Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Trials of Trial Separations

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 42 and have been married for three years (first time for me, second for my wife). We have no kids. Two months ago, my wife and I separated. It was her idea. She said she needed some time and space to think things through. (We had been arguing a lot, mainly about lifestyle issues---she likes to stay home all the time while I like to go out with friends, etc.). I moved out and am living in a very small studio apartment. I talk to my wife a few times a week, but haven't seen her in person since we separated. I'm feeling really lonely, and two weeks ago I met a woman on craigslist who is also separated, although in her case she's already filed for divorce from her husband. She's telling me I'm a fool to be waiting forever for my wife to make up her mind. She's not exactly pressuring me to file for divorce, but she says that if I know I'm not getting back together with my wife I can move in with her. How long should it take my wife to make up her mind? ("Robbie" in Missouri)

DEAR ROBBIE: Your situation is a good example of why people shouldn't separate---even on a "trial" basis---without coming up with some mutually-agreed-on ground rules.

One of those ground rules involves the length of time needed to work out the problems that led to the separation. Your wife evidently hasn't given you a clear idea of how long it will be before she's "made up her mind," nor has she asked you to work with her in some way to resolve the problems (e.g., going to counseling together, or at least meeting for coffee once or twice a week to talk things over). This is just asking for trouble.

Another necessary ground rule in any trial separation involves seeing other people. In general, forming new relationships during a separation is a very bad idea. As you've already seen, the new person may have a completely different agenda from yours, and that agenda is not likely to include saving your marriage. It's understandable that you're feeling lonely and rejected, but it's vital that you understand that relationships that begin out of desperation almost always end badly.

My advice is to break off with this new woman immediately, and take a more pro-active approach with your wife. Explain to your wife that resolving your marital problems is not something that she can do by herself; you both need to work together on it, and that you're ready, willing, and able to do what it takes (or at least I hope you are, because words without actions won't get you very far).

If, after a few months of sincere and intense effort, it's clear that your marriage just can't be saved, then you can proceed to divorce knowing that you've done everything you could. But, even then, I wouldn't be quick to get into a new relationship. Unless you truly understand what went wrong the last time, and resolve to change any faults of your own that contributed to the break-up, you'd only be setting yourself up for another failure.

Good luck, Robbie, and please let me know how this turns out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

40 Years and 40 Pounds Later: a Beauty Contest Winner's Lament

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 62 and have been a widow for five years. I met a very nice man---"Sam"---a few months ago who seems to be crazy over me. Believe me, I appreciate the attention, but he sometimes goes too far. Whenever we're out with friends, or when he introduces me to his family members, he always mentions that I was once a beauty pageant winner. Jim, that was forty years ago! And it's not like I was Miss America. It was a local pageant in my little hometown in Minnesota. The problem for me is not just that I'm older, but that I've gained forty pounds over the years. I don't look anything like what you'd expect a former beauty pageant winner to look like, and I can sometimes see the skeptical looks on peoples' faces. I told Sam I was embarrassed by these references, and I could see his feelings were hurt. He says he's proud of me and wants everyone to know it. Again, I don't want to seem ungrateful, but is there any way to get Sam to stop without hurting his feelings? ("M" in Dallas)

DEAR "M": I guess your situation proves that there really can be too much of a good thing. A lot of women would love to have a boyfriend or husband who brags about them---or at least they think they would. Sam's heart is clearly in the right place, but he needs to be more sensitive about your sensitivity in this matter (although I have to wonder whether the people you meet are really that skeptical; no rational person expects any 62 year old woman---beauty contest winner or otherwise---to weigh what she weighed when she was 22).

Anyway, I think you should try talking to Sam again about this. Pick a time when you're both relaxed and in a good mood. Tell him that you love all his attention and his compliments, but that you'd rather he not mention the beauty pageant stuff. You might have to say that you're being a little over-sensitive, but that it's not uncommon for women to be over-sensitive about weight and age. Tell him you're happy you're still a beautiful woman in his eyes, but you'd rather he keep the flattering remarks private. If his friends and family truly think you're beautiful, they don't need him to tell them that.

I also think the "problem" should take care of itself before too long. Your relationship is a relatively new one, and you're meeting the people in Sam's life for the first time. At some point, Sam will have told everyone he knows about your beauty contest past. Unless he's prone to repeating himself, he'll probably stop making these references.

Good luck, "M", and please let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are Long-Distance Relationships a Waste of Time?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to jim@attorneyatlove.com).

DEAR JIM: I'm 56, divorced, and live in the mountains of North Carolina. I work in a female-dominated field (medical claims administration), and don't meet many eligible men in my daily life, so I've registered with a couple of online dating sites. I've received very few responses from men who live anywhere near here, and the two dates I've had were disappointing (one guy had totally distorted his work and marital history, and the other one was incapable of conversation). Just this past weekend, though, I was contacted by a man who looks and sounds great, but who lives nearly a thousand miles away. He says he's always fantasized about visiting this area, and would like to come for a long weekend next month. He's not suggesting he stay with me or anything like that, but I'm wondering now if the whole thing is just a waste of time. I'm not looking for a three-day romance, nor am I looking for someone who's just going to be a pen-pal afterward. Is this doomed from the start? ("Shelly" in Asheville)

DEAR SHELLY: Well, it's probably doomed if you think it's doomed. It seems to me that, as long as you're not leading this man on in some way (e.g., implying that you'll have sex with him that weekend), there's absolutely no harm in seeing what happens. If he turns out to be yet another disappointment, so what? What will you have lost?

But if he's as great in person as he seems on the computer screen, you're not necessarily limited to either a brief fling or a pen-pal relationship. A relationship could evolve in any number of ways. If he likes the area enough (and likes you enough), he may come back more often, possibly for longer periods. He might even , at some point, want to move to Asheville. That may sound far-fetched, but people move all the time for all sorts of reasons. You haven't told me what his employment situation is, but maybe he owns a small business that can be relocated; or maybe he can work for extended periods from remote locations; or maybe he's close to retirement and could move anywhere. The fact that he took the trouble to contact someone in Asheville seems to imply that he at least has a genuine interest in the area.

A long-distance relationship can actually be a good thing, especially for people in their fifties or beyond who have gotten used to a fair amount of independence. Seeing someone every so often, but communicating frequently by phone or e-mail in between those visits, is a way of developing a relationship without the pressure of having to see a person all the time, or without disrupting a daily routine that may be comfortable for you.

Given that you don't have any other romantic relationship right now, I see no reason not to give this a chance. So think positively, enjoy whatever time you spend with this man, and don't try to force things afterward. Good luck, Shelly, and please let me know what happens.