Dear Doctor NerdLove,
I am currently in the process of ending a 4-year relationship that has been a marriage for the past year. I am confident in my decision to end the marriage; we have been drifting apart, the sex is rare and uninteresting, we have fundamentally different interests and values, we have different attitudes towards our careers, and I feel she’s holding me back in terms of my attempts to eat healthier, exercise more and improve myself (I ask her to help me eat better, she buys two tubs of ice cream; etc.).
Perhaps most importantly, where I used to care for her in the past I only feel cold emptiness and an urgent desire to get away. I don’t love her anymore, she’s been feeling unfulfilled and alone, and we should both be looking for people we work better with.
That said, in my country, there are legal issues with divorce – namely, I need to wait 12 months after our separation before the divorce can be finalized and I can be officially not-married again (there are no kids, cars, houses, etc – we are both still mostly-jobless students). That seems like a long time. Once she has moved out and I am a de facto bachelor again, I am worried about how to interact with women I may be interest in in the next 12 months. What is the proper etiquette? A one-night-stand doesn’t need to know, I assume, but what about dates I meet online? What about women I meet more than once? When should I tell someone I’m into that I’m still legally married and waiting for the divorce to be granted next year?
Or should I just sit down and prepare myself for 12 months of celibacy? Is that the right thing to do? I’m really confused and unsure of what I should be doing with my life.
Thanks for your time, and any advice you can give me.
From the sounds of things, it’s good that you’re getting out of this relationship. While I’m a believer in trying to fix a relationship rather than just cutting the thread, many times there’s just nothing there to fix and even less interest on both sides to make the attempt (or re-attempt). Far better to call it quits and break things off before whatever warm feelings you may still have for one another curdle into bitterness and hate, especially when there is relatively little to make the process more complicated. So here’s to hoping that this can be as painless and amicable a process as it can be under the circumstances.
Now, when it comes to handling dating during a separation, there are a couple issues that you will want to consider.
First and most importantly is whether or not dating someone while legally separated may cause issues with your divorce. In the U.S., individual states tend to have laws that can turn dating during divorce proceedings1 into a minefield, especially if you’re in one of the states that doesn’t offer a no-fault divorce. If one of you is filing for alienation of affection, for example, your love life may suddenly get dragged into the court case. It can also piss off your spouse and turn what used to be an amicable proceeding into a long and expensive ordeal as he or she intentionally causes problems, drags their feet or refuses to settle as a way of getting revenge. I’ve seen this more happen more than a few times amongst my friends, unfortunately; even a simple divorce that didn’t involve children or division of property suddenly turned into a massive quagmire when one spouse suddenly decided that they’d been wronged.
However, I have to make the obvious disclaimer: not only is Dr. NerdLove not a doctor, he is also most certainly not a lawyer (especially when it comes to international divorce law). It might not be a bad idea to make sure that you have a long talk with your lawyer a make sure that you wouldn’t be stepping on any potential land mines if and when you start dating during the mandatory year.
OK, potential (and unlikely) nightmare scenarios out of the way, let’s talk about how to handle dating while you’re waiting on your divorce to be finalized.
You don’t necessarily want to include “Bee tee dubs, still technically married” in your online dating profile or drop on somebody on your first date, but it should be something you bring up sooner rather than later. If you’re going to be seeing this person more than once or if you’re not just getting together for some hot sex before going your separate ways, then it’s information they’re definitely going to want, especially if there’s the potential of a serious or committed relationship in the future.
The way you roll it out is important, though. You don’t want to make it sound like it’s something shameful that you would hide otherwise; that’s just going to make your dates wonder what other secrets you’re hiding. Just present it like it’s no big deal: she’s moved out, you’ve gone through the proceedings and all that’s left is to wait out the mandatory X months remaining before it’s finalized. It’s important that you bring it up in the context of “getting divorced”, not “we’re separated”; separated implies that it’s a temporary situation and there’s still a chance that the two of you may get back together. In addition, many guys have used “we’re separated” as a way of covering up that they’re cheating on their spouses; a common example is when it turned out that the wife was out of town for work rather than, y’know, moved out. Getting divorced means that papers have been filed and there is a firm deadline when the legal side of the relationship is over. It says that you’ve actively ended the relationship, rather than dragging your heels because reasons.
The other issue is when you’re discussing what happened to keep it simple: there was nothing salacious or dramatic, you just grew apart. That’s all your date really needs to know; dating isn’t a deposition and unless your ex is likely to be prominently involved in your life, the details are ultimately unimportant. Don’t bash your ex either; even if she’s the biggest galloping asshole north, west, south and east of the Pecos, all that complaining about her will do is make you sound as though you’re not over her. It’s hard to go wrong by being classy about an otherwise ugly situation.
My only other advice is not to leap too deep into the dating pool. While everyone gets over a divorce at different speeds – some people are well and truly over it long before they even file the papers – you are going through a break-up and it can take some time before you’re actually ready to date rather than rebounding. By all means, go on dates, go hook-up. But I would advise you not to get into a serious relationship until you’ve had time to process everything following the divorce. You’ll know better than I would when that will be, so just pay attention to how you’re actually feeling rather than how you think you should feel.
I need your opinion. The thing is I led quite a sheltered life for a long time. I knew theoretically that people my age were supposed to go on dates, build relationships and have sex. And that it was supposed to be fun. I also knew that there were some rules about first date being this romantic thing while after the third date people might get to the sex part. At the time it seemed logical as why would anyone want to have sex with complete stranger? So when I was asked out by an interesting guy from my college (he was the same age as me) to go to a museum on Sunday morning it never occurred to me that plans for the day might involve something else. During the date the guy annoyed me a lot (he was late, he couldn’t keep an interesting conversation and was very condescending to my opinions) and when I finally came up with a good reason to end the boring day (after the museum we walked aimlessly through the city for a while barely talking) he suddenly got very touchy-feely and invited me to his place.
That made me very uncomfortable as I did no longer find the guy attractive and, as I knew nothing about “it’s ok to want sex” then and was a virgin I was greatly insulted by insinuation that I would sleep with the guy I barely knew. So I made my escape (though politely).
The next day I got a text from him with some verses along the lines that it’s spring and so high time to “give it” to him. I was infuriated and the next time I saw him I said that I disliked him and so we should stop seeing each other. As I felt violated I tried avoiding him ever since. I feel deep hostility towards him even now.
Saying all that, now I am somewhat less ignorant about sex and relationships and I’m starting to question my previous behaviour. I mean at the time it seemed that the guy thought I was easy, that he was “tolerating” me to get laid and so on. I felt accosted but then again after I told him in no uncertain tone that I disliked him he left me alone without troubles. And though I’m pretty sure I gave him plenty non-verbal hints that his advances were not welcomed during the date I can’t say that I made it clear. So now I am wondering whether I judged the guy unnecessary harshly.
What I’m interested in is whether there is some dating etiquette or not. Whether I should have been insulted by being propositioned on the first date even if there were zero chemistry or was I just overreacting and should have explained that I am only open for slow approach from the start? And whether agreeing to go on a date equals agreeing to get grabbed at or not? I know it must all sound very childish but I’m really confused.
Wanting to get laid in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Hoping that you’re with someone who might be open to hooking up on a first date is, likewise, not inherently a bad thing. Neither is preferring to proceed at a pace you feel comfortable with.
Acting like a dickhead, on the other hand, totally is, and that’s where your would-be suitor went wrong.
While there is dating etiquette (which mostly boils down to “don’t be a dick”), the big issue here is about respecting boundaries, being able to read social cues and respond to them appropriately… and your date failed at all of these. He evidently didn’t pick up on (or decided to ignore) the fact that you weren’t into him at all and decided to go for broke at the end when you decided to cut things off early. It’s shitty behavior and a sign of low social intelligence to proposition someone, even someone you’re on a date with, when there’s been absolutely no indication that she’s into you at all – no hand holding, no make-outs, nothing. The vast majority of people aren’t going to be cool by going from zero to “blow me” with nothing in between.
There are ways to go about making a move or gauging whether a person is or isn’t up for hooking up on a first date. This guy apparently did none of them. Homeboy should learn how to actually tell if a woman is interested in him before making a move, to not just suddenly start getting touchy-feely (I’m assuming you didn’t mean that he actually tried to grope you, which is a shithead of a different color) out of nowhere, especially if there hasn’t been any indication that physical contact would be welcomed. He also needs to learn that less (going for a good night kiss, working outward from there if she responds with vigor) is decidedly a better goal than more (trying to get you to go home with him), especially if there’s any question about how you’re feeling. If I were more charitably inclined, I might be willing to say that he’s ignorant, not malicious; he’s has some serious growing up to do and shouldn’t really be dating until he figures it out.
However, it’s the passive aggressive “give it up to me already” text that pushes him from “ignorant” to “asshole”.
Now that being said: I think being deeply hostile to him may be giving him too much importance. If he’s not actively in your life or social circle – and judging by the way you haven’t heard from him after you told him to fuck off, I’m guessing he isn’t – then I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t waste the mental bandwidth thinking about him at all. You have a limited number of fucks to give and he deserves none of them.
You didn’t do anything wrong on your date. Going on a date isn’t a binding contract; you’re not obligated to put up with a guy doing anything that you aren’t comfortable with and you’re well within your rights to tell him to fuck right off if he acts like a dickhead about it. You have your boundaries and it’s your right to set them where you see fit.
People wanting sex is all fine and dandy. It’s good to want things. But people also want to have their boundaries respected and it’s where these two desires intersect that you separate the assholes from the gentlemen. It’s entirely possible to make overtures while still being respectful, even if they’re not sure whether there’s chemistry or not. Someone who understands this is also going to recognize and respect that person’s answer, whether that’s a “yes”, a “no” or “I want to take things slowly” and not respond by pouting, pressuring or acting like they’re entitled to it.
It can take a little experience to find the good guys (as opposed to the Nice GuysTM) , but they’re well worth the effort.
- Holy alliteration, Batman! [↩]