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Originally published Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 12:05 AM

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Dating after divorce

Syndicated columnist

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At least she knows she's not pulling a do-ver. However- calling the guy a tortoise... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been divorced not quite a year. I’ve been seeing a guy since just before the divorce was final. Even though I didn’t think I wanted a relationship, somehow he has grown on me, and I think, despite the baggage we both carry around, we have come to care about each other a lot.

I thought I wanted someone to push me to do more and be the best me I could be, but he’s very different from that — more tortoise than hare. I’ve come to realize that to some extent it’s good that he’s gotten me to slow down a bit.

However, part of me just worries that I’ll slow down too much. Also, it’s my first relationship after a 20-year marriage and I worry that I’m just rebounding.

For the most part, we just take things as they come, realizing that at our age — and having had a marriage and no plans for more children — a lot of things that matter when you are dating in your 20s just don’t matter when you are in your late 40s.

Yet, as much as I enjoy not needing to label things, I constantly find myself yearning for clarification. We communicate pretty well, and with both of us having controlling ex-spouses, we are both very respectful of one another. So I don’t know what I’m asking, except maybe: What questions would you ask to evaluate if this is just a comfortable situation that I’ve fallen into ... with someone who is good and kind and whom I guess I’m finding I have feelings for ... or could this be something more?

Argh, I’m sorry this is so convoluted. It’s just hard to articulate just what is bothering me. Admittedly, it could just be that I’m afraid to let myself be vulnerable.

– After a Divorce

DEAR AFTER A DIVORCE: It could be that, and it would make sense. It also sounds as if you’re struggling with a shaky sense of self-worth — my evidence being the controlling spouse, the idea that to be “the best me I could be” requires someone else who pushes you to improve, and the need for “clarification” — as in, the need for assurance that you are who you think you are, and that that’s OK.

If that sounds about right, then I have two suggestions:

(1) The boilerplate, counseling. Find someone good and start sorting this stuff out. There’s nothing wrong with having a professional organizer come in to help you de-clutter your thoughts.

(2) Stop trying to sort/file/label your relationships. You enjoy this man’s company, so let that be enough right now, even if you have to keep reminding yourself to override your impulse to label.

As you said, you’re at a point in your life where you’re not in any hurry to “get” to some point, like having children. For you, enjoying someone’s company is an excellent end unto itself. If you reach a point where you don’t enjoy his company, then that says it’s time for a different kind of end.

Think of relationships as having only these two states — enjoy his company, don’t enjoy his company — until you sort out the other stuff. The other stuff being, essentially: How to make peace with yourself?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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