The first time I went out on a date after my husband fled our happy 21-year marriage was one of the worst hours of my life. I’d met a guy online, a French guy (I live in Montreal) who, although quite a bit younger than me, seemed keen to get to know me. We’d done the requisite anonymous chatting through the dating site, then exchanged emails, and finally a few phone conversations that lead to that frightful Friday night when we met at a neighbourhood restaurant for dinner.
The guy was a photographer and had staked himself out behind a mailbox near the restaurant and snapped me striding down the street without my knowledge. I look happy enough in the photo but any
equanimity I may have been feeling outside on the pavement nosedived once we were sitting face to face in the bistro.
I’d experienced my share of misery in the time since my husband had left but there’s a particular kind of despair you feel when you are in a circumstance where you’re supposed to be having a nice time. The guy was trying so hard to engage me in conversation but all I could think, as I was tonelessly telling him the factoids of my life (I grew up here and went to school there, for example) was “I want my husband.”
I looked over at the couples seated chummily at other tables and thought, “Not long ago, that was me,” and a wretchedness washed over me, not to be shaken off. Try as I might, I couldn’t go through with it and before the waiter brought the soup, I made my apologies and fled back home.
Women with whom I work who, like myself, believed themselves to be in a secure stable marriage often ask me how they could ever trust again. If their husband was capable of such betrayal, how could they permit themselves to enter into another relationship that might leave them so vulnerable? Once you’re so badly hurt, the thought of giving anyone else that power over you is terrifying.
I myself never experienced that because I attributed my own husband’s behaviour to an obvious flaw in his personality, one I hadn't been aware of but once he left and moved in with his girlfriend, it became visible to the naked eye. He’d done it, not once, but twice before in previous relationships so I felt very secure in believing that as long as I didn’t get involved with someone else who was a serial abandoner, I’d be fine. If you can identify the trait that led to your husband’s out-of-the-blue departure, then you can be vigilant to avoid other men who share that defect.
I also never experienced that generalized mistrust because I’m pathologically optimistic and tend to believe that bad things won’t happen to me, even when they actually are. I move through life with the unrealistic belief that everything will be okay — what Woody Allen once called, the opposite of paranoid.
The other thing I want to say on this subject of dating again is that women often tell me that they are not looking to meet anyone because they’re not ready. Months, years go by while they’re waiting to become ready. If you’re a cautious women like one of these, I suggest you need to start before you’re ready.
The act of getting out there makes you ready. You have to expect that the first time you meet a man for coffee after your long-term marriage has ended, you’re going to feel miserable. Also, the second time. And maybe, the third. But, by the fifth time, it stops feeling so badly and eventually, it becomes normal. And, maybe, fun. We come back to my favorite maxim — what’s extraordinary becomes ordinary. It’s all about being agile — being able to adjust to the never-ending series of new circumstances that life inevitably throws our way.
After that miserable dinner date, the intrepid guy called me again and we went out a few times. He wasn’t for me. But I got over the hump and life moved on. It’s better now. Much.
Come join me at the Jump Up! — the International Divorce Recovery Retreat for Women that I’m hosting in Montreal this May 17th & 18th. We’ll all jump up together and feel better! Learn more at: www.RunawayHusbands.com/retreat.html
I’m a family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal and My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life. I can be found online at www.vikkistark.com and www.runawayhusbands.com.