“5 Things to Know About Single Dads During (and After) Divorce” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
Whether you’re dating a newly divorced dad or co-parenting with the one you used to be married to, you need to understand who they are right now. Although certainly all men are not the same, there are some common themes in the animal kingdom for divorced human males. Consider each of them when you decide how to proceed in your relationship with them, and you will likely find more satisfaction in whatever comes next.
1. He is emotionally depleted.
Most women are used to complex emotional interactions with many people in their lives. Many men are not. When experiencing divorce, they may be more exhausted than usual and need time to re-engage.
If you are dating one, recognize his signals. If he says he’s not ready to commit, believe him. If he says he is, and if it’s right for you, proceed with care. He is likely juggling his work and parenting roles in new ways now and may have limited space for a relationship — at least at first. Make sure your expectations are in line with what he tells you he is willing to give.
If you are co-parenting, try to stay positive about what he does with the kids (assuming it may be different from you but still within the bounds of reason). Your confidence in him will pay off later. Plant those seeds now.
2. He is recreating his identity.
He may rediscover his love of archery or electronic music and spend disproportionate amounts of his free time pursuing it. If you’re dating him and don’t love his passion, consider moving on; between work, kids, and his hobby, it’s likely to leave you without much time unless you join the hobby.
If you’re co-parenting and find his newfound passion tedious and annoying, zip your lip. It may be that he brings something new to your children, and as long as it’s a healthy pursuit, it’s good role modeling for them.
3. He has a new sense of style.
He may be more slovenly or turn into a fashion icon. Whatever, it’s his choice, and he’s likely to take pride in his independence. If he’s your date and you can’t stomach it, he’s likely not the man for you.
If you’re co-parenting, what do you care? It’s inevitable that your kids will eventually let him know their thoughts about his wardrobe, so take this opportunity as one for blessed silence.
4. He is still much the same man he was before he was single.
Take your cues from what he tells you about his divorce if you’re dating him, but pay attention to what you see too. Can he cooperate with his ex or does he blame her for all of his problems? If it’s the latter, it’s likely you may be the next woman he complains about. Really getting to know someone takes time, so take it slow and keep expectations low, for now. Time will tell who he is and you should pay attention to any red flags.
If he’s your co-parent, be prepared for him to be the same kind of dad you knew when you were married to him. If it’s less than you hoped but adequate, focus upon what does work and appreciate that you get to decide what you want when the kids are with you. But try to keep the lines of communication open. You married him and had his children. There’s likely still some of the man you once loved there and your kids are part of him too.
5. He wants to reconnect with females, but maybe in a new way.
His ex may not be what you expect if you are dating him. You may find the one he’s dating very different than you if he’s now your co-parent. Whatever the case, he may be experimenting or clarifying what he wants now and who he is now. You can certainly ask why but don’t expect to change him, whatever his answer. It’s likely he’s learned a few lessons in his divorce and is trying to make choices in a relationship that are different from previous ones.
In the event you find a divorced dad too challenging to manage, and you are just dating, let him know it’s not a good fit right now. You will do him a great service in allowing him to focus on his work and kids without any drama. If you’re co-parenting, reserve your concerns for things that matter about the kids. And try to present a united front to them. After all, you both love the kids and they love both of you. It’s truly a win for them and for you if you can find ways to reduce conflict and cooperate. They will appreciate both of you more in the long run if you do.
More from The Good Men Project:
- Dads, are you raising kids with commitment issues?
- A new dad’s sleep deprivation: breast pumps, Target, and hell
- 9 things playing high school and college sports teach dads about fatherhood
- What stay-at-home dads teach our kids
- A letter to the son who made me his father forever