Dear Dr. Daley: I’m a 21-year-old guy, and I just went through a divorce. I married my high school sweetheart and thought it would last forever, but it didn’t. I’m dealing with it okay, but the reactions I get from people when they hear I’m divorced are not fun. I’m just getting sick of people acting like it’s extremely shocking. I made a mistake, but I just want to move on with my life and start dating again at some point. I’ve been pretty honest about my situation when meeting new people, but now I wonder: Should I wait a while to tell girls I date that I’ve already been married? I want to be upfront, but I don’t want to scare women away before they even give me a chance. What should I do?
Not to talk smack about my gender, but there are too many women out there who wouldn’t be happy if you hung ’em with a new rope. (My husband says the expression is, “They wouldn’t be happy if you hung ’em with a gold rope,” and he is a native Texan and therefore probably right, but I like “new rope” better.) Here you are, young, honest, and no doubt singularly attractive, yet the women seem to run away screaming.
Let’s go with evolutionary psychology (EP), since those geniuses seem to have the answer for everything. They would say that your divorce significantly diminishes your perceived mate value, since you have proven yourself unlikely to stick around and support your offspring all through their prodigiously long dependency period. Bummer.
While we are dabbling down here in EP world, we might as well remind you that with the possible exception of a golden retriever puppy, there is no better chick magnet than a wedding ring. That band of gold signifies that you have passed the Mate Value Screening Test for at least one female member of the tribe, and so can be counted on to stick around and support your offspring all through their prodigiously long dependency period. Which would be a bummer for those women who believe that your marriage to someone else places you off limits, but for those women who are not troubled by moral scruples of any kind, it just makes you vastly more desirable as a target. Oh, here I go again, talking smack about my gender.
Back to you, youngster. So although divorce is statistically just about normal in our culture, divorced at 21 is not, so try to cut the astonished ones a little slack. However. “Extremely shocking?” This should be reserved for the guy who breaks the ice on a first encounter by explaining his history as a registered sex offender and how he has no intention of letting go of his pesky little pedophilia habit.
Is there any chance that the women are avoiding you in droves for other reasons? I’m glad you’re wanting to get on with your life and all, but has the divorce left you, um, in a state that is something less than irresistible? Bitter hatred toward your ex and everyone who shops in the same sections of department stores she does, for example? You say you are dealing with it okay, but when the relationship we thought would last forever collapses in a festering heap, it’s hard not to be resentful. Many prospective sweethearts can pick up on the bitterness pheromones and have the sense to flee in haste. Other people love that sort of thing. Maybe you haven’t met enough candidates in the latter category yet; they tend to stay home a lot watching the blood drip from self-inflicted wounds.
Alternatively, there may be an air of sadness and depression about you. Do you look like you live in a one-room apartment with no windows in which you spend sleepless days and nights chain-smoking Camels and forgetting to shower or brush your teeth? You may be giving off Needy Vibes that many busy females try to avoid. Perhaps you are telling the truth about your marriage and its demise in real time. This level of gory detail may be off-putting. Know what I mean?
If these or similar scenarios seem familiar, get some help from a therapist or other helping professional.*
At the very least, you may be ambivalent about jumping into the deep end of the pool again. In this instance, I suggest you pay attention to the part of you that is screaming NOOOOOOO!!!!!!! every time the ready/lonely/horny/affiliation-seeking part of yourself tries to strike up a conversation with a woman. There’s no big problem with ambivalence; you’d be pretty foolish if you didn’t have at least a little. It just tends to be amazingly self-sabotaging if it thinks you aren’t paying any attention to it.
Should you tell people about your divorced condition? I think it would be ridiculous not to, and it’s one of those things that, once postponed, can be awfully difficult to work into later conversations. “Oh, Brunhilde, by the way, before we head downtown for the marriage license…”
I myself personally am very fond of honesty. Here’s some for you: Once you are genuinely accepting of your life situation and are truly ready to create a new lasting relationship, you will be relieved when potential mates run away screaming. It will save you lots of time, energy, and money better invested in getting to know a worthy candidate for your affections.
*Helping professionals may be found through friends in therapy; in the Yellow Pages and on the Internet; through your insurance provider, general practitioner, or sister; get in touch with the Capital Area Psychological Association for a referral you can afford; or ask your clergy person, massage therapist, personal trainer, or hair stylist. Call a few therapists, see who calls you back and sounds like they know what they’re doing, and try a few sessions to see what moldy remains of your divorce are triggering allergic responses in the women you approach. Then go forth and be the fabulous life partner you know yourself to be.