Etiquette for delaying date(?) until after divorce
April 20, 2019 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell someone that I'd like to connect with her, but need to wait until after my divorce? (Plot twists: social anxiety, friend-of-a-friend communication.)

I know I'm overthinking this, and I'd be glad for any advice that might help me reduce that and avoid seeming like a jerk or a 12-year-old, or both. I (M, 54) am getting divorced from Mrs. Six after 20 years. The wheels are turning, and it'll be final in a month or two. Mrs. Six cheated and that, plus my own sense of integrity, plus my aim to set a better example for Teen Six, has made me decide that I wouldn't date anyone until I'm no longer married.

Last Saturday I was at a trivia night with some friends, mostly couples around my age. My very effusive friends Maggie and Greg brought along their friend Lisa. I'd enjoyed talking briefly with Lisa at another event a few years ago and found her charming, but didn't think anything more since I was happily (I thought) married. This time, Lisa and I ended up at opposite ends of a big table, and had a couple of minor small-talk conversations when going back & forth to the bar. Again, she seemed nice, and this time I started to think that she was the kind of woman I might be interested in eventually. Though she wasn't wearing a ring, I had no idea whether she was single. I also didn't really feel comfortable flirting, since those conversations amp up my baseline social anxiety and I didn't want to come across with a "hey, baby, I'm *almost* divorced" sleazy vibe to someone I might see again with friends.

Lisa left earlier than the rest of us since she lives about an hour away. At the bar later, Maggie asked me how the divorce was going and asked whether there was anything she could do to help. I caught her up on things, and joked that once it was over I might ask her whether she had any nice, single friends. "Lisa's single", she replied, and went on to tell me a little about her including some bad luck finding nice guys. (Like I said, effusive.) I said that Lisa sounded great, and that after the divorce I might ask Maggie about getting in touch with her. "Maybe we can invite you both to one of our parties over the summer", she said. I thought that would be great, and said so. I left, feeling good about the future prospect.

Today, a week later, Maggie texted me to say "Lisa was asking about you and if you were single, so she told me it was OK to give you her contact information ... if you are interested in finding more about her or just getting together with her, I’m sure she would be more than open to it". Wow. This is great, and especially for a guy like me. With the social anxiety that I mentioned, dating has been difficult and sparse for me. I've been incredibly lucky that I've met a few wonderful women by accident (sometimes literally) with whom I've had LTRs that cover most of my adult life.

Now, in true bean-plating fashion, I'm anxious about how to respond to this good news within the bounds of my self-imposed after-divorce rule. The most basic approach would be "I really enjoyed talking, and maybe we can meet up some time, but I'd need to wait a couple of months until my divorce is final". But I don't want that to seem like I mean "can I put you on the shelf until the timing is better for me?", or "yes, I did tell your friend that I thought you seemed nice, but now that I'm talking to you, I'm not really enthusiastic".

Just to be clear, I don't want to change the after-divorce decision. And I'm not creating any stressful expectations that Lisa is The One and I need to get another LTR started. If it doesn't go anywhere, that's OK. I just would rather not sandbag things by being accidentally insensitive.

I'd be very grateful for any suggestions, if you've been on either side of that kind of conversation. Thanks.
posted by NumberSix to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
While I think waiting until the divorce is done is maybe a little over-scrupulous, I don’t think it’s a negative to tell her exactly what you’re thinking — you’d like to ask her out, but for your own internal reasons you’re not dating until the divorce is final which would be in a couple of months. And then ask if you can get in touch then and see if she’s available for a date.

You’re risking that she won’t still be single, but being on a slightly weird emotional schedule around a divorce is perfectly normal and if she’s a decent person she won’t hold it against you.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2019 [30 favorites]

I found out that my wife cheated on me last summer. First - I am so sorry. People who haven't been through marital infidelity have no idea how mind bending and devastating it can be. Any time you want/need someone to talk to, please memail me.

I had decided to date ahead of the finalization of the divorce, since... Well, I didn't want to sit at home, and going out for dinners and drinks and shows with people seemed to me the best way to put what I had been through behind me. I was open about it being strictly casual - for entertainment purposes only - and I had a lot of a really very interesting and fun times. Dating in middle age is nothing at all like dating in your 20s, and... frankly, I preferred it, to my surprise. I made some really great new friends, too.

Anyway, I really hit it off with one of the women I dated. I didn't want to meet her yet - it was far too "early" - and she agreed with that sentiment. But, I really felt that if I passed this up that I would always regret it. So, she and I took it day by day, week by week. We've been together almost 6 months now, and exclusive for the past few. It's been amazing. I don't know if she and I will go the distance or whatever. For now, it's just really good for us both - and that is what really counts.

My advice - don't pass on an opportunity. Even if it only lasts a few weeks or months, if you and she are both honest and kind to each other, you might make a new friend.

Magic, like Gandalf, arrives when it intends to.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2019 [23 favorites]

Yeah, cheating is very different than dating while divorce proceedings are already underway. Invite Lisa for coffee or something else casual and be frank that you are in the middle of getting divorced and a little nervous about jumping into anything too quickly, but really enjoyed her company the other night and would like to get to know her better.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2019 [24 favorites]

I think that many women would actually be pretty okay with hearing that you are very interested, but you also want to disentangle from your divorce first, especially given that it is only a couple of months away. I think a man who wants to honour his commitments and set a strong example for his kid is sexy AF, and while I wouldn't necessarily sit at home waiting by the phone for the call to come in, if I was interested before, I'd still be interested later.

Probably more interested because men who are caught up in legal bullshit aren't always that interesting. I had a roommate who was dating a guy who was involved in the end stages of a divorce and *I* heard to so much about it that I wanted them to break up. I can't imagine how she coped.

So, ask Maggie to continue to invite both of you to the same group events so you can get to know her on a low key level, while still honouring your own integrity for the next couple of months until your divorce is final.

I don't think it would be *wrong* to date Lisa now, to be clear -- no moral judgement on that if your divorce is this far down the road already. But if you don't want to, I think you can explain your reasons without giving off 'just not that into her' vibes.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:09 PM on April 20, 2019 [33 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, the suggestion to just go ahead and date now has been made; please stick to what OP actually asked. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:12 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think it's really honorable to delay, and if I were Lisa, a delay wouldn't be a dealbreaker. Twenty years is a long time, and waiting a mere two months to give the dissolution and your frame of mind enough proper time and space is a good thing. It shows maturity and perspective, and an unwillingness to drag a nice new person through the end of a situation that they didn't have any connection to.

I wasn't married nearly so long, and my first dates out (in the weeks right before and sometime after the paperwork came in) were total disasters. I felt completely undercooked, if that makes sense. More time is a good thing!

Unless you're already in touch with Lisa, I would have Maggie continue being the messenger. "Lisa, Six thought you were pretty amazing when he met you the other night. He has a teenage son in the mix and Six has promised himself to delay meeting new people until the paperwork comes through. If you're still free in July, he'd love to give you a call."
posted by mochapickle at 1:15 PM on April 20, 2019 [18 favorites]

I like what mochapickle has suggested, but I'd tone down "pretty amazing" into "someone he'd like to get to know better" because expectations etc. Tell Maggie to pass it along but keep everything really subtle and calm so your anxiety doesn't get hopped up.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:59 PM on April 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

^ Agree! Good call!
posted by mochapickle at 2:09 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "The divorce wheels are turning" + teenager would be a strong "no, not yet" from me, and I've been on both sides of this conversation. I greatly respect the people who were plainly honest about where they were and how they wanted to proceed.

There's just so much that can change about the timing, emotions, and process of a divorce when one party is dishonest and the other (your child) needs to be prioritised above all else. That's before any of your feelings, wants, and needs have been factored in. The person you're darting in that scenario is literally the least important person during that time. Not a good feeling for either of you.

Your divorce might be great, friendly, above board, and quick, but even so I think it benefits any future relationship for you to direct your attention to getting through it with your teen as cleanly as possible. That's hard (not impossible, but hard) when you're caught up in all the feelings of New Person in addition to dating for the first time in a long time, AND in addition to being a socially anxious person, AND in addition to actually getting divorced.

What you suggested yourself as a response sounds good, and I might only tweak it to be a little more transparent and forthcoming (if you are feeling strong romantic vibes). Something like, "I really enjoyed talking and would love to meet up, but I want to give my child and myself some time to process the divorce so I've decided to wait until it's final before dating. I really look forward to getting to know you better at [upcoming events] and at an actual date sometime in [month]."
posted by cocoagirl at 2:44 PM on April 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just a quick thanks to everyone who's replied so far, from every perspective. I'm looking forward to digesting those thoughtful responses when I have more time.
posted by NumberSix at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would not contact Lisa yet. I’d write back to Maggie something like, “Wow, that is nice to hear. Once I finalize the divorce in a few months and I’m single again I will definitely reach out to Lisa to see if she’s still single and interested. I really did enjoy talking to her at your party. Thank you for everything.”

It will be more awkward if you reach out to Lisa directly now and give her the caveats about your timetable, etc. That makes things seem way more serious than they are and overcommits you both in a way that might stress one or both of you out (what if you or she meets someone else in the interim?)
posted by sallybrown at 3:33 PM on April 20, 2019 [14 favorites]

Best answer: "The divorce wheels are turning" + teenager would be a strong "no, not yet" from me, and I've been on both sides of this conversation

I would assume that Maggie and Lisa have spoken about it. Lisa almost certainly already knows all of this, and ... doesn't seem to have noped out ?

Look, if you wait to be "perfect" before you decide to take chances on finding a partner, you will never find a partner. You will always be a dad, and you're gonna be pissed (less, but still) about the cheating 20 years from now. Any person you meet - who is the right person - will need to meet you where you are. Can/will Lisa do that ? Maggie seems to think so, for some reason.

There is only one way to find out.

The most important thing here is to be yourself. There is no right way to handle recovering from infidelity and divorce. All the advice here is useless if you find it poorly fitting. If you feel you need to wait a bit and heal, do that. If you feel like it's worth a shot, do that. Somewhere in betweeen...

No shame in beanplating - I'm autistic, so I am king of caring about shit nobody else cares about. You'll get no judgment from me - only support.

There were a number of women I went out with who were perfectly lovely - and given different timing, maybe we worked out differently. The one that did work out (so far!) met me where I was, with the baggage I had, and what I had to offer. And the story is the same for her. A lid for every pot, and all that.

The only thing we should expect, and can promise - are Honesty and Kindness.

Whatever you do - be yourself and do those two things. Especially to you.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:07 PM on April 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

I agree with sallybrown. If you don't want to act now, I'd probably pass the message via your friend not directly. You want your first direct contact with her to be about wanting to see her, not about NOT wanting to see her (yet).

Also, I'd keep it light in how you explain it to your friend. That it's your personal preference to get things squared away first.

Mrs. Six cheated and that, plus my own sense of integrity, plus my aim to set a better example for Teen Six, has made me decide that I wouldn't date anyone until I'm no longer married.

I totally get what you're saying and respect why you'd have strong feelings, but I think this section comes across a little ... "I'm being rigid to prove I'm better than her." I think a lot of people would agree that a person should wait and a lot of other people would think that waiting for the divorce to be final is unnecessary. Some people view divorce papers as just paperwork and view the breakup talk or the moving out as the End of the Relationship. Just like it would be "cheating" to cheat on a fiance even before the law recognized your relationship, a couple could have effectively ended their relationship before the law has caught up, or at least I think some people see it that way. I think it's a place where opinions can differ among honorable people. If SHE thinks that it'd be okay to start dating now, you don't want to implicitly insult her by implying that only people who lack integrity would see it that way.
posted by salvia at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2019 [13 favorites]

I would not date a man "in the process of getting divorced." Too messy.

Ordinarily I'm not a fan of third-party communication in romance, but I think this is the rare instance where it might be less awkward to speak to your friend. It would be a little weird to contact Lisa just to tell her you could be interested in the future, but not now. So tell your friend you genuinely liked Lisa, and you'd definitely be interested, except that you've decided you'd be more comfortable waiting until your divorce is finalized for you to start dating again. Your friend can pass on your genuine enthusiasm. And it's not unreasonable.

Just bear in mind that, by the time you're free, Lisa may not be anymore!
posted by praemunire at 4:50 PM on April 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I think sallybrown's script is perfect. She talked to you for a couple of hours at a trivia night and she thinks you're cute. You, on the other hand, don't feel ready to date anyone yet. This happens all the time once people are adults; she's not going to think this is a weird scenario! The thing that would make ME feel awkward, and turn me off, if I were her, would be if I were to get some overly explanatory response to my comment that I liked you and wondered if you were single -- with the utmost kindness, she doesn't really care that much yet and she doesn't really need to hear all your current emotional logistics right now. ESPECIALLY if the first time you text her is to carefully explain why you don't want to go out with her at the moment!

I'd just have Maggie tell her that you're not dating anyone until after your divorce is final, but you really like her -- and then have Maggie invite you both to that party. (But yeah, Lisa will very possibly meet someone between now and then! Them's the breaks.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:56 PM on April 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, awkward. Obviously Lisa reached out. I guess it’d be rude to not respond. On the other hand, she (and you) may not yet realize how winding your way out of the marriage is going to affect you and/or a budding relationship. There’s some grieving to be done if it hasn’t happened yet, some anger, regret, nostalgia... It’s going to be a challenge, having those emotions play out, in sometimes unexpected ways, right when you’re getting to know someone new (who by the sounds of things is *ready* to hit the ground running.

I say this as someone who was roughly in Lisa’s shoes a bit ago, starting something with a person in roughly your shoes. It took about a year for him to shake it off, and that relationship had been ending for like five years. Everyone’s mileage varies, of course.

It’s not impossible at all, just fairly tricky. You’ll both probably have to do lots of communicating. But it’d also be smart to wait.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:45 PM on April 20, 2019

"dear x, i like you but i just cannot date while i'm in the middle of this fakakta divorce. these things take an interminable amount of time and i cannot say when i will be ready."
posted by zippy at 9:29 PM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: However you end up phrasing it, I'd make it clear that this is a general policy you set up for yourself even before she expressed interest in you. Like [something to express enthusiasm] but I told myself I wouldn't go on any dates until my divorce is finalized so [stuff about keeping in touch in the interim or that you'll be in touch once things are set or whatever.]
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:59 PM on April 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is an Ask where truly every answer is good and helpful, even if the approaches are sometimes completely opposite. As you wrote yourself, there are a lot of good things to think about!

So often people use timing as an excuse to just not date someone but, for you, it's completely valid. Could you just focus on getting to know Lisa better as a friend? You can send a text along the times of "Hey, it was so nice seeing you and I'm glad you reached out. I'm definitely interested in you but don't want to start dating anyone until my divorce is finalized in x-months. I'd love to hang out as friends for now. Would you be interested in that or would you prefer for me to reach out again once I'm ready to date?" Put the ball in her court!

I'm the kind of person who almost never hesitates to ask someone out -- if we're both single, of course -- but, I gotta say, getting to know someone as a friend first is pretty amazing. Arguably it's much better because there's less pressure. Good romantic dates are basically good platonic dates with a bonus, right? So keep the conversation light -- when possible -- and without expectations, and just hang out occasionally. As some others have said, I'd also prefer to date someone after their divorce is truly finalized. If they're genuine about their intentions and keep in touch in a low-key way -- sending a friendly text every few days or weeks, I'm going to maintain interest.

There's always the risk that they will meet someone before you're ready but that's always a risk, even if you're already starting to date. However, I think here the bigger risk is of moving too fast, especially when a break-up is so fresh. You built in that timeline to be cautious, and I think you are wise. There may come a time when you are ready to change your rules but I think you're doing the right thing already by sticking to them but planning for the (near) future. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:51 PM on April 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

50 something divorced male here in a similar but not exact situation. No infidelity, but she walked out on me after 19 years. I too felt that I would date when I was no legally attached to someone else. It just seemed right to me; a code to live by and all that. (CSN?) We were separated for a long time. It was clear the relationship was over. She actually moved about an hour and a half away. Still, until it was official, it wasn't in my book. Anyway, I was set up on a date for a week after our court date. Turns out the judge was out sick and we had to reschedule. Do I go on the date anyway?

I decided to meet her and explain the situation. She was overwhelmed with my honesty and "code". So much so that she paid for our drinks, kissed me on the cheek goodbye and told me to call her after it was final. I did. We had a great first date. Then we went on a second date and she explained that she was in the process of breaking up with some guy but would call me when that was over. We still exchange emails and birthday cards, but we never got together bc by the time she called a few months later, I had met someone else. Turns out we have become good friends. Timing was everything. I think we could have had a great relationship. She has told me the same. She is getting married next month. I have been dating someone for about 1.5 years.

My advice is stick to your code. I think the above advice to pass a message through your mutual friend would work well. I also think that it would be reasonable and within your code to do some group activities where you are both participating such as the trivia night. "I am not going to date until the judge stamps my papers, but a bunch of us are going to this place to play trivia. We would love to have you join.

For someone with anxiety issues at times, the low pressure situation of becoming friends before there is a title of "dating" can be much less pressure inducing. I know at this stage of my life, I was looking for a person with whom I could grow old. That meant a best friend and someone with whom I was sexually and romantically compatible. You can find out in stages.

I think the best advice up above is to be you. Do what makes you comfortable including how or if to tell her about your desire to wait until after it is final.

(Btw, I had at the time 3 teenage kids. When I finally did start dating, they all asked me at different times what took me so long to start dating. When I explained my code, they really appreciated it. I think you are a good example to your child.)

On preview, a lot of what smorgasbord said.
posted by AugustWest at 2:02 AM on April 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

a go-between is the best, maybe the only good way to explain this without coming across as presumptuous/asking her to wait for you. luckily, you've got one.

or -- if you don't like using third parties to communicate -- ask her out now, but for a specific date two months in the future. either tell her why or just tell her your schedule is extremely but temporarily difficult, but you don't want to lose the chance of seeing her again by waiting too long to call. the ability to plan ahead and respect a woman's own prior commitments is allegedly very attractive.

of course you don't want to date someone who would date a married man and of course it makes you easily twice as appealing if you're single when you ask her out.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:56 AM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Not sure if this option would meet your needs:

Buy tickets to a summer event, and ask Lisa to attend. Then stay in sporadic, low-key touch for the time being at group outings like these trivia nights. When your legal proceedings conclude, text more, call more, meet for coffee, have dinner with Maggie and Greg, whatever, in the ramp-up to your first date at the performance.

[You can say, I really enjoyed talking with you, and I'm glad Maggie gave me your contact information. Only, things are pretty hectic for the next month or two -- would you be interested in [play/concert/exhibit/event] on [July ___] with me?

It will be nice to look forward to this outing. And I'm in agreement with the other posters -- that you have these concerns really reflects well on you. Even if things do not pan out with Lisa, you're going to be successful wading into post-divorce dating waters.

Leave it to Maggie to fill in final divorce obligations/teen child impact concerns/desire to be completely, legally unencumbered before dating again, etc. details. Your friend is clearly pulling for you. (As are we!) And stay on top of the paperwork, aiming to finish by early June; some law offices keep summer hours.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:28 AM on April 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't see any reason to beat around the bush. Just telling her you're finalizing your divorce and want to wait until everything is complete before you date so you have a clean slate across the board. It might also be nice to sprinkle in that while your relationship is 100% over (a good thing to emphasize here) you don't want your kid to ever feel like you disrespected their mother by dating while even still a little married (admirable).

Meeting up as friends for a bit is also a lovely idea that may help make the whole thing less stressful once you guys switch gears. It might also build some fun anticipation!
posted by amycup at 1:12 PM on April 21, 2019

I would be frustrated if there was enough information to deduce mutual interest, and I'd told my friend to pass my contact info on, and then ... nothing. You're right that you should say something to Lisa to give her some context. Given that you don't know her super well yet, I'd keep it brief but clearly warm.

I think something along the lines of "I don't know what Maggie has told you, but it's really important to me to wait to start dating until my divorce is final. I'm really looking forward to giving you a call in June." would be lovely. (If possible, be specific with your timeline.)

See how she responds to that, and follow her lead.

If she's happy to wait, you might want to give some thought to what level of contact (none? exchanging winky text messages? hanging out in groups but definitely paying a lot of attention to each other?) you'd like to have in the interim. That's a long time for anticipation to build and that brings a risk that either of you might get more invested than ideal.

Good luck!
posted by katieinshoes at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd be careful about making too strong of a commitment to what happens later on. It sounds like you don't know exactly when your divorce will be final. You also don't know if you'll still be interested or if you might have met anyone else. I would definitely not set up a firm time or date or anything like that. She might also meet someone else between now and then. So I'd avoid setting a calendar date or event. I want to agree with the folks who are suggesting using your mutual friend as an intermediary. Anything else is asking her for too much (she should not be sitting around and waiting for you, as you've mentioned).

I recently went on a date with a man who had decided to hold off on being in a committed relationship for a certain period of time. He wanted to date around for a while. But we hit it off, really well. We ended up not seeing each other more than a few times, and I found myself wishing I had met him at another time. So I would avoid making any future plans with her for now and just hold off on interactions until you might be ready to pursue something.

As for your code: yes, you need to do what's best for you. But I do want to also say I wonder if it's all that important if your teenager knows the date your divorce is final? My kids (now 14 and 16) talk about when their dad and I divorced and refer to the time we let them know that's what was happening. The actual divorce wasn't final til much later; they have no awareness of this date or legal process. Unless there's some specific reason your kid needs the date and time, I am wondering why this seems important to communicate. If it has something to do with your ex and her cheating... I'd say that's not a good reason.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:11 PM on April 22, 2019

Honesty under circumstances like these is critical. By honesty I mean with her and with YOURSELF. You may also be surprised by how much healing you still need to do once the divorce is final.

My ex (married 11 years) was unfaithful, and abusive. I was completely caught off guard by how traumatized I was.

All the dating I did in the early post era didn't amount to anything except deepen the wounds from my marriage.

Two years post divorce and I finally feel like a relationship with me would actually stand a chance at lasting beyond a few months.
posted by Sequined Ballet Flats at 7:28 PM on May 8, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks very much to everyone who responded with such a wealth of good ideas. I've taken all of them seriously, including the ones with a different view of my after-divorce plan. I haven't changed my mind on that, but I'm very glad to have considered alternative approaches on the way to understanding my own more.

I ended up calling Maggie and explaining my thinking. She encouraged me to text Lisa to catch her up briefly on it. I did text Lisa (thanks again for the many tone tips), exchanged a couple of lighthearted messages, and we made plans to meet up at Maggie's Memorial Day party.

Good luck to all of you who are navigating things. I appreciate the supportive suggestions.
posted by NumberSix at 9:26 PM on May 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

« Older Where to find a TTRPG group in north Seattle?   |   Dining table for a messy, crafty family Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.