dad and his children.

Even if you feel ready to date, I get the feeling things will not go well if you try to date a person with this many complications with the attitude that you have. This situation requires someone who is willing to roll with some punches and deal with some dramas, with a light touch rather than a heavy hand. That doesn't sound like it's you right now.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:17 PM on February 21, 2014 [27 favorites]

This level of hostility from you, towards her, does not bode well for a future with this man.

This, for sure. I'm with the young rope-rider and salvia; I was actually quite shocked at the level of hostility, nastiness, and disdain evidenced in your question.

Also, this:

Her children are always having issues with her- they don't respect her and sometimes express their frustrations with her in the form of disrespectful comments and name calling

is bog-standard teenage behavior and really not some telling reflection on her parenting skills. If you think it's bad when directed towards their mother, just wait until you hear the things kids can and will say to their step-parents.
posted by lalex at 8:20 PM on February 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

You were doing so well there until you got to the part about expecting to blow up at his ex all the time. You sound like you're spoiling for a fight already. Nobody needs that, and there's no reason for it. If your man is spending more time than you'd like helping out the mother of his children then your beef is with him, not her. Not her.

The relationship they have is theirs. She is the mother of his children and always will be. They will always have a relationship, even after the kids are grown and gone. Instead of anticipating going to war with her, you need to figure how to like her. I know the reasons my husband and his ex got divorced and I can see those reasons in action sometimes when we are all together. I also know the reasons he fell for her in the first place (because I asked) and I see those traits in her too, and I like those things about her. She and I get along fine because we're not the ones who got divorced from each other.

The house close by could be bad thing, or it could be the best thing ever for the kids. Your attitude toward this woman will be a major influence on which way that goes. There's no reason for it go as badly as you're anticipating unless you decide it's going to go that way.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:22 PM on February 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

There are three children whose divorced parents seem to have a good relationship. Now it's a possibility that they will have to live with someone whose opinion of their mother is nothing short of contempt, and who plans to "blow up at her on a regular basis."

Please don't inflict your scorn toward their mother and the drama you expect on these poor children. They deserve to be secure from the harmful influence this would bring into their lives.
posted by grouse at 8:41 PM on February 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

That's a long list. When I see a long list that doesn't really mention how you feel emotionally about the idea of getting close with someone, I think that is something that might be being ignored in a sense. I'd worry about that more than the practicalities you have listed here, which are generally things you can't get a feel for until you are actually in the situation.

So, deep breaths and ask yourself fundamentally where you are emotionally in this process. Give yourself a few weeks to figure that one out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:41 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I absolutely adore the divorced dad I've been with for more than three years but if I had to do it again, I'm not sure I would. It's hard. The children ALWAYS come first. No matter what. It helps that he has a decent relationship with the ex but that living down the street from him thing sounds like drama. Proceed with caution and be ready to say: "This is a deal breaker. I'm out."
posted by nubianinthedesert at 8:41 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

He sees it as a great thing because he adores his children and they can come and go between the two homes freely now, but for me it would be a burden having her so close.

This makes me think you might be in over your head here. Yeah, he sees this as a great thing, because this is a great thing. Man, my dad never lived more than 2 miles away but I would have KILLED to have him living just down the street, when I was a kid. (and now for that I would probably actually kill someone to have my dad alive and living down the street. sorry, hypothetical someone.)

What I'm getting at is that good parents, loving parents, involved parents are beyond important to their kids. Physical proximity is really clutch. A good, low-conflict, helpful relationship with the ex is suuuuper bonus gravy. My folks were so good at being divorced that strangers often thought they were still married. And that is a huge, HUGE part of why my siblings and I are basically emotionally healthy humans, able to sustain happy relationships and lives. Which is what good parents want above all for their children.

Maybe what your friends are picking up on is that you're going into this with an ex-is-the-enemy, defend-my-castle attitude. When it is actually a situation with no enemies and no castles to defend. It's a pre-existing ecosystem to which you will need to do the lion's share of adapting. If you aren't ready to do that adapting, you shouldn't date this guy.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:43 PM on February 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

Yeah, the hostility and contempt here surprised me, too. Even if his ex is a very difficult person, there's an awful lot of toxicity coming from how you speak about her and the whole coparenting situation. I also notice a lot of "borrowing trouble," as my grandmother used to say -- that is, coming up with completely hypothetical future scenarios that seem to have gotten your back up even before anything has happened.

The guy sounds lovely, and he sounds like a great dad, and he sounds like he's crafted a healthy working relationship with the mother of his children (100% regardless of how difficult a person she may in fact be). All three of those things are to be respected and even celebrated. If you know in your heart of hearts that you can't do that, then I don't think this is the right relationship for you -- not because of the drama his ex may bring to the situation, but because of the drama that, given this post, it seems pretty clear that you will.
posted by scody at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

For clarification:

There is already a relationship between the two of us. However, for the past two years it has been a friendship only, with his insistence that we move toward a serious, committed romantic relationship, something I've been hesitant to do. I am not leaping to conclusions or demonizing some poor innocent ex-wife. I know the details. I've heard the stories, other people close to him have told me about her behavior.

When I say that he does not bad mouth his ex-wife, I do not mean to say that he never discusses her or the details of their relationship. What I mean to say is that he has shared many details with me, countless stories, but has never called her names or even held her accountable for being so nasty, even when it's glaringly obvious that she has been abusive and vile. The stories I've heard are cringe-worthy and my 'hostility' is disgust. So no, I'm not leaping to conclusions about this woman or viewing her as some sort of enemy and for no apparent reason acting 'hostile.'

There are very specific incidents pertaining to how she's failed as a parent, resulting in her children's perpetual dissatisfaction with her, but I'm not going to air that laundry here. It's not "teenage angst" causing her children to say such things about her, there are very specific and just reasons for their feelings and frankly I feel badly for their children.

Thank you.
posted by OneHermit at 8:48 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would think seriously about what kind of negative attitude other people you've asked (outside this post) are voicing -- are they telling you to watch out because this guy is older? Because he has kids? Because his ex is psychotic? Because they don't think he's good for you, or he undertips at restaurants, or ...? Very often everyone else really is wrong when they offer relationship advice, but it's hard for us to say either way without better understanding their concerns.

In terms of the ex, you clearly have really, really strong negative feelings about her. I would also think seriously about why, and whether you want to get involved in this. If you're 100% correct, this woman is Satan and she will bring DRAMA to your relationship. If you're wrong, her presence still makes you incredibly angry but you're going to have to deal with her anyway for many, many more years as the mother of your step-children. That is a lot of drama either way, especially given how emotionally involved you already seem.
posted by angst at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not leaping to conclusions or demonizing some poor innocent ex-wife. I know the details. I've heard the stories, other people close to him have told me about her behavior.

No, you've heard only one side of the story, the details that your friend and his friends have shared.

And even if they're 100% objectively accurate, your potential beau has found a way to have a relatively harmonious co-parenting relationship with his ex, and your question makes it sound like you are ready to blow the whole thing up.
posted by lalex at 8:52 PM on February 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

But he still travels and leaves them with her, right? He got her pregnant three times despite the fact that she's totally terrible? Huh.

Look, the evil ex is both a real thing, and a really convenient trope guys pull out to make themselves look good. Either way, you're looking to be in this woman's life 24/7. It sounds crazy given how awful you think she is. That's why people around you think you're nuts for considering this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:55 PM on February 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your question, and follow-up, seem to be focusing on your rights in the situation, without any acknowledgment of the importance of your responsibilities. And those responsibilities are very much to the kids in this situation, which means that you'd have a responsibility to maintain a household in which their mother was treated with respect, even if the kids themselves were badmouthing her.

If you can't do that -- either because you feel that it would be kowtowing, or because the ex is actually so toxic that doing so would be dangerous to the children's wellbeing -- you should end the relationship with their father.
posted by jaguar at 8:58 PM on February 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

You know, in another question you described yourself this way: "I've always known that there is enough of everything for everybody. That is, there is enough success, attention, and enough of all of the things we crave as flawed beings, for everyone. There's enough to go around. There's no need to feel threatened by other people. I've always known this."

I suggest you follow your own advice and stop feeling threatened by her, and focus more on compassion and generosity toward each of the flawed beings in this scenario.
posted by scody at 8:59 PM on February 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

By all means, date the man but stay out of his relationship with his ex-wife and more importantly, his children's relationship with their mother. It isn't any of your business (unless she's abusing her children, in which case, all you should do is alert the authorities).

Honestly, I don't think you are ready because you're being very judgemental towards this woman that you barely even know and you're framing things as if it's going to be a power struggle that you have to win. This is going to be horribly uncomfortable for the man's kids and everyone involved - including you.
posted by cyml at 9:17 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This guy has not set sufficient boundaries with his ex to facilitate dating or a successful committed relationship.

Furthermore, his choices, actions, and invitations smell funny for someone who is supposedly ready to commit to you.

From the outside, it really seems your guy has been triangulating between you and his ex. He wants you to commit full time, entangle yourself in his marital dramas. including fighting with his ex and resenting her where he can't be seen to be doing that.

Do. Not. Do. This.

You're being set-up. Please don't take the bait!

Don't believe me that he's a drama llama?

Look back at your question. That's a lot of detail and strong feelings you've got going on for someone you (barely, if at all) know personally.

He stayed with her and had three children. He likes the drama. Some part of him likes the drama, otherwise, he would have some boundaries with her. He has few to zero boundaries with her. Think on that. Please.

He doesn't want to be the "bad guy" so he's going to throw you into the middle and watch everything blow up.

Leave these two alone. They're both toxic. Do not get in the middle.

Please, RUN.
posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on February 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

[One comment deleted. OP, do not threadsit; commenters, please either give constructive answers or pass the thread by. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:27 PM on February 21, 2014

"There is always an argument or drama involved when they discuss the particulars of one child or another, and one of his children flees to his home from hers on a regular basis because she's out of control."

Both parents have issues. You'll only be a new target.

I don't think this was a useless thread.

I'm really very sorry about all of this. I hope you pass on this "opportunity" shortly because you see the toxic dynamic for what it is.

I know you adore this guy. I know.

He has not made space (figuratively or literally) for a relationship between the two of you to grow, and you are already deeply affected by the conflicts and arguments that have not happened yet, but are sure to come.

Take a pass on this guy. He's not offering you enough to be worthy of a commitment.

posted by jbenben at 9:32 PM on February 21, 2014

I suggest for the sake of everyone's happiness and well-being (including your own), that you keep away from these people.

From your description of the situation, this relationship is not the right one for you - there's way too much animosity where there should be none.

Walk away and find a situation more appropriate to your temperament.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:33 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm having a hard time imagining this as the optimal relationship for you to dip your toe back in the water with. So this guy has relentlessly been pursuing you even as you were indicating you were not ready for a relationship? That kind of attention is ALWAYS flattering, but to an outsider the big picture looks like he is looking to fulfill his own needs, rather than be sensitive to yours. And then all of the attendant drama...

Sometimes a guy can be a great friend without being the right person to have a committed relationship with.
posted by vignettist at 9:53 PM on February 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

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