Divorce question is a great one when asked at the right time
Q: 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 to ask. Most breakups don't have a simple, straightforward reason, except in the case of abuse. I suppose maybe the answer could tell me more about the guy himself and whether he's really ready to move on.
Do I ask, or do I figure the topic will eventually work its way into conversation?
Dating a divorcé
A: It can be a stunningly useful question, 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.
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.
Some boyfriends just don't do the gooey talk over the phone
Q: Is it unreasonable to get upset that my boyfriend of three years always mumbles "I love you too" in the most diminutive, uncomfortable, 8-year-old-forced-apology voice at the end of our cell-phone conversations? I almost can't stand it.
A: Sounds like he can't, either, if that's any consolation. And if you haven't considered that (a) he's not one to close every call with "I love you," but (b) he nevertheless is trying to meet you halfway, and (c) your most loving gesture might be to stop putting him on the spot and adopt a less-frequent-I-love-you policy, then you are being unreasonable. Dial back (heh, heh, get it?) the goop, and see how that suits you both.