What I’m going to advise your pals—and anyone facing a similar situation—to do is hard.
Trust the men you go out with to be who they say they are, even if you’ve been burned before. No digging, Google or social media stalking, nada. The new man is not the same as the previous ones, he is a different person. I’m not saying don’t keep your eyes wide open for potential red flags (this is preferable, actually), but try to trust him until given a concrete reason not to.
In my 121 first dates, I met two men who were married and/or in relationships. These men were both looking for something on the side and lying about it. That’s .01% of my dates. Not bad odds.
Now, not every man I dated was single and/or divorced. In fact, I wasn’t divorced. If you read my book, you’ll know I went on all 121 first dates as a married lady, but my marriage—including the romantic part of it—ended in 2002. My beloved ex was magnanimous enough to stay married to me for 12 years more, as I couldn’t get health coverage due to a preexisting condition (healthcare: the new Green Card). When the limits on insuring those with certain preexisting conditions were officially lifted in 2014, we started the process of filing paperwork for a divorce (thank you, Obamacare!)
There are all kinds of solid reasons for people to stay married, legally separated, or otherwise entangled in ways that still allow them to be fully available for a committed relationship with a new person. It’s very much a “don’t judge a book by its cover” situation—or, in this case, don’t judge a date by his marital status right away.
If you need someone to be straight-up single vs. separated or married, that’s a perfectly acceptable boundary to hold. But if what’s most important to you is true availability to start a relationship with you, focus your energy on finding out if the romantic and/or sexual part of your date’s relationship has ended and let them explain their circumstances to see if it’s workable, reasonable, and respectful to all parties, not just to you and him.
Guys who are married and looking for action on the side are definitely out there, but fortunately most of these guys will be up front about it in their online profiles. And, in many cases, their partner has agreed to some kind of a “don’t ask don’t tell” arrangement so that the two parties can get their needs met without disturbing the family and marriage. I’ve read the profiles of plenty of those guys, and they are by and large forthcoming about their situation. Yes, you will occasionally run into plain old cheaters, but it serves no one to go into every encounter assuming that this is who’s sitting across the dinner table from you. When your fears flare up, remember my statistics.
I’ll address the two questions from above:
“Is every man out there just looking to cheat?”
“Well then what’s wrong with me that I’m attracting these guys?”
Okay, if they want to own that one, they can. There’s nothing “wrong” with them, but I believe that the reason they’re attracting married men is because they don’t trust men not to cheat. If you’re constantly thinking about cheaters, guess what? Chances are, you’ll get cheaters. If you think all men lie, you’ll attract liars. If, on the other hand, you go into your dates starting with the assumption that the men you’re going to meet are good people, guess who starts to show up? It’s simple stuff.
As I went through the wild, wacky, and sometimes revelatory process of dating 121 men, there were periods where I’d get the same kind of guy twice or even three times in a row, and when I did (and we’re talking negative experiences, here) I knew it wasn’t them, but me. Not in the sense that it was my fault, but rather in the sense that I was somehow putting off a negative vibe that was being answered by a bunch of negative guys. I’d pause and look to see where I was in my life. If I was attracting the ones who were too busy, was I too busy in my own life? Was I afraid men wouldn’t make time for me? What was my fear, and where was it coming from? How was this coming off in what I was giving out?
Don’t waste any time blaming yourself; you’re doing the best you can. If you look at it as cause and effect instead of doing things the “right” or “wrong” way, it will help you get more of what you want while simultaneously treating the most important person you know gently and kindly: you.
So, friends, get out there and love men. Put your hearts forward and believe in the best in people—even if you meet a couple of duds along the way.