I’ve recently met someone and we’ve fallen pretty hard for each other. Ben and I have so much in common, it’s crazy! We’re both in our 40s. We both have two kids in middle school: a girl and a boy. We’re both engineers. And we both love mountain biking. There’s one big difference, though. I’m divorced and he’s…well…not yet divorced.
You see, I separated from my ex two years ago, and our divorce was final about eight months later. Ben also separated from his wife two years ago (yet another thing we have in common), but neither he nor his wife filed. Ever since she left him, he's paid for his household expenses, she's paid for hers, and they coparent their kids without any drama. So, for all intents and purposes, it's like they're divorced, they just haven't done the paperwork.
My best friend can’t get past this technicality. She says dating him is wrong because he’s still a married man. Plus, she’s totally hung up on the fact that he said he was divorced on OKCupid. She thinks he was being untruthful. I think he was just being practical.
Do you think it’s wrong to date him?
Head Over Heels in Love
Dear In Love,
I realize this happens all the time, but I think misrepresenting one’s marital status on a dating site raises legitimate questions about a person’s veracity. But at this point, that’s water under the bridge. The bigger issue here is not that Ben said he was divorced on OKCupid, it’s that he is in fact still married.
For reasons more pragmatic than principled, I am opposed to people dating before they are divorced. Simply put, dating has a zero percent chance of making a divorce go smoother, and a bazillion percent chance of making it more contentious. Even I can do that math.
I get that Ben has been separated for a couple of years, and that it was his wife’s decision to move out. And you might think that means his divorce will be smooth, simple, and unemotional. But there’s nothing like a not-yet-ex finding someone new to make the person who wanted the divorce in the first place have second thoughts about splitting up. And when that happens, it’s anything but smooth, simple, and unemotional.
Even if that doesn’t happen, a divorce, no matter how civil, is nobody’s idea of a good time. Sure, they’ve been living separately; but the devil is in the details, and no one has sorted through those yet. Is the house going to be sold? How will they divide the proceeds? What about the retirement accounts? Will anyone pay child support? Who’s picking up the tab for the kids’ braces? Hammering out all of this can get messy.
Ben will be preoccupied with the twists and turns of his divorce at times – and that’s understandable. You will have opinions about how things are or are not getting resolved at times – and that’s also understandable. As a result, your fun, new relationship with Ben will get bumped and bruised in the process of Ben’s divorce. That’s wear and tear on your relationship that would never have happened if Ben had wrapped up his divorce before you two started dating.
So, yes, in a perfect world, people would conclude their previous relationships, paperwork and all, before entering into new ones. But you’re not living in a perfect world; you’re living in Ben’s world. Since it’s not likely that the two of you will take a hiatus while Ben gets his divorce done, let’s develop a practical plan to get you through this.
Up until this point, Ben’s been content to let his ex wife call the shots regarding their separation. She left him. She didn’t file. He sat on the sidelines waiting to see what she would do next. Some people (especially men) take this approach because they are holding out hope for reconciliation. Other people (especially men) think it will result in a kinder, gentler divorce. But now that you two are involved, Ben needs to demonstrate respect for both you and your new relationship by taking the reigns on his divorce. Ben should talk to a divorce lawyer and figure out what constitutes a reasonable time frame for getting his divorce done. Then, he should commit to doing what he can to get things squared away within that time period.
And you should commit to staying out of his divorce drama. Don’t expect him to report to you on how things are progressing. Don’t weigh in with your opinions about property settlements, custody matters, and other details. Remember, if this had been done in the proper order, you wouldn’t have been around for any of those discussions, anyway. His divorce is his project, not yours. The best way to protect your new relationship from any fallout from his divorce is by staying out of it.
If Ben’s divorce is not final within the time period that he commits to get it done, you will then need to identify what the hold-up is. Were there unexpected complications? Is Ben dragging his feet? Or is his wife still calling the shots? Once you figure that out, you’ll know whether to stick around a little longer or cut your losses.
Christina Pesoli is the author of Break Free from the Divortex: Power Through Your Divorce and Launch Your New Life.