I'm Dr. Jackie, an interpersonal communication researcher/professor and relationship expert. I'm so sorry you are going through this and confused and I am sure, a bit frustrated. The "easy" answer, which truly very likely IS the answer, is that people who have come out of a long-term relationship, good, mediocre, or even bad, are often hesitant to jump into anything too serious because of the devastating effects of the break up of the last relationship. I know it has been several years. And for many people, that time frame is long enough for the "grieving period" (a divorce or serious break-up is truly like death because it IS the death of a long relationship). However, everyone's "threshold" is different. And for some reason, your boyfriend probably cannot seem to move on emotionally. I really do not think it is you at all based on what you have shared and knowing the overwhelming statistics that show people just have a hard time getting emotionally involved again and certainly emotionally invested.
Another aspect though in terms of YOUR case is that he wants to see you without others knowing. This leads me to believe that perhaps he is afraid of being judged by family, friends, ex-wife's friends that it's "too soon" or that he is making a mistake. Something has a hold on him that would make him feel this way. I would suggest that he talks to someone, although I do know that many men are resistant to counseling. Do you think he would go WITH you if not by himself? I do know that there is something / there are things that are blocking him from emotionally being able to move on. And a counselor / therapist working with him hopefully would be able to uncover this.
Let me know your thoughts. I'll also send you my phone and Skype information via the JUST ANSWER form in case you want to continue this through one of those means.
I know--you are exactly right. Unfortunately "society" tends to be very critical and judgmental, especially in small towns and small circles. This is not new--historically if someone did not adhere to the "norms" or rules, then s/he risked worse than isolation--possibly cast out and rejected to the point of even death such as in Puritanical New England when the United States was first colonized and of course, in Europe such as in the Spanish Inquisition and just about any other period of history. In 2015, one would think that people would be more accepting. And at least statistically, people are but typically in bigger ares where there is usually more diversity. In small towns, often the phenomenon of "groupthink" occurs, which is the theme in some of George Orwell's novels, if you are familiar, such as in 1984 and Animal Farm. People do not realize that they are "think alike" or share the same basic view points when that is pretty much all they know or have experienced. Sadly, this includes educated/highly intelligent people just as much as anyone else.
I know telling you all of this that you probably already know is not much of a comfort. But in small communities, this unfortunately is reality. I am guessing that like in most communities, there are a number of married people who probably have considered divorce but remain together for external pressures, such as "the sake of the children," or "what people/religion would say," etc. And while I can't find research to support this, in dealing with clients and customers, I am more and more convinced that people often can be resentful of their own situations and therefore deflect onto others. In other words, more specifically for your situation, I mean that because some of the community continues to live in loveless marriages, they are the first to judge others for "escaping," mostly because they cannot. Does that make sense? It goes back to two siblings playing with toys. One kid breaks their toy. So that kid resents the sibling still playing with their unbroken toy and therefore decides to "hate that toy."
I am not sure if that analogy makes sense. Please let me know. Basically I am trying to provide an explanation for the group behavior of the community. And the sad news is that it's not suddenly going to change without some major event. Think about how our society treated minorities (and of course still does in some settings) until something major, the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, began to change people's thinking. So my point is that since the community group think is not suddenly going to change, you and your boyfriend have to decide what your reaction to it will be. I am so very glad to hear that he is going to counseling. That is the best thing he can do. And I encourage you to get support also. I am sure you know that just about every community has support groups for all kinds of things, especially divorce. The one(s) nearest to you might meet at a church or community center once or twice a month. You probably will want to contact local churches or community centers but I'm betting you will find one. I know it's been 7 years, but it would be helpful if you could go. I am positive others there from your community have experienced the same isolation and judgment. It would help you to talk with them regarding coping strategies and such.
I wish I could give you some earth shattering advice. Basically as long as you live there, you and he have to decide if you can withstand societal judgment or not. Perhaps you can find some groups in the art community or music community there who may be more progressive and you could attend their events without the judgment. Please let me know your thoughts! :)