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As a youth, I was taught that one in every 2 marriages would end in divorce. While that 50 percent statistic may no longer be true as of 2014 (and may have actually been a myth back then as well), modern relationships seem to be more complicated than ever. Despite best intentions, people change, as do the circumstances that they find themselves in. The good news is that life does not have to end when your marriage does. Likewise, divorce does not sentence an individual to being a single parent for the rest of their life.
Not that there is anything wrong with being a single parent. If logic always governed, a lot people would probably prefer to go the single parent route after suffering through a crap marriage ending in a nasty divorce. But for those divorced parents who opt to rejoin the ranks of adults searching for love and companionship, having a child can be an additional hurdle in an already delicate dance.
When I finally returned to the dating game, after a rather lengthy and ugly divorce, I was almost positive that I would be seen as damaged goods. I soon discovered that people who are looking for a serious relationship tend to look for ways to weed out those individuals mired in hookup culture. Again, no judgement there. But with all of the modern ways to meet people, it can be difficult to discern what prospective mate’s intentions are until one has already potentially wasted a significant amount of time and energy.
Because of this, being divorced is a fact that actually helped my current partner and I identify each other as people who were serious about finding a lasting relationship. For her, it meant that I (at least at some point) did not have commitment issues. To me, it meant that she was interested enough in getting to know ‘the real’ me that she was able look past any negative stigma associated with being divorced. She later confided in me that it can sometimes be taken as a red flag when single guys past a certain age have not been married (or at least in a long term relationship).
For those divorced parents who opt to rejoin the ranks of adults searching for love and companionship, having a child can be an additional hurdle in an already delicate dance.
When seeking a committed partner, there tends to be a relatively universal flow chart for vetting potential mates. It starts with “Do I find this person attractive? If ‘yes’ continue to the next question …” If enough of the correct responses are given, we eventually make it to the ‘baggage’ portion of the flow chart. This section of the chart includes finding out if the person still lives with their parents, the divorce question, and other topics that can potentially be uncomfortable to talk about. When the answer is affirmative to “were you married before?”, the following question is always inevitably “do you have children?” In my personal experience, the dialogue that comes next has a high probability to make or break what could be a budding relationship.
The initial expression on someone’s face upon learning that I had a child was usually pretty good indicator of how things would proceed from that point. This is, of course, assuming that I had the opportunity to tender the information in person. My current (and God willing, my forever) partner didn’t even flinch when I spilled the beans about my daughter. This may have also had something to do with the fact that her friends had already provided her with a complete dossier on my life courtesy of Google.
My partner passed this phase of vetting with such flying colors that I didn’t even have to invite her to meet my daughter… because she invited herself. I was ecstatic about the fact that my partner was not only ‘okay’ with the idea that I had a child with someone else, but was also eager to learn absolutely everything about my daughter. I never insinuated to my partner that she would need to take on any sort of step-motherly role in my child’s life. In fact, I expressed to her that I would not think any less of her if she wanted to take a completely hands-off approach when it came to my daughter. While I hoped that she would want to be involved with my daughter, I was not going to require it at the expense losing the relationship.
Instead of taking a pass, my partner rolled up her sleeves and engaged fully from the very beginning. It wasn’t in an overbearing sort of way. There is obviously a very fine line between being involved and causing drama that is unique to each post-divorce situation when there is a child in the mix. So many factors need to be considered. Is the ex feeling like their toes are getting stepped on? Does the child get along with the stepparent? Like a seasoned pro, my partner was able to identify all of the potential landmines and navigate graciously to avoid them. She has struck an amazing balance of supportiveness and involvement while observing and respecting all applicable boundaries.
I am no relationship expert (far from it, in fact). I have tried my hand at match making a time or 2 with friends, and discovered that I’m not great at that either. But I would like to suggest that if my story is any indication, there is a person out there who is the right fit for you and your children from a former marriage. While I wish that there was some sort of secret formula I could share here about finding that person, sadly, there is not. Instead, I’ll borrow Justice Potter Stewart’s paradigm on obscenity and suggest that you will “know it when [you] see it.”
Jacob Breinholt is a father and a writer.