My ex and I dated for 2 years before we got engaged. When we met, I was 30 and he was 42, neither one of us had been married before. In most of his previous relationships, I did notice that they ended after about 4-5 years, he said it was due to personality differences, or that he wasn’t ready for marriage at that point in time. He also admitted to having cheated at the end of his last relationship because he knew things were coming to an end. Prior to our engagement, we discussed issues like finance, whether or not he wants kids, how many kids, etc. Fast forward to now, he ended the marriage by saying we are just so different, and how he decided he doesn’t want kids after all (I’ve been seeing an OBGY specialist). About 5 months leading up to the divorce, I felt like he was turning into a different person – the tone he would use, the way he glances at me, throwing tantrum at little things, etc. In the end, he said that he thought he was OK with the nature of our relationship and expectations, until he wasn’t OK with it (yes, I know it sounds lame).
I take responsibility for marrying the wrong guy, and moving forward I want to avoid making the same mistake. What suggestions do you have for women to avoid men who don’t really know what they want in life, yet pretend like they do? This was alarming to me because I know other men who are like this too. They are friends who are married or in a committed relationship, but their attitudes are ambivalent. One even told me he was unfaithful to his wife, because he doesn’t know what he wants, but doesn’t want to divorce either. So, my big question is – what kind of warning signs should women pay attention to? In my case, I recall having a gut feeling that he doesn’t respect me as much as I wanted, and whenever we have big arguments he would always try to undermine my point of view. Anyways, hindsight is 20/20, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Thank you!
Thanks for your question, Janice. I feel deeply for you.
My wife’s first husband was a man who, after five years of dating, claimed to want to get married and be a father. But less than one year into marriage, he freaked out, said he wasn’t ready for commitment, wasn’t sure if he wanted kids, and cheated on her – twice. They were divorced less than two years after getting married. His loss was my gain.
Ironically, he ended up marrying the woman he cheated with – AND had kids with her as well. I only mention this because it illustrates an important, if dispiriting concept: very often, people don’t know what they want, and very often, people change their minds.
Very often, people don’t know what they want, and very often, people change their minds.
You just happen to date men, but as a coach for women, I can’t tell you how many times I talked with a client who wasn’t sure if she wanted to get married or just date for a while.
Thus, confusion is not just for men – it’s the human condition. Because answers to personal questions aren’t as black and white as mathematical equations, we lurch through life, perpetually vacillating between different points of view, knowing that we’re inconsistent, but still not being able to nail down a single perspective.
On one hand, it can be considered admirable when people are open to new information that makes their point of view subject to growth and change.
On the other, if you’re the woman dating the man who doesn’t know what he wants, it can only be terribly infuriating. Now, you’re looking for a shortcut to avoid getting hurt. I get it.
Since there are no definite answers, I can only try to reverse engineer a response based on what you told me in your short email.
1. The right man takes responsibility for his mistakes and can specifically pinpoint where/when/why things went wrong in the past. “Personality differences” and “not ready for marriage” may, in fact, be valid excuses, but I’d love to hear him go deeper.
2. Cheating is never an acceptable response to a failing relationship.
Everyone has experienced the falling action of a relationship that is coming apart. Most of us deal with various shades of sadness, anxiety, frustration and fear – obsessing about what’s wrong, engaging friends on what you should do, talking with your partner about how to fix what ails you. But once you run into the embrace of someone else’s arms, you’ve lost any pretense of being an honorable person.
3. Finally, in response to “What kind of warning signs should women pay attention to?” I can only reiterate one of the five must-haves in every relationship (the others being kindness, commitment, communication and consistency): CHARACTER.
The good news is that most of these character-based traits are readily apparent in a pretty short period of time (2-3 months) so you don’t have to waste 2-3 YEARS on the wrong guy in the future.
How does one measure character? Great question with a dissatisfying answer. My method may be imperfect and slow, but I don’t think it’s difficult. A man of character:
a. Does what he says and says what he means. If there is a consistent discrepancy between his words and his actions, you’ll notice it before your marriage. I would think it would be really rare for a congenital liar to be honest for the first 2 years you’re together and suddenly turn into a whole new man with a ring on his finger. With my wife’s ex, he had a history of being a fabulist – making up or enhancing stories at parties – and also being a Peter Pan who liked to go out five nights a week and sometimes forgot to pay the electric bill. In retrospect, when he got married, he was playing grown-up before he was ready to be a grown-up. Your guy had a history of bailing on relationships. You just didn’t want his history to apply to you.
b. Cares about your happiness and is not content when your needs are not being met. That doesn’t mean he’s perfect, intuits your every desire, and never does anything selfish. It means that if you’ve got a problem, he’s got a problem – and he wants to be part of the solution. That’s what it’s like when you’re a team.
c. Communicates his feelings and is open to the full expression of yours. If conversations make him uncomfortable and he can’t discuss important topics without getting overheated or shutting down, he may be a good guy, but he’ll be a terrible husband.
There’s more to character, of course, but that’s a start. The good news is that most of these character-based traits are readily apparent in a pretty short period of time (2-3 months) so you don’t have to waste 2-3 YEARS on the wrong guy in the future.
Warmest wishes and much love,