Dating someone going through a divorce
September 6, 2006 3:13 AM   Subscribe

Young-divorcée-dating-filter. How do you do it without getting hurt? She (24) likes me (32) Her 4-year-old daughter likes me. Her mother and sister like me. But she's not quite single—only separated and dealing with someone who's not a good husband but is apparently a decent father. This one's kind of long. So, naturally, there's

A mutual friend introduced the two of us to each other earlier this summer, and we hit it off well. No immediate romantic sparks, but we got along and—something that was especially important to her—I wasn't uncomfortable with her young daughter, and her daughter practically adored me from the start.

There were some lunches and dinners out, sometimes with her daughter, sometimes not. Lots of evenings out for drinks, too—sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us. Two weekends ago, I took her home to her place after a night out, and we ended up fooling around for a while and having sex. That definitely got the ball rolling in a certain direction. Then there were evenings over at her mother's place (where she'd been staying ever since she made the decision to leave her husband and relocate here) evenings over at mine, breakfasts out with her daughter and mother. (The mother took an instant liking to me, too.) More sex... good sex. That first time with her ended an eight-year dry spell for me. I had almost forgotten I could do that.

This past weekend, she officially moved out of her husband's house, in another state. I didn't travel in the rental van with her because I thought it would be best to stay away from what I knew would be an emotional time for her and her husband (who doesn't know about me, but will when he sees this month's cell phone bill.) But once she got back here, I spent all Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Labor Day) helping her move in to her new apartment. Her daughter's car seat was in the back of my car for much of the weekend. It meant so much to me to see that she trusted me that much.

She told me she has no regrets about us becoming involved the way we did, but I sensed something wasn't right when she was pretty emotionally distant from me this weekend, and she confirmed that and told me she felt guilty and confused and said she didn't want to rush things.

The problem is, we rushed from the beginning. We hit the ground running, I got used to that pace pretty quickly, and then things sort of came to a grinding halt and I'm pretty frustrated by the abrupt change. I really like this young woman, and I think she knows that, but I don't want to just be the guy she calls when she needs to move some furniture, and I don't just want to be a fuck buddy. She introduced me to her family, who likes me, and she trusts me taking care of her daughter, who also likes me. I know that those two things wouldn't have happened if she didn't see something good in me, and I should just keep that in mind instead of fixating on the fact that we haven't kissed, had sex or even just slept together since she arrived back here with the full rental truck. All she has asked me to do now is be there for her and be patient, which I'm willing to do, but I'm wondering if this is too challenging a situation for someone who's been single as long as I have and is now anxious to do everything I can to make this work. I don't want to get taken advantage of.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

It's not what you want to hear, but don't push this. Be a friend if you want to be a friend, but let her get through her divorce before you expect anything more. Be firm in this, don't let her call all the shots as far as your time together. If she really cares for you then she will respect your wishes. She needs to concentrate now on grieving for her last relationship and learning how to be a single mother. Do you want to be rebound boy for any longer than you already have?
posted by nadawi at 4:45 AM on September 6, 2006

I don't want to get taken advantage of.

I think the very first thing you need to do here is acknowledge that you are not the only vulnerable party in this relationship.

If she has only just moved her stuff out of her former marital home, it is still very early days for her in terms of coming to grips with her new life as a single parent and everything that that entails -- including the legal and emotional rocky road that usually precedes getting a divorce.

It's entirely likely that she is simply not ready for a new relationship. It does sound like she likes and trusts you enough to want to be ready, but these things take time and require patience.

I'm wondering if this is too challenging a situation for someone who's been single as long as I have

Well, you're the only one who can really answer that one. I will say this though, it seems to me like you're putting an awful lot of weight on being accepted and liked by her family, which is important, but not nearly as important as how she feels about you, and she might not really be sure how she feels just yet. My advice is if you want to hang in there just take it slowly and enjoy each other for now and be prepared to re-evaluate the relationship (preferably together) a little while down the track.
posted by harmless at 4:56 AM on September 6, 2006

I was once in a similar situation and it ended poorly.

I dated a man once for about a year that was going through a divorce. He had separated from his wife just weeks before we met. No kids in his case, but I met his entire family, spent gobs of time at his house (even helping him paint), and had great sex. Although I had not been single for 8 years at the time that we met, I had been single for quite some time, was recovering from some personal problems, and was quite anxious to have a relationship work. It ended abruptly when he decided to reconcile with his wife.

I heard from him not too long ago, 3 years after the relationship ended. He was extremely sorry about the way he treated me. He explained that he actually did love me and valued the time we spent together. The reconciliation with his wife did not go well. He has since become engaged to somebody else and realized the error of his ways in handling his first post-separation relationship.

So yeah, I was the rebound. You're the rebound. I don't think I was taken advantage of per se, just as I don't think she is taking advantage of you per se. I would believe her when she says she is confused. It sounds like she genuinely likes you, just as I was genuinely liked. Of course, genuine feelings had nothing to do with the outcome of my relationship.

It is a lot of work emotionally to support somebody through a divorce, especially if you're the one sleeping with that somebody. When my relationship ended, I felt really ripped off and drained. I was quite depressed. It took me quite a while to get back on my feet, but I did manage to rebuild my life better than it was before. I don't regret the time I spent in that relationship. It was what I needed at the time, and I had the patience to deal with it.

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing you can do about the extremely high risk of being hurt and shit upon by this woman. She needs to let the divorce process run its course. You won't be in a secure position until some time after the divorce decree is final. Even then, she is quite young and she may decide that she wants to play the field before getting tied down again.

You can ask her to be more than a fuck buddy or cuddle whore or whatever, but she may not be capable of giving you what you want right now. If you're not satisfied with what you're getting from her, then leave. If you're willing to wait and take the risk it won't work out, then stay. Sounds like you're knee deep in it now, so either way it will be quite trying for you. Good luck.
posted by crazycanuck at 4:58 AM on September 6, 2006 [6 favorites]

You are 32. She is 24, divorced, and had a kid at 20. It doesn't sound like she's mature enough to make you anything except 'the guy she calls when she needs to move some furniture'.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:00 AM on September 6, 2006

It's possible you're a rebound or an exit strategy but that doesn't necessarily mean it can't be a workable relationship. Give her time to work out what she wants, she may like to play the field but then again she may be a serial monogamist and will be ok getting into another relationship. I'd say stay involved, but keep your eyes open that it might turn out to be exploitation, wouldn't you take care the same way getting involved with anyone?
posted by biffa at 5:28 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

You are 32. She is 24, divorced, and had a kid at 20. It doesn't sound like she's mature enough to make you anything except 'the guy she calls when she needs to move some furniture'.

How does her having a child at 20 and then divorced at 24 say anything about her maturity?
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:30 AM on September 6, 2006

Don't get emotionally involved until she is fully divorced. Step back a little from where you are now.
posted by JJ86 at 5:50 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

This is a mess.
Your expectations: You're looking for a relationship.
Her expectations: She's looking for safety, comfort... and escape from her divorce.

I'll say it: Someone who gets divorced is a mess for one year minimum post divorce. Not post seperated. Post sign-the-papers divorced.

Her life is chaos. With the bonus of a 4 year old.

You slept together? She is in the middle of feeling, lost, lonely, possibly unwanted - and you show her affection. Which may have very well been what she needed.

But it sounds like you also prepared breakfast and asked her to move in. She's looking for comfort....

You're way too attached to a woman who needs space to (amongst other things) find herself again. And her regrets, likely, are because you're moving way too fast.

Chill out. She may really need someone who is not you. What she can't do right get married again today (she's not even divorced yet.) Oh, I know you like the idea of the carseat in your car for days...and the trust that it implies.

Read that again. She's not even divorced yet. Who cares if her daughter or mother like you. Realistically, she needs time, space, and understanding to figure her shit out.

It's going to take awhile for her to get her head together. She's going to have feelings of regret (and possibly depression.) At some point, it's likely, she might want to play the field for a little.

Guess what you just signed up for?
posted by filmgeek at 5:57 AM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

You are being used. She is scared of being alone during this fragile time and you are a convenient, interim pseudo-father/rebound/emotional crutch.
Head for the hills, dude. Take your newfound confidence after finally getting some play and get yourself another decent girl. You can do it.
This relationship is a train wreck and you know it. Good luck.
posted by nineRED at 6:23 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

WAY too fast.

Dude, if you want this girl, you need to back way the heck off while she gets over her divorce. And you need to spend that time figuring out how you managed to stay single since you were 24... that ain't exactly easy to do either unless you have some history that makes you shy away, or you live in east west BFE where all of your neighbours are little old ladys that have tea at 4pm. Heck, I don't think you could stay out of some sort of relationship even if your neighbours were anything like mine in my last town -- little old ladies that had martinis at 4pm.

Yes, she's using you. Get over it. I guarantee you that she genuinely likes you if she's letting you in as far as she is, but you're a rebound -- you're being used by her to prop up her mental state well enough to get on with her day to day life while she reduces and weans off the part of her brain that's all about having a man in her life. In that way, you're an angel and a godsend, and if you play it right you could come out of this as her personal angel and have a good, long-lasting relationship. Doing things right in this case means walking a fine line between being 'there' for her as a friend and a companion, and being there for her as a lover. Right now her head's spinning. Letting her settle it down and just know that you're there for her is the right thing.

Saying, "Hey, what happened to the way we were last week?" ... that, well, that's the wrong thing. That's what you said in your post above. Don't do that. That's what's making her confused and making her rush. She saw the man she married last weekend and moved away from him. Can you imagine the conflicting emotions she's got running through the head when she comes back and sees you? The guilt that remains in her for leaving a man that she made vows to and made a family with, and a man that she's trusted? She couldn't do anything but come home and be distant to you.

Oh, and one other thing -- she's not "a young woman". If she heard you refer to her that way, she might be insulted. She may not have as much life experience as you do, but once you're past 22 or so, age means almost nothing. Take a look at how much respect you have for her, as that'll be important in any relationship you form.

If you push her, and your own insecurity (admit it, it's there, I got it too) takes the front seat and drives, then as soon as she's done getting her soon-to-be-ex-husband out of her head, she's going to ditch you as well because she's no longer needing the kind of support she depended on you for. She's still trying to figure out why she doesn't trust her ex-husband and does trust you. If she comes up with "I trust anonymous because I need him right now," then you're gone as soon as she doesn't depend on your support. If you don't want that, get your head in the right spot.
posted by SpecialK at 6:58 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I want to suggest that the person you need to put first here is not you, nor her, but that little girl.
posted by LarryC at 7:15 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

She may not have as much life experience as you do, - SpecialK

Or she may. She's been married, had a kid, and is now divorced. That gives a person a fair amount of life experience. You haven't been in a relationship since you were her age.
posted by raedyn at 7:38 AM on September 6, 2006

Yeah, raedyn, that's kind of what I was getting at. I just didn't word it the way I was thinking. :-P
posted by SpecialK at 8:34 AM on September 6, 2006

A couple of points:

First of all, I love Metafilter, and Ask Metafilter in particular. You guys are great. One of the mutual friends who set us up has offered me some of the same advice you have, but you all don’t know me and won’t stroke my ego nearly enough as much. After I started reading some of the comments in this thread, I thought about outing myself as the anonymous poster, but I’m worried about doing that in case the husband is a member here, or someone here knows whom I’m talking about.

Pieoverdone, I understand your point, but have to say that this woman has had led a rough life and has been dealt several raw deals along the way, not the least of which—actually, I take that back—the very least of which is frequently being treated like shit by her bipolar husband. She’s eight years younger than me, but is definitely mature beyond her years.

Part of my confusion about all of this is that I didn’t really have any expectations going into it. That night two weekends ago when I took her home to her mother’s place, it occurred to me that that was the first time I’d been her ride to and from a bar or restaurant, and that was an … interesting development. I wondered where that was going to lead, but I didn’t push it. She made the first move, and afterward asked me why I hadn’t made the first move. I told her it was because I was scared about jumping into this too quickly—for my own sanity as well as hers. I’m not someone who likes to play the field, and she said she isn’t either. I told her I’m a one-woman man, she said she’s a one-man woman.

Great, I thought, until I realized I’m technically man #2 here.

If it sounds like I’m putting an awful lot of weight on being accepted by her daughter and family, it’s only because she’s been putting a lot of weight on it. How else am I supposed to take it when she talks about how much her daughter and mother like me, and her mother calls me to tell me how much she appreciates everything I’ve done to try to make this move easy for her daughter? But that’s a good point, how I haven’t heard very much about how this woman (sorry, I didn’t realize that “young woman” could sound condescending, but I suppose that’s true) feels about me herself. You’re right; it’s likely that she hasn’t figured that out yet.

When she first remarked at how easily I got along with her daughter—talking to her, playing with her, etc.—I told her I thought it might be because I have a sister who's 12 years younger than me. I remember being old enough to help take care of a young child, and I was comfortable falling back into that routine. Then I later realized that it had more to do with how I’m 32, single and have no kids of my own. I have to say I really got used to rolling three-deep all last weekend and the previous week.

When I said dry spell, I meant since the last time I had sex. The time since my last relationship is still too long, but only (hah) 5 years, not 8. And as for why there was no sex in that last relationship (or at any other point since 1998) that’s a whole ‘nother AskMe. Anyway, as you can imagine, I’ve recently had a little taste of what I’ve been missing out on all these years, and now that we’ve gone from 0 to 60 and back to, oh, 15 or so, I’m a little frustrated. But I understood even before I came here today that my concerns about sleeping alone again are petty compared to what she’s going through. I’m not a selfish prick with needs that must be met. I’m just hoping that this will work out.
posted by phenom-anon at 8:45 AM on September 6, 2006

You may have just endangered this woman. I flagged the comment.
posted by bilabial at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2006

I think the very first thing you need to do here is acknowledge that you are not the only vulnerable party in this relationship.

This is true. But the poster is the only one who can look out for himself. The woman is going to have to take care of that duty for herself. He really can't take responsibility for her.

As for mom calling. Oh boy. This has bail written all over it. I'd say taking some time for yourself is a good move.

Plus, she's not your girlfriend, so don't worry about being a one-woman man quite yet. You can make those commitments when she makes those commitments.

Gotta look out for yourself first or you can't look out for them. If you got caught later on in something that wasn't working the child would be hurt. Thus protecting yourself is the most important thing right now.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:30 AM on September 6, 2006

Mod note: I removed the semi-identifying information in phenom's comment
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:45 AM on September 6, 2006

Just wanted to point out that, divorce or not, a relationship is what the two people involved want.

If she was running hot before but is now cold, then that's what is the situation is now.

Frankly, with her just-moved-out & not-even-divorced status, I think it's in your best interest to give her space. It sounds like a big *rebound* to me.

You can still be her friend while giving her space (and moving furniture, if you feel like it) but put a profile up on an online dating site and start using your renewed self-confidence to meet and date other women.

Also, it's notable that she made the first move. If she had not, would you have done so? Is part of your attraction to her simply that she desires you? (Don't feel bad, you wouldn't be the first, but it may give you some insight into why you've been single for so long).

I didn't hear a lot about what you liked about her in the question, just that you were happy to be having frequent sex. Heck, there's dozens of women on the online dating sites who aren't in the middle of a divorce with children you can hook up with!

Good luck, it sounds like you need to take care of yourself in this relationship, otherwise it could really be hard on you. And I'd really like you to be back in the dating world again, but maybe not with this one.
posted by Pocahontas at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Jessamyn. I wasn't that specific in that bit you deleted, but I'm sure it was the right thing to do.

I'm not the first guy she started seeing since the separation, although I'm told that first one didn't last long and they decided it would be best to remain friends. I'm different from that guy in that I'm not going through a divorce myself. Not sure if that helps in this case or not. Anyway, even though I'm not the first one since the separation, I suppose it's possible to rebound more than once.

Wow, I like her for so many more reasons than that … we've had so much fun together, with or without friends (and little ones) in tow. Being interested in me helps, since that hasn't happened often. And it certainly isn't just the sex, although that's certainly a plus, too. But I'm not looking for hookups. Would I have made that first move? Maybe not right that second, but eventually I probably would have. I'm a little out of practice, sure, but I'm not dead.

I appreciate the encouragment, Pocahontas. The way you phrased that makes it look like you've got some kind of personal stake in this, which is … I don't know what.
posted by phenom-anon at 5:59 PM on September 6, 2006

How does her having a child at 20 and then divorced at 24 say anything about her maturity?

I don't know the answer to that, but I married at 19, had a child at 21, divorced at 23, and I can say that I believe the following is completely true:

Someone who gets divorced is a mess for one year minimum post divorce. Not post seperated. Post sign-the-papers divorced.

I had a friend during this post-divorce time. A really, really good one. He was safe. He was kind. He was honest. And I loved him. (I really did). So we kissed and we cuddled and we talked at 3 in the morning. But I was in no shape at all to make an evaluation about what I wanted in a longer-term relationship. That reevaluation takes time, space, and introspection.


If you're having fun and enjoying yourself, and she's having fun and enjoying herself, then keep having fun and enjoying yourselves.

If you have long-term goals or expectations about this relationship, my advice to you would be to drop them. This instant. If you can't enjoy this without an attachment to the future outcome, then you're not prepared to date someone in this situation.
posted by eleyna at 6:12 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Did you tell her about that eight year dry spell?
posted by effugas at 4:26 AM on September 7, 2006

Good points all around, everyone. We’ve talked some more and have agreed that we were both moving too quickly at the start, I got caught up in it, and she started feeling guilty about it. We’re going to continue to talk to try to figure out where this is going and what we both like about it, and what our needs are, but there are no long-term goals right now.

I’m still a bit confused about the importance of my “needs” in all of this. I don’t even know if I really need anything. I know I value her friendship and the good times we’ve had. I know I would like to continue doing a few things we used to do together and used to enjoy, but that’s not some “need” that she must meet. There was a kiss goodnight last night, which we both went for at the same time, but I got the sense that she felt like she owed me that much or something. That’s no good.

She knows about the eight long years and never had much to say about it. She laughed when I told her that Clinton was still in the White House the last time…

What is this “confidence” you speak of, with which you think I’m now blessed?
posted by phenom-anon at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Heh. Well, there's a subliminal "I just got laid!" confidence that guys develop when they've, well, been laid. Girls notice when a guy has a 'not single' vibe about them that us guys don't even notice. That's the "confidence" we were talking about.

Now that you're talking about it, don't talk about it too much. You know there's something there. You don't need to talk it to death. From here on out, your job's to make the time she spends with you as fun and as relaxing as possible. Having deep conversations doesn't do that.

My email's in my profile if you have any other questions. This thread's starting to scroll off my recent comments page...
posted by SpecialK at 2:59 PM on September 7, 2006

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