(Dating) Double Standards – Two to Tango?

Before I was divorced, I used to raise an eyebrow over a close friend’s dating habits. She was a stunning and charismatic woman in her 30s with two young children, an ex she couldn’t stand, and a social life that seemed to give new meaning to “don’t get mad – get even.”

She was smart, sassy, confident, and beautiful. She was a Man Magnet, and fell in like, in lust, and in love a few times a year. Her household (to some degree) reflected the revolving door that characterized her social life.

What bothered me at the time was the way she inducted the Most Recent Great Man into her family sphere, and then he would be removed from the picture when she grew disenchanted. Another might take his place a month or two later, in yet one more relationship that was doomed to end.

I like to think I had no issue with her dating life per se. Who was I to comment on a single mom’s sex life? If anything, I was in awe – even more so when a few years later I found myself divorced (in my forties), with two young children, and wondering what would come next.

Love, Sex, Relationships, and Judgment

Her whirlwind affairs? Was that the source of my disapproval?

Was it their number, their speedy shelf-life, or was it genuine concern for her kids and the fact that her short-lived amours weren’t conducted more privately?

Was it seeing her ultimately repeating unfortunate patterns, since she expressed a desire to remarry? Or was I jealous of what appeared to be a glamorous social life – which resembled nothing in my real life – ever?

This morning, an article on entering relationships that are unlikely to last popped up in my reader. First, I thought of my divorced friend from those years ago. Then I thought of another friend whose post-divorce dating life was also something of a dizzying series of escapades.

Sex and the Double Standard

Most of the divorced men I’ve known openly admit – usually with a rakish grin – to a significant number of partners. These liaisons are classified as fun, filler, “temporarily serious” – and occasionally longer term relationships. In my experience, guys generally have no issue with saying they were involved with four or (or more) women over the course of a year.

It doesn’t take new math to run the numbers: three, four, five years after divorce – and the play time has been plentiful.

I also know men who have had one or two relationships a year, and that arithmetic yields a less lip-pursing response.

But what about the women? What if they fess up to four or six affairs a year? Do they state their dating norms with such candor or aplomb?

Not the women I know. They keep these mentions private. I might add that the women I know – particularly as they get older – are more interested in a relationship than a fling, in part because of aging bodies. (I can’t tell you how many times women friends have said they couldn’t imagine getting naked in front of a casual acquaintance; it’s tough enough to do so with someone you love.)

Leaving that last statement aside for the moment (a different matter), does the old dating double standard still exist when it comes to women? And what about the fact that it takes two to tango?

Falling in Love, in a Flash

The article on these relationships with no future describes two very different women with varying approaches to socializing, that nonetheless yield the same result: these women enter relationships that fizzle in a few months.

The first adores those sizzling sparks of early romance, her flame burns ardently but burns out quickly; the second woman is equally enamored of beginnings, but she expects every relationship to potentially lead to Happily Ever After. Less impetuous in her choices, she nonetheless repeats a pattern with the same outcome.

Are we to assume these women don’t know what they’re doing – or are they moving through a necessary (and pleasurable) discovery process – for them, as individuals?

When it comes to dating after divorce, I think of my friends. The first, whose beauty and verve enabled her to live life to the fullest while juggling work and kids, and a second friend from years before, whose story was seemingly different.

Also divorced, but after a Starter Marriage, she fell hard, fast, and often – and was the classic example of a woman who was in love with love, confusing passion and romantic gestures for commitment. Incidentally, this is a pattern she eventually grew out of.

And Now, For Something (Not) Completely Different

Yesterday’s discussion of dating after divorce – and taking care as to the effects on our children – brought an interesting remark from Sassy Queenpin Mama.

She writes:

I love that you wrote about experiencing more than one relationship, because I am feeling a little guilty about that. I don’t have many single mama role models and sometimes I feel like to be a mother I should either be single or just choose one already.

You may or may not agree with my response to her experience – (have fun, be safe) – but I fully understand what she is feeling. It’s as though the world is looking on and saying “choose one, already” – not only because there is an expectation that we should all (want to) remarry, but a double standard still exists when it comes to women and their sexuality.

And I suspect I may have turned a bit of that same critical eye toward both my friends in the past. I’d like to think my concern was for their well-being, and also the well-being of the children involved.

But was it more than that? My own carryover of the dating double-standard?


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  1. Kolleen says

    Something to consider is that men may date a great deal because they rarely have full custody of the children. The men that I know with custody tend to date less and look for more long-lasting relationships. So this may not be about gender as much as who has full-time responsibility for the children.

    I made a decision years ago when I divorced that I would only introduce my children to a man that I believed had real potential for permanence. I didn’t even allow my dates to pick me up at the house if my children were at home. Nothing was hidden; they knew that I dated.

    All parents need to keep in mind that our children have emotions too and can just as easily come to love (or hate) our new mates. The loss of that mate is their loss as well so a revolving door can be quite painful for them.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Kolleen. You make an excellent point about the custody issue. Single dads generally have more time to date, but I also wonder if they don’t make it more of a priority – or a priority in a different way.

      A male friend said to me recently that men don’t like to be alone. While I’m sure that’s not true of all men, as think about that statement (and how men statistically remarry faster than women, and more often), I think his point has validity.

      And I agree that we need to keep our children in mind. That revolving door thing? Personally, I don’t think it’s a great model for kids – from either parent. As you say, a break-up with a new mate can be very painful for our children as well.

  2. says

    (“…and now for something completely different”)

    I am now happily married and so some of BLW posts on the single woman topic (I have quite an ongoing life in other areas) will be redundant to readers. I am male and have had relatively few sexual partners (less than your fingers). I certainly met a fair number of women and got good at politely saying or politely hearing “Nice, but not right for what we each need.” Some of my few relationships were wonderful, even while we acknowledged that they were not able to fulfill the final needs of either of us. That’s okay, but you need to know when it’s time to move on.

    So generalities for men or women seem just that, although society may buy into those generalities. One or two of my special relationships had slept with a lot of men. I believe this was no less “special” than my relationship with the lady who had only ever slept with her husband. This was likely so because in our case we had time/duration to make it special/different.

  3. says

    Culturally, there’s always been a double standard, primarily because of the child issue you stated. Perhaps we judge single moms differently because we hold them to a higher standard. After all, they’re responsible for the emotional as well as physical welfare of their children. A revolving bedroom door satisfies neither. My question when I hear of whirlwind affairs is, what is really missing from their life that causes this behavior? To me, it looks like they are constantly searching for something that might be best found within themselves first.

  4. says

    Love this post! I will admit that I was one to raise an eyebrow at women and their post-divorce dating habits when I was married. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I totally see that the double-standard was in full play in my mind back then. Shame on me! Why do we expect women to play by different rules while it’s totally acceptable for men to date as much as often as they well please?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Well, TwoKids, as Lisa reiterated, the child issue does seem to come into play. We have kids with us more of the time, so we are acting as a role model more of the time – however we may interpret that.

      Yet even when kids aren’t in the picture, the double standard persists. Perhaps not to the extent it once did, and yet it does. Seems wrong, no? But I will admit that as I get older, I’m not so favorably inclined toward men who’ve visited every bloom in the garden… so perhaps things begin to even out in a way?

  5. says

    I think, as a happily married woman, that it is very, very difficult, if not impossible, for my opinion on this topic to be viewed as worth much of anything.
    Until you’ve lived it, it’s hard to know what you’d do, right?
    I see great value in committing to marriage.
    I want someone, with the emphasis on ONE, to be there for me as my best friend and companion, as well as my monogamous lover, as I enter this later stage of my life (my 50’s).
    Life is not forever: but I want someONE who will be there, come what may, for as long as as we both shall live.

  6. says

    I’m married but if I was single I would be the woman at the bar with the antibacterial wipes next to her drink, asking all the men when they came out of the bathroom, “Did you wash your hands?” (From my comedy routine)

    All kidding aside….I am very nonjudgmental of others. I just think for health and safety purposes, men and women need to remember to practice safe sex even if the woman is past childbearing years!

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