My friend Melissa recently stopped dating a guy because he’s divorced. In her mind, divorced men are damaged goods. She wants her guy pure – no festering resentments, no messy attachments to another woman, no failed model of marriage to replicate or rebel against.
For a while, I agreed. My own divorce was a liberation leaving me with a minimal set of emotional baggage to carry onto my next romantic flight. I wanted a man whose heart was as unsullied by the muck of botched love as mine and who had no links to unsavory situations or people. Why would I want a bitter victim of divorce when there are so many fresh-faced bachelors with whom to build a life from scratch?
But I’m beginning to think divorced men are the way to go.
Young bachelors are cute. Eager to grab life by the tail. You introduce them to music, books or political ideas they’ve never heard of, and their eyes twinkle like lightning bug butts. Too often though, you’re stuck watching these guys try to fit themselves into their grown-up skins.
The relationship issues that come up with bachelors, and probably bachelorettes, pale in comparison to the challenges of matrimony. Once you’ve endured marriage’s endless struggle to maintain a household with someone who’s at times a best friend, and other times a stranger, it’s hard to seriously discuss what would happen to a dude’s beer can collection once you move in together.
Marriage is maturing, more character-building than a war zone. Marriage pries you out of the infinite autonomy of singlehood to pull you through the somewhat tedious but ultimately meaningful process of building a solid foundation for existence. In marriage, the joys and burdens of life are split in half like a popsicle – you may get less but you also have less to stomach.
But unfortunately, in this monumental effort to pour oneself into romantic collaboration, lots of married folk completely abandon the person they were before slipping on the gold band.
Take my friend Daryl. The life of any party, Daryl had a brazen, often raunchy sense of humor, a killer CD collection and a legion of adoring friends. Then he got hitched. Not only did his pals hardly ever see him (his wife didn’t like him having lady friends), but lots of the activities and personality quirks that made Daryl unique went MIA. He let them go to keep the Missus happy. It was time to be “tamed.”
Daryl rearranged his identity and life to be what his partner wanted and to “make the relationship work.” His friends barely recognized him. He barely recognized himself. Once in the thick of things, his options were to continue inhabiting this disfigured version of his former self or turn to his spouse and say, “I want to be me again and I want you to be you.”
Or call it quits.
Daryl divorced then spent time rediscovering all the things he dug about the world and what he wanted out of life when he wasn’t sharing it. He became a more authentic person and wanted an equally actualized individual as a companion. Considering he’d already made a go at building a successful marriage, he was better prepared the second time around.
Having been through her own divorce, Daryl’s new woman is keen on Daryl Version 2.0, a more effective model because all the bugs have been worked out. The two are comfortable enough in their own skins to let the other be free in theirs.
The Daryl Situation didn’t encourage Melissa. Unlike Daryl, she says, her divorced guy was too “set in his ways.” So maybe Melissa’s man didn’t heal as well. Maybe he was greedy with boundaries because too many were crossed in his marriage. If so, then her withdrawal makes sense.
But I wonder if Mr. Divorce’s fixedness was only a result of his rock-solid selfhood and if Melissa just wanted someone more moldable. At least he wasn’t a whiner using divorce as an excuse not to couple up again. Then again, if I had a nickel for every commitment-shy bachelor I met, I’d finally be able to make a down payment on that beachfront property in Cabo.
Of course, some lucky dogs find the person they can be themselves with until death do them part. For those of us who don’t, thank God for starter marriages. If we’re lucky, we come out of them more complete individuals who know better how to create a partnership of equals.
Funny, eh? The one person who best prepares a man for a healthy, new relationship…just may be his wife.