Whenever I work with a client who is starting to think about dating again after divorce, I advise them to first make a list of the traits/characteristics they are looking for in their next partner.
Their initial results are usually so similar it’s comical – “I want someone totally different from my ex. I want someone with integrity and who will address issues head-on.”
I often find myself nodding along since my wish-list was much the same.
It was strange dating at first. I wanted different yet I also longed for the familiar. I found myself attracted to men that were way too similar to my ex (can you say trauma reenactment?) and not always drawn to the ones that had the qualities I was looking for. It’s definitely a time when impulses may not be trustworthy and it’s worth moving slowly and with intention.
There have been times when Brock wonders if I was only attracted to him because he is the polar opposite (his words) of my ex. The reality is much more than that and not one I’m sure I can ever completely explain to him. Yes, in some ways (critical and positive ways) he is the opposite of my first husband. In other ways, he and my ex have some overlapping similarities (areas of interest and compatibility).
But I wasn’t attracted to him because he was the opposite. The divorce highlighted for me what was important in a partner. And that starts with being a good person. I was no longer the same, naive girl that pledged her life to her teenage beau and was petrified of losing him. I was stronger and, as a result, I wanted someone stronger and independent as well. And my ideas of how I wanted the rest of my life to look were changing and I wanted someone who fit my emerging vision.
Basically, once I knew better, I wanted to do better.
Here are those critical ways that my second husband is different than my first –
As I write this, my husband is at a Ju Jitsu seminar. I grumble sometimes about his commitment to the sport, but underneath that is a pride in his efforts and achievements. He amazes me in his ability to push through pain and keep going even when the goal feels so far away. His presence on the mat inspires both respect and fear in his opponents. I love that he completely immerses himself in something that is healthy, goal-oriented, inspirational and seriously bad-a$$.
My first husband was a driven man (his self-taught expertise in modeling software was evidence of that), but he had no real passions outside video games. In retrospect, this lack of purpose, of focus, left him rudderless when life’s waters became rough.
Brock is an Alpha. Confident. Strong unapologetic male energy. And that’s good for me in a couple ways. First, I have an intensity myself and I appreciate someone who will call me out when necessary. Someone who isn’t a blind supplicant. Also, I often feel like I’m not feminine enough and so I enjoy the contrast between our energies. As an Alpha, he is straight-talking and upfront. It’s not always decorous, but it’s always reflective of what he’s thinking.
I have nothing against non-alpha men. I have many in my life that I love and respect. What I didn’t respect in my ex was how he never challenged me and how he would quietly manipulate while pretending to be the nice guy. He was a beta who wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. That was the problem.
Some of the times I have loved Brock the most is when I have seen him come to the aide of a stranger. He is never one to turn away from someone in need, whether it be a man walking down the street with a gas can on a 100 degree day or a panicked woman pulled over after skidding on ice. Even when the situation could be risky or a scam, he jumps in, ready to assist. And when he’s done, he just turns and walks away, expecting nothing in return.
My ex also did nice things for people. He built a toy chest for a neighbor’s child. He would pick up the check. But here’s the difference (and it’s a crucial one) – Brock would make an anonymous donation whereas my ex would expect his name on a plaque.
Brock never lets fear hold him back. He initiates the difficult conversations. He tackles things that scare him with only the smallest signs of his discomfort. He runs into the fire instead of running away from it. And he encourages me to face my own fears and is supportive when I do.
I only learned at the end how cowardly my ex was. His default position was to hide from anything that caused him difficulty. Which ended up being pretty much everything. After the divorce, I also realized how much I had been allowing fear to be my guide and made a very conscious decision to change that. And so I was drawn to people that had been successful in ignoring fear.
On our second date, I met many of Brock’s friends. Friends that went back years. Later, I saw him demonstrate loyalty to businesses through his own transactions and by referral. When friends were challenging or a business disappointing, he didn’t respond by dumping them, he simply called them out and still continued to call on them. I was impressed (and continue to be) with his loyalty and commitment. This is a man who fixes things instead of throwing them away.
As for my ex, what’s the antonym of loyal? 🙂 I used to think he was loyal to me even when he wasn’t in other situations. I know better now.
I have put Brock in some very uncomfortable situations – at a Shakespeare play or surrounded by women at a house-warming party – and he has come through with flying colors. When plans change or we have to live in chaos through a renovation, he simply changes with it. This is one of those characteristics that I really became aware of post-divorce. After all, the only guarantee in life is change. It’s best to be with someone who can handle it.
I don’t think my ex weathered change quite so well. On the surface, he did fine. But beneath? He bundled up all that stress and tried to hide it away. Doesn’t work.
My idea of security has changed. I no longer see it as an absolute, a promise. Now, I view it more as an intention and its associated actions. And in that regard, Brock earns 5 gold stars. He looks out for us financially and takes that responsibility very seriously. He is concerned about my safety (I never feel more physically protected than when I am with him), always looking for ways to make my life a little less risky. And on top of all of that, he always makes sure to communicate his love and loyalty to me. Dang, I’m lucky:)
With my ex, I felt secure in the relationship. What I learned later though was that that feeling was anchored on the flimsy of words. The actions didn’t align. Words are meaningless on their own
One of the traits I admire most in Brock is his willingness to admit when he screwed up before (and this is important) he is even called out on it. He’s matter-of-fact about it and not defensive. And most importantly, it’s followed with an effort to fix or avoid the mistake. I’m trying to learn from him on this one because, as a people-pleaser, I’m way too hung up on my own mistakes.
I think the only mistakes my ex ever copped to were the ones that were already marked in red ink. The unavoidable ones. And that admission would soon be followed by misdirection.
So in those ways, I was drawn to him because he was divergent from my ex. Not because I didn’t want to be reminded of my ex, but because I wanted better.
And I was finally smart enough to know what better looked like.