Thursday 26 March 2015

Dating the Divorced

Where the rubber hits the road.
This is simply THE most difficult Single topic I can think of. It is full of landmines--personal and theological. I hate having to think about it, but my conscience says that I must think about it. So here I am thinking.

It would be easy to write off the divorced as complete untouchables. And life would be easier for Single Catholic women if, upon hearing that a man we've met is divorced, we would smile sweetly and have absolutely nothing to do with him ever again.

Believe me, I know how taboo divorced people are, for I have been a divorced person myself, and when I was in marriage counselling, and the marriage counsellor asked me how I felt about getting divorced, I said that I felt I would be marked out as a Divorced Woman forever and my community would look at me askance for the rest of my days.

These were not unfounded fears although, thank heavens, the annulment papers took away some of the sting. And without the annulment papers, you can bet that European Catholic media would have had absolutely nothing to do with me and my thoughts on women and the Single Life. Although I find having to repeat again and again that I did have an annulment and I did write Seraphic Singles long after I got that annulment, I understand the fierceness of the European Catholic media on this point. I even appreciate their zeal to preserve the sanctity of marriage. I just wish the questions didn't hurt so much. However, I would have gone to the rack itself to get that divorce, so a few painful questions is not that big a deal.

As a Divorced Woman I should have practiced better self care, which would have included not dating. As I waited for my annulment, I dated up a storm, which was stupid, not only because I was counting my annulment chickens before they were hatched, but because recently divorced people are crazy and in serious danger of going out with the wrong kind of people.

I don't mean wicked, necessarily, I just mean wrong. One wrong type is the Rescuer, who is very attracted to crazy people who have been through a bad time, but loses interest as the crazy person regains sanity and strength. If I had been in the heart of a devout and brainy Catholic community such as y'all have in Washington D.C., I would have been a lot better off. But I was in Not-So-Catholic-Land, so I flailed about alone, or without the companionship of devout, orthodox and brainy Catholics. My soi-disant Catholic therapist, for example, was secretly dating a priest.


However, I struggled on and did my (then) best and eventually chased down the one Single Catholic guy I knew merely because he was cute and went to Mass, and when that all blew up in a spectacularly horrible way, I didn't date for a year. But after that year, I started flirting with this older guy from work, and we had a nice coffee date, in which I pretended not to notice he was rude to the waitress.  It wasn't until the second date that he told me that he was divorced.

Divorced! I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under my feet. He walked me home--I wished he hadn't--and as soon as I was alone in my bachelor flat, I fell on the floor and wept. I cried and cried and cried. The next morning I got a phone call and discovered that I had lost my temp job. I assumed at once it was because I had gone on a date with Management, which made me extremely indignant and How-Dare-You-Tell-Me-Who-I-Can-Date-ish.

So I went to my super-nice parish priest and asked him what I should do. I had met this nice guy, but he was divorced, and should I go out with him or not? And the parish priest said, "Don't cut good people out of your life." So I continued to date the divorced guy until shortly after he got an annulment, which was when I decided I did not want to marry another Protestant. So that was that, and he got another girlfriend almost right away, which somewhat assuaged my feelings of guilt.

But hark this: I should not have gone on another date with the divorced guy, even though he was, as my priest divined, a good person. For one thing, just finding out he was divorced had sent me into hysterics. I didn't need a boyfriend, I needed a prescription. 

And, although by then I had my annulment, before that I certainly should not have gone out with anyone until I had it. Divorced people are fragile, and fragility makes us needy and selfish, as well as vulnerable and weak. We have an unfortunate tendency to fall from one doomed relationship into another, which is why we need our old friends to stop us. And, unless the Church says we aren't, we're freaking married to somebody else. Which, naturally, few divorced people want to admit or discover.

So what do we do when we are Single and over thirty and haven't been on a date in a zillion years, and--mirabile dictu--a handsome man starts pursuing us and we discover that he is divorced? Do we run? Do we immediately think about all our friends whose spouses got annulments? Do we think of Pope Francis and his cryptic remarks about Cardinal Kasper, the divorced-and-remarried-outside-the Church-but-wants-Holy-Communion-Catholic's friend?

I'm asking you because I don't really know. Naturally, though, I have some ideas:

1. You establish at once how long ago that divorce was.  If the divorce was within the past year, you are out of there. Sorry, but you are out of there. You are vulnerable because you are female and Single, and he is vulnerable because he has just been through a divorce. RED ALERT! RED ALERT! HEAD FOR THE HILLS!

2. You make an appointment with your priest/spiritual director and tell him everything. Tell him about being Single and over 30 (25, 23) and not meeting anyone and feeling sad and lonely and wanting so much to have a husband and children and all your various attempts to find a husband, and now this divorced guy appearing out of the blue. Bring tissue.

3. You remember that the guy is still married, spiritually and very probably emotionally, to this other woman out there. If you continue to be friends--FRIENDS--with him, checking in periodically with your parish priest/spiritual director to stay honest, you will learn ALL about her. You may even discover, the horror, that you are somewhat like her. If you are a redhead, gosh darn it, but it may be that she is a redhead too. Tell your priest/spiritual director of such revelations.

4. Meanwhile, in the course of learning all about this other woman, you will discover if she was a baptized Christian or not, and if he is a baptized Christian. If she was a Roman Catholic who married outside the Church to marry your non-Catholic Christian admirer and never had the marriage ratified, the Church doesn't recognize it. But if she was a non-Catholic Christian who married another non-Catholic Christian, the Church recognizes the marriage unless there was some impediment a canon lawyer could find. Yes, that is all very complicated. Do not take my word for any detail, but consult your parish priest, who will probably need to consult someone else.

5. Do not settle. I do not care how old you are, or how plain-Jane, or how much you want children.  Unless you are so in love with this guy that you will do anything for him except commit mortal sins,  and he would do anything for you, don't think about marriage. When you are married, and the chips are down, and you are feeling extremely cross that you gave up this or that privilege of your Single Life and are now in this momentarily rotten situation because you got married, you should be able to reflect that if you hadn't been able to marry your husband, this husband, you would have gone insane.

6. Love presupposes knowledge. If you don't know him, you don't love him. Yes, B.A. asked me to marry me after ten days, but we had been reading each others blogs for a year. Meeting in person was just a confirmation of all the blog stuff, and in B.A.'s case he was relieved to discover that I wasn't an airhead. Apparently the relentless cheer of "Still Seraphic" gave him that impression.

7. You can't let him kiss you on the mouth, you can't hold his hand, and you can't call him your boyfriend because unless the Church says otherwise, he's a married man. I am trying to get my mind around how strict and unfair that may sound, but I can't. I'm a married woman who has a number of male friends and goes to dances and classes without my husband, so I know perfectly well what is okay and what is not and when in doubt I hide behind a potted plant. Of course, I actually love my spouse and the entire world agrees that I am married to him, so that is a heck a lot easier for ME then for divorced-without-an-annulment people out there, especially divorced non-Catholics who don't get what the deal is.

8. If he doesn't get what the deal is, get out of there. You know my motto: woman trumps every potential victim except baby/child.  Woman trumps race. Woman trumps handicap. Woman trumps addict. Woman trumps poor. Woman trumps divorced. Whenever it is a question of male physicality, woman is the more vulnerable and needs to protect herself.  You should not feel guilty for telling a divorced man that you, as a Roman Catholic, a follower of Jesus Christ, consider him a married man.

9. When I say get out of there, I mean it literally. Say that in that case there is no more to be said, and you must go now. Go home and call a sympathetic pal of unquestionable orthodoxy.  Email your priest. If you cannot think of anyone suitable, email me: And for sake of women's dignity semper et ubique, don't call, text or email him. 

After saying all that, you may be wondering why I don't simply throw in the towel and tell you to avoid divorced men like the plague. Well, it is because (A) I was divorced myself, drat it all, and I hate the idea of the divorced being treated like lepers and (B) Christians aren't supposed to treat even lepers like lepers. Meanwhile (C) hope springs eternal and (D) I honestly believe our two generations are the most immature in the history of the world and the very fact that our youthful marriages break down so quickly (when they do) could be evidence that they are not valid through reasons of immaturity. 

But please be careful.

Update: Lest I become a Divorced Catholic poster girl, I want to stress that making a bad marriage was the very worst thing that ever happened to me, and I would not wish it on anyone. Getting divorced does not make everything all okay. Getting an annulment does not make everything okay although it certainly gives you hope for the future. Even getting remarried does not make everything okay for it cannot give you back the years you lost or your children (if you had any) the tears they cried.

Nobody has to get married, and if you feel that you have to get married to someone when you'd rather be married to another kind of man entirely, you are not free enough to be married and are about to do something very wicked or at best very stupid. If the thought "At least he'll be happy" pops into your mind, call your priest, for you are in danger of making a mockery of the sacrament and your life. Valid or invalid, marriage of any kind has serious social, intellectual and moral consequences. 


  1. What do you think might be things to consider when dating a widower? Obviously a widower is free to marry in the Church, so that's not an issue, but there would be factors that wouldn't exist for someone who had never been married.

    (N.B. I'm not dating a widower. This is hypothetical.)

    1. Well, I have never dated a widower. I've known some young widows (like, in their 20s young), but never any young or even middle-aged widowers, that I know of. Women are pretty hardy these days. I guess I wouldn't recommend getting cozy with a widower during his first year of mourning. For one thing, it's disrespectful to the dead and a tad scandalous to any children and his wife's relations. I would most DEFINITELY keep things "just friends" with a widower until the first year is up. Can you imagine being a widower's "transitional person"? Ick.

    2. But meanwhile, a widower is not like a divorced-without-an-annulment man, for a widower is actually, totally, and utterly "formerly married", not "still married in an invisible way that only Catholics take seriously."

  2. This blog is most timely! I've recently gotten a little friendly with a new hire (and by "little friendly" I really just mean "making small talk" - no hidden agenda there). All the ladies in the office simply love him and one of my close coworkers has been subtly trying to set me up with him. I'm gun shy at the best of times, but I did a little Internet stalking and found some pretty good evidence that he was married before. I told my coworker to chill out a little and I told myself to look past the cute smile and the new BMW. I've never had to deal with a divorce situation before - I already talked to a few friends about it - and then this blog was published. So ~ thank you! I needed some clear, concise explanations for when people question my reactions.

    1. Probably in the midst of small talk, you will find confirmation of whether or not he was married before and if he has any children. As you don't KNOW for sure he has been previously married, I would lay off telling any WORK friends about it. Meanwhile although I totally understand the married lady impulse to interfere in the love lives of young people, I wish we wouldn't do it at work. SOOOO unprofessional.

  3. What about a Protestant friend who takes marriage seriously and a divorced Protestant? A friend of mine is about to get engaged to such a man. He's been divorced for a few years, his wife left him (literally went home to take care of her sick mother and never came back), and she was not open to children (which I think are grounds for an annulment, were he catholic...). He's really great, best guy she's ever dated. She was quite concerned about this at the beginning but not any more.

    1. This sounds like a case for Canon Lawyer!

      Your friend's beau seems fine as a person. He's probably over post-divorce craziness. However, depending on who he married and how, he might still be married in the eyes of God and His Church. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes natural marriages (e.g. between Hindus) and sacramental marriages (i.e. between eligible Christians), and therefore calls not just Catholics but all Christians (and everyone else, really) to remain faithful to their spouses.

      Just because Protestants have different rules for themselves, doesn't mean God has different rules for them. God takes marriage very, very seriously, and thus so does the Roman Catholic Church. Which is why we are so distressed about so-called same-sex marriage

      As for whether or not they, if they became Catholics, they could continue living like married folk and have their marriage blessed, I don't know a lot, but I think this is right:

      If the Protestant was baptized and got married to another baptized, but not Roman Catholic Christian, then he and his ex-wife are still married until/unless the Roman Catholic Church says they are not.

      However, if the Protestant married a unbaptized woman (e.g. Jehovah's Witness, Jewish girl, unbaptized child of atheists), the marriage could not have been a sacramental marriage. Easy annulment case.

      Also, bizarrely enough, if he married a Catholic outside the Catholic Church, without the permission of the Catholic Church--e.g. no priest was ever involved, and she never got a dispensation to marry a Protestant--then that is another easy annulment case.

      Oh, if the ex-wife was a divorcee before he married her (without an annulment) then I believe that's easy too.

      If however he was a baptized non-Catholic Christian married to another baptized non-Catholic Christian then it's more complicated, but there may be grounds for an annulment case based on immaturity or lack of freedom or anything else. Only a tribunal or two could say.

    2. My head is spinning, lol! Two questions, just because I'm curious. :)

      Where/how would a non-Catholic Christian get an annulment, assuming that you are not talking about a legal annulment? Or are you? (Even if a Catholic tribunal would grant one to a non-Catholic Christian, it seems unlikely that the non-Catholic would look to the Catholic Church for an annulment?)

      Also, are natural (ie, non-sacramental) marriages easier to annul, then? Or is that only a natural marriage between a baptized and non-baptized person?

      Sorry; I just find cannon law on marriage fascinating. :)

    3. Certainly divorced Protestants can apply to a Catholic marriage tribunal. However, the Catholic marriage tribunal would certainly want to know why and who sent them! Usually it's because one of them wants to marry a Catholic.

      As for non-sacramental marriages, I'm at the very end of my knowledge! I know only as much as I do because I know a former JW whose Protestant (?) ex-husband wanted to marry a Catholic, and my friend having gotten married to him as a runaway JW (but not yet a recognizable Christian), meant that the annulment procedure was easy-peasy.

    4. :) That's really interesting!!

      And that makes sense! So in the case of Anamaria's friend, it would probably only practically apply if they decided that they wanted to become Catholic.

      Thanks, Seraphic!!

  4. My father (baptised cradle Catholic) married my mother before she was baptised (she was baptised two years after I was, which was over four years after the wedding.) Neither of them had been married before. They got married in the Catholic cathedral of my home city, and got all the relevant dispensations and permissions that they needed due to my mother not being a Christian at that point. So my understanding is that their marriage is valid (as in, not annullable) but not sacramental. Is this correct?

    1. Julia, your parent's marriage would have become a sacramental one when your mother was baptized.

    2. Well there you go! Thanks for the info.

  5. I echo Auntie Seraphic's comments about 'leaving directly.' I've only been out with one [non-Catholic] divorced man (who was considerate enough to make that clear up front), but it seems that no matter how much they insist on a full and detailed explanation for why there will not be another lunch date the next week, giving such an explanation will probably only incite more pain and rage (at least it did in my case). It was difficult to just 'let it go,' as he was actually a very kind man, but I felt so much better after doing so. It can save a lot of potential future pain, for both parties.

    Ditto with 'settling.' I think there's a lot of pressure on single women (Catholic or not) these days to 'be open' to all kinds of men because 'everyone has mistakes and bad choices in their past.' Personally, I'd rather be 'too picky' and never be married than do so out of some modern obligation to give everyone a chance. If a man gets upset with you for calling things off after a couple dates in spite of the fact that he 'didn't do anything wrong' or 'did all the right things,' he doesn't respect you. Following the basic mechanics of a chivalry code is not an entitlement to your affections, emotional, physical, or otherwise.


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