DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was with my soon to be ex-wife for 8 years (married for 2), until she left me last Christmas!
It was one of those slightly annoying ‘no-fault’ separations, we’d been struggling on and off and one day she just didn’t want to keep trying anymore! But after the initial shock I’ve been dealing pretty well.
I’ve been honest with myself, done a bit of reflecting and I can see where we both made mistakes, and that there were some pretty bad personality and interest mismatches that we both were trying to patch over unsuccessfully with work, furniture, houses, cars etc.
I’ve spent the time since she left working on myself and deciding what I want from life, reconnecting with friends, picking old hobbies up again and I’m surprised by how positive it’s been for me. But one thing that’s bothering me a bit is that most dating advice for divorced people seems to be aimed at guys who are 40+ with kids!
While I’m not rushing out to find the next girl just yet, I’m 29 and in reasonable shape, so still (just about) young enough to go clubbing and not be shunned by the crowd in the local Uni town!
However, I also am slightly worried that most younger women I meet are going to be seriously put off by the fact that I’m separated at 29.
I guess I’m wondering if you have any specific advice for younger guys who are divorced/separated and returning to dating after years off? I’m fairly social but my ‘dating skills’ are rusty and the idea of telling someone new I’m separated makes me pretty anxious, but I’m also aware that not telling them and then it coming out months later would be way worse. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it feels kind of like saying I got an ‘F’ in relationships!
Any advice would be appreciated, I love the podcast and YouTube channel, I wish I’d had it ten years ago!
DEAR SUDDENLY SINGLE: First of all, I’m sorry that you’re going through a divorce. A relationship ending is almost always a thing to be mourned, even if it’s one that needed to end. But as sad as getting divorced can be, I want to commend you for how you’re handling the aftermath. You’re doing everything exactly right. You’re giving yourself time, you’re working on yourself as a person, reconnecting with your friends and relearning who you are as a single man, rather than as one half of a couple.
And frankly, you aren’t going to need much in the way of advice when it comes to getting back into dating again. For all that people wring their hands about it, dating really hasn’t changed that much, even since the 80s. Most of the “changes” is that as a society, we’re more honest and open about what we’re doing. Even things like ghosting or backburnering or whatever new jargon people want to write breathless blog-posts about are nothing new; Victorian novels are rife with stories of people who cut off their lovers with no warning. Hell, half of the story of Gone With the Wind involves Scarlett trying to backburner Rhett while she pines after Ashley.
However, you’re doing one thing wrong: you’re getting caught up in the narrative of The Divorce instead of dealing with the reality of it.
One of the tricky things about divorce is how often the narrative is a binary. We usually see stories of divorce told as either the worst thing that could happen or an escape from a living nightmare. What we don’t see very often are love stories where the end is simply a weak “pfft” rather than an earth-shattering kaboom or an all-consuming fire. But a lot of times, relationships end exactly as yours did: low drama, low excitement, just a couple of folks who were together for longer than they should’ve been.
So as soon as the “d” word comes up, we are primed for a story of thrown dishes, punching walls, traumatized kids, custody battles and infinitely memeable arguments. You know what we don’t think? “Oh, this person failed at relationships.” Not unless you did something horrible. Or, I guess, if you’re Adam Driver, anyway.
This is why I have a hard time following why you think that your divorce is going to be such a drawback for you.
Your issue here isn’t that you’re divorced at 29; s
t dude, there’re folks who got married and divorced who’re far younger than you. Your issue, such as it is, is the way you’re rolling it out. You’re treating your having gotten divorced (at 29!!, gasp, shock, horror) as this massive black mark, the stain that could never be erased. If you roll your divorce out like that to prospective dates, they’re going to expect drama. They’re going to assume that you had the sort of contentious divorce that lawyers talk about in hushed and awestruck after their third or four Scotch. What they get is… well, kinda dull and utterly common, and they’ll be left wondering just why you made such a federal case about it.
And honestly, I’m not entirely sure why you think that getting divorced is going to be such a black mark. If the court system hadn’t been involved, even in the most perfunctory way, it would be a bog-standard break-up story. Neither of you cheated. Neither of you punched any walls or had to take out restraining orders or had screaming matches in front of the kids. You tried to make things work until one day your wife decided she was done. Hell, the two of you had stuck it out for eight years! That’s not the story of someone who failed at dating, that’s someone who had a fairly successful long-term relationship.
Here’s what you’re getting wrong, my dude. Your relationship didn’t fail. The fact that you or your wife didn’t die in the saddle doesn’t mean that the relationship failed or that you failed your relationship. It just means that your relationship ended. And if you look at it, the two of you ended things on fairly good terms as far as such things go. It doesn’t sound like either of you are harboring any bitterness or rancor for the other, you’re not retconning the relationship into the worst thing ever… if you can find it in yourself to remember the good times and treat your soon to be ex with respect and courtesy, I’d say that this was a success.
Like I’m always saying: not every love story is going to be a drama-filled epic poem. Some are just meant to be a short story. Some are just meant to be a dirty limerick.
So here’s how you handle the “divorce” reveal. To start with: you stop treating it like a deep, dark secret. People will look to you for clues as to how to respond to something. If you roll your divorce out to people like a stain on your soul, they’re going to assume that either you’re still hung up on your wife, or that you did some heinous s
t. If you just treat it like a detail in the life of Suddenly Single, then they’ll respond accordingly. What do you tell them and how do you tell it? Exactly the way you just told me: you were ultimately a mismatch as a couple and after a lot of trying to make it work, your wife decided that she didn’t want to try any more. It was a shock at first, but overall, it was a fairly tame affair and you’ve learned a lot about what you need and what you’re looking for.
Roll it out like this and you don’t come across like someone who failed at relationships, you look like someone who’s got some experience under his belt, who had a difficult time and came out of it wiser and more mature.
That doesn’t sound like a failure. That sounds like someone who’s grown and improved and came out the other side as a better man.
You’re going to be just fine, man. You’ve got this.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org