I reported earlier in the week that I was to go on a second date with someone. We were to meet for brunch at a quaint bistro.
I drove there, parked and went into the restaurant. I thought I saw my date turn in to the lot as I gave the hostess my name, table for two. Strangely, my date did not come in for several minutes. Perhaps he was on the phone, I thought. When three minutes turned into five, I thought I must have been mistaken. At ten minutes, I ordered my breakfast and continued to read the newspaper.
Only after breakfast (remember, I quit my job and have yet to replace my mobile phone, and the restaurant did not have wi-fi) did I get the message that his ex had been called in to the hospital (hmm, a doctor?) and he had to rush back to pick up his children.
What is a girl to do with this? We were about to have a second date. The first was an hour-long coffee two weeks ago, followed by some flirtatious emails. So let’s first establish that there is no relationship — it feels like a very low-stakes situation to me. And if my ex called and needed to be at the hospital, I would have done the same thing: gone home to fetch my children.
Still, because they could come to bear if ever a relationship were to grow, there are two rather critical questions that come up in a situation like this:
- How hard would you work to communicate? Guy (not his actual name) knew I didn’t have a mobile phone, but he did know I’d have my laptop. Of course neither of us would have guessed the restaurant didn’t have wi-fi…doesn’t every coffee or breakfast place these days? There is also a city-wide wi-fi program here, but I don’t subscribe to the service. Guy sent me an email from his iPhone while in the restaurant parking lot (I later learned). He could have come in; he could have called the restaurant — in other words, he might have done more to ensure that I had truly received the message. As I said, the stakes were low…but hey Guy, how bad do you want it? Ultimately, if positions were reversed, I’d like to think that I would have had the courtesy to stop, walk into the restaurant and personally let my date know that something urgent had come up. The email wasn’t a total fail, but he could have done better…I say this not knowing whether his ex is an emergency surgeon or a nurse or an IT staffer or a PR person. Which leads me to…
- How do you manage an ex? Among my wide network of friends, I’ve had several who are in the second wife / stepmother role. Having discussed these challenges before, the consensus has typically been that — more than being second wife or stepmother — the most difficult role is that which must deal with the ex-wife. The ex-wife can work to sabotage the relationships both between husband and new wife and with the children. If the man in this situation doesn’t have firm, well-defined boundaries with his ex, it’s hell on the entire family. But, according to my friends, the second wife / stepmother rarely gets very far when trying to address these dynamics — she’s often accused of being jealous, not wanting her husband to spend as much time with the children as he does or having other nefarious intentions. None of these are true, but they can appear true to a man who doesn’t see how manipulative his ex-wife is being or is generally unwilling to manage the situation. It sometimes seems that men respond with more empathy to an ex (perhaps out of guilt?) than to the current wife. In other words, ex-spousal management is critical to the health of any individual’s boundaries, and becomes even more important if one is to endeavor to have other relationships. Did my date manage his ex well? Not particularly. But there are still too many unknowns to determine how big a fail this is. First, let me say that Guy alluded to his children having some behavioral or development challenges, which may make it difficult for him and / or the ex to leave them with a neighbor or friend at the last minute. I have no idea how long Guy has been divorced. I have no idea whether the ex-wife wanted the divorce. I haven’t seen any history or patterns as it relates to this behavior.
So here’s what happened afterward:
I waited about a day before I responded to Guy’s emailed cancellation / apology. The tone appeared to have prioritized his “poor me” feelings over his “I am so sorry” apology, but it’s difficult to get a real read over email. My note to him said simply, “you missed a great breakfast — and even better company.”
He replied quickly, expressing his embarrassment over the situation and some suspicion that he had been manipulated or his plans had been sabotaged — along with a compliment or two.
I later replied, “perhaps you shouldn’t tell your ex when you make plans with a beautiful woman.”
Again he agreed and added compliments.
I clearly have the upper hand and can elect whether to see him again or not. In general, he seems decent enough, and flirts articulately. His profile shows cute personality. He is a sucker for The Sound of Music, as am I, and we seem to have a wide variety of shared eclectic interests. I have a mild interest in hanging out…yet I don’t like being yanked around. So I’m really on the fence here…
What would you do? One fail and he’s out? Or give him another chance?