Relationships after divorce

So, I’m in the enviable position of dating someone I really like, who seems to really like me in return. I’m in the unenviable position of being this person’s first relationship after a divorce, which happened about a year ago. We’ve been dating for 5 months now.

I think neither one of us is particularly clear as to how these things should go. He has a 5-year-old son and he and his ex-wife want to maintain as much of a family life for the guy as possible- they often have family breakfasts and dinners, attend tee-ball together, etc. I think it’s great that they’re working together as parents, and his dedication as a parent is one of the things that appealed to me early on.

The dates he schedules with me work around his parenting schedule with his ex-wife.

The problem with this is how excluded I feel from what is really the “main” part of his life. His ex-wife doesn’t know he’s seeing someone. His parents don’t know he’s seeing someone- they asked if he was dating and he told them that he’s a hermit, he never goes out (I overheard this phone conversation). I haven’t met the child. There are nuclear family pictures everywhere- birthdays and dinners and people smiling on couches.

It’s starting to become uncomfortable, starting to hurt. I’m not jealous per se, but I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone where something to which they’re so dedicated has been so completely closed-off to me. And I feel as though his failure to bring this together means he’s not entirely serious about our relationship. I feel as though I’m a mistress, that this person is still functionally married, and that I’m just filling in, on the side. I wonder how an affair with a married man would be, and I imagine that this is exactly how it would feel. Sans guilt.

But I also understand that it’s a tricky situation for him and I don’t want to push anything. I’m OK taking things slow if I know that we’re going somewhere. But I’m not sure what to expect after this amount of time.

Can I have opinions from people who have done this? Am I being unreasonable?

Have you talked to him about it?

I’m recently divorced as well, but don’t have kids, so my situation is a bit different. I’m also just starting my first real relationship with someone and it’s not easy. You start to remember that relationships are work, and it’s a scary prospect to put so much into another person, or into a relationship, especially if you’re still dealing with the aftermath of the last one.

That said, I don’t think it’s a good sign that he’s hiding you from his entire family. Not telling the ex is one thing (unless you’ll be around the kid), but not telling his family when they ask if he’s seeing anyone? That’s a red flag for me.

Have you talked to him about this? Told him about your feelings and concerns? My advice is to just be straightforward, lay it out how you feel, what you want, and ask what he’s feeling, and what he wants. That kind of conversation can either end the relationship (necessarily so, if it does), or it can bring you two closer. But not discussing it is going to just wedge between you.

As great as it is that he’s trying to keep his kid’s “family structure” together, the reality is that it isn’t together and he needs to put some distance between himself and his ex if he’s ever going to be ready for a healthy new relationship.

I’m not saying he shouldn’t go to his child’s events as a parent, but he should be there as a “separate” entity, if that makes sense.

I was just going to say something about not wanting to rock the boat or compromise his relationship with his ex or confuse his kid… but then I re-read the first sentence.

5 months?? That’s ridiculous. You’re not married, maybe you’re not even ‘serious,’ but if you two are exclusive then you should not have to feel like a dirty little secret. Are you absolutely sure you aren’t a mistress on the side, that he’s not patching things up with his ex (if they are truly divorced) or involved with anyone else? I’m not trying to scare you or make you paranoid, but as breaking-reality says there is little reason for him not to tell his parents about you if he’s worried about his relationship with his child.

I have some experience as a divorced father. I am now re-married. When my current wife and I started dating, my son was 8. I didn’t introduce my then girlfriend to my son until after we had dated about 6 months. I wanted to make sure that this was going to be a potential new spouse (not that I was ready to propose, but that she and I were headed down that path) before I let her become a part of my son’s life. The last thing you want to do as a parent is to create a revolving door of girlfriends that come into and out of your children’s lives.

Be patient with your boyfriend. His hesitancy of introducing you to the others in his life stem probably more from his own insecurity than from you. He’s probably a little gun shy about telling others about you, and then for whatever reason, if it doesn’t work out, having to tell everyone again that you broke-up…just like his last marriage.

Has gotten over the fact that his marriage failed? Some people feel like failures for a long time, regardless of whoever called it quits.

If my wife and I broke up and I was dating someone new, you’d meet my kid long, long before 5 months, because your compatibility with my child would be a key factor in whether or not I was interested in a long term relationship with you. Granted, my kid’s four, and my timeline might change if my kid was older.

If he’s a good Dad, that he has not tested out the waters of you and his kid tells me one of two things: he’s not that into you, or he’s got issues to work out.

I’m 99% sure this isn’t the case. I’ve heard the way he and his ex interact on speaker-phone and it’s like parenting is a business relationship between them- very polite and stiff. As far as involved with someone else, he spends ~4 nights/wk with his son staying over and he sees me the other 3 nights. He also works full-time. It would be amazing if he had the TIME to see someone else.

I guess I haven’t brought this up because I don’t want to come across as clingy or needy. Which is why I suppose I’m seeking reassurance that it’s normal to feel this way and I’m not deluded about how post-divorce relationships with parents work.

About a month and a half ago, maybe two, he asked me randomly, on the phone, “do you think it’s weird that you haven’t met my son?” And I responded, “No, I think when it’s appropriate it’ll happen, and it’s really not my place to decide what’s appropriate for your child.” I felt that way at the time. I have no parenting experience and it’s not up to me! But I guess maybe I thought I’d see movement in this direction? I don’t know.

I was surprised that he wouldn’t tell his mother he’s seeing someone. Then again, I don’t know much about his family dynamics. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt…

Augh, could Wilbo523 and RickJay BE any more contradictory? Sigh.

Do NOT give him the benefit of the doubt, just TALK to him about your feelings and concerns. Seriously, what is the worst that can happen? He will either end up confirming or denying your concerns. If you don’t talk about it, this will eat you alive. Talk about it with him, and do it the next time you see him. Just tell him you’ve been thinking about things and you want to know where he sees things heading. Let him take the lead. For all you know he’s been considering introducing you to his son but is scared of how the ex will react, or how his family would react. You won’t know until you ask him. Ask him.

Couple of things - He divorced only about a year ago you say? His center of gravity is still the marriage and he’s not out of that yet. A year isn’t that long. He’s still in the stages of grieving a major loss. It’s possible he’s not the one who ended it so, deep down, he still wants to be married. If he’s having family breakfasts and dinners with the ex then I suspect this is a factor.

You’re his first relationship since the divorce - he’s happy to have a fuck-buddy and companionship, 'cause a guy likes those things - but he’s obviously not ready to make you a full participant in his life (by not telling anyone about you). In his situation I can see where he wants the benefits but not the responsibilities. If you try to pin him down he might just drop you. Right now he still needs his space to work through this. Your role, unfortunately is to provide comfort and alleviate loneliness. If that’s OK with with you then carry on, if it’s not - well…

I’ll second this.

There’s not a book or a secret society with rules and protocols.

Adults are just like kids, only more (I lifted that from somewhere else on the Dope). The divorced adults I’ve known are just like kids that have had a rotten leg amputated: The relief from the suddenly absent agony of the marriage is euphoric, but they miss their leg. The reason you want to be careful with recently divorced (or anyone who’s just ended a LTR) is because you might become the prosthetic leg. You get to provide just enough support to keep them upright, but they don’t think of you as a part of themselves–in a lot of ways you’re second to the one they’ve just left. You keep the other pillow warm, you keep them from being alone, you’re just enough of a presence to fill the void normally occupied by the person they were once in love with.

Which is not to say you won’t ever be anything more, I can promise that. But in your case you might do well to clarify just what the expectations are.

I know, I know, but I’m young (relatively) and sometimes my font of wisdom warms up like the hot water in an old house, right?

breaking-reality is right, I can speculate until the cows come home but probably talking to him is the way to go. Blah, I enjoy being with this guy but maybe I should have nixed exclusivity and just kept it casual!

I’m not divorced, but I was engaged to a man with a daughter and although he was never married to the mother, they had been together for over a decade.

I know how you feel, it’s rough. Really rough. You’re always feeling like second fiddle, you always feel like a little bit of an outsider, knowing that there’s a huge part of his life you’re not involved with.

The whole family dinner and breakfast thing, while great for his child (although I’d maybe be worried that it could eventually lead to some confusion for the child, when daddy or mommy does introduce him to a new SO) would make me crazy. Just the whole happy family scene happening with your SO and someone besides you on a regular basis. Are you sure you can handle that long term?

I agree you seriously need to talk to him. Find out what’s going on. I can understand why he hasn’t introduced you to his child (I met my ex fiancee’s daugther at about 4 months), but not telling his parents he’s dating anyone? That would also concern me. Talk to him. Find out what the deal is.

And please take a good long hard look at your own feelings on this. Is this something you’re going to be able to deal with in the long run? Because you will always be somewhat of an outsider. That feeling will not go away, even if you eventually move in together. Trust me, I’ve been there. You will have a child in your house half time that is not yours. I loved my ex’s daughter, but she wasn’t mine. If I dared to discipline her, I’d hear about it. If she was acting bratty, I didn’t have the unconditional love her parents did that made it seem not so bad. If I disagreed with how she was being parented, I had to keep it to myself. It was always glaringly obvious I was not part of their family and never would be.

Just think about it. From someone who has been there, I can tell you that what you’re feeling may or may not get better. Once this stage is done, there will be another, and another and another.

Feel free to PM me if you ever want to talk.

You think?

Communication- it’s what grownups do.

Exactly this. After my divorce, I dated quite a bit, but I didn’t want my young son to have to deal with a “uncle of the month” situation. I think dating and children should be kept separate until it’s been established that one particular person is going to be around for a while. My son already has a dad, he doesn’t need another one; but I never wanted to have my son get attached to a man and then, if it didn’t work out, my son has lost someone he cares about. Especially so young, the OP says the boy is only five.

The OP didn’t say if the divorce was his idea or his ex’s; but, it’s possible that he doesn’t want to tell his parents he is dating because they may be pressuring him to reconcile because they liked the ex, etc. Or maybe they were disappointed in him for divorcing, and he wants to make sure it’s going to last before he lets you meet the family. It may have absolutely nothing to do with how he feels about you.

That being said, if it were me, I’d ask him about it; not demanding or threatening, but maybe, “You know, your son sounds so wonderful, I’d love to meet him if you’re comfortable with that” and see what his reaction is. But you have to be prepared for the possibility that he will say no (but I would ask for reasons), and if the reasons seem reasonable, then you will just have to wait it out. Never ask a parent to choose between you and his/her child; you will always lose.

Not telling the kid - sure he might want to take that slow to ensure that you two are solid before involving his son, but not telling anyone else is a big red flag that he’s not comfortable with a new relationship. Talk to him and make it clear you’re too good to be a dirty secret. You’re not insisting on being step mom of the year, but it would be nice if his family and friends knew he was dating you.

I can totally see not introducing you to the child yet and having you involved in family-type situations, but to outright lie to his family about dating? To me, that’s the sign of someone who is very comfortable lying to people.

Relationships are difficult and I would imagine if there is a child involved it would make it even more-so, but come on. If he’s mature enough to be a good father then he should be mature enough to tell his Mommy that he has been dating, no?

Certainly talk to him. But you should also really consider whether this is something that YOU are ready for. Being involved with a divorced parent comes with all kinds of baggage, and this is just the tip of the iceburg. You need to ask yourself if you have the mettle to go long distance. If you think it feels hurtful to be hidden away, wait until he does introduce you to his family and ex, and then wait for the drama unfold. You may long for the days when things were simple and it was just the two of you.

Consider all these cross-currents and think very carefully as to whether you’re ready for things to progress:

People are irrational beings. The ex may well resent you from Day 1, even if she cheated on him and/or initiated the divorce. If you’re the type that longs for acceptance, this may be a tough to deal with.

No matter how much he loves you, your boyfriend will be disturbed when his ex starts dating. It’s human nature. But it’ll hurt you. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than realizing that he still harbors deep emotions for another woman, a woman to whom he will always be tied. That is the way the ball bounces with exes who were involved in long relationships, whether they were married or not.

A lot of ex-spouses end up sleeping together after their divorce, especially after a new person enters the picture. It’s very, very common. I’m not saying it’ll happen, but realize that if your boyfriend introduces you to his ex-wife, she may suddenly become way more interested in him. This is when a lot of exes end up in bed together, and is a huge risk to being the first person he dates after a divorce. For better or worse, the presence of a new boy/girlfriend triggers a bunch of drama as these two grapple with the repercussions of their monumental decision to break up their family.

You might experience confusion, caution, even hostility from his child when you finally do meet him. I know grown women who are hostile when their widowed parents start dating again. Don’t expect a 5 year old to rise above natural emotions of jealousy and anger when a third person enters the picture and spoils their visions of a perfect family.

Expect interference if/when you so much as raise your voice to his child as it is extremely difficult to let another person parent your child. (See the Pit thread where a stranger has the audacity to take a bottle of tobasco sauce from someone’s child.) I know people who give more leeway to their 13 year old babysitter than they do to their child’s stepparent when it comes to discipline. It’s irrational, it’s unfair, but there it is.

If things do progress, keep in mind that he will be legally and ethically obligated to spend a big chunk of his paycheck toward supporting his “other” family for another 15 years or so. Of all the complaints I hear from 2nd wives, interference from the first wife is #1, followed closely by MONEY, especially once they start a family of their own.

So my advice to you is to continue to proceed very slowly and proceed with caution. Getting involved with a divorced parent can definitely work. But it isn’t going to be a smooth road. Don’t trivialize the bumps in the road that you’re going to suffer dealing with all this, bumps that you’d be spared if you got involved with a single, childless person.

Is he worth it? Only you can answer that.

Good luck to you.

My ex ended up sleeping with his baby momma. Also, she was CONSTANTLY going after him when we were together. Calling him telling him she was horny, ect. Funny enough, after we broke up she no longer had any interest in him anymore. Until he got a new girlfriend. I have no doubts he’s cheated on his new girlfriend as well.

PUnditLisa couldn’t have explained it better. I used to joke that my ex didn’t come with baggage, he came with a luggage store. Most divorced parents do, unfortunately. Especially newly divorced parents.