You’ve finally gotten through the pain and suffering of your divorce. You’re beginning to think about your next relationship and you talk with your women friends about the pitfalls of dating. You don’t want to make another mistake and find yourself in a Groundhog Day scenario that plays out like your last relationship. The thought makes you queasy. In fact, it’d be strange if you didn’t feel anxious about dating again; because, next to death, divorce is the worst emotional experience a woman can endure.
So, what do you look for and what should you be wary of in choosing your next man? Your failed marriage should have taught you that you aren’t going to change him; so you need to look for what you want up front. At a minimum that should be the state of his emotional health. The single most important question a woman can ask a man she has just met is, “What emotional work have you done?” Don’t let him put you off or change the subject: no hedging, no procrastination, no glib dialogue about how cool he is—just a straight, look-him-in-the-eye-without-flinching question that requires a straight answer.
If the answer is none or little, beware. A man who hasn’t had the intellectual and emotional curiosity necessary to examine his life most likely isn’t going to be able to hold up his end of a relationship. In fact, he may be looking for a woman to prop him up emotionally so he won’t have to do the work. Continue to probe your prospective partner further about his last few relationships. Why did they end? What was his part in their failure? What did he learn about himself in the process? Listen carefully to his answers, keeping in mind that emotional maturity doesn’t correlate with education or financial success.
Another red flag is if he has no male friends. This lone wolf is a troubled man who has trust issues with other men—and may have trust issues with women as well. He may or may not be a tough guy, but what he definitely is, is dysfunctional. He’s looking for a woman to fix him, and you’ll become his entire world and life because he doesn’t know anyone else and he has no friends. This is an impossible role to fill, and you should never consider taking it on.
My 16 years in a men’s group have taught me that men can—and routinely do—change their behavior and become better men. The seven other men and I trusted and confided in each other and gave each other honest feedback about the appropriateness of our behavior. All became more successful in our relationships with women because we were willing to “own” our issues and address them. Without such a group of intimate male friends, a man lives in a vacuum with no mirror to reflect back his dysfunction. And, as a woman in relationship with him, you will suffer the consequences.
It’s true that there are fewer available men who’ve done their emotional work than those who haven’t, but this is so important to the success of a relationship that it’s well worth holding out for. So, make a pledge that your next relationship will be with an emotionally evolved man, or at least a man who’s doing the work. If you meet a man you feel something for, ask him right away about his emotional journey. Be prepared to walk away with a smile if he doesn’t measure up. He won’t ever be able to fulfill your needs, because he can’t fulfill his own.
If you want to know what kind of man you should be looking for, my new book, The Key to the Men’s Room: What Men Talk About When Women Aren’t Around, due out in October will show you. You’ll accompany the eight men in my group on their emotional journeys, hearing their stories in their own words. Each chapter ends with sage advice from Dr. Amy Bandera, a psychologist specializing in relationships and group work. She explains in detail how you can use what you have observed about men to improve your own relationship. Evolved men DO exist, and you can find one.