The Divorced Dad Experiment

For the past year, I attempted a dating experiment. Having developed feelings for an emotionally unavailable man in his forties in mid-2016, I decided to channel my heartbreak and be proactive. Harnessing the power of my dating apps, I changed the settings of potential mates, shifting the age from early 40’s- early 50’s, removing guys in their 30’s (I’m in my early 30’s) and limiting my pool of options to a decidedly more seasoned type. Thanks to Bumble, this experiment is really easy to put in to motion.

As should perhaps be expected, many of the men I connected with were divorced with children. This I anticipated and was happy to explore. I’ve always liked the idea of being a step mom, or helping to raise children in a unique way, and am not necessarily jonesing to birth my own kids, at least not anytime soon. So onto the dating journey I voyaged…

The gentlemen I met were, by and large, gentlemen. Kind, successful, gainfully employed and devoted to their children. The guys I went out with had children ranging in age from elementary school to early college. What one might not realize before embarking on an experiment like this, is that a 47-year-old guy can have a 20-year-old daughter, and in fact a few of them did, so that was a twist.

None of the relationships progressed to the place my initial aspirational relationship led me to dream they might, however I was fond of the men I met and learned something from each of them. The results were striking…

The most surprising discovery was the rate of female infidelity. Of the 6 divorced dads in their 40’s- early 50’s, 4 of them had experienced an affair (or multiple) on behalf of their wives. One guy’s wife started an affair with her high school sweetheart, vanishing for an alarming amount of time at her high school reunion, and essentially never coming home. Another discovered his wife cheating with a neighbor on Halloween night, before realizing via cell phone bills it had been going on for months. Another learned his wife was having an affair with a divorced dad at school, and now (post-divorce) co-parents their three-year-old with the “other man” who his ex -wife is now happily married to.

Wow. This was an eye-opening dating journey to explore.

In each case, it was within the first date that each guy would start to open up and tell his story. These details are of course not publicized on their concise dating app profiles. There these individuals project their strong, happy selves. In person, the stories are often much more complicated. Slowly, awkwardly and then with a sense of relief as though sharing some of these embarrassing factoids might liberate him from the pain he’d endured. Each of the men told me detailed stories about their journey and pain. Over the course of getting to know each (none of these relationships escalated to sex, they were more friendship-based) it was clear to me how wounded and (to a varying degree) resentful they were toward their former spouses. In each case, the ex-wife had moved on, and the husband was left trying to grapple with the reality left behind. Even with therapy, which thankfully each of them had committed to, these guys were emotionally damaged. Despite several years having passed for each, these men were visibly and deeply impacted by the affairs.

It should be stated that I also met a couple men who were, as they described, “happily divorced” and well-adjusted with their first marriage being put in the past.

The divorced dads I’m describing here, are in a different and unique category. They aren’t happily divorced. Even if they were the one to file for divorce, it was a reluctant, cause-and-effect situation. They were divorced because the relationship was irrevocably broken and beyond repair.

Prior to this, I’d always operated under the impression that most affairs happen by the fault of a cheating husband. And yet here, within several months, I’d found a handful of nice guys who were in fact the victims of a wife’s midlife crisis. It was an eye-opening dating journey to explore. These were the guys picking up the kids from school and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while the wife ran off to something better. And of course, with children in the mix, the fall-outs to these affairs were complicated and messy.

I’m by no means saying these gentlemen weren’t without their own flaws. I have only the male account of what happened in each marriage. But with that said, there was a distinct pattern discovered I didn’t expect and one which made me sympathetic in a way I never anticipated. I found myself meeting a pool of people who were perhaps in a sub category I’d never thought about before, making me realize, men can also find themselves blindsided and betrayed.

Further complicating the beliefs I’d already held about the difficulties of marriage and the limits of monogamy, I learned that just like scorned wives, there are a population of men carrying around their own pain and secrets — as the cheated-on spouses left behind.

These men possess heartbreak they never expected when taking their vows. Perhaps it happens more than we admit to in society. Wives and mothers cheat too.

#Single For a Reason

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