The situation goes something like this.  I meet a guy who shows interest in me.  A few have even invested quite a bit of effort and energy to win my favor.  Just when I think I might be letting my guard down enough to actually bond with him, I find out about her.  She might be an ex-girlfriend, an ex-wife, the mother of his child or the one who got away.  She have helped destroy his marriage, or gone out with him on wild benders.  She could have, slept with his best friend, stolen his money, joined a cult, realized she was gay, or stuck around in his life just enough to emotionally manipulate and abuse him.  There are so many ways to become “her.”

I find a problem with “her” in nearly every middle-aged single man I meet.  To be fair I’m sure plenty of women also obsess about a “him” from their past.  It seems as we get older we become a patchwork of our former triumphs and traumas and can’t help but bring them to the next relationship.  Our nostalgia and idealization of former lovers keep us trapped.  Some men are more transparent about this than others.  I’ve had the following happen to me while on first dates with men I barely knew.

  • One admitted his marriage fell apart because he was still in love with his former girlfriend.  He never worked it out with the former girlfriend but his obsession destroyed his marriage.
  • Another said he was still angry at his last major girlfriend.  Not so uncommon except he had dated her over 20 years before I sat across from him nibbling on tapas.
  • One said and I quote “I still love my ex-wife.  My friendship is very close with her, even though she’s with someone else and if you or any other woman has a problem with that, I’ll always choose my ex-wife.”  This might be understandable if they had children together but they did not, and she lived halfway across the country.
  • Another guy told me that he was still in love with his ex-wife, even though she had told him she “never wanted to have sex with him”, and she had left him for another man.
  • The worst one was a man I had dinner with who went on and on about another female comedian he had corresponded with on OKCupid.  When he found out I knew her he said, “I find her fascinating and would love to have drinks with her.”  I blocked him from my phone on my way home.
  • I even had a man ask me for advice on ways he could get his ex back.  This was WHILE he was on a date with me.  I honestly felt sorry for him, but give me a break.

Even in my first major relationship right out of the gate post-divorce, my partner openly pinned away for the woman he had just dated before me.  She lived on the opposite coast and had never actually spent any significant time with him, but in his eyes she was somehow perfect.  Because she was inaccessible she was without flaws, yet an available woman who actually wanted him would never measure up.

This happens so often that now when I meet new guys I almost want to just ask him,

“So where are the bodies buried when it comes to your ex?  Do you hate her?  Do you still love her?  It doesn’t matter as hate and love are two sides of the same coin, so either way it’s bad.  How many times do you talk to her in a given month?  Are you actually divorced yet? Get it all out now, so I can leave before we might feel obligated to actually order dinner.”


When I see this pattern repeated it just reinforces every insecurity I have about myself.  All of the following go through my brain at the same time

  • Why is he so obsessed with her?
  • Why is no one obsessed with me?
  • Why am I OK for a backup but never the primary woman in any man’s life?
  • Why do some men obsess over women who treat them like garbage?
  • Do men only want women that they can’t have?
  • Why would he still want her if she left him for another guy?
  • I’m not good enough.  There’s something about me that makes me disgusting or unappealing.
  • Why did he chase me if he really wants her?
  • Would he take her back if she wanted to try again?
  • If I improved myself or changed my personality would that help?
  • What magic do these women posses?

I admit none of those thoughts are healthy or useful.  It’s my neurosis going on overdrive.  I find the constant struggle against “her” extremely demoralizing and a disaster for my self-esteem.  I can logically tell myself it’s not me, the guy is just hung up on his ex, and he’d treat most women like this.  I want to grab some of these men by both shoulders and scream

  • “She doesn’t want you anymore, let her go.”
  • “She’s so mean to you, you deserve better.”
  • “”If you think you guys still have a chance, then do everything you can to get her back, just leave me alone.”

The hardest are the men with children.  I don’t have kids myself, so I honestly have no idea how strange an intertwined a relationship with an ex could get.  Even if two parents absolutely hate each other they will still be deeply entrenched in each other’s lives for many years to come.  So far I’ve encountered men who bend over backwards to keep their ex happy, and men who constantly battle with their ex over every decision involving their kids.  Both are a nightmare for a new partner.  If a man is spending all of his energy towards the ex there’s nothing left for anyone else.

This rarely happened in my 20’s. Men that age just didn’t seem to get as worked up about a former partner.  It seemed like people were breaking up and hooking up with new partners all the time, without much second thought  Once we get older and put much more investment into a relationship, it just gets harder to let go. When our own personal “Happily Ever After” story gets crushed, we have a hard time imagining a new one.  In and ideal situation I would just pass out a psychological evaluation to every potential new partner with lots of questions about how they view their ex.  I know that would never really work, but it would certainly save us both time and energy.  *I’m not really serious, that’s sarcasm….but honestly it would make things easier.

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6 comments on “Dating After Divorce: I like you…but you’re not HER.

  1. tropicaltheartist

    Men don’t cope with humiliation very well and the obsession to somehow be vindicated can be very strong, but you’re right. It’s nonsense and it gets in the way of a potential new relationship. I’m sure that most, if not all, of these men that chase you for a while have the potential to be deeply obsessed with you, but they can’t take the crushing blow to their ego of letting go of the one that ground them down into the very dirt in a single hit. I don’t excuse that, but I understand it. Just know that there is nothing wrong with you. Some lucky guy would win the lottery by winning your love and affection, honestly and openly. Changing your personality or anything else about you won’t salvage those relationships with guys that cannot let go of the past. You shouldn’t do that anyway, as you’re fine the way you are. Men obsess over women that treated them like garbage because they can’t stand the thought that their value actually might be only that of garbage, or because they really want to prove, like crazy, that they’re not garbage, to somebody whose mind is already made up on the subject. None of this is rational. It’s a side effect of a badly crushed self-confidence. Unfortunately, they’ll crush yours trying to salvage theirs. It’s all about trying to save face, in the end.

  2. Bart Grossman

    I think we often aren’t able to let go of the old relationship until we bond with someone new. Maybe talking about the old one to the new one is part of the process of transferring the bond. Male attachment is very mixed up with care taking. I think for many of us letting go of taking care of the wife/girlfriend is the hardest part.

  3. Paige Turner

    I dated a guy years ago. His name was Ed. He was smart, funny, and attractive. We were extremely compatible and had great sex. A few months into dating, he revealed he was reconciling with his ex-girlfriend. My problem with that? I had heard all about her volatility, drug addiction, and how she smashed his guitar to bits and threw it out the window during a fight. I couldn’t understand why someone would return to a dysfunctional, abusive relationship and choose that kind of crazy over me. Like you, my self-esteem took a hit and I had the same thoughts and doubts as you. Just know that you are beautiful, brilliant, unique, and deserving of a healthy relationship. You wouldn’t want someone “obsessed” over you. You should have an equal who is not threatened by your intelligence. Someone who is secure emotionally and not needy. Someone who shares your sensibilities, embraces your quirks, and “gets” you. Julie, you are proof that even beautiful, talented women don’t have it easy with men. On some level, that makes me feel less alone… LOL…

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