IT HAPPENED TO ME: I've Been Divorced For Years And My Ex And My Kids Won't Let Me Date

I'm divorced, dating again, and being treated like a criminal.
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Stephanie D. Lewis
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I'm divorced, dating again, and being treated like a criminal.

I am finally in a long-term, healthy relationship with a great guy and even though I’ve been legally divorced for several years, I must keep this man hidden from my children, ages 11 and 13. 

Why must I lead this double life? Because my ex-husband (of four years) managed to convince my son and daughter that “if mommy finds someone else, it means she’s selfish and doesn’t care about her kids anymore.”

Believe it or not, we had a highly amicable divorce. After trying everything to save the marriage, (it became apparent nothing would work) we enthusiastically agreed to stay friends for the children’s sake once our 10-year union was legally dissolved. We decided to share joint custody and things seemed fine (I understand divorce is never “fine” for children, but they appeared to be adapting and acclimating well) until I began doing what I thought was a normal life-cycle event (discreetly dating) and my ex-husband completely freaked out.

He's a huge fan of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a well-known radio talk show host who advocates putting children first. I have no problem with that! But he constantly quotes her admonishments that “parents should not date until the kids are eighteen and have moved out of the house.”

Are we getting the idea here? He does not go out and has pretty much made our two children the sole reason for his existence. He doesn't believe “moving on” is morally or ethically the right thing to do when you have minor children. 

I respect his viewpoints on this (although I believe our son and daughter would actually benefit if their father had someone else to balance out his life), but he does not extend me the same courtesy. He has bad-mouthed me to my own children for behaving in what I would define as a normal, healthy manner of living.

When I first met the new gentleman in my life, I thought maybe my ex-husband was just having a hard time adjusting and would eventually come around. I took care to only meet for dates far away from my home. This was possible because he lived in a different area and we would go to dinner, walks on the beach, and to theaters in his distant town.

Pretty soon I felt like a common criminal! Here I was no longer married, but sneaking around like I was having an illicit affair. Explaining why I found myself in these circumstances to my new guy was challenging, but he was understanding and non-judgmental.

We continued on this way until logistically it became quite difficult and my boyfriend encouraged me to look at things from a new perspective, pointing out that I wasn't doing my children any favors by living the life of a double agent.

I bolstered my courage and took a tiny baby step. One evening we went to an outdoor concert in the city where I lived. Of course as luck would have it, my daughter's best friend was also there and by the next morning, my little girl had found out the "big" news. "Did you know your mom was in the park with a man who wasn't your dad?" Gasp!

Immediately I received a phone call from my ex-husband, telling me our daughter was hysterical and what was going on? I calmed everyone down by being dishonest and claiming that I was just out with "a friend." Admittedly this was my first big mistake, but I was scared and panicked that I'd be branded with the “Scarlet Letter of Shame” and my children would hate me.

That first major upset eventually died down and for a while things went along fairly smoothly. One evening, Mr. Thoughtful Boyfriend (under the impression my children were with their father for the night) left some beautiful flowers on my front porch as a surprise. Bad idea!

When my kids spied the bouquet before I did, another major catastrophe ensued as they cried and bemoaned "mommy's dating is the reason we all can't be a real family again." 

This time I insisted we all go to therapy to learn how to cope in healthier ways with this new chapter of our lives. Surely a professional could help my kids (and ex-husband!) adjust and accept that adults can move on with life, but they will always love their kids and make them a priority.

The child psychologist (who specialized in divorce cases) worked intensely with my children to help them understand that it's OK for parents to seek some joy in their lives with other gender adults. But my ex-husband worked on their psyches even more fiercely during his time alone with them. 

The children also felt extraordinarily protective of Daddy since he "was isolated and had nobody." I began to sense a distinct distancing from them. They much preferred to be with my Ex, even when it was my days/nights for visitation. I was devastated and brokenhearted at this unexpected turn of events.

Distraught beyond belief, I broke up with my boyfriend several different times over the course of the next year, explaining that this painful dilemma was tearing me apart in ways I couldn't articulate. 

Each time he patiently and compassionately stood by while I grappled with my emotions and eventually realized that I was truly in love with this man and terribly unhappy being apart. That made it all the worse. Now what would I do?

Throughout the next many months I lived shrouded in secrecy, stashing away all gifts and greeting cards where nobody would find them. I admonished my boyfriend with "No flowers ever!" I only got dressed and ready for dates AFTER my ex-husband picked up the kids so they couldn't see my appearance and question where I was headed. I couldn't invite my boyfriend to any special occasions like weddings or holiday celebrations because staying friendly with my ex-husband had resulted in my entire extended family always including the children's father at all our gatherings.

Eventually my daughter became, (like all preteens) quite resourceful and took up a new hobby -- snooping. She found hidden treasures in my bedroom and even emails/texts that disclosed private sentiments I never would have overtly shared. My "second world" was finally exposed and completely unacceptable to her and her younger brother. They both became distrustful of me, calling me a liar -- which of course was true.

Today the future looks bleak because everyone’s bitterness and resentment has grown tenfold. My kids have branded my kindhearted boyfriend (parroting their father’s words) “the bad man who prevents us from being a family again.” And for that reason alone, they will always hate him.

I never thought it possible, but somehow my children and ex-husband became so powerful and united that they are able to force me to choose between a relationship with them and the man I have grown to love.