Two years ago, I met a gentleman I shall henceforth call James, because his name was, well, James. James and I had a first date for the books. It lasted a full 10 hours (we’d met up for coffee at 3 p.m. on a Saturday), and we discussed everything from the rudeness inherent to chronic lateness to how we both hate the book Confederacy of Dunces. We discussed how embarrassed we both are by this latter fact.
I knew about James like you know a good dye job. Here’s the one for me, I thought. The man I’ve been looking for years. I just KNOW.
There was one little problem, however, and that was that James already had a wife.
Now, before we all get our panties in a bunch, before I get labeled the heinous man-stealer, let me toss out a few more details: James’ wife was on the cusp of no longer being his wife. They’d been together for 10 years, married for two. They’d met young, in their early 20s, and had decided, two months before James and I met, to divorce. The decision had not been mutual. James had been the one to request the divorce; his wife had been devastated by his decision.
All this information came up over the course of our 10-hour date, and to some extent, the process of James discussing it was akin to someone waving a red flag in my face. A flag that said: RECENTLY DIVORCED! WILLING TO END A MARRIAGE! LOOKING FOR A TRANSITIONAL WOMAN! INCAPABLE OF A SERIOUS RELATIONSHIP RIGHT NOW!
But to quote Olivia Newton John in her star turn in “Grease,” My head is saying, ‘Fool, forget him,’/ My heart is saying, ‘Don’t let go.’
What I mean to say is that over the course of those 10 hours I couldn’t knock the feeling – despite all those red flags – that James and I might still be a good match. And I felt I had to stick around to find out.
Which brings me to now, two years into our relationship. James and I have our ups and our downs in what could be called “still the honeymoon phase.” And many of them, frankly, have to do with how he used to be married to someone else. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think either A) I’m thrilled he’s got that experience under his belt, or B) Why god, WHY did I have to fall in love with a guy with an ex-wife?
The point of course is this: There are some serious pros to dating a divorced guy. But there are some no-holds-barred cons to it too.
(I thought we’d get the negatives out of the way first. That’s better, right? I mean, why not try to be uplifting?)
1. She’s on Facebook. In this day and age, the briefest jaunt through Facebook reveals significant portions of who this woman is: What she looks like, what parts of herself she likes to advertise. There’s some immediate satisfaction of knowing, of course. But beyond that, it’s just a device with which to torture yourself.
2. He dumped her. I’m sorry to say it, but this one’s a real lose/lose. If he dumped her, you think, “What’s to stop him from dumping me?” You’ll have to manage her continued pining, her continued pursuit. You’ll have to manage the frequency of her calls, the hours at which she makes them . And if she dumped him? Forget it. That’s even worse. You’re destined to wonder – however briefly – how much of him is still in love with her.
3. He’s traumatized. The recently divorced man is, with little exception, the recently traumatized man. And if you’re the one who winds up with him, it will fall upon you to help him cope. You will see him see old photos, you will see him cry or scream or fume or mourn. You will see him feel like he failed. And – lest it bears mention – this is all as much fun as… well, imagine shredding a carrot, tying all those carrot shreds together, then threading the long, thin carrot they’ve become through your sinuses till they pop out of your mouth. I do believe that whole routine would be more fun that than which I’ve described above.
(There is good stuff, too! I promised it and I shall deliver.)
1. He knows how to communicate. A guy who’s lived with a woman for a significant period of time has a pretty good sense of what to say and when to say it. Let’s say you’re trying on a dress, and you ask his opinion. He knows to say, “I’m not sure it does your figure justice,” in lieu of, “Eww! Jesus! That looks gross.”
2. He knows how to compromise. If you’re boyfriend’s divorced, you can be 99 percent sure he’s lived with someone else for a while and has a solid understanding of shared space as a result. He understands the closet isn’t his and his alone, he understands he doesn’t always get control of the TV. And seeing as how teaching a man these lessons is akin to herding stray cats, this is a valuable attribute to luck into.
3. He’s learned from his mistakes. This isn’t a given. But it is likely, and it’s wonderful. A man with a now-defunct marriage under his belt has learned a few things about himself, about what he has to work on, about what he can and cannot handle. A divorce is a horrible thing to be sure, but from what I’ve observed, it’s also pretty humbling. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a humble guy with failed marriage over some arrogant guy who’s never settled down any day of the week. I’ll take him, and I’ll work to be patient when his ex-wife makes her weekly call.