No question finds its way to my inbox more than about dating divorced dads. In most cases, they are from women never married or with children who have met or fallen for a divorced father. Their cries for help, an if you read them you’d agree, ask me to explain these men’s confusing and frustrating behaviors – why they act how they do in the relationship. Yet, I’ve noticed each answer (and I do answer every email) has a familiar ring to a much more fundamental question:
“How can I know this guy is ready for a relationship?”.
It’s a fair and relevant question. It’s not easy to know he’s ready only by looking. So, to help other women, I’ve listed four things you should pay most attention. I’ve also included what you may want to do in response.
- The Clock – This is what I call ‘table stakes,’ meaning, for any woman this should be a deal killer. Divorce is a gut wrenching, life wrecking event. Regardless of how bad the marriage, how long he slept in the spare bedroom, and how happy he is to be free of her, no man comes out the other side of divorce unscathed. He will have wounds, often deep, that need time to heal. Woe be to the woman who begins a relationship with the newly divorced man or worse, a man who is still separated. Why? He will carry all that baggage (guilt, hurt, anger) with him and set it in your lap. Divorce doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there’s blame to go around and if he doesn’t deal with his parts for why the marriage ended, own up to them, and take steps to change, be assured his lingering issues will become your new relationship problems.
- Response – Set a rule, a hard and fast rule, that you don’t get in a relationship until 12 months after his divorce. I emphasize divorce, not separation. This is bona fide, papers in hand, divorced. It will take that long for him to break a few other women’s hearts, have a couple of wake-up calls, and come to grips with his new reality. Yes, this could mean you send an otherwise very nice guy packing, but doing so now is preferable to after you’re in the deep end of a relationship. Instead, be plutonic (please!), give him advice, have a coffee together from time to time. Circle the 366th day on the calendar, and when it arrives go have another look. The heart you save by doing this will be your own.
- The Ex – This is the real test of a single dad’s character – how he talks about his ex. If it’s all negative and everything is her fault, then two things you can know are certain. 1. He isn’t over the loss of the marriage, or her. 2. You are inviting more drama into your life than you can possibly imagine. Most men overplay their hand when talking about the ex because it shields them from personal responsibility for why the marriage ended.
- Response – If he consistently and aggressively talks about how horrible of a person his ex-wife is then my advice – run. He isn’t ready to make an omelet, let alone make you happy. Bitterness, anger, resentment are plants that can choke the life out of everything around them. I’m not saying that some what he says isn’t true. But if his focus is on her sins, he hasn’t had the time to repent of his own. Look for a man who can set aside personal differences and co-parent for his children’ sake and without throwing their mom under the bus every chance he gets. Poor relationships between ex-spouses invariably include drama – and his drama will become your drama.
- The Kids – I’ve yet to meet the first shitty dad who isn’t also a shitty man. The two are synonymous. ‘Good men’ don’t walk out on their kids or responsibilities. Does he spend plenty of quality time with his children? How does he talk about them? Or is he held hostage by his kids? Do they consume all of his time leaving none for you? Does he complain incessantly about child support (if he pays it) and what his ex-wife does with that money?
- Response – Listen carefully. Ask lots of questions. Read between the lines. If he complains about not seeing his kids enough but turns around and brags about all his vacations and weekends spent on his boat – that’s a sign. If he blows you off because his kid scraped a knee, that’s another bad sign. A man that will ignore his children is a man that will eventually ignore you. A man that can’t make time for you now won’t be able to do so later. It should be a right balance.
- The Past – A single dad that comes on strong and wants to introduce you to his kids at the end of the first date isn’t ready for a relationship. He’s either new to dating, his previous marriage isn’t over or just ended, or he is trying to recreate what he once had. It’s all a problem for you. He will likely tell you that meeting his kids after the first week will be fine – it won’t. He’s suffered hurt and rejection. He may overreact to the first woman that expresses real interest. There may be a natural desire to put the pieces together quickly. Don’t let him. Be the brakes on the relationship and the voice of reason.
- Response – You should not meet his children for – at minimum – three months after you’ve been exclusively dating. Anything earlier is not good for you and unhealthy for the kids. If he’s looking to recreate the past – run. A man who is ready for a relationship is one who doesn’t want to introduce you until he knows you both have something. He isn’t looking for an instant family. He will be resistant even then to do anything serious – like take a vacation together. He will not want you to spend the night when he has his kids, and you should never do that no matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise. It’s always and every time a terrible idea.
I promise that paying attention to these four signs and putting up guardrails to protect you will guarantee your heart remains unbroken. Ignoring them and you do so at your own peril.