Divorce at First Sight

Mine was not your typical divorce. Unless typical means of the nightmare variety including abandonment, private detectives, bankruptcy, lawsuits in five major courts, eight years in a bitter marriage, and nearly two years in a horrible divorce. And finally, I was left alone with two little girls, destitute, trying to pick up the shattered pieces of our lives, and in-between trying to remain “Fun Mommy.”

Only late at night, long after the girls fell asleep, would I allow myself to imagine what it would be like to lie inside someone’s strong arms, to experience passion, to become a woman once again.

Looking back …

It had been ten years since I’d been with another man. And I was about to go on my first blind date, after my divorce. So this date, this “fix-up,” (by a close friend who, ironically, I had fixed up with her husband two decades earlier) had a lot riding on it.

As I examined myself in the mirror I wondered: Would he see the pain in my 38-year-old eyes, the now-permanent dark circles? The newly etched lines on my face?

Your kids are much harsher critics than your parents ever were. It’s not about ‘So what time are you bringing my daughter home?’ Rather, in the Divorced-With-Kids World, it is: ‘I will call my mom’s cell phone every five minutes of your sorry-ass date if I don’t like you.

I scrutinized my body. Do I still have it? Or, had all that once glowed so brightly died with my marriage?

I dressed in black. Low-cut black sweater, black boots, black jeans and black panties (just in case). I would meet him at the restaurant. Safer that way, and the girls, then three and five, would never have to know.

As I opened the door to the restaurant, I saw a tall, well-built Clark Kent look-alike sitting at the small table next to the bar waiting. His eyes smiled when he looked up at me. It had been so long since a man had eyed me that way.

It’s just a date, I reminded myself. He was an unopened book, a lovely cover to behold. What was his divorce story? Was he funny? Smart? Interesting? Would I like his laugh? Was he spoiled? Or was he a man who had also seen too much? Could he embrace my children? The questions ran through my head as I watched his mouth talk.

He ordered wine. Cabernet. Marriage is all about white wine, but divorce mandates red. Rich, thick, bloody, a taste that lingers.

The flow of the wine, the conversation, the laughter was so natural, so fun, and so right. We talked of our children, of raising daughters – of separation, of going it alone.

We laughed hard as we swapped lawyer stories and shared our daughters’ shenanigans, playfully one-upping each other:

“Okay, picture this billable hour bonanza, David,” I said. “My $350-an-hour divorce attorney locked into a three-way conference call with the $400-an-hour bankruptcy lawyer AND the $500-an-hour Hague expert … and in the background I had my two daughters fighting over Barney and Dora the Explorer – you tell me which situation was worse?”

“I got one better,” he said. “I was at Crate & Barrel with my three year old trying to buy furniture. I was holding her and my stomach was killing me, and you know how that goes … so my daughter looked at the saleswoman and said, ‘Daddy needs to go potty. And he needs to go right now!’ I thought I was going to die of embarrassment. But I knew at that moment I had officially been given my right of passage as a full-fledged single dad.”

And so it went. We were connecting in a way that I had long forgotten was possible. His hand grazed mine as he reached for a roll. My foot touched his as I crossed it under the table. I imagined him naked. We lost track of time, they even started vacuuming around us.

Even if it was just for one night, this man unknowingly had given me a gift: He reminded me that I was still very much alive. That I could still make a man laugh, that I could still give a man that twinkle, and that perhaps he was secretly undressing me too.

It was just a date. But who could possibly predict that after everything I had endured, that I, a woman clinging to driftwood, would actually strike gold on the First Time Out There?

My friends joked that it was “Divorce At First Sight.” Timing for normal relationships is everything; timing for divorcees is the only thing.

That date led to another. It was a slow build. There is no such a thing as a fling if you’re divorced with kids, because so much goes into the logistics (location, location, location). Most importantly (first rule: MARK IT): You cannot bring someone home to meet your kids unless it is serious. It’s almost like being a teenager again and meeting the parents, only in reverse.

Ironically, your kids are much harsher critics than your parents ever were. It’s not about ‘So what time are you bringing my daughter home?’ Rather, in the Divorced-With-Kids world, it is: ‘I will call my mom’s cell phone every five minutes of your sorry-ass date if I don’t like you.’

Not to kill the suspense but my girls liked David immediately. He knew instinctively the way to a little girl’s heart. He brought them both rainbow Band Aid gum (all sugar), and scored big-time.

“Go out with him again, Mommy,” the girls encouraged the next morning. “We like him. Tell him to bring more gum.”

Our almost two-year courtship was lovely. Late passionate nights, wine on the balcony, lots of quality time with our three daughters (my two, his one), and building trust that each of us never knew could exist again. But we were not without our issues. If you divorce and have kids, you are never really divorced. Just as pink is the new black, and 40 is the new 30, divorce is the new marriage.

You must utilize your knowledge of everything that can go wrong in a committed relationship and try doing it differently with your new spouse or partner. There is a whole new set of rules, a whole new syllabus of what you can and cannot do. Everything is dictated by Le Schedule. Read: Divorce and Spontaneity do not co-exist.

Sole Custody, Joint Custody, Residential Custody. Wednesday dinners, weekends, school conferences, who has which holiday. Tug o’ War Personified. And that is just the beginning. The big stuff comes later: dealing with jealousies, developing a relationship with your spouse’s ex, managing everyone’s needs, and still finding time for yourself (good luck on that one), and then when you come up for air, somehow nurturing your new coupledom.

Divorcees are not just bringing baggage to the equation, but the entire set of luggage. His kids, your kids, exes, steps – everyone’s emotional issues are spread out on the table. On a good day, it all works, but on those bad days, blending families is like mixing sushi and spaghetti.

David and I knew that being man and woman came second to being Daddy and Mommy. During our first date, we both shared that our primary “goal” as a single parent was getting our kids through the trauma, and everything else (meaning our needs) would come later.

And it did. And sometimes that was far from easy.

As we grew closer, David became my daughters’ healing force. I was admittedly a big package. Me, a “recovering” divorcee, with two little girls who had been abandoned by their biological father (no contact at all, no goodbye, no closure). David had to really examine if my whole gig was for him.

In the Land of Second Time Around, there are lots of players, lots of personalities, lots to deal with. Would he stick around? Could he handle this?

And on his end: If this doesn’t work, how can I hurt these two beautiful little girls? He knew that as my partner he would have to step in, take over, and show my girls the beauty of a man… a man who doesn’t leave.

It was scary. We were scared. In love, but terrified of it not working. Less for us, more for our children who had bonded and called each other sisters long before we were even married.

Not surprisingly, when we got married in July 2005, it was a five-way wedding. We all walked down the aisle together. After David and I exchanged rings, we gave our girls necklaces. The scariest thing for a child is to watch one’s parent get married – it’s unnatural and doesn’t make sense. But on that day, we made sure it was the girls’ Big Day as much as ours.

With all my mistakes, my life’s trials and tribulations, I got this one right. I learned from past errors the first time around, and used the information to choose what was really best for my life, my happiness. I also understood (and so did David) that our union was not about great sex and being in love — important yes, but as a couple taking the plunge a Second time Around, it’s all about the package deal: Yours, His, Mine, Ours, Theirs, Us — an army of pronouns.

Before ‘the question’ is popped and answered, here’s what you have to ask yourself: Can you love him, AND them (his children)? Can he love you, AND yours? If the answer is YES, then go for it — you will get through all the blending issues that are surely going to come your way. If the answer is hmm, maybe — love him, not sure about them — you just may be setting yourself up for failure. Hint: It is ALL about them.

Remember: Divorce at First Sight can be intoxicating, but it is NEVER a Table for Two.
— LB

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