Love After Divorce: A Reflection on a Journey, Part 1
I was on Terri Trespicio’s radio show, How to Click?, last week. Her questions had me reflecting on the journey that has taken me from married to single to dating to engaged over the past few years. Yes, that’s right, I said engaged:) But, more on that later! I am always asked how I managed to go from a huddled heap on the floor in the moments after the text that ended my life as I knew it to a new, healthy relationship where I can love and trust and be vulnerable again. I’ve realized I’ve shared much about the divorce and even the dating but not much about what got me to this place. So, here goes!
I signed up for Match.com the winter after my July disaster. I truly had no expectations of finding anyone. In fact, I kept myself safely tucked behind the twin shields of my story and my planned upcoming move across the country (and the spreadsheets). I was dating for practice; I had never done it as an adult. I saw it as fun, informative, and a distraction from the pain. I went on many dates, usually 6-7 a week. Many were first dates, but I did see some guys on a repeated basis. One guy, we’ll call him John, managed to slip through some of the defenses I had erected. I slowly starting seeing him and not committing to as many dates with others.
I was drawn to the fact that John had a confident way about him that made me feel taken care of and he was not afraid to challenge me. He quickly spotted my analytical shield and worked to lower it by always greeting me with, “How do you feel?” And, he wouldn’t take my wishy-washy answers. I liked that challenge, especially because my ex never really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. What’s interesting, is that the confidence and smooth capability I was drawn to also scared me. It kept me from ever trusting him. It soon became clear that his idea of relationship perfection was for me to be a kept woman, staying at home while he supported us, which he was very capable of doing. This idea turned my stomach, however. Not only do I never want to be without my own source of income, I also can’t handle the thought of being held to another because of the need for financial security. Those were his fears coming out – a way for him to make sure that he was never abandoned. My unwillingness to be bought eventually caused him to do a disappearing act. That doesn’t go over too well with a woman whose husband did the same less than a year earlier.
Rewind to the beginning of Match Madness. One of my early dates was at a coffee shop (after a night spent in Athens. GA with John – I told you it was crazy!) with a man named Brock. There was an attraction between us immediately, yet we both had turn-offs about the other. He thought I was too conservative and too closed off. I thought he was self-centered, bordering on rude. Luckily, we both recognized that there was more there and that, in both cases, the offensive behaviors were coming out of fear and self-protection. We shared stories, talked about geeky science stuff, and talked about crazy dating experiences (he had way more stories than me at that point!). I may have written him off except that when he talked about his dog, a German shepherd he had to put down the prior year, he teared up. Tears fell down his face in a public venue with a new woman and he let them fall unapologetically. I was intrigued.
Brock and I fell into the habit of evening phone calls on the nights I wasn’t out with someone else. I remember lying on the green flannel sheets in the spare bedroom I occupied at my friend’s house, sounds of baby and kitchen life coming up the stairs, while Brock and I talked about everything and nothing. Through those conversations, he learned I was not nearly as conservative as he initially thought and I started to open up more. I learned that his ADD nature was what led to the behavior that I initially interpreted as rude and that he was the rare person who was confident (in most areas and willing to admit when he wasn’t) and that the bravado was not hiding deeper insecurities. We eventually met for a second date at his friend’s Superbowl party. We had a good evening, but not much quality time between the game and all of the other people. When he walked me to my car at the end of the evening, he tried to kiss me. I turned away, leaving his lips on my cheek as I stayed in the embrace. I know, I know. He still doesn’t let me live that down!
Why did I turn away? This was at a time where John had established himself at the top of the Match pack. But still, I never committed exclusivity to anyone. I used my discomfort about John being in the picture as my excuse, but I wonder if I was aware that more was brewing with Brock and I was afraid of what that would bring?
Weeks later, John pulled his disappearing act. Brock happened to call on the night I realized what had occurred. He could tell I was upset and inquired as to the reason. I told him he didn’t want to know since it dealt with another guy. Well, not only did he say he wanted to know, he stayed on the phone with me for hours as I dealt with the emotions of anger and abandonment triggered by another disappearance. That was an important night for us – he saw me vulnerable and I got to see his character.
He cemented the deal soon after when he emailed me a picture of the puppy he had recently adopted. Smart man. He knew I couldn’t resist the dog. Just before my spring break, we went on our first “real” date. I met him at his house and after plenty of Tiger love, we went to dinner in downtown Roswell. We had both softened by that point, no longer operating behind our shields. When he moved to kiss me in the town park after dinner, I happily reciprocated.
I left soon after to go to Seattle with a friend over my school break. Brock and I stayed in contact. He made the first of many moves that week that eventually gained my trust (not an easy task after my experiences). He divulged some information that he could have kept hidden and I may have never known. However, he could not let things go further without telling me everything. The information didn’t bother me; it was outshined by the fact that he wasn’t prone to concealing things I may not want to hear (as my ex was apparently wont to do). Gold star for that one!
The second step on the path to trust came soon after. He was out of town for the day and asked me if I would stop by his house and take care of Tiger. Here I was, alone in the house with all of its papers and computers, only weeks into the relationship. I mentioned before that I’ve never been a snooper, but the fact that he trusted me around his stuff (and his dog) and didn’t feel like he had anything to hide made me comfortable. I’ve also talked about how Tiger helped me trust – dogs can’t lie and their temperament reveals much about their owner.
I was still dating others; he made it exclusive before I was ready to. He was patient with me. He knew that I had not had much dating experience and that I needed to end Match on my own terms. It wasn’t always comfortable with him but he never made me feel like I needed to hide or do things differently.
We had a huge crossroads looming on the horizon – I was planning on moving to Seattle at the end of the school year. Here’s how crazy this was. We really didn’t start to date until April. School ends in May. I had already put in notice at my current school. I made the decision to apply for some local jobs and, assuming I got one, commit to staying in Atlanta for a year so that we could give the relationship a chance to develop beyond its infancy. I secured employment and moved from my friend’s house into an apartment down the street from Brock all in a three week span. That was scary. We didn’t want to push things, didn’t want to move quickly, but those first few steps came fast and furious out of necessity.
We became exclusive early that summer. I had no problem leaving Match behind; I no longer was interested in anyone else. We moved slowly as far as emotional intimacy is concerned. I was still having some bad days and the anger was very near the surface.He helped me during the rough patches (I remember a night where he gave me a quick boxing lesson and then left me to attempt to decimate his heavy bag as I dealt with the anger from more financial unfairness from the ex), but he didn’t coddle me. He made it clear that he was uneasy with the healing I still had ahead of me and that I wasn’t nearly as far along on that journey as I claimed to be.
He was also scarred from a past relationship and had never really been in a healthy partnership. I think it worked because we were both patient with the other and honest the entire time. I worked on moving through my pain and anger and he worked on being a partner. We never pushed. He told me he loved me one evening while we were in the car just before we pulled out of the garage to go to dinner. I responded by folding into him. He said, “I know you’re not ready to say it yet. It’s okay.”
I wasn’t ready that night, but eventually I was.