Should you date a man who can’t be alone?

men cant be alone divorce single mom

Not gonna lie. I’ve thought about him many times. Often, even. It’s been more than a year since our brief affair but it was intense. That physical, chemical thing that imprints itself on a cellular level and does not leave. And his intellect. Memories of our conversations recall when Helena, now 6, walks down the street and around the house with her nose in her first chapter books, her little mind so craving more and more of something it did not even know was missing.

I met him when he was barely separated, deep in the throes of the shitstorm that is always divorce: anxiety-producing negotiations, the awkwardness of visitation schedules, pent-up loneliness of a bad marriage that unleashes in a vomit of confession and grief in the presence of a sympathetic and smitten ear. It was too much. The worst of him was all hanging out — just as we were getting acquainted.

We remained social media friends and I’d get a flirty Facebook message every now and again. I knew he found a girlfriend shortly after we split, but I was not entirely surprised when he pinged me on OKCupid the other day.

“Aside from the obvious, how are you?” I IM’d him on the site.

“LOL, yeah,” he replied. “I got dumped.”

“I’m catching you on the rebound again. Déjà vu!”

“That’s about right. I would be more aggressive about asking you out, but I don’t want to be that guy.”

“You’re that guy. But I think most guys are, no? Can’t be alone?”

“I was alone once. 15 years ago.”


It’s a cliche. One of those things bitter, single women gripe about: Men can’t be alone. After divorce he’s moved on with her, while she struggles to find a respectable date in her demographic. It’s certainly not universal or gender-specific. But there seem to be lots of men who are terrified of being without a mate.

It plays out in unexpected ways. For example, over the past several years I’ve heard at least six variations on the following story:

“Were you faithful to your ex-wife?”

“I wasn’t. But let me explain! I thought we were through. Done! I was sleeping on the couch. That was it as far as I was concerned. But when she found out I was involved with my colleague/on with you she went ballistic. She tells everyone I cheated on her.”

At the very first suggestion he may find himself alone he jumped at a chance not to be.

I’ve been partial to the advice that after a breakup you should lick your wounds and rest up a bit before jumping into a new serious relationship. But if a really wonderful person crosses your path and happens to be a steaming, hot, temporary mess at that moment, maybe the sensible move is to stick around? Bide your time and wait it out? Especially if that person’s inclination is to attach to the next semi-suitable body that crosses his path? I think to my kids’ picture book reporting the unlikely friendships growing out of two species who happen into the same home: the ancient giant tortoise and the baby hippo, both rescued from a tsunami, or the sheep who took up with the orphaned elephant. No one faults the animals for convenient love.

So I’m ambivalent about agreeing to a date with my former lover, despite the many times I hoped I would hear from him, exactly as I have. Part of me wants to tell him to fuck off — I need to be wanted for me, for being special and desired — not just because I happen to be available and equipped with a pulse and vagina. But is that being too idealistic? Too romantic? Am I buying into the fairytale soulmate fantasy — that the only reason to date is if you are with someone with whom you are destined to eternal bliss? Hanging around for the perfect relationship is a risk that might price a girl out of the market. As a friend advised : “You need to grab a man right after his divorce when he’s 20% discounted. If you wait until they’re healed from their split all that’s left is the 75%-off dregs.”And then there is the reality factor. Are any of us really, truly over our exes? Do those divorce wounds ever completely heal? Just last week, late after the kids were asleep, I found myself for the first time writing about my ex’s brain injury — heaving bottomless sobs of unpacked grief. When it comes to matters of the heart nothing is definitive, and maybe healing never really ends. And if that is true, how silly is the woman who turns away a man on the fanciful promises of time?

19 thoughts on “Should you date a man who can’t be alone?

  1. Wait . . . are we even supposed to want to be alone? Shouldn’t humans be together? Isn’t that the whole point of other humans and mating and our natural inclination to connect and pair up? Isn’t this whole “okay being alone” idea just cultural nonsense that doesn’t guaranty any positive outcome?

    And if we’ve been divorced it’s likely that we were so freaking alone in our marriages as to be practically love starved. But, then what? We’re required to continue with love starvation until we “get okay” with it and then we somehow become magically good at connected, loving intimacy?

    There’s no guaranty that he’ll ever be what you want him to be. But you’re drawn to each other, so even if it’s not your last romance, wouldn’t it be cruel of you to withhold the romance that’s right here from yourself, because of some cultural idea about who is a good match and how long they have to have been broken up and whether they can tolerate long nights in front of the television by themselves? <—-how is that even a desirable quality?

    Besides, the last girlfriend was the rebound so now you're going to be the REAL one. <—if we're playing the cultural rules about love game, you win, you're in the clear, enjoy the ride.

    Thanks for letting me work that out for myself. This obviously has come up for me. I took 1.5 years off from dating after my divorce to heal and I've turned down men who I've had a connection with because they just got out of their divorce. It makes sense and it's probably prudent. But, now? Now your guy just available to you if you want him.

  2. The healing does take place, but it needs the space to take place and the attention and time that particular healing needs. It is much for fun to “get on with it” without acknowledging the place, blessings and scars a relationship has left with us. I encourage you to allow that bottled up grief the space to come out, while continuing to embrace your new life and new dreams.

    With love,

  3. Maybe I’m trying to justify my current situation (spending time with a Mr. Right Now who has some red flags and commitment issues but is also fun and sweet), but I think we can also work through our issues in the context of relationships. Not all the time, and not for all issues, but I do think we can learn from people (ie, men we date) in a variety of situations. We don’t always have to date in search of a fairytale ending, which clearly doesn’t exist in any case. I’m 2-1/2 years post-separation and 1 year post-divorce, and I’m still not sure how it all works out. I do think that in my case, I’m learning by being with someone, and I have to trust that I’ll know when the returns are no longer worth it. On the other hand, as I said at the start, I could be full of it and just trying to justify things. In any case, thanks for sharing your situation. You’re not alone! Ultimately, I think that a lot of things become clear day by day, on a case by case basis, and that our generalizations about whether we should date or not at a certain point in time are too broad.


  4. tell ya what, all this healing you’re talking about would be a hell of a lot easier I had a system that is so heavily weighed to my advantage that it’s silly. I mean for one, why is “allimony” even still a real law? Very few cases really require such a thing these days – and they grow less and less as the years go on. And throw kids into the mix? Forget about it. A woman can and does typically get anoited role of the “more important” parent and get’s a 2 for the price of none – more time with the kids to be a real parent and double score – the biggest for-government profit secret today – child support – bling! Most men are treated not as parents but as criminals. This all is of course why 3 out of every 4 divorces – filed by women.

    anyway if a couple is emotionally drifted apart and physically drifted apart (hence – sleeping on the couch) and divorce is immenent, then why should anyone, man or woman, remain in such a miserable state. Go ahead and start getting your life back together, – WITH SOMEONE ELSE if that is what you so chose. The only thing I don’t get about this man you spoke about is that he answered the question wrong. His answer should of been “no, I haven’t cheated. End of story. No explanation needed. The fact that he answered “yes” and got defensive right away to me actually proves that he did cheat because he knew that there was still a chance to save the marriage. If he thought it was entirely over, he would of answered the question differently. Of course the ol “he or she cheated” line is somethign I typically scoff at. When that happens, there is so much more going on that sometimes will colminate with someone “cheating”. And most sheepish people will just hear that and form an opinion. But the more intelligent reasonable “sheep-dog” person will understand that anyone who goes around boasting that as the reason for their divorce is usually someone who is in denial about their own wrongdoing and is in most cases just as much to blame for the failure of the marriage. And no – I’ve never cheated on any girlfriend I’ve ever had at all – even as a young kid never. I just end it if I want to “cheat” – I don’t pussyfoot around.

    Anyway about your guy, you’re overthinking that whole thing. Let’s just put it this way:

    1. you are single
    2. he is single

    therefore, if you two want to date, go ahead. Stop trying to figure out math formulas on how long one or both of you have been single, and for how long in the past one or both of you have remained single versus in a relaiontship, and dividing that number by the square root of how many kids you have divided b……………….stop. You’re both single, check. You’re both interested in each other? Seems likea check to me too. That’s all you need to know. End of story.

    Besides if you are into this guy, evidently you will never be able to date him unless you catch him directly after a breakup anyhow. Why? Because he will always jump into a relaitonship with someone – anyone – for the rest of his life. That doesn’t make you any less or more special. It just means this guy isn’t picky and jumps into relationships as fast as he can. So unless you are willing to do that with him, you better get him now. Because who knows, if you blow him off maybe the next one who he will surely start dating right after you say no will be his next wife and he’ll be totally off the market forever. Or maybe that wife will be you.

    1. Lots of great points here … though to be clear this one wasn’t an example of “I cheated, BUT!” …. that was a whole bunch of others :)

  5. Let me write this as a man. If people want to heal, they need to stay lone. I am astonished with all the arguments men and women put forth so they can justify jumping to another person. Yes we can work on some things in a relation while together, but the one thing you cannot learn in a relation is not needing the other for that big gaping hole in your chest.

    As for the writer, please have some self-respect, let that particular man you write about tire someone else with his problems. What he does – and what many women do too – is just in the end egocentrical behavior. In my book it takes guts to really work on yourself. The answer to the title of this article is obvious of-course: no. If that is how love is supposed to be, well than I rather be alone.

    1. I whole-heartedly agree with you. A person must evaluate what went wrong, even SELF-evaluation, if they want to be mature and adult. I just got suddenly dumped by a man who I’ve had an on/off relationship for 6 years. He has so much baggage from his childhood, but refuses to acknowledge it or get help. YET, he demanded that I get help for all of my childhood baggage. I always said that we BOTH needed some individual (and couples) counseling, but No! It’s just EASIER to bail and find another woman immediately (since she was already on the back burner anyway, because he never leaves one unless there’s another one he’s already spoken to, flirted with, and gained her devotion. He is chiseled, beautiful, and gorgeous and a weeping mess on the inside. I wanted him whole and emotionally healthy. He will never become so when he jumps into relationship after relationship. He came to me a month ago, after playing house (his usual thing) with someone. He walked into my office saying that I was The ONE, I was ALWAYS THE ONE, there was never supposed to be anyone else and that he wanted us to be together AS a married couple, until he could warm his Mother up to the idea. He spent the first whole week if our re-Union trying to find a home for the dog they had purchased together, and they BITH “had” to meet the new prospective owners, so that really put a damper in things. You would have thought a little transition time would be warranted, but he was gone the second week, ran back to her and the little dog. He’s terrified to move and terrified to be alone. Not healthy and he was never satisfied with any effort I made to live up to his constant demands: hair face nails pants belt high heels tan work out ………… ALL surface. He’s empty inside despite my trying to save him from his own destructive, show lifestyle. I love the tragic parts of him and I have been severely depressed.

  6. Being alone after a break up for many of us men which i will very much admit is a very horrible thing especially when being married for such a very long time when many women can certainly handle it so much better than us. And when you get to be a certain age it is really very difficult finding love again.

    1. I’m genuinely curious as to how it’s harder for men than women. Men rule the roost. They decide who they’ll approach or talk to. They decide who’s pretty enough or not. They decide when the relationship goes forward. Women usually have to take the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

      1. Is this comment a joke?
        Crumbs? No we just don’t settle. We don’t have too. We’re just fine being alone. In fact most men are intimidated by a woman who runs her shit all on her own without acting like a damsel in distress needing a man to rescue her. I remain single until I find my strong minded match who is looking for a relationship for the right reasons. Someone mindful with values. Many men lack all of this. Take the time to better yourself especially after a breakup before latching onto someone to boost your bruised ego.

  7. Tracee Soux’s comment from 2 years ago has really hit a nerve for me. I have just been “dumped” by a man who was barely separated from a long marriage when I met him. I dealt with all the buried feelings, the constant texting from the estranged wife (she lives in a different country), his mood swings. Yet he was an absolute darling as well. He was so bloody grateful to find me so quickly, a woman who adored and bolstered his shattered confidence. I knew he hadn’t gotten over her, there were so many red flags, and knew he would probably never love me as much, if at all. But he just couldn’t be alone, and I sensed as we came up to a year together, that he was with me for the sake of being with me and not being alone, rather than because he was madly in love with me and confident that I was the one. His romantic words and his constant and consistent affections made it so hard to walk out, but eventually I let my insecurity get the better of me. I backed off, stopped contact, hoping that he would realise he missed me and be the one to contact me. Bad move. Eventually he wanted to meet me after 5 weeks apart, in which he told me he thought I hadn’t wanted him because of his baggage. I thought it was our 2nd chance, but after lulling me into a false sense of security, he told me that same day, our 1st Anniversary, that he had met someone else. When I asked him why, he just said he couldn’t be alone. He utterly broke my heart, and I know very well I was the one who got him through that first lonely year, but this new one will more than likely end up his 2nd wife. It hurts a lot, and I have a history of sabotaging this relationships with newly separated guys, guys who are desperate to re-commit. However, I wonder if he is really capable of loving another woman the way he loved his wife, or if he is simply pretending. He was always a terrible communicator, terrified of facing difficult feelings. I would have stuck with him and helped him through, but he chose someone shiny and new and without the associations of being there when the Shit hit the fan. I am sad, it is so recent, but I also know if I meet another in his situation, I will either run a mile, or hang on to them for dear life. I should have just accepted that it would take time for him to love me as much.

    1. Why are you sad you lost this relationship? He wasn’t good enough for you. Why would you want to be with someone that’s so quick to replace you.

  8. Men are insecure children. Their egos rule their life and some are liars…in fact most are cheating liars. I watch my husband gawking at other women of ANY age when we are together. It’s disrespectful and mostly an embarrassment. Im certain he is checking to see what else is available.

    1. Agreed. I don’t miss that nonsense. The last guy I dated openly gawked at women on the 2nd date. I talked to him about it and said I would appreciate it if you exercised control out of respect for me when I am around. He said he’ll try but 95% of the time he will look. I said adios asshole. Grow up.

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