One of the most common concerns women have when it comes to dating a divorced or separated man is whether or not he is over his previous relationship and ready for new love.
We’ve all jumped into a new relationship before we were ready and most of us, at some point or another, have been someone else’s rebound relationship.
Recently, in the “Dear Prudence” Advice Column on Slate.com, Prudence answered a question from a recently divorced man who “wants to date a lot without being a jerk:”
My dilemma is that I really like the person I’m dating, but I recently met someone else who interests me. I don’t want to break off a good relationship to go on a date with the new person, only to find that we don’t have much in common. Because I plan to be serially monogamous indefinitely, I need to figure this out now. How do I try out a new relationship while gently easing out of my old one, without crossing cheating boundaries and maligning my good name?
The phrase he used was “serial monogamy.”
I thought this was really interesting.
And so…I decided to come up with my own response to his question in the form of an article for my readers.
Let me break down what he really means by “serial monogamy” and wanting to “date a lot without being a jerk” and what this tells us about his readiness for a relationship.
When he says he want serial monogamy, what he really wants is a “mini-marriage,” an exclusive dating relationship where he gets to promise commitment and even act committed without actually being committed.
Commitment, in my opinion, is not only a relationship status, but it is also an attitude.
To outside observers, his serial monogamy might appear as a committed relationship, after all he’s dating exclusively.
The problem with serial monogamy and mini-marriages is that he gets his physical, social, and emotional needs met but he’s still unclear about the future of the relationship; he still doesn’t know what he ultimately wants.
At least in recreational dating, both parties know that this is just for fun.
In committed dating, both parties know that the other looking for their long-term or marriage partner.
But in serial monogamy or “mini-marriages”, one or both people don’t know what they want.
As a result, the ambiguity and unconsciousness can be disastrous.
This is where people get their hearts broken.
In a “mini-marriage” he’s not just dating recreationally, he’s jumping into being an “instant couple.” He’s jumping into being in a relationship, without really being conscious about his readiness and what he really wants in a relationship.
He’s just looking to have his short-term needs met, which is not a problem if he’s dating recreationally and both parties are aware of the other’s desire to date recreationally, dating to just have fun and satisfy social needs. But in serial monogamy, there’s none of that awareness and conscious action.
He’s still unclear about whether he’s ready to be in a long-term committed relationship.
He’s still in test-drive mode.
We know how that story goes and that it rarely winds up with a happy ending.
So can he successfully have “serial monogamy” and “date a lot without being a jerk”?
In my opinion, it can’t be done—not without being a jerk.
You can’t say you’re committed, even when you’re exclusive for the duration of your relationship, when you’re actually dating recreationally and you’re ultimately unsure if commitment is what you really want—not without hurting people in the process.
Is He Ready for a Relationship?
But people deal with divorce and separation in different ways and at different rates.
This means there isn’t really a “one-size-fits-all” answer to how long it takes someone to heal after a marriage ends.
After the end of a significant relationship, it may take a couple months, a couple years, or even longer before he might be emotionally ready and available for a new relationship.
But what does relationship readiness really mean?
It means a number of things.
But ultimately, it means knowing what you want and being conscious about how you’re going to get it.
“A successful committed relationship depends on being ready physically, emotionally, financially, legally, and spiritually for the life and relationship you want.” (David Steele, author of Conscious Dating)
How do you know if he’s ready? Here are some guidelines from Conscious Dating that define what readiness means:
- He knows what he wants
He has a clear vision for his life and relationship. He can envision his perfect life in rich detail that feels strong, very real and keeps him motivated.
- He know his relationship requirements
He knows his nonnegotiable relationship requirements (has around 6 – 10 of them) that he can use for screening potential partners. He is clear that if any are missing, a relationship will not work for him.
- He is happy and successful being single
He enjoys his life, his work, his family, his friends, and his own company. He is living the life that he wants, and he is not seeking a relationship out of desperation and need.
- He is ready and available for commitment
He has no emotional or legal baggage from a previous relationship. His schedule, commitments, and lifestyle allow his availability to build a new relationship.
- He is satisfied with his work/career
His work is fulfilling, supports his lifestyle, and does not interfere with his availability for a new relationship.
- He is healthy in mind, body, and spirit
His physical, mental, or emotional health does not interfere with having the life and relationship that he wants. He is reasonably happy and feels good.
- His financial and legal business are handled
He has no financial or legal issues that would interfere with having the life and relationship that he wants.
- His family relationships are functional
His relationships with his children, ex, siblings, parents, and extended family do not interfere with having the life and relationship that he wants.
- He has effective dating skills
He initiates contact with people he wants to meet, and disengages from people who are not a match for him. He keep his physical and emotional boundaries, and balances his heart with his head with potential partners.
- He has effective relationship skills
He understands relationships, can maintain closeness and intimacy, communicate authentically and assertively, negotiate differences positively, allow myself to trust and be vulnerable, and can give and receive love without emotional barriers.
The above relationship readiness guidelines can also be super insightful considerations for your own life in assessing your own readiness.
Other Signs That Indicate His Readiness for New Love
- He Refers to Himself as Single
People who are ready for a new relationship consider themselves to be single.
They aren’t divorced, separated, widowed, etc. They’re single.
Now, important caveat, this doesn’t mean he isn’t also one of those other things—it means he sees himself as available.
However, I’m sure you’ve met men who consider themselves “available” but they aren’t really available to date (in the way you’d like them to be available) because maybe he’s still living with his ex-wife (pending a divorce) or his divorce is highly, highly contentious and takes up all of his immediate time and resources.
So, “single” is a mindset. But it is also a relationship status. Notice where your guy is with both.
- He Doesn’t Bad-Mouth His Ex
There will be times when he has to mention his ex-wife simply because she is the mother of his children., for example.
If he calls her by her name or refers to her as “their mother”, there is a good chance that his mental attitude towards her is a healthy one.
And what I really mean by this is that when you’re trying to decide whether he’s ready for new love, notice how he talks about his ex.
If he’s even-keel and not harboring a lot of emotional energy there, whether it’s resentment or other emotions, chances are he’s not emotionally preoccupied with his past relationship and his heart might be open to new love.
I once has a boyfriend who referred to his ex-wife as “that stupid bitch.”
Calling his ex-wife anything derogatory (next to signifying immaturity) often indicates that he may have strong feelings, even if they are negative feelings, that are still unresolved.
- He is Happy for Her When She Moves On
Building on my last point…pay attention to how he refers to and interacts with his ex.
If his ex has found someone new and the guy you’re dating is either unaffected or even genuinely happy for her, that might a good sign that he isn’t still emotionally enmeshed with his ex-wife.
But that’s not to say that he shouldn’t care about her moving on.
If he has qualms about her new love interest as it relates to her relationship’s impact on his and his ex-wife’s kids, that’s a different story.
It’s important to distinguish whether any feelings that do come up are actually about his ex or whether they are about the kids.
- He Isn’t Hesitant for You to Meet Her, His Family, or His Friends
In fact, he shouldn’t be hesitant to introduce you to all the important people in his life (except maybe the kids but that depends on how long you have been dating and is a whole topic all on its own).
When men are emotionally ready to start a new relationship and they find someone special, they will want to share that with the other people in their lives—he will want to normalize his relationship.
If he is keeping you a secret or wants to keep you separate from the rest of his life, he may not be ready to let go of the past and share a normal dating life together.
If you are dating someone who is separated, rather than divorced, this can be a tricky one.
When a man is separated, he may feel ready to move on but other people in his life, to whom he might still have obligations, may not be ready for him to do so.
- He Isn’t Trying to Set Any Speed Records
There is an old saying that the best way to get over a person is to get under someone else. And this is advice that some men take to heart. I’m not against casual relationships if they are created transparently and consciously.
When a man is recently separated or divorced, often there is an unmistakable void…a void of all the familiar comforts of being in a long-term relationship.
The impulse to fill that void might cause him to rush into a relationship without being truly conscious about what he really wants or who he’s hooking up with.
It takes time to heal from the end of a significant relationship.
If he’s recently divorced and wants to take it slow by taking the time to get to know you before rushing into becoming an instant couple or a mini-marriage, it’s likely a good sign that he wants to be mindful about his own readiness for a relationship.
- He Can Share His Past with You
But talking about his ex and being preoccupied with his ex are two different things.
If he starts telling you a story about his ex out of the blue that doesn’t help you get to know him better or he becomes very negative about her, take note and proceed with caution.
Everyone has a past and if he has a healthy relationship with his past, he will be able to recount his stories, even if it involves taking about his ex, in the same way he would relate a similar story involving a friend.
When we have dealt with the hurt feelings and lost future of a failed relationship, we can share memories, tell stories, and talk about our own personal history with a certain level of retrospective detachment, without getting worked up.
- He Doesn’t Feel Like He Has to Hide Her
The fact is that your new man and his ex-wife have children together which means they are going to remain in close contact for a long, long time.
But if he’s open, transparent, cares about what you think and invites you into deeper understanding—instead of becoming defensive—it’s speaks to his relationship maturity and potential readiness for a new relationship.
Being open doesn’t mean that he gives you a weekly rundown of every text, email, or conversation he has with his ex. It just means that if he takes a phone call in the middle of dinner and you ask who it was, he will be honest.
If he is angry, jealous, secretive, etc. whenever anything having to do with her comes up or happens, chances are he’s not really over her and he’s not ready to move on.
But if he seems to have a healthy relationship with his ex-wife, this is actually a good thing because it indicates that they have established a new post-divorce or post-separation relationship based around being parents.
This isn’t a comprehensive “list of signs” of course. But they’re important things to consider as you navigate a complicated relationship.
But I want to add one more really important thing.
We’re Going About It All Wrong
We shouldn’t stress out about HIS readiness.
“What?! I thought this article is about how to know if he’s ready for a relationship???”
When we’re frustrated and worrying about whether he’s ready for a relationship, one thing is usually happening: our needs and relationship requirements are not being met in the relationship. And so, conflict arises.
But when we ask “Is he ready?”, we’re asking the wrong question. Here’s why:
We cannot determine or control his readiness. This is something that he’s responsible for.
He’s responsible for knowing what he wants.
He’s responsible for his own readiness and availability for commitment.
He’s responsible for taking care of his own emotional and legal baggage from his previous relationship.
He’s responsible for taking care of his own physical, mental and emotional health.
He’s responsible for choosing whether he wants to learn and acquire effective dating and relationship skills.
He’s responsible for choosing whether he wants to give and receive love without any emotional barriers.
We get frustrated waiting and wondering and hoping he’ll get his sh*t together be ready.
The truth is, we don’t have ANY control over that.
We don’t have any control over his readiness.
AND, it’s not up to us to judge whether he’s right or wrong to be ready or not ready for a relationship.
I know, that is a tough call. But at the end of the day, he’s responsible for the outcomes in his life.
What we can control and judge is our own knowing of what’s right for our self.
Asking ourselves, “Is he ready?” ultimately doesn’t help us because it turns our focus and energy toward trying to do something his experience of the relationship.
But that’s not our domain. We can’t control his experience of the relationship.
But what we can control is how we choose to experience a relationship.
What’s important when trying to decide whether he’s right for you is being keenly aware of your own experience of the relationship.
Instead of asking “Is he ready?” the questions we should be asking are…
“Is this relationship meeting my needs and relationship requirements?”
“Am I ready for a relationship if the man of my dreams walked into my life today?”
“Is this the relationship experience that I truly want?”
Parts of this post’s content was adapted with permission from the Relationship Coaching Institute.