Q: I have been dating my girlfriend for six months now and I am in love with her but … she’s still married.
When we met she told me that she was going to get a divorce from her husband who she has not lived with for two years and not been in love with for four years. Together they have three children whom I have not met yet and she loves them dearly. She tells me that she’s not in love with her husband anymore but still caters to him in many ways, which drives me crazy sometimes. For Thanksgiving they spent it together (for the kids) while I had to go eat with friends. Another example is they alternate watching the children on a daily basis, which means that my girl doesn’t get a break to go away for a weekend with or without the kids, which I wouldn’t mind except the jerk goes away with other women. What do you recommend I do? What a fine mess I am in emotionally. I want this relationship to work out but my patience is running out. — F.P., Las Vegas
A: OK, you’ve got not one but two issues on the table here. She’s still married. And even if she weren’t, she’s a divorced single parent.
Let’s start with the "married" thing. I’m kind of a stick-in-the-mud on this topic, F.P. And, for me, it’s not first about piety or morality per se. It’s about r-e-a-l-i-t-y.
There’s no such thing as "just a symbol." Symbols are real. They are alive. They live.
Now, in the case of the marriage symbol, people can talk all they want about how long they’ve been separated and how long it’s been since they’ve been in love with their spouse, but you can take this to the bank: Only divorced people are divorced, only single people are single. Married people are neither divorced nor single. They are married, and neither their living arrangements nor dating life nor relative feelings about their spouse have any bearing on that fact.
You are in love with a married woman, and you are complaining about the consequences of that. It’s like falling in love with a woman who has a conjoined twin, and complaining that every time you want to go out she insists on bringing her sister.
Even people whose mates disappear on a hunting trip, or whose bodies are never recovered from accidents and are presumed dead — even these people continue to bear the weight of the marriage symbol until a death certificate relieves them of the burden.
Yes, of course, I understand there are many unavoidable reasons why divorce procedures drag on. Maybe your divorcing spouse is hostile, and intentionally stonewalling your efforts to be free. Maybe complicated estate negotiations slow things down. Perhaps a bitter child custody battle. I’m not condemning or even criticizing; I’m observing! And what I observe is this: It’s bad luck to date married women. And dating "I-promise-to-get-a-divorce-soon" women is a contradiction of symbols, the minimum consequence of which is exactly the frustration and unhappiness you describe.
And, even if she gets a divorce, you’ll still be dating a divorced single parent.
I’m going to be doing some writing in the near future about divorced single parent dating. But for now …
It’s sounds like this woman and her estranged husband have made some decisions regarding a particular style of divorced co-parenting. In this model, they continue to gather the family-of-origin for significant holiday observations: Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc. It’s not altogether common for divorcing or divorced people to be able to do this. The whole point of divorce, in most cases, is that there is an ocean of pain between two people that usually precludes such family sharing. Children of divorced parents are more or less condemned into a lifetime of two Christmas trees, two Thanksgiving turkeys, two birthday cakes, etc. Or alternating these celebrations year by year.
Your girlfriend and her husband are, for now, the exception. And you aren’t invited, because you are not a member of that family.
I’ve gotta support your girlfriend here, F.P. No way on earth should she introduce you to the children — let alone include you in important family celebrations — until she’s divorced and the two of you are certain that your relationship is serious, exclusive and aimed toward intentional longevity and the hope of permanence.
It’s not good for children of divorced parents to have boyfriends/girlfriends swirling in and out of their family life.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to email@example.com.