Q: I was married for five years. I have been divorced now for three years and I have been dating someone else for a year. We made a pact when we started dating that we would not talk about our past, so we know very little about what went on prior to meeting. He has no idea I was married before. On Christmas Day my guy asked me to marry him and I accepted. He wants to get married next New Year’s Eve. My former anniversary was New Year’s Eve. Do I have to say something? What do you think about getting married on the same day for marriage Nos. 1 and 2? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Although I have had a client who thought he was a genius to be married multiple times – all on the same day – so he would never forget his anniversary, I would suggest you take this far more seriously and pick a different date for marriage No. 2. I would also suggest that you come clean with some of your history. Notice I said “some.” I understand the philosophy of not airing so much dirty laundry, but being married for five years – there is bound to be proof somewhere, whether it’s your parents slipping in a conversation or a wayward picture here or there. It could all backfire if your fiancé finds out from someone else, so based on heading off a disaster, I’d say something sooner rather than later.
If you are embarrassed, it’s not essential to offer every little detail. There are those who have had quite a few past partners and volunteering all the names and dates may paint the wrong picture, especially if you are trying to change your ways.
But, that’s not what I am hearing from you. It appears you simply made a pact not to talk about the past and you’ve stuck by it, only to have it catch up to you in a completely unplanned way. Based on that, I suggest you refer to Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 7, “Be honest and straightforward,” which translated means, “honesty is the best policy.” Try something like, “Honey, I love you and I’d love to marry you. When we first met we made a pact not to talk about the past and out of respect for you I held to that pact, but before we go forward I believe we do have to talk about the past for a moment.” And, then drop the bomb. If he doesn’t understand, you’ve got the wrong guy.
You could look at it like this: Although wanting to keep some info to yourself is understandable, the experiences that went before are what made you who you are today. If you are kind, you have learned to be kind. By the same token, if you are distrusting or jealous, you may have learned that from past experience as well. Knowing that about each other is an important component to loving and respecting someone for exactly who they are (which can certainly contribute to the longevity of marriage No. 2). Good luck.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.