By Sharon Brooks
Dating after a divorce can be both exhilarating and frightening. It’s exciting to imagine a new life with someone else — a fresh start. But it can also be scary wondering if, and when, you will ever find love again. I thought I found love again, but as I sat in my dining room staring at our two plates of untouched food, I wondered how the evening went so terribly wrong. It was supposed to be like most other nights when we would have dinner, share stories about our day, watch television and relax. But something was different about that night. It would never be the same again. I watched in disbelief as he drove away from my house. The tail lights on his car became dimmer as he neared the end of my street and I feared he would never come back to me.
I had truly believed he would become my second husband and father of my children. After my painful divorce, I was determined to make this relationship work. My family and friends adored him. By all outward appearances, he seemed to be a “great catch” — handsome, successful, personable and well-liked by everyone. He seemed to have his act together.
As our relationship progressed and his persona of perfection began to unravel, I didn’t care. The warning signs were there, but I didn’t have the conscious awareness to recognize them as such. Why? I was mesmerized by the three most powerful words he continually said to me, “I love you.”
Those words allowed me to make excuses for his bad behavior which included spending time with his friends instead of me, cheating on me, being overly critical, and disrespecting me. I was never a priority in his life, but I didn’t complain. He said he loved me.
There were many times when he was cold and distant. When I inquired as to the reason, he was very dismissive. When I initiated discussions about marriage, he always said he needed more time. He stated we would get married, but he just wasn’t ready yet. The morsels of hope kept me going year after year. I worked so hard to keep the relationship together and, in spite of his behavior, I treated him like a king. After growing up in a home with a lot of conflict, I had learned to avoid confrontation. My parents’ divorce taught me to do everything opposite of them, so I was convinced being a people pleaser was the key to a successful relationship. I was so stupid.
After five years of dating and no wedding date in sight, I broke up with him that fateful night in my dining room. I was frustrated and thought the time apart would convince him how much he wanted to marry me. It didn’t. He began dating someone else two weeks later. How could he leave me after five years and then begin dating someone else so soon? After all, he said he loved me.
My acceptance of reality was a slow, painful process. I had been intoxicated by his constant declaration of “I love you.” I believed his words. But they were just words. Never having witnessed a demonstrative, loving relationship between my parents growing up, I didn’t know what love looked like. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought the words were good enough. Now I know better, but I think it’s a challenge faced by many adult children of divorce. As kids, most of our parents talked to us about sex and drugs, but if there was no conversation about what love looks like, it’s easy to see how the cycle of divorce in a family can continue.
Our breakup bruised my ego. I felt ashamed to acknowledge I had stayed in a dysfunctional relationship for five years because I was so vulnerable to those three words. I had only myself to blame for tolerating such poor behavior for so long. Once you feel better about yourself, being treated poorly is not an option. When your significant other says “I love you,” ask yourself if their behavior is indicative of love. Sure, the words are nice to hear, but without the behavior to back them up, they’re just three little meaningless words.
Sharon Brooks is author of “If Your Parents Divorced, Will You Too?: How to Break the Cycle of Divorce and Create a Successful Relationship of Your Own.”