Have you ever read the New York Times Wedding/Celebrations section and wondered why there are so many divorcés and divorcées who are willing to announce to the world that they are divorced? Seems kind of brave to me. Not that there is anything wrong with being divorced. But I don’t know if I would announce my second marriage in the New York Times and then broadcast that my first and/or second marriage ended in divorce. But folks are routinely doing that.
It led me to wonder about whether these folks properly vetted the next spouse before going at the marriage thing yet again, and especially with so much fan fare. Carolyn Hax, a style columnist for the Washington Post, says “delving into a date’s reason for divorce takes tact and good timing.” She answered a question from a reader who wanted to know if “why did you get divorced” is a useful question to ask while dating. Carolyn said, in part:
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 — and quite often enough, without your ever having to ask. In fact, total silence over several dates is grounds to ask, “You haven’t mentioned your former marriage. Is there any reason for that?”
Another limitation of the “Why did you get divorced?” question 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. Granted, this is dating, so it might have self-aggrandizing substance, or outright manufactured substance, but it will be substance nonetheless — something you can ponder and wrangle into a kind of character gauge.
Arguably, this question in mandatory during the dating phase. And the sooner the better as far as commencing dialogue about it. Because the reason for the first divorce could end up being the reason for the second, third or even fourth divorce. But it is admittedly a very tough question to have with someone. And you are only getting a one-sided view of what actually happened in that previous relationship. Still, a one-sided view is better than no view. If one insists on marrying someone whose first marriage ended in divorce, it is incumbent on that person to find out why that divorce happened before agreeing to tie the knot and make splashy announcements in the New York Times Wedding/Celebrations section.
Oh, and by the way, this goes for the goose and the gander. It’s not just the bridegrooms.