Q: I've been dating someone who has not filed yet, but plans to divorce. He was in a separate residence when we started 7 months ago, but recently moved back into the home to be around his children. He is starting to write a legal proposal. I was uncomfortable and ended it. He continues to pursue me and wants a future with me. I don't know what to do and so we are seeing each other again. You probably get tons of emails like this. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, I have gotten quite a few and short of saying, "Girl, what are you thinking?" you have to stand back and read your email back to yourself. Basically, you told me that the guy you have been dating for 7 months recently moved back in with his wife and children and you want to know how to handle it. Your first reaction was the correct one. I don't care if he does want a future with you. You don't have to live with your ex to see your kids after a break-up. Let him move out, file for divorce, and put together a shared custody parenting plan like everyone else – and then date him if you want. But, I have to tell you, the odds are against you making this long term.
Break-ups are rarely clean. Most try it again at least once. And, it's not uncommon for those who break-up to think they have their stuff together when they walk out the door. But, after a year or so, reality sets in, the grass may not be greener, you're going in 9 different directions-emotionally, mentally, physically, and often break some hearts while you're figuring yourself out. Although they've met some very nice people along the way, most I have worked with are not really ready to move on emotionally for at least two years, maybe three after their break-up. Sounds like your guy is right in the middle of all this, and as perfect as he may seem, he's just begun this journey – and his decision was to move back in, not file for divorce, and have a girlfriend – you.
Finally, I'm not sure what kind of legal proposal he's writing. From the courts point of view, you can't write a custody agreement between two people who live together, unless the parents are doing something called, "nesting." When parents have a "nesting" agreement, the kids stay in the house as a constant. The parents move in and out according to the parenting agreement. Most who attempt this can do it for a few years, at the most. The arrangement often stops when one of the parents meets someone new. The new partner rarely wants to go back and forth, sleep in the same bed as their partner's ex does when it's his or her parenting time, deal with an ex's stuff still in the drier, etc. It's a lot.
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So, although your hearts appear to be beating in unison, your heads are not in the same place. He needs to clean up the old mess before he starts something new – and you need to find enough self-respect to demand it. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)