Hello Captain Awkward,
Last month my husband and I (she/her) separated; it was my choice and I stayed in the home while he moved out. We were in couple’s therapy for several years leading up to the split and for the last part of the relationship we were living as roommates. For almost the last year, we were on opposite work schedules, so I only saw him 1-2x/week. I have no regrets about ending things and zero interest in getting back together. My ex and I are treating each other as kindly as possible during this transition and there has been no animosity/hostility. All my family and friends say I have been adjusting surprisingly well, but for me the relationship died a long time ago. I have discussed this with my individual therapist (“should I be more upset?!”) but she thinks I am taking good care of myself and I should not be anxious about something that I do not feel.
All this to say that I feel ready to start casually dating again. I have a great job, amazing friends, multiple hobbies/interests, practice self-care, and want to make the most of this summer. I am not looking for a boyfriend or anything monogamous; just looking to meet some interesting people, eat some tasty food, and start having sex again (it’s been months). I signed up for a dating app and started messaging guys which has been fun.
However, I am starting to have some anxiety about telling these men about my separation status as I fear they are going to judge me for jumping into the dating game so soon. I have not put anything on my profile about being separated. Part of me thinks that no one is going to swipe right when they see this, due to the stigma and because I am only 29 years old (“so young, so much baggage!”) Am I deluding myself? Should I be putting this on my profile and being transparent from the start?
I guess I hope once people meet me in person (and see that I am not someone who consistently whines about their ex/failed past relationship) they will not think it is a big deal. My plan was to tell people on the first or second date before too much emotional investment is made. I know I could easily hook up with guys who would not care, however I am not interested in having one-off sex with random dude-bros who only list their height in their profile.
If I should put separated on my profile, any recommendations for wording (besides “Separated BUT WELL ADJUSTED” haha)? The advice from my friends is split and the internet is no help. A lot of online advice says people should not start dating until after the divorce is finalized, but where I live you cannot file until you have been separated for a whole year, which is way too long!
It’s been a while since we’ve had a dating question, right? Thanks for writing. You sound super ready to try dating and like you’re making all the right choices to be nice to yourself. Happy to help.
A very kind Twitter mutual helped me do some quick Bumble research, and it looks like the site doesn’t prompt or require you to indicate your exact level of singleness or disclose past marital entanglements in a dedicated data field, ergo it’s not a factor people can use to sort their matches or auto-weed out mismatches. That closes off one recommendation I had, which was to look for people who check all the boxes about being matched with folks with single/divorced/separated statuses and scroll by the “I WISH TO ENTERTAIN ONLY THE SINGLEST OF SINGLES” folks.
My general recommendation for stuff like this is to err on the side of being totally straightforward, get disclosures that make you nervous done before you meet someone in person if you can comfortably and safely do it, and don’t apologize for who you are. You have done and are doing nothing to be ashamed of. Not everyone needs to know every detail of your life the second they scroll by your pretty face on an app, but you actually want the people who would be shook by the idea of you being not-quite-fully-divorced or who are judgmental about divorce to self-select out of your personal dating pool. You could always test something out in your dating profile and see if it affects your matches – “Recently out of a marriage and into a summer of meeting new people” – etc. and edit it later. But you could also hold off until you’re chatting with someone promising before you meet them in person. “Hey, jsyk, I recently ended a marriage and this is my first time dating in a while. I never know when it’s the right time to tell people stuff like this, so I’m going with ‘awkwardly blurting it out’ so it’s not a surprise later.” You don’t need to apologize, explain, or reassure them you don’t want to whine about your ex, that part will become self-evident if you keep chatting and don’t whine about your ex.
If you’re going to disclose this, I think it’s much better to throw the news out there before you meet than to leave it hanging over you and then have to come up with more ways (and feel more anxiety) about breaking the news. Especially since once you tell someone this, what happens next will give you so much information about whether you still want to meet them for a date. This is just one fact about you, does it suddenly become the most important fact, a deal-breaking sort of fact? It would be good to know sooner rather than later!
The people you want to date and who want to date you are going to say stuff like, “Oh, ok, thanks for letting me know.” They are curious about you, this is information about you, a person they are starting to like, they’ll add it to the picture that is forming. I think you have to trust that the right matches for you are going to take it all in stride, they are going to try to reassure you in some way that you haven’t ruined things by telling them, they might ask you questions about it but it won’t feel like an interrogation, they’ll make it easy for you to talk more or not talk more and they’ll respect whatever level of detail you’re comfortable sharing. The fuller story could be as simple as,“Eh, not much to tell, we met really young, we found out we weren’t the right match and decided to part ways as friends. On paper we’re ‘legally separated’ vs. ‘all the way divorced’ until the legally-mandated clock finishes counting down, in practice it’s been over between us for a while. I’m definitely ready to start dating again! I just know that sometimes people can be tetchy about this kind of stuff and I don’t want to be anything but straightforward.” Trust that most people who want the same kind of fun, casual, friendly connection you do will follow your lead, not be totally thrown by the fact that you have Been In Love Before, reward honesty and make talking about awkward stuff easy (a good thing in a potential sex partner), and take you as you come. And you’ll have room to say “Ok, if you have any awkward secrets to tell me, now is your chance!”
It’s okay for you to be dating even though the ink on your divorce decree can’t even get wet for 330+ more days. It’s also okay if that’s a deal-breaker for someone, even if your heart is pure and your intentions are good and you told the truth like Captain Awkward advised you. If someone says “Oh, wow, I don’t think I’m comfortable with that, but thanks for telling me and good luck!” it’s not a sign that you’re being punished for your disclosure and that it would have been better to keep it quiet, to me it’s 100% an indicator that this wasn’t the right match or the right time. Your best move is to wish them well, move on, and keep on disclosing to the next hot interesting dude. Someone who is really not down with this even in a casual relationship is not going to magically get more down with it because it’s stayed secret just long enough for them to get more invested in you (and feel like an asshole if they back out now). They’re gonna feel even more off-balance, like, what else is this person not telling me, what else doesn’t match up in this picture? Liars and catfishes ruin the dating pool for the good people, there are reasons someone might be wary about the difference between separated and divorced that aren’t about judging you or stereotypes about divorce.
Unfortunately Captain Awkward had to make a very firm boundary about this back in Ye Olde OkCupid forays of 2011 and 2012, when a lot of men, a way-more-than-20-people amount of men, merrily checked off “Single!” or “Divorced!” and tried to date me, probably with the plan that after a few dates, once we definitely hit it off, they could come clean with the real situation, except they weren’t cool, honest, all-but-divorced-single people like you, they were “I mentioned a trial separation to my wife before our first date and told her I wanted to think about seeing other people, so look, I’m not technically cheating!”-single and “I know you said specifically no polyamory, but are you sure you don’t want to meet me and my girlfriend, Jessica, she’s actually the one who has been messaging you all this time and she’s really into threesomes”-single. Once I played a few games of So Just How Divorced Are You, Exactly, Because I Do Not Think Your Sister-In-Law/Your Child’s Nanny/Your Stepson Home From College, The One We Just Ran Into In This Bar, Has Heard The News Yet, How Fun And Normal This All Is!…I had no energy left for more due diligence or benefit of the doubt. Did I unfairly fail to casually make out with a few chill, integrity-having soon-to-be-divorced friendlies with my policy of ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOT? Probably? I can live with that, “being fair” isn’t the most important thing when deciding who to grant your time and trust to. The people who are so excited about meeting you that they might be willing to make exceptions to their “mostly divorced is still way too married” rule will reward your policy of giving them informed consent. The others will fade away, as they should.
Now for our third scenario. When I adopted the kittens, the ad on the “get slightly drunk and look at cute kittens until want turns into need” pet-finding website said that Daniel and Henrietta already had all their vaccinations and were spayed and neutered. Cool! I wanted to swipe right on meeting those kittens. In our very first conversation, the rescue volunteer, unprompted, offered some information: “We check the boxes say that the cats are already neutered on the ad because it’s a requirement, and we do cover expenses and arrange all that care, but since they are so little it hasn’t happened yet, we’d have to collaborate on that after you took them home.” I did not feel hoodwinked by this, it all made sense to me! And yet, had I answered this simple disclosure with “So, YOU LIED, then, I am not sure I can countenance such PERFIDY and FALSE ADVERTISING, kindly explain yourself,” I have a feeling I would not have ended up with kittens.
I share this because, the people you really don’t want to date are going to say…weird stuff. They are going to make you feel sensitive and bad and wish you hadn’t said anything or make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. They’re going to be way too curious, they’re gonna push for details, they’re gonna wonder specifically about sexy stuff (straight men who get creepily obsessed with women’s sexual & romantic history = red flag emporiums), or, I know you’re afraid that new dudes will think you want a past-relationship-therapist, but I’d be way more worried in your shoes that they’d take it as an opportunity to designate you as their past-relationship therapist. If Officer Overshare or the Janitor of Judgment become annoying, you didn’t cause that, the annoyance you feel is an indicator that they are not the right people to restart your sexy single life with. This is useful, paying attention to how people make you feel when you share details about yourself and rejecting the ones who are irritating is good practice. If it gets weird, trust that you didn’t ruin some promising thing by springing your history on someone “too soon” or in the wrong words, think of it more as the time you successfully weeded out a few Incompatibles before you had to leave your house to learn the hard way that there’s no good time or place to disclose something a person has decided they don’t want to hear.
In conclusion: Tell your situation before you meet in person. Be brief and boring when you do, it’s not that complicated and you have nothing to prove. Date the people who make you feel relaxed and easy in your mind, who enthusiastically sign up to meet you just as you are. Let the ones who make you uneasy go. Be safe, meet in a public place, have your own way to get to and from the date, have fun, get tested for STIs regularly and make it a routine and normal thing to expect testing, safer sex practices, and shame-free disclosure from others, don’t audition or justify yourself to people who would treat you as less than wonderful because of your relationship history, may your summer be full of the fun, sexy kind of awkwardness, and may the paperwork countdown fly by.