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Ask Dr. Helen: Dating the Divorced

Dating a divorced person can present many challenges, but do men and women have different needs in post-marriage relationships? Double standards abound.

by
Helen Smith

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May 15, 2008 - 12:30 am

Are you single and dating a divorced man or woman? If so, there is some really different dating advice out there depending on whether you are a male or female. I read this MSN article on “How to Date a Divorced Man” and then an article “How to Date a Divorced Woman” by the same author, Chelsea Kaplan. What’s interesting, and kind of disturbing, is how understanding this relationship writer tells men to be of divorced women, while advising women that the slightest difficulty or inconvenience posed by divorced men should send them packing.

For example, here is the opening to the article for dating a divorced woman:

Dating a woman who’s been down the aisle in the past is a bit different than dating someone who’s never been married … but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t lead to a wonderful and fulfilling relationship. You just need to be aware of a few special concerns, says Dr. Keith Anderson, author of On Your Own Again: The Down-to-Earth Guide to Getting Through a Divorce or Separation and Getting on with Your Life.

Note that if you are a man dating a divorced woman, it might lead to a wonderful and fulfilling relationship! At worst, a man will have “special concerns” about a divorced woman. However, what if you are a concerned woman who is dating a divorced man? Here is the opening for that article:

If you’ve just begun dating a divorced man, you may soon realize that the “regular” dating rules don’t always apply. Whether it’s due to encounters with his ex, issues concerning his children or heavier-than-average baggage, dating a divorced man can be especially challenging. For tips on how to enjoy a fulfilling relationship with a divorced man, heed the advice of Dr. Christie Hartman, author of Dating the Divorced Man: Sort Through the Baggage to Decide If He’s Right for You.

Note the difference: a divorced man has baggage and is a challenge. Dating a divorced woman is a special concern and leads to a fulfilling and wonderful relationship. Even the books mentioned are different. For divorced women, a book is cited with a nice title that is gender neutral; for divorced men, the title is more hostile and is geared towards what women can do to make sure this damaged man is right for her. Everything is about what women want in a relationship. The man just has to play along and conform to what women need.

But, those are just the openings of the articles. What about the actual advice? Is it less sexist? Nope. Here is an example of the writer’s advice for men dating divorced women:

Q: Are there any issues in particular that a man dating a divorced woman should keep an eye out for?

A: That she’s had at least one particularly bad experience with a man. You have to be respectful of that and recognize that because of this, she may be a bit careful and sensitive. It’s likely this experience will shape her interactions with you — especially when it comes to how things start out. Another big one is the issue of kids. Someone who is divorced may have kids, and that adds a whole level of complexity to the relationship. If you’ve never had kids, being faced with the scope of her parenting responsibilities may take away from the romance. …

It often depends on the divorced woman he’s dating. If you’re dating someone who is just fresh out of a divorce, she is hurting; it’s a difficult time for her, and it probably will be for you, too — much more so than if you were dating a woman who has never been through a divorce. In essence, you’re dating someone who’s going through a grief process. That same person six months or a year from now will likely be in a much more emotionally healthy place.

Interpretation: “Men, you better be sensitive that a hurting woman had a bad experience with a man. How tragic. It’s up to you to understand and be respectful.”

What if you’re a man who had a bad experience with a woman? Is that possible? It can’t be. If you hurt, it’s because you’re needy and may require too much attention from your new girlfriend:

Q: When it comes to dating divorced men, are there definite don’ts?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out if his divorce is final, when he separated, if he has children, why his marriage ended, etc. Also, don’t give too much too soon. Divorced men, especially if still divorcing or recently divorced, can be needy. Never give more than you are getting.

So, if you’re a woman, never give too much and don’t try too hard to be understanding. That’s a man’s job! And if she has kids, the author says one should be understanding if male, and be “pleasant and not a threat” to them; but if you are female and your boyfriend has kids, the only concern seems to be the impact for the woman on the relationship:

What’s more, women without kids may be surprised by the amount of time and care that children require, which will influence the freedom the couple has.

So, you get the idea. Men are to be accommodating to a divorced woman, understanding and sensitive to her and her kid’s needs. Women dating divorced men are to be understanding and sensitive to the women’s own needs.

Notice a pattern here? “Never give more than you are getting.” Now that’s a formula for relationship success!

Have you ever dated a divorced man or woman? If so, what were the issues? Did it work out or not? If you are a divorced man or woman, do you have any better, less sexist advice?

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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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