So, you’re in your 30s, you’re a straight woman, and you’re single. You’re out there looking for a nice, mature man, one who longs to put his hand on your knee under the bar on Saturday night and lay his head in your lap to watch HBO dramas on Sunday while soup bubbles on the stove. One who has a job and a healthy relationship with his mother. One with a cute butt.
Sadly (oh, so very sadly) these men are scarce. But there is a kind of single man that is not scarce — homo separatus, the divorcé. By this point, you have no doubt encountered him in the wild, either staring moodily into a glass of scotch in the corner by himself at a party, or emailing you from his yahoo.com account on your chosen dating site(s). It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a date! he writes, But I’m ready to get back out there.
But is he, really?
The first time I glimpsed homo separatus, in the wild and in my age group, I thought Aha! Here’s a man who is obviously capable of commitment because he’s already done it! (Yes, I do see the giant flaw in that logic — now.) Then I thought, Aww, he seems so sad. I bet I can make him happy with the magic balm of my love! And also teach him about the mental health benefits of high-thread-count sheets.
I thought that, having been married, he would naturally be seeking a return to that state. After all, when I break up with someone, I seek out another relationship after a suitable mourning period. And hasn’t the relationship self-help book industrial complex taught us that men and women always see things exactly the same way?
But alas, my divorcé was not ready. Looking back, the warning signs were actually HUGE FLASHING BILLBOARDS OF APPROACHING DOOM, but I bravely carried on and fell in love with him anyway — only to have my heart predictably stomped upon.
Here are a few signs that should have sent me scurrying.
Separated does not equal divorced. Separated means he is still legally attached to his ex, still hacking away at the bonds that once held them together. Still poking at the fracture of his past life in regular meetings with the lawyers, while his not-quite-ex wife sits across the conference table seething. They are still pissing each other off, but now there is no make-up sex to smooth things over (at least you hope not). Nothing about this process is even slightly conducive to romantic evenings with you, when you’re all starry-eyed about a potential future and he is in the midst of killing and dismembering the future he once thought he’d have.
He can’t break the habit of referring to the ex as “my wife.” Yes, yes, we all say the wrong name sometimes (Yes, yes, YES, Kyle! — Keith? Cameron?) but take it from me that nothing douses the morning-after glow like hearing your boyfriend refer to another woman as his wife over pancakes and not even realize that he has slipped up. Check, please.
He is upset and angry when his ex starts dating someone new. I suppose some of these feelings are natural, but asking you to soothe him on this point is a no-no. If he has not yet progressed to the point that he can deal with this on his own, throw him back into the pond because he needs to grow a little more.
He’s only been on one date since the split — and it’s with you. One of the big benefits of leaving your marriage is the ability to freely sleep with other people. Multiple other people, not just the very first person one goes on a date with. You don’t want to be the practice girlfriend, who helps him learn about this crazy new world of 30s dating only to give him enough confidence to strike out on his own.
He won’t tell you the full story about why his marriage broke up… Unresolved issues alert! The end of a marriage is painful, and it takes a long time to work through. If he hasn’t done that work yet, you need to stay away until he does. Also, what if they split up because he killed a hitchhiker and threw the body in a canal? That would be a bad thing to find out later.
…except to say that it was all her fault. This is about as likely as you someday riding a unicorn to your job in a colony on the moon. I guess it’s possible, but you better not stake your future happiness on it.