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What Unknowingly Dating a Married Man Taught Me

How could I miss the red flags? Here’s what I’ll never do again.

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I hadn’t heard from Owen* in months. So imagine my surprise when I was scrolling through Facebook and he came up as someone I might know. My initial thought was, Wait, he told me he didn’t have Facebook. But as I looked closer at his picture — him smiling with a woman I’d never seen, I thought, Who is she? More digging into his page revealed the woman was his wife. His wife of eight years, in fact.

But how could that be possible? We’d been in a relationship earlier that year, before he suddenly disappeared. Let’s rewind, and I’ll tell you how I got there.

Earlier that year, just shy of my 38th birthday, I’d moved overseas for work. At that time, I had been single for more than five years. So single that I hadn’t even been on a date, didn’t have any online dating accounts and would quickly look in the other direction when a man was near. In hindsight, my single status wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision — more like a method of protection after multiple heartbreaks and failed relationships.

But after a while, I liked it. I could do whatever I wanted. I never had to worry about why a man wasn’t texting me back, and I never had to face my insecurities or past trauma. But living in a foreign country and not knowing a soul quickly amplified my loneliness and desire to heal my issues of the past. So I started reading self-help books about empowerment. I did yoga. I joined an abundance and manifestation group. I wrote out the transgressions of every man who had come before and burned them, with the goal of setting myself free.

Finally, I thought, I was ready to start dating again.

When Owen and I matched on a dating app only one month into my new life, he wanted to meet right away. He was sweet, attentive, funny and smart. We decided to be exclusive after a month of dating.

But the red flags came right away. He talked about his “ex-wife” often. In fact, he mentioned the failed marriage so often that I never considered that he might be currently married. He talked about why they’d failed, what he learned and how he wanted to get married again and do it right next time. And then there were more red flags: If I questioned his decisions, he would say I was being crazy. And if I asked about the future, he would revert to talking about himself and remind me how awesome he was. It got to the point where I didn’t question anything he said or did, I simply accepted them to avoid conflict.

Why did I stuff down my wants and concerns? Why did I wait around for him to make plans with me when I should have been out enjoying my life? Good questions. I’d started to feel like maybe he was it for me. Even with the issues. Remember, I was 38 and didn’t have many suitors waiting in line to marry me. I think there’s something about a woman approaching 40 that can make her feel like her time has run out. We can be taught from a young age that we have an expiration date. We can be told that our biological clocks magically stop ticking on our 40th birthday. I thought that even though Owen wasn’t great, maybe I wasn’t either. Maybe he was the best I could do.

I’ll spare you the other details about our toxic, on-and-off relationship that continued for more than a year. Suffice it to say that it finally ended when he went back to the States for work and never called me again. Now I see why it was so easy for him to walk away, though it was excruciatingly hard for me to deal with. But it turns out ghosting me was the best thing that he could have done.

After finding out about Owen’s wife, I also found myself. At first I was very angry. I cried, but not out of sadness or loss. I cried out of disappointment in myself for the treatment that I allowed. It seemed like a natural reaction for me to revert back to the scarred and damaged previous version of myself. I’d somehow forgotten my growth and self-improvement. I felt like I deserved for him to leave because I’d tolerated him for so long.

But after realizing that I had consciously ignored all of the signs and red flags for months, it finally occurred to me that I am worthy of being treated with respect. I realized if someone isn’t treating me the way I deserve, I have the power to cut them off without fearing it may be my last chance. I am not defined by my age or marital status, or by some imaginary clock dictating whether I will have children.

I began to do activities that brought me joy like hiking, traveling and reading about self-worth and self-improvement. And, I realized, after only a few weeks of this that I am smart, funny, beautiful, interesting and amazing. And a worthy man will see all of these qualities. Until that happens, I will remain single. Not because I’m afraid to date again, but because I would rather be alone than spend one more minute with someone who doesn’t know my value.

Now that I know this, I will never go back.

*Names and identifying details have been changed.