Several weeks ago, I got an email from a reader asking if I thought that dating before your divorce was final was considered cheating. This, honestly, is a complicated question. Sure, the marriage is over, the two of you have officially split, the divorce petition is filed… So, is it ok to jump into dating? And, if you do, while likely hurtful to your soon-to-be ex, is it considered cheating?
I’m going to say that, yes, it is cheating. And if it isn’t cheating, it definitely is wrong. And the reasons are many. I speak with experience. As I’ve written a million times, I despised my now ex-husband while we were married. I never loved him. He was a volatile, mean and abusive alcoholic. He was evil and frightening at times. When I finally left him in the wake of my cancer diagnosis, I was so over it (and him). Yet… when we left, there were two very confused and hurt children. I was sick (extremely sick, like life-threatening sick). We were confused and scared… There were so many unresolved issues between my ex and me, like filing for divorce, all of my belongings were still in our shared home, we had many assets to divide, even dogs that needed to be split. Life was so “up in the air.” While the girls and I were trying to settle and make sense of a life that none of us chose or foresaw coming, and I was getting chemo and losing my hair and dropping weight at an alarming rate, my husband was on dating sites within days of our departure. Within several weeks, he had a new girlfriend, the one he is with some four years later. It was devastating to me to think that while we were in such turmoil, he was having new sex with a woman he just met and enjoying the start of a new relationship. And, truly, what was this very emotionally sick man doing dating instead of healing, dealing with his severe alcoholism, and concentrating on confused and bewildered children. As he dated so quickly, what was he teaching his two older children about family and marriage? That is mean absolutely nothing at all. It was all just so… so WRONG.
And for the new woman in his life, I had to wonder what kind of idiot dated a man under these circumstances. And why she chose to hop into the middle of someone else’s marriage and complex divorce. As a survivor herself of a divorce, she knew how horrible the entire process could be. While my ex and I had split, for her, dating a guy under such horrible circumstances meant she was dating a major asshole with huge unresolved emotional issues. Why would any woman do something so stupid on purpose? I had to think she was as emotionally sick as he was.
And for me… it made me dig my heels into the proverbial sand when it came to our divorce even that much harder. If he wanted to enjoy having fun while I was so sick and the kids were so hurt, I was even less willing to have conversations with him that would make the divorce easier on him. I knew what I was owed (a lot, considering I loaned him a ton of money to pay off his former wife) and I was hell-bent on making sure I got exactly what I was entitled to.
So, based on my experience (and the experiences of others I know), here is why, if you ask me, you should refrain yourself from dating until after your divorce is final (even if your husband is jumping back in already):
Your marriage deserves to end without a third party involved
Doing so complicates an already extremely complicated, highly emotional and volatile situation. If you have children involved, this should be a time that you (and your ex) should be focusing on them, making sure that they assimilate as best as possible into their new reality– a reality that includes conflicting parenting approaches, two new homes, split holidays, and unspeakable pain and confusion. This is also a time that you should be focusing on your new reality, too—a new home, a different budget, focusing on your divorce and attorney and court dates, and splitting assets. You should probably be seeking therapy or, at a minimum, taking time to heal, like going to yoga, starting up a new exercise program, and learning how and why your marriage failed and how you can ensure you don’t repeat past mistakes. Taking your focus away from all of that and pouring yourself into trying to find a new boyfriend is a big, huge, ginormous mistake. It takes your eye off of what is most important right now—and that is you and your children. Even if your ex is already dating doesn’t mean that you should. This isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a contest of who can get hitched faster. Be wise. Be smarter than your ex, and give it time. This is what mature adults do.
Finding a new boyfriend can make your divorce a lot uglier
Are you ready to have your ex potentially make your divorce longer and more contentious than it already is? If so, find a new boyfriend and, especially, throw it in his face. Jealousy and raw emotions never fare well in the divorce process. If you want to give him “permission” to be less cooperative in the divorce, go for it. If not, take your time and focus on the right things… your children, your healing, and ending your marriage the best way possible.
It teaches your children some very bad messages
If you want to teach your children that marriage means nothing, start dangling your new dating life and, if you find someone who will stick around, your new boyfriend, in front of them. This will show them that commitment is meaningless and so are the vows in marriage. It will hurt and confuse them beyond measure and it will take away precious time that they need with you. Even if your spouse is actively in the dating scene, this does not mean you should follow or one-up him. Be smarter than that.
It hurts people
Even if your marriage (and split) were awful, what good does increasing the pain of others do? Nothing. It hurts everyone, including you, when adequate time to heal doesn’t take place. You should be in therapy or taking up new positive habits. Jumping into a new relationship shows exactly how messed up you (and anyone willing to date you) are. Sound good? Of course not.
Seriously, if you have just spit with your husband, do the right thing and wait until your marriage is final (or longer) before you go looking for your next sweetie. And if a guy you’ve met is in a similar situation and he starts pursuing you, run for the hills and do not look back. If you pursue it, there are two wounded people in a relationship and that is good for no one. Your next relationship deserves to start on fresh ground if you want to move forward in the best way possible. And besides, having morals and sticking to them matter. In my opinion, this is one of them.