So...it's been a while. Thought I'd pop back in and give an update after having been divorced a year now.
All I can say is, What a difference a year makes. And, What a difference choosing to move forward and move on makes.
The main conclusion I have come to is...We are all our own worst enemies.
After all is said and done, and we've raked our cheating, lying, narcissistic spouses over the coals enough...and obsessed over their betrayals and lies and how they betrayed us, etc., and done everything we can (or not) to give the marriage a second (or third, fourth, etc.) chance, the harsh reality is that many (perhaps most) of us don't make it back, and there is still the task of moving forward and moving on. It's a choice, and a very difficult one, I think, for most of us who find our way here.
One thing I've always liked about this forum and Michele's advice is that it really boils down to taking the focus off of the people and situations we can't control, and focusing on becoming a healthier, stronger person ourselves, shedding unhealthy attachments and growing as individuals. As despicable (or not) as some of our spouses may be/may have been, holding on to an unhealthy attachment to someone is all on us, 100%.
It's a victim mentality, serves no useful purpose, and is always destructive. It can be very difficult to get out of. But there is no one out there worth sacrificing our peace, self-respect, and dignity over. Not the mother of my kids, not someone I'm dating or want to date, etc.
And...shocker...we lie to ourselves a lot. A LOT. More than we probably care to admin. And we lie to ourselves about lying to ourselves. I try and catch myself when I do it but it's not always easy to recognize at first, but I think I'm getting better at it.
The good news is it can be broken. The bad news is that many people don't or won't break it...or we convince ourselves that we're detached when we're actually obsessing over every little thing they do...out of pain avoidance and fear of losing the marriage, the family, etc. Fear of being alone which we allow to drive us into unhealthy, hasty relationships; fear of being hurt again that keeps us out of good ones. Fear of being "the divorced guy/gal".
We have a lot of work to do. More than we think.
Losing the family is very tough, no way around that. For me it hit particularly hard because my parents were divorced and I swore I'd never put my kids in that position. And that's where we all ended up. Mine are grown so it was a little easier...no visitation to worry over, etc. But in other ways it was very difficult as mine thought we were bulletproof as a family at this point. And, of course, we weren't. No one is.
They have lingering bitterness and some questions that they seem reluctant to ask still...I think they are afraid to know the answers, and I can't blame them for that. My youngest has a strained relationship (to put it mildly) with his mom.
I do hate that we ended up here, but I have to confess that much of the fear and pain associated with this situation was unnecessary and I brought on myself by refusing to see and accept things as they were and holding on to what I liked to call hope and commitment but which, looking back, were really more like living in fantasy land and obsessing over her behavior, the pain, the failure.
Around this time last year, mid-January to be exact, I started accepting the failure. She failed. I failed. The marriage failed. We all failed. I had a problem accepting that is what happened because I have always prided myself on being able to fix anything, to do whatever it takes. Refusing to let go will kill your spirit if not your mind and body.
So last year was maybe the worst year of my life. It was also one of the best.
Having accepted, I gradually started waking up with peace instead of dread. Having been married 20 years, dating was a little freaky once I got around to it, but spent time with some really wonderful women who were simply a pleasure to be around. That was eye-opening having been in the kind of meatgrinder marriage I'd been in for so long.
I traveled a bit, mostly on my own. It felt crazy good. Spent 12 days driving around the Northeastern US...from Atlantic City to NYC to the NH seacoast, upstate NY...some for work, some with new friends, some with family. Chicago. DC. Lower Appalachia.
There's just no substitute for being honest with ourselves, with learning how to really accept that we can only control ourselves--a big enough challenge that trying to control situations or people or relationships is a non-starter, fruitless, and, ultimately, sad.
There is no boundless optimism here, nor a pit of despair and negativity. For the most part, and thankfully, just peace, and balance, and appreciation. It has also become much easier to recognize negative or destructive thinking, people, etc., and avoid it by just letting it all slide, man, and moving on to better things.
Yes, a little pain and sadness lingers, pops up from time to time and says, "Howdy". But it has no hold on me like it once did, and I'm happy to say I've gotten to a point where I no longer make it either my enemy or my friend...to deny/avoid it or obsess over it. I've learned to just say, "Howdy" back, and keep moving.
We often enter this situation and this forum with "I never thought I'd be in this kind of marriage, never thought I'd be looking at divorce, never thought I'd be here."
Now I'm saying the same thing except for a different reason. I never thought I'd be here...past it, with peace and balance and living my life, for the most part, on my own terms...and even enjoying it again.
So I've been dating a very nice person for 7 months now. We occasionally get together with her friends and mine who are either divorced or never married. Interestingly, we seem to listen to them complain a good bit of the time about their dating pitfalls.
Having had several of these conversations now with various people in the 40s, I've made a few observations:
-- everyone who invested too much before really getting to know someone ended up with a difficult breakup
-- everyone who didn't maintain discipline regarding their personal space and balancing dating with the rest of their lives ended up in a difficult situation they're trying to resolve now, or in a difficult breakup.
-- people who dating clearly incompatible people got burned; a friend of mine who is not religious at all and who was married/divorced in his early 20s (he's 49 now) without kids dated a woman 14 years younger for two years who was very religious and wanted kids.
-- people dating where either or both had wildly inflated expectations early on ended up sorely disappointed; the 2 I talked to the most both communicated the same old magical, fairy tale thinking that I don't think ever works. I've even heard from people who had been through painful divorces and marital counseling that was fairly consistent with db principles.
Since my gf and I always seem happy and have fun with no drama, etc., I was asked "how I knew she was the 'right' woman for me". Haha. My responses:
-- I don't know that at all. That's not even a question I care about answering. My goal is to hang out and have fun with someone nice who I enjoy being with. End of story.
-- It makes no sense to start talking about a future with each other until you really start getting to know each other. I don't care what anyone says, that takes a good amount of time. Not something you can know about someone else in 3 months. So why worry about it? If one or both are looking to lock the other down quickly, that's probably a bad sign. Of neediness, control issues, or more.
-- Things move 'fast' because we choose to move fast and that seems to generally be driven by unhealthy thinking (again, IMO). They don't have to. We're grown ups and should act like it. The faster people move, and the earlier they do it, the more that seems to take on a snowball effect, so we develop attachments and a false sense of intimacy too damn soon...then after 6 months or so start getting a sense of what it's like to really be with this other person and how they make decisions.
What has been working for me (and, again, everyone's different and everyone's mileage may vary):
- GF and I see each other almost every weekend for a day or two. While we occasionally have a date during the week, or on a special occasion, we largely keep the work week for work and kids and friends.
- We talk a couple times during the week and occasionally text, especially if one of us has a challenge with something with kids or work that we want to talk about (that's usually her). For the most part, we save convos for when we see each other.
- We both agreed that our focus was going to be on hanging out and having fun, and thereby get to know each other. There has been no kind of "if you're not going to pursue a long-term serious relationship then we don't need to date" by either of us. Frankly, if I heard that from someone I hadn't known for a year or so, I'd be showing myself the door.
- We've taken 2 or 3 weekend trips together. Again...fun!
So it's been great. However, nothing's perfect and there have been some challenges:
1. She's been divorced a lot longer than I have and is a bit more ready to 'settle down' again should the right opportunity arise. I've made it very clear that while I'm not opposed to that, I'm also not interested in getting too serious in the short-term. It's not a huge issue at the moment, but she's made it clear that she is leaning toward being 'all-in' even though she respects my line on that.
2. I disagree with how she handles her kids on some things. Mine are grown and out of the house so are not as much of an issue. Sometimes when she's here my kids come over and we hang out a little; same when I am at her place. She has one in college and one in high school, and the differences in how we approach dealing with kids' issues highlight our differences in personality and decision-making on some things. It's unclear how best to negotiate that with each other...yet another good reason for taking it slow.
3. Both for my work and for myself, I need a lot of quiet, alone time. I enjoy social interaction but don't need it daily like she does. After a day alone with nothing going on, she gets stir crazy and because of my nature, I often need the opposite at the same time. As a result, I've encouraged her to continue spending more time with friends and family for the time being and, naturally, being a bit more emotional than me she sometimes feels slighted. So I reassure her at times and sometimes make an unexpected mid-week date, or agree to one if she asks; other times, she respects my need for more space. Again, whether this ends up being a deal-breaker or not, who knows.
So we talk things out the best we can and the communication is good even though we don't always see eye to eye. We continue to enjoy our time to together and, so far, neither of us is interested in ending that. While we have had some discussions that have been difficult because of our different natures, the dynamic is good with no drama or serious fighting.
Having not dated for so long because I was married (yes, some of us don't date while we're married...shocking I know), it's been interesting. I've worked very hard to not only try and grow past some of the bad habits and unfruitful behaviors I developed during the latter years of my marriage, but to apply some of those new ways of thinking to this new, wacky dating life.
At times I've been tempted by various negative thoughts or unfruitful ones that often cause us to lose focus/balance and seek to solve problems by covering them or soothing ourselves with a relationship: fear of being alone forever; the almost Pavlovian response many of us experience for the gratification you get when someone throws plenty of positive attention at you...especially after years of having little or none; to be dishonest with yourself or with someone else in order to make things simpler, allow the other to believe something incorrect, etc.; and to put pressure on someone else to conform to our expectations, soothe our insecurities, or generally start relying on someone else to make us 'happy'.
I'm not saying I'm doing it right or have all the answers. Just sharing my post-D dating experience and happily reporting that overall it's been positive by continuing to apply the basic principles of individual strength and independence I learned initially from reading the DB literature. Avoiding unhealthy attachments; having a life; balancing dating and such with other priorities and, etc., really do work, and aren't all that difficult to apply.
The difficulties always seem to involve our not being honest with ourselves or willing to identify and change unhealthy behaviors. That requires constant vigilance. But again...who knew life could be so enjoyable after all those bad years!
This was such a good read for me, I am dating/have a girlfriend which I really enjoy spending time with. I think the biggest and most important point you made for me is to continually check myself in this new relationship, to make sure I am approaching it correctly. I want it to be a healthy relationship, not a needed one, I can live alone and I am not just with her because I don't want to be alone. I am with her because I enjoy being with her, I am happy to be around her. We get along great and I never knew that a relationship could be this good. The biggest struggle I have is distance, but I think it could be a blessing in disguise, we too see each other on the weekends and occasionally during the week. It leaves time for us to be parents, and when its appropriate we get to have time to ourselves, just the two of us. Dating after 40 is funky for sure but when you realize just how mature our brains are it can work out pretty good. Taking it slow and getting to know your partner is very important, looking for signs of compatibility is priceless when you see them, and recognizing that you can't really change or change a person teaches tolerance in some areas and can raise flags if there is something that you just can't get past. Thanks for the great post!
M 21 years XW 43yo, me 41 yo S13 BD March 2016 - she asked me to patient... End of June - I started the D process. D final 2/23/17 "He who forgets will be destined to remember" Eddie Vedder