Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I started seeing “Jim” about a year ago. It started slow and felt very traditional and romantic. He brought flowers; we had long talks over quiet dinners; we took walks together. We didn’t even kiss until the third date! It was such a refreshing change from boozy first dates and casual hook-ups, and I fell for Jim pretty hard and fast. It wasn’t until after that amazing first kiss that he told me he’s technically still married. They had separated almost two years before that time, and share custody of their kids. He apologized for not telling me sooner but said he was afraid I wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t give him a chance.
I’ve always had a firm rule that I won’t date if someone is “separated” — that they need to be officially and completely single if I’m going to get to know them. But by the time Jim told me, I felt like it was too late — I had already decided this guy was something special. He said the reason he delayed filing was mostly strategic. They had a horrible breakup, and he’s determined to get at least half custody of the kids. He says she was emotionally abusive and a bad mother. He’s recorded dozens of hours of their phone conversations that he says will prove she’s crazy and not capable of having the kids full-time.
Here we are a year later, and he just filed finally a few weeks ago. He still hasn’t gotten an attorney. When I push him, he asks me to be patient. He promises he’d be divorced “soon.” Despite all the tension and bad blood between him and his ex, he’s said he thinks maybe they can handle the divorce without “lawyering up,” which seems delusional to me and feels like he’s just delaying moving the process forward. I thought I would feel more safe and secure in this relationship once he did that, but honestly nothing has really changed. I feel like 50% of the time, Jim is this perfect man — he’s so sweet, our connection is incredible. But the other half of the time, he’s either ranting or obsessing about how to “win” in this divorce, and I’m stuck having to listen to it all and I find myself doubting him. He also still has many photos of his wife hanging up at his house. He says it’s for the kids and when he tried to take them down they freaked out. I feel like she’s watching my every move and he’s refusing to let go of his past. But then we have a great night together, and I feel like I’m being judgmental about something I don’t entirely understand. Heck, I’ve never been married.
I actually had been single a long time before Jim, and it often felt like all the good ones were taken. I was so happy when I met him, and when he’s being attentive and focused on us, I still feel that way. But this divorce feels like it’s never going to happen. Advice?
Isn’t there just something so powerful and intoxicating about falling in love? Those first waves of romance can drive us to daydreams, fuel our fantasies and somehow make it possible to float through the day on just a few hours of hazy sleep. But love can also blur reality, obscure sound reasoning and really muddy the waters of sensibility. So let me give it to you straight: You need to break up with Jim and tell him to give you a shout when the divorce is final.
In this entire year of dating, what progress has he made? All he’s done is some paperwork. Heck, he can’t even bring himself to take her photograph down. In determinedly trying to remain in his life as his girlfriend, you’ve now also involuntarily been yanked into the role of divorce counselor. Do you really want to hear all about his awful wife — who’s not even his ex-wife yet, but still very much legally his wife? Do you want to continue in a relationship where every waking moment of your day is tinged with doubts brought on by his irrational inaction and inability to make earnest efforts toward a future with you? This kind of instability is unhealthy and will wear you down, even more than it has already. Being single is better than being marginalized on the sidelines while the person you’ve fallen for continues to stumble along in his old existence.
I’ve no doubt Jim is a wonderful man, kind and thoughtful, and these generous and warm-hearted tendencies may also be the very things dragging him to a slow crawl as he negotiates the process of unraveling a marriage. Whatever his motivations or hang-ups, his reluctance is clear, and his life is so full of huge decisions that right now, there’s simply no room for you in it. Time to move on, and just maybe down the road, Jim will catch up to you.
Divorce counselor? More like divorce lawyer working the case pro bono while you should be looking out for the best interests of a different client: yourself.
Don’t feel frustrated about standing by your man through tough and trying times. That’s what the best partners do. Heck, you should be in the running for Girlfriend of the Year for guiding him through this mess while sacrificing your sanity. But then you’d have serious points deducted by the judges for breaking your own firm dating rule: single men only! And then straight-up DQed for letting him get away with conveniently not mentioning his separated status until after he started making out with you. Sorry, rules are rules.
Stick to your guns and live by your principles in either situation and you wouldn’t find yourself where you are now — happy half the time, miserable the rest, the focus of the relationship on getting him through his struggles. Easy for me to say, of course. Like Wanda said: Love can make us turn off our brains and follow the heart through a series of romantic and ridiculous things.
Here’s your moment of clarity. The divorce will happen. Not anytime soon. Not with your well-being in mind. So make sure you’re long gone when it does become official because the best you’ll get in the meantime, and for a good portion of the time after the ink is dry, is half of his attention/affection. Don’t you deserve more?