The Truth About Dating After Divorce

Think that having been married before will be a turn-off for potential dates? On the contrary: It can make you irresistible. But that may not be a good thing. One guy explains.

By Manny Howard

n retrospect, I suppose I felt quite sorry for myself for a good long time. My marriage lay in ruins, a hulk of aches and regrets. After an abbreviated period of cloistered review and repair, I timidly stepped back into the dating scene, determined to love again, and to love well. But my divorcé
After all, divorce, in my mind, was the definition of romantic failure.
status made me worry: Would women view me as damaged goods and steer clear?

On the contrary, whether the woman I was wooing was happily single, unhappily single, separated, divorced herself, or even (on just one occasion) married, my own admission that I'd been "married once before" was greeted with universal enthusiasm. Take, for example, one evening when I was in a bar with an old friend—and recent divorcé himself—named Malachi. As Malachi and I drank, we joked about the sorry state of our lives and laughed at our own expense.

Within minutes, a ginger-haired Amazon joined our conversation, wanting to know what was so funny about divorce. "You," beamed Malachi, "are what is so funny about divorce." The conversation continued, the Amazon's hand finding mine as she asked me to explain, again, what I had learned during my period of "restorative solitude." "Did you cry?" she asks rhetorically, again.

"Oh, yes. It sounds silly, but your vows aren't just words. You make plans and have expectations, based on those words…"

"It is not silly. It's not silly at all," she whispered. At this point we were forehead-to-forehead and she was pressing my hand to her shirt…

I was surprised, at first, by the onslaught of female attention my divorce seemed to induce. After all, divorce, in my mind, was the definition of romantic failure. The first few times, I delivered the news as an admission—buyer beware—and I expected it to dangle there in the air between us until enough time had passed to take polite leave of each other, no hard feelings. But over time, I could see that confessing—with only vaguely dishonest coyness—that "I'd been married before" often caused a romantic evening to tip in my favor.

The reason, I suspect, is that viewed from the sidelines, a failed marriage appears endlessly fascinating; the possibility for self-revealing biographical information proves irresistible (this was especially true if I exaggerated the wrongs done to me). All sorts of women had
"I'd been married before" often caused a romantic evening to tip in my favor.
their reasons for admiring this part of my past: Women looking for long-term commitment saw me as housebroken; women who were dating more casually seemed to view me as some exotic jungle bird—strictly catch and release. And if, as the night progressed, the fish tattooed on my upper arm was discovered, fully eight out of ten women (this is a real number, I swear) who stumbled upon it would immediately make the macabre inquiry—sometimes breathlessly—as to whether I had another tattoo: one of my ex-wife's name, anywhere on my body. (I do not.)

Indeed, the period following my divorce was so rife with women that it's a period my more indelicate friends refer to as The World Series of Sex. But at some point, advertising my post-divorce state for the purposes of getting laid got tired. One evening I was threading a twisting footpath from my stool at the end of the bar to the men's room when a frosted blonde stopped me and started chatting. At the first possible moment, the fact of my failed marriage was artlessly dropped into the two-hour-long conversation, which led to her loft nearby. And in the wake of that night, my tiny, little marital tragedy seemed delicate and in very bad company. The complexity of emotions I'd experienced had been reduced to a handy device in my dating life—and it suddenly seemed too personal a piece of information to have shared.

A month later, I decided that it was time to stop dating casually altogether. I agreed to one last blind date: With a woman who, ironically, would become my second wife and the mother of our two children. I can't count how many times my first marriage has come in handy, although in entirely different and positive ways.

My wife also likes the fish tattoo. But she never did ask if I had any others.

Manny Howard writes for The New York Times Magazine and other publications.
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