Currently Separated? Definitely Interested!

Picture by bixentro on Flickr

In 2018, my marriage failed. Notice I didn’t say “is failing.” There is no “is.” Nobody is watching the action unfold slo-mo, as in a John Woo film. The marriage is done. Words were said, tears were spilled, conditions were fucked. You don’t come back from what we wreaked.

The plus side is that I am ready to date. Adventure groups, here I come. Ladies night, watch out. Book clubs, I’m not coming for the lit chat. Mom, go ahead and fix me up with someone. (On second thought, cancel that. Remember your last one? The one who smelled like clam chowder?)

In addition, I have joined, the website which has “led to more dates, relationships and marriages than any other app or dating site,” according to its propagan . . . ah, media page. (Another fact from the page: “More than 1 million babies have been ‘made’ by Match connections,” meaning the site really is #1 in marriages. Or dead last in encouraging safe sex.)

I think my profile will get some attention. The pictures are recent (and of me), every question is answered, and my spelling and grammar rock. The whole thing is a blend of urbanity and realness, with a dash of dork.

The one problem is my status: “currently separated.” I picked it because my wife and I are not divorced. Not yet. In North Carolina, where I live, there are two ways to get a divorce. One is to prove incurable insanity. My wife is not insane, her obsession with Pokémon Go notwithstanding.

The other way is to be separated for a year. North Carolina does have an action called divorce from bed and board, but despite its name, this is a court-ordered separation, brought by one spouse against another when the two can’t agree on the terms of splitting apart. It does not dissolve the marriage, meaning the spouses still have to wait a year for the oracular “absolute divorce.”

Separation isn’t divorce, but it isn’t a happy marriage. It is relationship perdition, a nuptial netherworld, a dating demilitarized zone. I’m fine with women who are separated, but they don’t seem fine with me. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has thrummed as I read someone’s profile — she likes comedy! audiobooks! Adam West! — only to go silent when I see she has limited her interests to men who are single, divorced, or widowed.

Widowed! I can’t think of any other human endeavor where death is preferable to “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

So I’m “currently separated” (hereinafter, CS), and it’s costing me dates. Don’t believe me? I’ll get you some numbers.

[Goes onto Checks mailbox. Nothing. Looks at who’s looked at him. Nada. Sighs. Forces sigh into cough — people are watching. Picks ten women at random. Checks what they’re looking for. Logs out.]

Okay, I’m back. Out of those ten random women, three indicated that they would date someone with a CS status. Three of ten. 30%. One had written in all caps “IF YOU ARE SEPARATED PLEASE PASS ME BY.” Wasn’t the first time I’ve seen such a proscription.

A 70% reduction in any population is alarming. Imagine going to an animal rescue to adopt a dog. You look at the ten available dogs, at their cute faces and wagging tails. You love them all, but only one can go home with you, the one you like best, your special one. Then, before you decide, a hunter shows up, shoots seven of the dogs, and says to you, “Now choose.”

That is how it feels to date while CS.

Online daters may not realize it, but when they’re looking through profiles, they aren’t weighing the factors that make someone a good match. They’re looking for deal breakers. Whom to email, whom to respond to, whether to meet in person — these are later concerns. A person first has to winnow all those competitors down to a working list. How do they do it?

As more people try online romance, more data are generated about those transactions. This means the dating process can gain some much-needed quantification. We all know, for example, that profiles with pictures get more views. How many more?

Both men and women are twenty times less likely to look at a picture-less profile, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Smoking is also a deal breaker, responsible for a tenfold drop in interest.

Age differences matter as well. Women are 400 times less likely to browse the profile of a man significantly older than herself, though this changes with age. Whereas 20-year-old women are more likely to ignore a man ten years her senior (though this isn’t the case in the sugar dating world), 45-year-old women are more likely to show interest in a man 55 or older. Men in their 40s, predictably, are more interested in younger women.

I suspect relationship status is another dealbreaker. This isn’t an outrage. Women who don’t select CS aren’t cruel, just misinformed. They seem to be following a social script that demands that divorcing people, especially men, stay alone for a looooooong time.

Why? To heal, to mourn. This is not always necessary. Not every man with a failed marriage is a shambling wreck whose only path back to productive society is through copious solitude.

The confusion is that CS is a physico-legal status, not an emotional one. All it means is that my marriage license hasn’t received its sell-by date. For centuries, marriage had nothing to do with love, and even now, marriages begin in love, but they don’t equal it. Love is natural, primal — a gift from God, if you’re the religious sort.

Marriage is a human invention, ancillary to love, without which it becomes a bad contract, like what Trump thinks the trade deficit is. Love, then, can be present or absent independent of where you reside vis-à-vis your spouse.

I can share a house with my wife and be lonely as a ghost. Or I can live by myself and feel happy and fulfilled, two conditions that make me ripe for any relationship.

If I’m right and CS is to single women as adamantium is to Luke Cage, then I think there are two reasons for it.

The first is that word “currently.” It implies the schism isn’t permanent, that my wife and I could go back to each other, ruining any other relationship I had begun, ending a heaven made in Match. (The chances of this are low. According to several studies, only 10–20% of married couples have reconciled after splitting up.)

I admit it is annoying to lose a boyfriend or girlfriend to someone else, but that someone doesn’t have to be an estranged spouse. A rival can show up anytime, anyplace. If the rival has something you lack, something your partner craves, that partner may choose the rival.

A spouse is not more likely to be this rival. I would say less likely, in fact, because of the agony between the two of them. The water over the bridge. The hate. This, I think, is the second reason women are nervous about CS: they don’t want to see their new boyfriend hulk out every time a text arrives from Mrs. Irascible.

Short-term hate, however, is harmless; it doesn’t stain your soul like a decades-long grudge. It is also necessary, at least in the beginning. You know how the human body does things that are painful or disgusting but that help it heal? Scabs, for instance. A scab is itchy and unpleasant, but it protects the wound from infection.

Fighting has the same boon for a divorcing couple. It is sad when a marriage fails. Unbelievably, unbearably sad. George-Bailey-jumping-off-a-snowy-bridge sad. The way CS couples endure this sadness is to rage at each other. The rancor scabs over the hurt, allowing us to live to the next day, and the day after that, et cetera.

Conflict, then, is an asset, one we under-appreciate. When CS couples war, we tsk-tsk at their stupidity, their tattering of civil order. What they are actually doing is survival. They’ll never be besties, but we all know stories of guts-hating ex-spouses whose adult child is getting married, which means the exes will have to see each other, talk to each other, maybe touch for the first time in years and years, and the adult child is a junkyard of worry over the parents turning the wedding into Outlast II. What happens in these stories? The wedding occurs, the exes mostly behave, and a good-enough time is had by all. Credit the battles during the separation for this later rapprochement.

Not every couple who separates will fight, of course, and those who will don’t do it forever. So, ladies, relax. Take a chance on a guy who is CS. You know, you aren’t always Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm when a marriage collapses. And it’s okay that you’re not.

I repeat: I have no problem dating a woman who is CS. She is more alluring, in fact, than one who waits for divorce. I know more about her from that two-word status than a hundred pages of profile treacle. I know she is brave. I know she ignores social scripts. I know she is honest, since it would be easy and untraceable to choose “Divorced” when she truly isn’t. These are qualities most people want in a partner.

And if she breaks it off with me to go back to her husband? Well, crap. Then back to the matching board.

Writer. Editor ( Librarian. Lover of books, cats, and comic cons. Hater of vegetables. Tweet: @anthonycaycock

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store