Please read my entire question before jumping to conclusions and judgment. I want to know if it is OK to date a married man if he is separated from his wife. She is dating a new guy and though they do not get along, they have agreed that they should move on and begin dating while the divorce is in process. He is a great guy and I really like him, but I feel like this is maybe wrong. I come from a conservative upbringing and though I haven’t saved myself for marriage or anything crazy like that, I still feel a little wrong about being with a man who is still legally bound to another woman. The divorce papers haven’t even been filed. What if she decides to not divorce him or is waiting for our relationship to blossom so she can put me on the stand like some kind of home-wrecking tramp? He has been very patient and has been courting me for a few weeks now and I can tell that if I don’t step up soon, he is going to give up and move on. I haven’t told anyone in my family about him and that is also stressful. I am afraid they will judge him and me. My mother and father would probably disown me. Maybe I have watched too many soap operas, but I want to be a good person and I could never stand to be that other woman that people gossip about. What would you do?
— Concerned for my reputation
Dear Other Woman,
If sleeping with a married man truly wrecked one’s life, then I destroyed mine a decade or so ago. Every situation is different. There can be no universal rule for relationships in such a pluralistic society. People gossip. And if you date this dude, someone is going to talk about it. You can wait for the divorce to be final and some spiteful creature will still have something mean to say. You will have to get over it. I am certain that if you are both good people there will be more people saying nice things than mean things.
You really can’t be the “other woman” people gossip about when she already has another man. They are separated and your conscience can be clear. If it truly bothers you though, then don’t do it. Society has norms and morals and values and they vary within pockets of our culture and subcultures. It sounds like you are a predominantly old-fashioned girl. Great. If you were saving yourself for marriage, I wouldn’t call that crazy either. Hold yourself to the standards you believe in. If he wants to be with you he is likely to wait. He might even decide it is time to step up those divorce proceedings. Watching how he handles the whole divorce proceeding will be a great opportunity to assess his true character. There is some saying or another about judging a man by how he treats his enemies. I am certain there is some truth in that. If he doesn’t understand your concerns or respect your boundaries, then he most likely isn’t the right guy, anyway.
Now, back to your family. It is good that you are close to them and respect their opinion and desire their approval, but you are an adult now. (Right?) It is important to make decisions for your own happiness. Considering the opinions of loved ones is always wise, but you can’t let them run your life forever. I suspect they would approve any good man that made you happy.
I am giving you a little homework: Go online and download a few songs. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and “Love Isn’t Always on Time” by some band from the ’80s. Listen to them alternately for the next week. While doing this, read a little Anne Sexton poetry and try out a few Dorothy Parker stories. I am not promising an epiphany, but it might help to both distract you and remove the taint of soap operas from your perspective.
Much luck and love,
Your Uncle Mat