Ask Sarah – Dating While Separated?
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?”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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.