After I my first husband and I were divorced, the very idea of dating chilled me to the bone. He had been lying to me for over a year about an affair, which actually hurt me more than the affair. I had suspected, and asked him about it with some frequency, but he never did fess up. Only when a therapist forced us into a hotel room for a weekend, telling me if I 'shared' first, he would no longer work with me, did my husband tell me the truth. Since the therapist knew, he realized he couldn't continue to lie. Even though this all happened almost 30 years ago, writing about it is still upsetting.
The short-term effect was that I didn't think I would ever trust another man again. I wasn't interested in women in a romantic way, so that avenue wasn't open for me. Because I had two children to raise, I didn't believe I had time for romance anyway.
But then I began to long for companionship and cuddles, to say nothing of sex. I knew if I joined organizations, or took a class or two, I'd meet guys. There were friends who wanted to introduce me to single men, divorced men, men they liked and thought I would like. Still I hesitated. What if these guys didn't believe in monogamy? Or worse, what if they said they did, but were not being truthful? How would I know? Would I take a chance, and then be hurt again? We talked about it in my women's group, but that failed to resolve the issue for me.
Then it happened in the natural way. That very same group decided to do a ropes course at the suggestion of one of our members who worked at a school in the mountains east of L.A. A fellow faculty member taught outdoor education there, and was willing to facilitate a course that was both challenging and fun. It was surprising to me that I was the only one who had enough trust to fall back into the circle of women surrounding me without looking over my shoulder. I knew my friends would catch me; indeed, my head never came close to touching the ground.
The biggest surprise came when the man who had facilitated the course called and asked me out. I had enjoyed him, so before I could stop myself I said 'yes.' We dated for about a year, and when he asked me to move up to the mountains with him, I did, although it meant moving my kids away from their dad. When we broke up, they were glad to return to their long-time L.A. friends, and I was relieved the issue that tore us apart had nothing to do with lying. The break-up didn't affect my somewhat fragile sense of trust in the opposite sex.
Once I was home, I spent hours thinking about the relationships I had been in, and my role in them. I believed I wouldn't again choose someone who would cheat on me, but I was still uneasy. It took awhile, but eventually I realized that my trust issue had much more to do with me, than with whatever man I might choose. 'Choose' was the operative word. Did I have the discernment to be interested in someone who would be good for me? Were my attractions knee-jerk, or did they revolve around qualities I saw in another person? I wasn't sure.
I talked endlessly with my friends, dissecting my part in the failure of my relationships. It took time, but I came to believe in myself: that I would pay attention to how a man behaved. My therapist drummed that notion into me -- behavior counts, he said over and over. I had always chosen my female friends because of who they were and how they acted; I knew I could learn to do the same with men.
Now I am in a relationship that is for life. I don't say this lightly and it is something we both believe. All the work I did around what would make someone else trustworthy and eventually around trusting myself was worth the effort. Making mistakes, examining them and picking myself up to try again has been essential. Learning about myself was the key, as well as finding someone to love who had done the same. We both believe that personal work is a process and not one that is ever done. Over the six years we have been together we have also honored change in one another. Both things should hold us in good stead.
EARLIER ON HUFF/POST50:
Nothing wrong with being cautious and slow. Before you tell your adult children that you are dating again (or make a big deal about someone specific), make sure that the two of you are a couple. Ask yourself whether you feel serious about this person. You don't want to get your adult children involved, attached, or concerned when it's not necessary.
If you want to win over your adult children, just tell them that this new partner makes you happy. How can your children have a problem with that? Remember that your kids want to make sure it's someone who cares about you and is trustworthy, because children of all ages don't want their parents to get hurt. Also, many adult children are concerned that a new partner will "financially" and "emotionally" take advantage of their parent. Keep these two concerns in mind when you talk to your adult children. Flickr photo via: Kunni Kun.
The more information your new partner has before they meet your adult children, the better. Don't fear telling your partner too much. The more information they have about your adult children the easier it will be for them to ask questions, seem interested, and join the conversation. Flickr photo via: Petteri Sulonen.
It is important that your adult children observe the two of you sharing responsibilities and enjoying each other's company. A great idea: getting together for a meal - have the partner and adult children meet over dinner or lunch! At the dinner, if you cook the turkey, have your partner make the mashed potatoes. If he doesn't cook, have him set the table. Work together as a team. Flickr photo by: rhurtubia.
No matter their age, explain why you're dating again, that no one will ever replace their other parent, and now that they are older - you too need companionship. Don't dismiss their concerns - instead, if you validate their concerns, they won't get defensive. If you say instead: "I understand that you are worried about me and you're not sure this is right for me. I hear you. I promise you, I will come and let you know if anything doesn't feel right to me about this person. I won't hesitate to let you know. But, right now - he makes me happy. I enjoy his company and I am being cautious, slow and safe."
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