Dear Carolyn: I am new to the world of online dating and have found that many of the available men in my age group (late 30s to 40s) are divorced. I’ve never been married.
I’m trying to decide if “Why did you get divorced?” is a useful question. I suppose maybe the answer could tell me more about the guy himself and whether he’s really ready to move on.
What do you think? Do I ask, or do I figure the topic will eventually work its way into conversation? – Dating a divorcé
It can be a stunningly useful question (yes, stunningly), but only if you ask it under the right circumstances.
Your letter gave one reason for this limited usefulness: Life milestones like marriages and divorces tend to find their way into conversations. There will always be people who talk too much or not at all about a previous marriage, but even that will be tipping you off to something.
Another limitation is that asking it prematurely is liable to net you a worthless answer.
Someone who cares about your opinion will want to give you an answer with substance.
On the other hand, someone who isn’t yet invested in you is going to be parsimonious with the truth. Again, there are some obvious, self-serving reasons people do that – but there are noble ones, too. That ex-spouse was a loved and intimate partner at one point; a divorcé of character might feel protective of an ex’s privacy, at least until you become someone he trusts.
The point where it becomes a useful question – finally! – is when you’ve dated long enough not to feel as if you’re in suspense about each other, but when you don’t have knowledge of his marriage so much as a pieced-together impression. That’s the time to fire away, and see if he: loses his cool, dodges the question, bad-mouths the ex, implodes with self-loathing – or describes a breakup where he credibly allows that both parties made some mistakes.