I am a 37-year-old single girl. I have been through many difficult relationships, which is why I have never been married. For the last three months, I have been dating a divorced man with children. His children live with him, for the most part.
We get along great and he is ready to get engaged. When he proposed to me, I told him I needed more time. My friends and family are all saying that he had a messy divorce and that he abused his wife. I asked him about these rumors, and he claims that his wife made up stories about him because she was at risk of losing the kids for being mentally unstable.
He is a really good guy, and treats me like gold. I think that we will have a nice life together, but people are making me nervous about marrying him. Everyone is saying that marrying a divorced man with children would be “settling” to begin with. Meanwhile, he is not happy that I am schlepping this relationship out, and wants us to get married.
By Baila Sebrow
You are in a difficult predicament. Having been through many relationships, you have surely experienced much disappointment and, no doubt, a fair share of heartache. The focus at this juncture of your life is to make sure that you will not substitute one phase of misery for another.
I want to touch upon the statement people are making to you about “settling.” When a single guy or girl “settles” for someone, it suggests an act of defeat or desperation. It means that he or she is aware of a discrepancy or a shortfall in the person they are dating, but will go ahead with the marriage despite the consequences. This is frequently seen amongst those who are frustrated with dating and are willing to marry the next person who comes along and proposes.
You demonstrate no signs of settling. Quite to the contrary. If you would be settling, we would not be having this conversation in a dating forum in the first place.
What I am gathering is that you are an intelligent young lady who has experienced disenchantment with the guys you previously dated. You therefore made the decision to broaden your horizons by agreeing to date a guy outside your sphere. Dating a man who has had a family since before meeting you is not settling. You have made an educated shift in getting to know someone who has experienced married and family life, along with the pain of its ending.
Not only that, but you seem comfortable with the idea of his children living mainly with him. That sounds like a sophisticated choice. The relationship itself has thus far proven to be successful. You are happier than you have ever been in the past. However, you are now faced with a challenge. Just so you know, there are never-married men who also have rumors spread about them, true or otherwise.
Here is what you need to understand: Couples do not get divorced because they are happy with each other. Even in what people might consider amicable separations, there is always some resentment or animosity toward the spouse who initiated the proceedings. There also exists resentment in the person who makes the initiative in ending the marriage. Discontent and disillusionment of any kind is painfully disheartening. Divorce is the shattering of family life, and when there are children involved, the trauma is that much more pronounced.
What makes dating someone who has been involved in a messy divorce more troublesome is that you may never find out the truth about what really happened in the marriage or the events leading up to their separation. Frequently, each spouse has allies who will swear for him or her. The people who are corroborating one side’s version of a story usually have little inkling as to the nature of the situation. Some overzealous allies have even been known to take it up a notch and exaggerate things—in this case, perhaps the abuse aspect, or that of the ex-wife’s mental status.
More than the “messiness” aspect of the divorce, I am troubled by the allegations of abuse. Most people go running for their lives when they hear rumors that a divorced guy abused his ex-wife—and rightfully so. Abuse, whether physical, emotional, financial, or verbal, can leave the victimized spouse suffering long-term damage. Allegations of abuse should never be dismissed lightly.
Spouses who abuse their partners rarely display negative tendencies in the early stages of dating. That is probably the number one reason so many people have become victims of domestic abuse. In the beginning of a dating relationship, it is difficult to determine the personality traits of the person you are dating. People generally act charming and well-mannered when trying to make a good impression. As the relationship progresses, subtle warnings usually become apparent. There are many signs to look for, ranging from predisposition to temper, belittling and tearing down your self-esteem, talking badly about your family and friends, etc. A therapist who specializes in domestic abuse would be able to coach you in recognizing the danger signals.
In describing the guy you are dating, you provide no indication or worries about negative behavior towards you. You also seem convinced that he is a good guy who can potentially make a nice life for you. You say that he treats you “like gold.” All that still does not mean you should put your guard down. This goes for anyone in any type of dating relationship. No one should feel immune to domestic abuse and that it cannot happen to them. In your case, especially, with all those circulating rumors, even more so.
However, you do need to be objective, specifically because the divorce was messy. As much as domestic abuse is part of all societies, it is also known that there have been false rumors of abuse in a marriage. Discerning which allegations are false and which are true can be difficult if not impossible. If the ex-wife is spreading false rumors about the guy you are dating for self-promoting reasons, then that is a tragic and grave injustice to him.
It is not unreasonable for this guy to feel that you are “schlepping” this relationship out. On the other hand, he needs to understand that your hesitations have a serious basis. You need to convey that to him. Furthermore, three months is really not all that long to date.
It sounds like you have a good rapport with this guy. I’m not sure how open you are with him about the rumors you have heard circulating. Do not leave anything out. I don’t know if his response will clue you in on anything, but it is a good idea to watch his reaction.
If you feel strongly about this guy and the relationship, I advise you to speak to the professional team involved in his divorce, especially the rav or rabbanim. That might help shed some light on the situation. Most importantly, I advise you to choose a therapist whom you will both feel comfortable working together with. I am confident that, feeling the way he does about you, he will have no objections. Maintaining these approaches should help bring you more clarity in making the right decision and finding the happiness that you deserve.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. v
Questions and comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.