While I was married to my first wife, I used to cherish the rare moments I would get alone. During those quiet moments, I was able to re-calibrate and get a sense of self that I couldn't have with three screaming kids, a nagging wife and all that work. A day to just sit... and do NOTHING? Awesome. Thank God.
It wasn't until my "married life" reality was taken away that I realized how conditioned I had become. While I may have been alone and enjoying peace and quiet for a day, I always had the crutch and foundation of family and marriage to lean on.
Divorce peeled the scab back and exposed wounds that I never knew I had.
After the ex left, "What do I do now?!" was never in my vocabulary. I just turned into a post-divorce robot dad and was moving on auto-pilot. I was king of the to-do lists... and three kids made sure those lists were always full. Finding something to DO was not an issue. After a while, I would say my behavior bordered on "obsessive". Lots and lots of cleaning. Lots of organizing. Trying to create order out of chaos. Avoiding the hard stuff. Avoiding the truth.
I had my fingers in my ears and yelled "LALALALALA!! NOT LISTENING!" as the harsh reality of my world was hitting me upside the head. As long as I stay in my little enclosure, I didn't have to deal with it.
In hindsight, I would say I was suffering from some post-traumatic stress. I am stopping short of calling it full-fledged PTSD because I think we should reserve that diagnosis for guys that experience combat, death, and truly malevolent human behavior firsthand.
My wife just got caught fucking another guy and divorced me. In the grand scheme of things, that's peanuts.
But still.... traumatic in its own way.
Divorce is what the kids call a huge "mind fuck". Reality altering. For me, it was so very sudden. One moment I'm boring dad on the beach with my nag of a wife and our three energetic kids... and the next moment I'm alone in a house looking at online dating sites drooling over 20-year-olds. I had put myself into that "dating" world with the same obsessiveness and tunnel-vision that I applied to house cleaning and organizing the kids' lives.
Fingers still in ears. Making order out of chaos.
Looking back, there is one overwhelming question that comes to mind when thinking of my immediate post-divorce self:
"WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!"
I can now, after years of contemplation and hindsight, answer that question.
I wasn't THINKING. I was FEELING. I was "broken" in every sense of the word. The brain was randomly firing, looking for a fix, and I was acting out.
I just wanted to feel good. I wanted some kind of justice.
"Hmmmm... maybe if I assemble a group of young, horny 20-something sex-addicted college co-ed commandos to carry out a raid and murder my ex and her affair partner."
When I get messages from guys, you can always tell the ones that are new to the game. They don't even have to tell me all the details. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that their behavior is strange and emotion-driven, and they are ALMOST completely blind to it.
Every situation is different but still the same. For some guys, it takes just a few months of hell and the fog clears and they are back on the path of normalcy. For others, it may take years. They keep living in denial and kick the can down the road again, and again, and again.
I remember a guy I met at the gym years ago. I don't remember how we got to chatting, but we worked out together once. Really good guy. He's what I would call a naturally good-looking dude. Tall. In really good shape. Still young. A little stand-offish. Not the most confident man in the world. He, his wife and two kids just moved into town from out of state. He worked IT for one of the local companies.
After that one workout day and a few messages here and there, he disappeared. I found out later that he ended up moving to a neighboring state to be closer to her family (that sounds familiar).
Then outta the blue, years later and about a year after my own divorce, we started chatting on Facebook. His life had changed dramatically. The wife went crazy, took out lines of credit in his name, racked up debt ...AND she cheated on him. Very typical borderline personality behavior. He had admitted to having numerous warning signs/red flags throughout their relationship. He ignored for the greater good of the family.... and now he was paying the price.
She was moving in with her new guy. My friend was fighting for custody of the kids. He eventually ended up getting full custody due to all her issues and the identitity theft.
A story like that wasn't anywhere close to being new and shocking to me. I had already heard from a dozen other guys just like him by that time... and had also read countless stories just like his online.
What WAS new to me was seeing his immediate post-divorce/infidelity behavior. It was, I would say, a little concerning.
He had drafted a very long and detailed letter that he insisted on giving his ex-wife's new boyfriend. He just HAD to warn him about her and her BPD ways. He must save this man and get back at her!
This was Nice Guy "save the world" behavior, plus a need for justice and revenge. Not good.
I told him he was asking for trouble. The letter will just kick a hornet's nest. He was in the middle of trying to get custody of his kids and sue the ex for stealing his identity. Reaching out to her new boyfriend was not a good idea.
He vehemently disagreed. We went back and forth on this for quite a while.
I never did find out what happened with that letter... maybe he gave it to the guy and the ex-wife never found out about it (he is still alive, after all). Maybe he came to his senses and realized that nobody gives a shit and he needs to move on to more important things in life.
Regardless, the strange behavior continued.
Next thing you know, he is posting videos of himself online, shirtless, singing songs he wrote. From what little I knew of him, he wasn't really the "look at me, I'm shirtless and asking for attention" kinda guy. He was a wallflower when I met him.
Then he wrote strange poetry and shared it with everyone.
Then he started frequently posting photos of himself and his kids on Facebook. He did this every day. Multiple times a day. He needed to remind everyone "I'm the good parent here! Look, no wife in the picture!"
Hmmmm... Almost sounds like typical divorced single mom behavior. But I digress...
It was all just very odd. He was mentally broken.
He was looking for attention. Admiration. He was looking for confirmation that he WAS doing everything by the book his whole life and that SHE was batshit crazy.
"Would somebody PLEASE recognize how great I fucking am, already!?!"
The truth was that he was on his own. He's always been on his own. The wife was not his, it was just his turn.
The truth was that in his 30 some odd years on the planet he never put the hard work and time in that he needed to develop his SELF. It finally caught up to him.
He was dependant on a severely broken woman to give him a sense of completion. With her out of the picture, he went off the rails.
I see this more often than I would like.
Maybe not "take your shirt off and sing for Facebook" levels of weird, but I see very emotional and irrational behavior from guys out there ALL the time.
The timeline is usually like this:
It's on step 4 that they usually stop talking to me (too busy with their new girl.. and they're ashamed)... and step 6 is when they come back with their tail between their legs.
100% of men I talk to jump into relationships too soon. 100% of them wish they would have waited a while longer.
Jumping into a relationship too soon is a sign of being broken. A rational person sits back and recognizes their need for help. A rational person realizes that bringing other human beings into their broken world will not end well. It's not fair to themselves, their loved ones, or the new "girlfriend".
Men I talk to often qualify their new girlfriends to me. They know they're not mentally firing on all cylinders just yet... so they need to convince me that "It's ok... This one is different!"
"Oh no... we're just casually dating. Nothing serious. She's fun. Are we dating other people? No... we both agreed not to. I took her to meet my parents last week. They love her."
"So far no red flags. She's really very normal in every way. She has two kids from a previous marriage. We already talked about what it would be like to blend our families. We know it's too early, but we're tired of being single and we're awesome together."
"She's going to move in with me. She's going to school right now to get her Phd. She's really driven. I'm helping her out so that she doesn't have to work so many hours and can concetrate on her studies."
Everything is great, casual and fun. Nothing serious. Except that they are only dating each other, she met his parents after week #2, he's already met her kids and he's paying for everything.
Everyone outside of the relationship looks at them, shakes their head and says "This won't end well." They recognize the crazy manic state he is in. For the guy... he's in too deep and in love. His brain is firing away with all those feel-good chemicals. Rationality is out the window.
He is now officially open to make a huge number of life-changing mistakes that he can't see yet. The fog and confusion of love, lust, and happiness blind him. This could get really bad in a hurry.
When the fog finally clears, he discovers that the woman cheated on her last husband, she has borderline personality disorder (medicated) and she is still actively texting three other guys. Soon after finishing her Ph.D., she leaves the relationship and has a new guy immediately.
That's when I get the email.
"Dude... things are really fucked up right now."
So, where did he go wrong?
Where he went wrong is that he never fully erased the programming he had from all those years of marriage. He never removed the crutch of marriage that he leaned so heavily on all those years. The "strong" foundation of marriage that was always there was comfortable... but at the same time limited his development as a human being. Having that wife to fall back on was a safety net. Once it was taken away, it made everything a hell of a lot scarier.
He falls flat on his face. Time to get a new net, right?!
The healthy way of looking at it is saying "Do I really need that crutch? Why do I need it? Can I operate to my full capacity in life and gain happiness by being alone?" If the answer is "no", then he has issues he needs to address.
After a man realizes true happiness on his own, he realizes that the fickle nature of love, romance and women isn't the foundation of life... but just a really nice accessory. Romance is the heated leather seats in your new SUV. It's great to have and it makes things nicer and more comfortable and puts a smile on your face, but you don't need it. You can still get from point A to B without it.
There's nothing wrong with love and romance. Most of us WANT a long-term romantic relationship with just the right woman. We LOVE being in love and having that person to go through life with. It's an amazing feeling. The irony is that you won't find that love until you don't need it. It's the great cosmic joke.
Find happiness within yourself. Concentrate on YOU. Tear down those safety nets and kick away those crutches... and the world of normalcy opens to you.
Her: "I have two kids and want to pursue my PhD while you pay for everything. Sound like a plan?"
Mentally Healthy Guy: "It was great meeting you. Take care."
Her: "Wow that was some great casual sex we just had. I would like to date exclusively now. Can I meet your parents next week?"
Mentally Healthy Guy: "I can appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not interested in jumping into a serious relationship so fast. I hope you understand. You were great. Let's keep in touch."
Mentally Healthy Guy (MHG) knows his worth. He knows the PhD and Needy Girl have something off about them and he doesn't want to waste more time being around them. It was fun... but no thanks. They are literally two of about 500,000 women in his demographic that he would be willing to date. Maybe one of those 500,000 end up being a really great match and she is worthy of settling down with.
Chances are that won't be the case... and he knows that. He's cool with that.
My typical reader doesn't know that. They are broken. They CAN'T see that right now. They have no true sense of worth. They're in a very confused state. They see the monogamous long term relationship as the finish line because that's all they've known all these years. If they happen to hit that finish line in week #2 of their divorced life... great!
Take time. Step back. Reflect. Work. Think. Work more. Be honest with yourself.
The women aren't going anywhere. That ONE girl is not THE ONE. Trust me. If she is your perfect one-in-a-milion match, she will wait for you. She'll understand, back off, and be a friend.
That's what good, healthy people do.
Chances are, with time and distance, you will realize just how much she is NOT the one and just how broken she also is. See... when in a broken state, you tend to attract other broken people. Mentally healthy people recognize your brokenness and avoid you. They're the girls at the bar who look at you wide-eyed and say "Okay... well, it was nice meeting you."
They're not playing hard-to-get... they're running away. There's a big difference. They have a finally-tuned "broken guy" meter.
Take time. Lots of time. Enjoy life. Discover yourself. You will very quickly slip and fall and find yourself right back on Step 1. Then you'll go through the process again. Then again. Then you'll find you're not slipping anymore.
You'll be failing a lot over the next few months/years. No need to exponentiate the suffering with a quick new wife replacement. You can ride the rollercoaster by yourself.
You're a big boy now.