Do you know how many verses of the “UBT Is So Great” song I had to sing to get it to translate Dear Therapist? I need a lie down and a lozenge.
Following up from yesterday’s bullshit — When the OW Doesn’t Trust Her Boyfriend — today we’re putting Dear Therapist’s answer through the chipper shredder.
Without further ado.
There are several ways to look at this situation, and I want to help you consider a couple of them so that you can see these events differently.
Dear Person Who Dated a Married Guy Who Dragged His Feet for Over Two Years on a Divorce,
There are several ways to look at this situation, none of them involve the chump — the person married to your less-than-available boyfriend.
When I see couples for therapy, I’m always interested in their origin story—how they met, what those early months were like, and what meaning each person gave (and still gives) to the events as they played out.
The important thing is the meaning you ascribe events. Not whether or not they actually occurred.
Did your boyfriend tell you he was available, and then went home and fucked his wife? As long as you felt special and he felt available, that’s what matters.
I assume everyone is completely honest with me about these events, because therapy is sodium pentathol.
One way to tell your origin story is to say that your boyfriend wasn’t trustworthy and that you have evidence to support this: He didn’t initially tell you that he was separated rather than divorced; he kept in contact with his wife while you were dating; and he didn’t take the steps you asked him to take to move the divorce forward even though he said he would.
One way to tell your story is your boyfriend is a lying cheater who lies and cheats. You have evidence to support this — he neglected to mention his marital status for three whole months. People who are legally separated and who have initiated actual divorce proceedings — have nothing to hide. People who still live with their spouses and pretend to be single have everything to hide.
Until there comes a day his cellphone rings and it’s “Babe, the gutters need cleaning” and you’re like “Who the fuck is calling you Babe and when did you get gutters?”
This version of the story could play out in various ways, but most likely it will keep you locked in place. Even if you find your boyfriend to be completely trustworthy going forward, you might carry the pain of this early time into your future, along with the belief that his not pursuing his divorce in the way you wanted reflected some deficiency in his love for you and/or deficiency in his moral compass. And viewed through the lens of this pain, you might never truly trust him. Needless to say, this isn’t a solid foundation for a relationship.
Even if you find your boyfriend to be completely
trustworthy Leprechauns going forward into the Fairy Ether, you might carry the pain of this early time, or Disney forest nymphs will care it for you, in a cloud of bluebirds. Is his love or his moral compass deficient? Jabberwocky! And viewed through the lens of bubblegum Trotsky, you might never truly earflaps.
(Excuse me, I think the UBT is malfunctioning. I need to whack it, and sing a few more verses.)
Needless to say, this isn’t a solid foundation for a relationship.
Another way to tell your origin story, however,
And this is why people pay me $170/hour — to spin this shit.
goes something like this: Your boyfriend’s marriage was ending, but like many marital endings, it wasn’t clean and it was painful for both people involved. One or both of them might have been ambivalent. One might have wanted the divorce and the other didn’t. Or the decision to divorce might have been mutual but both still had to grieve the loss.
Like many marital endings, there was cheating. But first there was cake. Years and years of cake — having a partner and side dish fucks. Then cake was discovered, explanations demanded. And it was painful for both the chump, whose world was shattered, and the cheater, whose beautiful, beautiful entitlement was questioned. Both of them might have been ambivalent — the cheater, because it’s hard to find a good spouse appliance and who wants to share one’s pension? And the chump, because they’re being mindfucked 24/7 by the cheater and an entire Reconciliation Industrial Complex, and because of the residual love they feel for this piece of shit they married. People bond with regrettable people. It happens.
The decision to divorce might have been mutual, but it tends not to drag out over 2.5 years. Nor does mutuality express itself with ultimatums.
It might sound counterintuitive that exiting a bad situation would result in grief, but few relationships are all good or all bad. Most people choose each other because they genuinely enjoy many of the same things—they often have similar interests, ways of seeing the world, senses of humor, and sets of values. They might not match up exactly on all of these, but generally there’s enough emotional glue for them to choose to marry, for them to commit to a future and think, We’ll be happy going through life together.
He digs his wife. They still fuck. They’re still married.
You’re the side dish. He digs you too. You fuck. He’s still married.
But when a marriage ends, so does everything that came with it—not just the parts that weren’t working, but also the parts that were, all the comforts that the marriage provided: time invested in getting to know each other intimately, the built-in company and daily routines, all the private jokes and references, the shared memories and experiences. We can still miss aspects of people and the relationship we had even if we don’t want to be with them.
When a marriage end, so does everything that came with it — that person’s paycheck, the way they renew car registrations, and dust radiators — a whole host of benefits. This is not easily ended. Especially when Schmoopie will fuck you consequence-free for two years. Why divide that 401K? Why not keep cake alive?
I don’t know how deeply you got to know your boyfriend as he went through his divorce, but my guess is that your anxiety about where he was in the process didn’t leave much room for your curiosity about his inner life, nor was he left feeling safe enough to share it with you. You met him at a major crossroads in his life, when he was trying to navigate the end of his marriage and the beginning of his relationship with you, and while he tried to accommodate your needs, I don’t know how aware you were of his.
I don’t know how deeply you got to know your boyfriend over the 2.5 years he’s gone through his divorce, that is still not finalized, but MIGHT be in 6 months. (I’m sure the Great Pumpkin will appear.) But my guess is your anxiety is fully to be expected. Nations have fought wars, changed borders, and negotiated entire peace treaties in the amount of time it takes your boyfriend to notarize one sheet of paper.
The problem here is — you haven’t considered his feelings. Embossed seals are terrifying.
Consider: People sometimes lie or “forget” to keep their promises when they’re asked to do something they don’t want to do but the consequences of sharing their truth—I’m not ready to do this—feel intolerable.
Consider: People sometimes “forget” they are married. They forget those promises they made in front of their assembled family and friends, and commemorate each year with anniversaries. It slips the mind.
It could be your boyfriend deceives you, however, he may just be absentminded.
Should he awake from his marital status slumber, do not frighten him.
While you needed the safety that you hoped would come from your boyfriend being further along in his divorce (both emotionally and logistically), he needed more time to settle into a new relationship and let go of his old one. Similarly, your boyfriend’s desire not to hurt the woman he had married by cutting off all contact in a way that felt “harsh” might not reflect his insensitivity to your feelings so much as his sensitivity to hers. In a way, it speaks volumes about his capacity for compassion and empathy. Imagine what his wife must have been going through, watching her husband find a fantastic new partner just months into their separation. Imagine how hard it might have been for him to hurt her in this way. Imagine if you’d been the divorcing spouse watching your husband fall madly in love with somebody else, and this person demanded that he cut off all ties with you. Your boyfriend could picture this in a way you couldn’t.
He’s not a cheater deceiving a wife and girlfriend — NO, he’s a man of great compassion and empathy.
Turnips solve differential equations and German shepherds bake excellent pie crusts.
All this spackle for $170 and if you act now, I’ll throw in a blender.
It’s interesting to consider, too, that you stayed with him for two years, presumably in order to have a future with him—setting up important building blocks, as you say—and only when he becomes available and you’re about to get everything you’ve been asking him for, do you contemplate leaving. Prior to this, you had plenty of opportunities to leave, to say to him, “I’m not comfortable being with you until you’re divorced, so let’s stop dating and see where we both are when your divorce is final.” But you didn’t.
Earlier I accuse you of not being understanding enough, and now I point out you could leave. Do you want to win this frosted turd, or don’t you? The Pick Me Dance is not won in mere years — it’s a lifetime endeavor. Suck it up, buttercup.
So here’s an important theme in your origin story, and one of the most meaningful: Neither one of you wanted to risk losing the other. Both of you made sacrifices to be together despite the unfortunate timing of your getting together. But now all those earlier obstacles have been removed—and you’re racked with doubt.
The obstacles have been removed — the chump is gone! Whoever shall be your hypotenuse now?
Where will this story go? Well, that’s up to you. You can find your boyfriend unworthy of your trust and either leave now or cause him to leave later when he feels that there’s no possible way to earn your trust, or you can understand more about why you’re having doubts at the very moment the safety you wanted is in sight. Yes, there’s some healing to be had, but maybe it’s going to be less about his proving something to you and more about your expanding your capacity for considering another person’s story line alongside your own.
The problem isn’t that your married boyfriend is unworthy of trust, you’re just impossible to please. SAFETY IS YOURS! The chump has been eliminated! YOU WON THE PICK ME POLKA!
Will you collect your prizes? We have hypervigilance, anxiety, and self-loathing. Will you take them?
Well, that’s up to you.