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Dating, Divorce & Stereotypes by Alpa Saujani

I remember growing up hearing the aunties and uncles gossiping and frowning upon couples who got divorced. Unashamedly they would cast aspersions about these people and avoid them at social functions, fearing outcast by association. Whilst things are not as bad as they used to be, divorce is still somewhat stigmatised in the Asian community. Last year I attended a wedding where I knew the groom's sister was divorced after a short marriage. However, her family tried to conceal this. I am guessing that they were embarrassed and did not want people to gossip. They made up excuses for their son-in-law's absence, which inevitably led to speculation amongst the guests. I actually felt quite sad watching the groom's sister. Unfortunately, she had to be in the lime light and if you looked closely enough, you could see her trying hard to keep it together. By hiding that she was divorced, it had the very effect her family were trying to avoid; their actions simply fuelled all the stereotypes typically associated with divorcees.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's not just the older Asian generation that stereotypes divorcees. There are still a fair number of single (never been married) Asian professionals who will not entertain the idea of dating a divorcee. Here are a few reasons that I have been given:

"Divorcees have too much baggage..."

Once you start dating, having relationships and reach a certain age, who doesn't have baggage?  Let's say you're in a live-in or serious relationship, which breakups. Effectively, you will go through the same motions as someone who was married, to get over 'the baggage' of that relationship. Now imagine you've gone through the healing process and you're ready to date. However, people start 'labelling you' because of your past relationship and they're hesitant to date you, how would you feel?

"What's wrong with them?"

Making an assumption without knowing the facts in any situation, let alone this one is unfair. Why does something have to be wrong with them? Perhaps they were in a marriage where their partner was unfaithful, abusive, controlling, or they simply did not get along. Either way, put yourself in their shoes, would you want to stay in a relationship like this for the rest of your life?

"I prefer to get married to someone who has never done it before because I haven't..."

This is each person's prerogative. Nevertheless, if we strip away the wedding day, he or she has simply been in a committed live-in relationship. If you've had a serious relationship yourself, you may have lived with that person, spent some nights together and even gone on holiday together. There are probably more similarities than differences.

"My family would disapprove so I would rather not go there..."

This is a tough one, we all want to keep our families happy. However, unless they are living in a different world they are also probably aware of the rising number of divorcees in Asian society. In my experience parents start to become a lot more open-minded (or perhaps it's desperation!) when family introductions haven't worked out and they have unmarried children aged 30 upwards. Imagine if you met someone at a party, or at an Asian Dating Event who you found attractive, funny and shared a connection but they were divorced. If you did not seize this opportunity, would you ever look back and wonder 'what if?'

"May be they have commitment issues, or do not work at their relationships, which is why they are no longer in their marriage..."

According to Ranjit, 34, who got divorced 3 years ago "people naturally assume that just because your marriage failed you won't succeed in a future marriage. However, there are many people who have had failed long-term relationships, why are they not cast with the same aspersions. The only difference is that they did not sign a bit of paper". There certainly is some merit in this argument. Just because you have a failed relationship, does not mean you can't succeed in another. It's also wrong to assume that someone did not work at their relationship without knowing the facts.  Furthermore, marriage is a big commitment, having already taken the plunge once, surely it indicates someone's willingness rather than shyness to commit?

"I don't want to be compared to their first husband or wife..."

If the fear of being judged by an ex-spouse holds you back from dating a divorcee, surely by the same logic this would equally apply to any 'single' person that you date, who has had a previous relationship. Often this kind of thinking is a reflection of insecurities rather than reality. Generally speaking, when people move on from a relationship, and enter a new healthy & happy relationship, there is no looking back and comparing.

Have you ever made a mistake, or a decision that seemed good at the time but you later regretted? Chances are that you probably have and will continue to do so for the rest of your life. As human beings we're all fallible, so do we really have any right to judge others when we're not perfect ourselves? Most people enter a marriage with the hope and belief that they will spend the rest of their life with that person but sadly, it doesn't always work out that way. With rising divorce statistics (42% according to the latest ONS figures) even if you marry someone who is 'single' there is no guarantee that your marriage is going to be forever.

Not all divorcees are messed up people with severe issues, as the stereotypes would lead us to believe. Just as you would 'vet' any potential 'single' date, you would apply the same process with a divorcee. As with any dating situation, if the alarm bells start going off... Next please! Some would argue in fact that if you're looking for a serious relationship leading to marriage, divorcees actually make better partners due to their wealth of experience and wisdom in this domain, compared to someone who is single. The reality of the Asian Dating world is that as you start to approach your 30s upwards, the dating pool is different compared to that in your 20s. Whilst you may choose to exclude divorcees from your search, as the years pass (and yes they go by quick!) your pool of single (never been married) prospects continues to decline, which makes your search even more challenging.

I'll leave you with a final thought...

"The intellectual mind judges a book after having read it. A fool's mind judges a book by its title."

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Thank you all for taking the time to share your valuable comments and please keep them coming as it is a great platform for everyone to share their experiences.
@Phonenix-Ash - I believe that organising an event exclusively for those who are 'divorced' is almost like saying that is the only pool that divorcees should be looking at to meet a partner, which would be judgmental and defeats the purpose of this article. It would also be unfair to think that only those out of a long-term relationship are capable and serious about having a relationship.

The reason that Tantric Club is a members club for single Asian professionals, is so that we can connect like-minded people who are serious about their search. Our membership fees filter people out who do not fit this bill, in turn our events are attended by genuine people serious about meeting someone, the rest is down to individuals to maximise the opportunities. Please do join and come along and we would be happy to introduce you to some lovely ladies.
I must admit when I was searching for a partner, I was guilty of dismissing women who were divorced. Being a divorcee myself now, I am now on the receiving end and it's not nice.
I am 29, female, divorced and I do find it hard dating sometimes. I feel that people silently dismiss me, it's the easiest way out. For example, whilst no one has ever said anything to me directly, the conversation doesn't progress once they learn I am divorced. I am guessing that the reason that they lose interest is because they believe that marriage is a big step, if it's already taken then the other person feels like they are a second choice but most importantly that the divorced person has been there and done that and it's all publicly known. Surely it's about getting blessings from family & friends and not worrying about the wider society? Having said that often divorcees are overlooked heavily more by parents (potential family introductions) then by their children! The stigma of being divorce means you've not succeeded there might be something wrong with you and you become the 2nd or last choice. Sounds negative but it's been more reality.
Hi Alpa,

Thank you for writing this article, as a divorcee in my early 30s with no children, I'm finding it difficult to find a guy. I have noticed that if I don't disclose my marital status then they are very much interested to get to know me. But as soon as they know I'm divorced, the communication stops even though they have have had long term relationships, which have not worked out. For some guys, it's more like a family issue. They think that their parents wouldn't accept a divorcee in a family.


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