Ask Sarah – Raul’s Take

As I said yesterday, I polled several friends on the question I received through my website.

And as he’s often wont to do, Raul wrote down some of his thoughts/reactions.  I appreciated them, so I thought I’d post ’em.

So, here we go again – Raul speaks.  …

“Sarah, what is your perspective on dating before the ink is dry on the divorce papers. It has been a year since the decision to divorce was made and I have been living on my own for five months now. I’m worried that answering “separated” on my dating profile will get me overlooked. Answering “married” will most likely come off like someone trying to cheat. However answering “single” might end up backfiring when you eventually have to tell your date it isn’t official yet. Am I just over-thinking this or should I just wait till I’m officially divorced before pursuing any new relationships?”

I think this question is a lot more than what, on the surface, seems like a commandment-against-adultery issue.  It is a broader moral question that goes right to the foundation stone of all relationships – trust.

One thing that absolutely infuriates people is when one person in a relationship, knowing that they are or soon will be exiting that relationship, begins to secretly build a second one before the first has ended.  Is the current scenario so far removed just because the two original parties to the relationship have decided to call it quits?  Or because they have initiated some formal legal process?  Or because they have moved out to separate homes for some length of time?  Even though the facts are different on the surface, I believe the heart of it is the same.  Why?  Because “separated” is a misnomer.  Marriage, like pregnancy, is a binary proposition – you either are or you are not.  So let’s be honest about what “separated” really is:  unhappily married.

When you begin a secret second relationship while you’re married, we call it cheating…but just because someone starts a second relationship openly, in the light of day, doesn’t mean that the original marriage vow doesn’t exist.  It’s still infidelity (from the Latin fidelis, meaning faithful, loyal).  That infidelity is both a betrayal of the spouse as well as being unfaithful to the seriousness of your own promise.  The only difference about doing it openly is that you’re more honest and forthright about your willingness to break the vow.  Think about what that says about you to other people.

Ask your reader to put the shoe on the other foot – would he be impressed by a girl that marked ‘single,’ then revealed on the first date (or sometime later) that well, she’s actually married?  Probably not.  Would he find someone trustworthy that marked ‘separated,’ knowing that she didn’t take her marriage vow seriously enough to keep from dating before it had been truly dissolved?  I hope not.  If he were single would he consider dating a girl who marked ‘married’?  Never!  So if he wouldn’t like those qualities in someone else, would the right potential girlfriend value those qualities in him?

Now let’s think about this shoe-on the-other-foot scenario another way:  What are we searching for in a life partner?  Someone good.  Good down to their bones, not just someone who starts off seeming like a good thing.  So let’s stipulate that a good person is someone who recognizes and does – or certainly tries to do – the right thing in any given situation.  And what do we know about doing the right thing?  That doing the right thing is not always doing the easy thing.  In fact, you can often tell the right path by the very fact that it is harder.  The right thing is getting divorced before you start to date someone else.  Is it harder? Of course it is.  But that only bolsters my conviction that it is, indeed, the right thing to do.  The kind of person she should want to start a new relationship with is not the kind of person that will want to start something with a [happily or unhappily] married person.  I hate to say it, but unless he does the right thing and divorces first, he will most likely attract people who: 1) do not truly, deeply take marriage vows (and the trust that those relationship commitments are based on) seriously, and 2) do not place a high priority on other peoples’ goodness – their willingness to try to recognize and do the right thing.  The best girls out there will want to date someone that is truly single, and who strives to do the right thing…Why? Because they don’t want someone that is all- too-easily tempted to do the wrong thing (Like cheat!  See how it all goes in a circle here?).

OK, we’ve identified the right thing – If you want to start a new relationship, you should be single first, and that means getting un-married.  If both parties are truly serious about divorce (as opposed to even entertaining the possibility of getting back together), it’s tempting to say something like, “Just get it done already.  People let these things drag on for so long, and to no purpose.  Get. It. Done.”  But divorce is a complicated, many-faceted thing, and it is beyond the scope of this reader’s question to go into how, why, and whether such matters can be expedited, or done less expensively, etc.  Suffice it to say that each divorce is different, and contains a great deal of emotional processing that takes place outside the confines of a contract to divvy up various assets.  In the worst-case scenario, one ends up in a messy, protracted divorce proceeding.  Some might argue that that in itself is reason to let yourself begin something new – who knows how long ending the first relationship might take?  But would you want to begin a relationship with someone embroiled in that drama?  Of course not.  And if you’re the person in that drama, do you honestly believe you’d be a good relationship partner for someone else?  The fact is, doing so would be a selfish act:  Although you might feel better by starting a new relationship with some nice guy, you ultimately do a disservice to that person by sucking them into the maelstrom of your divorce.

Too long?   Then here’s my summary (which, of course, is also long):

1)     The reader should not be on a dating site.  Period.  Full stop.  I know – it’s so harsh!  But don’t think about it through the lens of what you’re giving up (all those smokin’ hot women with kitten pics!), think of the rewards he gets, instead:  1) He rewards himself by not giving in to temptation breaking his original vows.  Once you break them, you can’t go back – even if you’re the only one who knows – so why tempt yourself?  2) He rewards himself by not putting the divorce negotiations in a precarious position (in a bitter dispute, the wife’s knowledge of the dating could be used as leverage to alter key points – money, property, and especially custody arrangements, etc. because the adultery here [real or potential] casts him in a questionable moral light). 3) By not dating yet, he rewards himself by avoiding the bad girls – those who don’t value trust – because whoever he dates now won’t care about the fact that he is [unhappily] married (however handsome/charming/etc. she might otherwise be).  4) He is doing himself a favor by creating an impetus to finalize the divorce.  The sooner that ink is dry, the sooner he can begin to search for something new – think of it as a reward for doing the right thing.  And he will be attracting better women because of it – another reward!  5) He will also have the quiet pride of knowing that he did things the right way, in the right order – and that has a value all its own.

2)     If the reader insists on dating-while-separated, then the reader MUST state on his profile that he is married or separated, because that is the truth and anything else is at best a lie, at worst a gross and willful misrepresentation of the facts.  He is still married in the eyes of God and Man, and even if some people don’t care about the former, the latter still has plenty of repercussions on its own.  There is a social stigma attached to dating outside of marriage it for a reason!  (ex:  Would he want his kids teased at school because of it if gossip got out?)

3)     There is nothing wrong with meeting new people, building friendships, and socializing.  That is not out-of-bounds.  But the intimacy of a relationship – particularly the physical intimacy of holding, touching, kissing, and loving someone – should be built upon a solid foundation.  If you’re still married (however much you’ve managed to diminish the value of that marriage in your own mind), you are definitely NOT building on a solid foundation.

Well, that’s what Raul thinks, anyhow.  🙂

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Ask Sarah – Dating While Separated?

ask sarah

As some of you have already seen, there is a spot on the new website to “Ask Sarah.”  This is the spot to write in any question/musing from the quick “He just texted me this:  [write out his text], …what should I text him back?” to bigger questions about love, relationships, dating, etc.

Sometimes I’ll write back just to you, other times (like today), I’ll use the question as fodder for a post.  In fact, today’s question has inspired TWO posts!

So, thank you to the first reader who used this tool, and wrote THIS question:

“Sarah, what is your perspective on dating before the ink is dry on the divorce papers. It has been a year since the decision to divorce was made and I have been living on my own for five months now. I’m worried that answering “separated” on my dating profile will get me overlooked. Answering “married” will most likely come off like someone trying to cheat. However answering “single” might end up backfiring when you eventually have to tell your date it isn’t official yet. Am I just over-thinking this or should I just wait till I’m officially divorced before pursuing any new relationships?”

Dear Limbo-land,

Being in this situation stinks.  I know because I was in it once. 

I’ll tell you MY answer… and then let you hear from some other ‘voices’ as well.

You see, I had varying thoughts and angles on answering this, and found myself feeling a bit torn, because I can see it from both sides… so, while I was formulating my own response, I decided to poll a few wise folks to see what they thought too – I asked a pastor, counselor, a couple friends on the dating scene, a couple who are happily ‘taken,’ and all different ages.  I got a variety of answers – all different angles, but usually hitting the same spot on the target:

Don’t do it.  But, if you do – be completely honest.

So – I’ll give you my response and then post some of theirs at the end.

I think, as hard as it is, you can’t go wrong by waiting.  There are so many good reasons to wait until the divorce is official to start dating.  That said, I also recognize that there are some sticky-wickets/exceptions. 

For instance, I know a man – a good man – whose wife became a drug addict and disappeared from his and the life of their two daughters.  He was left holding the bag (working, full-time single parenting, and figuring out if the marriage could be restored).  She cheated, left town, and hasn’t shown any interest in seeing him OR her daughters since.  He was assigned full custody of the girls, but the divorce kept getting pushed back because the judge REALLY wanted her present.  To the tune of over two years.  OVER TWO YEARS.  After the initial grieving of the loss of the marriage (which had begun long before she took off, as you can imagine), is he supposed to wait too?  Tricky stuff. 

I only say all that to get at this point – this must be a case-by-case decision.

But, for MOST situations, I think the best and right answer is to wait to date.

From my own experience, people who think they’re ready… often aren’t.  I dated someone who wasn’t “officially” divorced yet… it was stuck in legal-land for over a year before movement happened.  And, even though the marriage was over, and he thought he was ready to love someone else, he had work to do – internal work, that is – that came back to bite us.  And in the end, he (by his own admission), had no business putting himself online when he did.  We were unequally matched, not by legal terms, but in our emotional readiness.

So, waiting on the divorce forces you to have time to do the necessary self-awareness check to see where you are in your own heart/mind/soul. 
There is a difference between being DONE with the marriage and being READY for someone new.

This is a really important distinction and I think it’s why who many counselors encourage such a long time of no-dating after divorce.

You see, depending on the way the marriage ended (anywhere from the shocking quick end (“I met someone else.  I don’t love you anymore.  I’m leaving.”  Boom.) to the long, slow death of years of fighting or resentment, finally brought to an end by someone filing for divorce), you have varying timetables for grieving/mourning the marriage.  Some people will have done so much of this work during the time of separation/divorce, that by the time the ink IS dry, they’ve really come to terms with the death of the marriage.  Others need more.

But, regardless of how long the grieving process takes, there is a whole OTHER step, which is re-evaluating yourself as a man/woman preparing to date, and eventually LOVE again.

I mean – depending on how LONG you were married… you may be a different person, with different priorities and desires for a partner now.  You may need to spend some time reminding yourself of who you are, so you’re confident enough to not be that needy/clingy partner to the first person who shows you affection.  You might need to do some internal work (and I highly encourage working with a therapist as well… I hear they are AMAZING people… 🙂 ) on any areas of fragility/damage caused by your ex or issues with your ex.  There is so much to do to prepare to be the kind of person who is not only attractive to the opposite sex, but has the character to be a GOOD partner. 

All of this can be going on when the “ink is drying.”  And you have the sweet benefit of knowing, when it’s all said and done, that you did the right thing by waiting.

You didn’t force a potential new partner to wonder if this is the way you live your life…in slightly deceptive waters.

You didn’t potentially complicate/lengthen the divorce process by looking possibly unfaithful.

You didn’t give your heart or body to another while your vows were still technically bound up with another.  If you said “til death do us part,” the least you can do is honor that by waiting for the death/dissolution of the marriage.

I realize all this is SO much easier said than done.  I was in this boat a few years ago and struggled with it myself.  But, being on this side of things, I am more firm that I ever was, that this is a difficult time, but a rich time for growth.  Don’t rush the dating. 

I dare say a few months of uncomfortable limbo, will pay off exponentially in a future relationship when you can say you waited, and used that time to prepare for your new life…
and new love.

So, those are my thoughts.  Let’s hear from some others:

I wouldn’t give a second look at the profile of someone who is married or separated. But if someone who selected single was honest with me at our first date, I’d have no problem! I mean…that person is single and unattached, so it I isn’t a lie.”  -JW

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He’s wise and mature, recognizing that he is already divorced mentally if not on paper.  He’s been on his own for awhile.  And wants to be honest.  [That being said,…]

I guess I wonder, what’s the rush!  What just happened <divorce!> was HUGE and while I know we are all eager to move on, it takes time – and waiting for the ink to dry might be an important emotional/mental milestone.

This is a case by case situation.

Having dated a divorced person, I can speak to one woman’s perspective.  We began dating 3 months after the ink was dry. He had a meltdown about six months in.  He wasn’t ready.  At the risk of sounding naïve or patronizing, I think divorced folks should do a year or counseling / grieving / mourning before dating.  Let all the holidays and milestones pass as a single person before making memories with a new person.”   -CS

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Until the paperwork is complete there shouldn’t be any online date browsing. I put great stock in official status. …No shopping for new love until the divorce is official. 

Suppose the issue wasn’t divorce but terminal illness. Suppose one’s spouse is in hospice. Is it okay to go on a date since the marriage will soon be over?  Odd analogy, I’ll admit but marriage, like pregnancy, is either fully in progress or fully complete. There is no almost.”  -RG

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“Look ahead to the kind of woman you want to find/date/marry/etc. Is she the kind of woman who might see this as a deception? Or possibly unsavory? Or a story she would be ashamed to tell her family or friends? I don’t think there is a clear wrong or right here, but I would err on the side of caution and just delete your profile (or pause it) until the ink is dry. You’ll enjoy your dates much more if you can go into them without having to explain yourself before or during the date itself.”   -LI

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“We’re adults and adult relationships, by their nature, are complex.  He should mark “single” on his profile, but be VERY clear in the body of his profile about what’s going on.  He has to be honest.”   -TD

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“I think it’s likely that “separated” would get someone overlooked on dating sites, and I think that’s probably the “icing on the cake” reason why waiting until the divorce is final is a good idea. I think that the fact that there is still a legal marriage in play should put the kibosh on dating, as frustrating as I’m sure that is. Once the divorce is final, I think there is an important and fundamental change that occurs, on a meta-level you could say.

There might be some room for exceptions to dating someone you already know, who knows your situation and is a good friend and all that, before the divorce is final, but I think generally a “no dating until I’m single” mantra is a good one.”   -LJ

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And the last answer I got – from “Raul” (who some of you may remember from earlier guest posts) – was so good and thorough, that I’ve decided to post it on its own tomorrow.

So, “Dating while Separated,” I hope this helps narrow things down for you.  I suspect (though I’m often wrong), that deep down, you’d already decided what the right answer was, but just wanted some feedback to help you as you carried that out…

Stay tuned for more thoughts on this topic tomorrow, when Raul returns.