When is it okay to keep the baggage in the bag?
November 28, 2011 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Should I tell my (potential) new boyfriend about my marriage and divorce? Or can I keep this secret like I want to?

I have been dating a guy for almost 2 months, and we are getting to the relationship stage. Neither of us were looking for a relationship, but it seems to be heading in that direction. This is the first guy I've actually thought about getting serious with for a few years... since my ex.

I am 26 now, and married and divorced. I got married at 22, divorced at 23. My ex was someone I had been good friends with for 3 years, and then we started dating while we were long distance (opposite coasts of the U.S.). The relationship progressed very fast, and I look back on it as poor decision-making on my part. We were living on opposite coasts, and neither of us would be able to move for at least a year, probably more like 3. We said "I love you" less than a week into the relationship. We got engaged 2 months in (and only the second time we'd been in the same physical location since being together). The next time we saw each other (a month later) was in Vegas to get married. We talked every day, texted constantly, always knew what the other was doing, etc.

When we decided to get married, it kind of started as a joke but then became serious. We decided to get married because we wanted to be together, but were going to be physically apart, and didn't think people would understand if we got married and didn't live together. So we secretly married in Vegas. In my family, only my parents new. A few people from work new. He didn't tell his family at all (they never got told -- they thought we were engaged). Since the divorce, I have told a couple of my cousins, but the majority of my family really thinks we were just engaged. People from my Church know, because I told them after we got married. I'm not as involved in my Church currently, but I have some close family friends from the church and any boyfriend I have will surely meet them and run the risk of hearing about my ex.

The relationship with my ex went bad very quickly. He became verbally abusive and really thought I was trying to somehow do him in. He had an abusive mother (who passed away before I met him) and equated me in the "wife" capacity to his dead mother, so any slight disagreement or difference in ideas, any small problem I had at work or bad point in my day, got blown up into this huge, emotional argument. Finally he came out and said he wanted a divorce, and this went through relatively quickly. The divorce was filed about a year after we got married, and was official 6 months later.

The moment I realized he was serious about the divorce, I was wretchedly heartbroken. In a sense that I couldn't breathe and had physical pangs in my chest. I'd been broken up with before, but this time was so incredibly potent. Right, so back on topic :)

Since the divorce, I first had to get over my hurt. This was, for the first time, really hard for me, but it happened. I still have a hard time trusting men (oh, did I mention that my ex told me explicitly how he cheated on me, and blamed me for it?), but it's a lot easier. My lack of trust generally translates into not caring too much. None of the guys I dated I really had a deep connection with. Some were nice, some weren't, some didn't call me again, whatever. I actually got to the point where I decided not to look for a relationship because I'm so busy with school. (Also, as a note, going back to school was the best antidote for my broken heart. Focusing on making ME happy and pursuing my dreams has really made me the happiest I've been since even years before the ex.) So, my life right now is really about me and following my dreams. I've been kind of "if the right guy comes along, great! If not, oh well."

And then we come to Current Guy. I'm not in some kind of "omigod he's Mr. Right!" state or anything, but he is Really Great. I immediately felt a connection to him (a "spark" I guess). Things have just kind of... felt right. He's also in school, so it's a pretty low pressure relationship. Yet, we still end up seeing each other pretty much every weekend (except when we've been OOT). Our "let's hang out for drinks" end up turning into staying over and sleeping in kind of dates. And I feel like I'm opening up to him and can trust him. It doesn't bother me to not text him or hear from him for a day or 2 -- partly because we're both so busy with school, but also because we're not trying to start a relationship.

But a relationship is exactly where this seems to be going. I'm really not just reading into things because I want a relationship here, either :) I don't care to share specifics, but from things we've said it's clear that it's going that way. And it seems right, too. It just has that "this seems right" vibe.

So here's the thing: my ex-husband is a fairly Big Secret. When I talk about him, I call him my ex-fiance. I think of him like that. I really wish I hadn't gotten married.

But it happened, it's this semi-secret, and what do I do with it now? I really don't want to tell my Current Guy about my ex, but I fear that a) I should and b) he would eventually happen upon the information independently. The really big reason I don't want to tell him about the ex is because I really seem like the crazy, rushing-into-things girl when I tell the story. It was a crazy-obsessive-compulsive type of relationship, and for him to understand the whole thing (like, yes, I was married, but no, most people don't know, but yes, you might run into some people who do know)... OhMiGod does that just seem complicated.

So how and when is it appropriate to tell him? We haven't had the "exes" talk yet, and we haven't met each other's family yet. He may meet some of my family soonish, as one relative is going to be in town. I feel like it's too early in the relationship to tell him about this guy, but if he asks me, I don't want to lie to him. Is there a way I can tell the story without seeming like a Crazy Chic? Or can I just veer off the topic if exes comes up... like "oh, exes, why do you want to talk about those?" I have generally avoided asking him about his exes (both because of mine and because I'm trying to keep the relationship slow, because a slow relationship is the only kind I can deal with anymore).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have several friends who had short marriages that began and end in their early-20s; it's hardly uncommon. It happened when you were younger, you know better now. That's how you can frame it when it comes up with your new boyfriend, which it should soon- keeping a marriage/divorce totally secret seems a much bigger mistake than just admitting it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is just not the sort of thing to keep secret. You don't want him finding out somehow on his own and wondering why you didn't mention something so significant (and possibly wondering what else you may be hiding).
posted by tommasz at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2011 [26 favorites]

OhMiGod does that just seem complicated.

It's not. You have a lot of emotions wrapped up in what seems like it was a really upsetting time for you, but it's worth differentiating telling the entire story [which is your decision how you want to do that] from giving basic salient and critical details [which I think is less negotiable] such that you can be considered to have reasonably informed your current partner.

Marriages are legal and they are real and this is one of those things where it feels like the smart thing is to maintain this fiction that you were never married.... until it suddenly isn't and it could destroy your relationship in a way that it totally wouldn't have if you'd brought it up sooner and/or more factually.

I was married, briefly, in my twenties and I make sure people know basically just that when we're starting-out dating: I was married briefly, it didn't work out, I'm not in touch with my ex thought we're not enemies, that's about it. Over time I'll add more details as I learn to trust the person I'm with more. Ultimately, they will take their cues from you to a certain extent. If you don't treat it like some terrible shady bad decision, it won't be. This is your opportunity to basically reframe your past in a way that is more palatable both to you and to others. Practice a sentence or two that you are comfortable with and if you don't want to talk much more about it, it's totally your right to do that. Don't let bad decisions by a much younger you inform older wiser you's ability to make this right in the present time. Be factual, be brief and get it over with. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2011 [30 favorites]

You should bring this up at some point. Nobody else can really tell you when, but in the meantime if it comes up you could consider saying 'I was in a relationship that went bad, and I'm not really very comfortable talking about it'. Eventually, you'll be more comfortable with CG and you might let a thing or two slip.

If it progresses to This Is Serious Business, you'll probably have let him know (or should by then). As I said, I can't tell you 'when' the right time is, but you shouldn't keep it a secret forever.
posted by Heretical at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

In politics, it's the cover-up that gets elected officials into trouble when the story would have disappeared on its own pretty quickly. Speaking as someone who had a short marriage (less than a year, while a teenager), it will only get worse the longer you wait... it becomes a thing. And although it may not be with Current Guy, should you ever re-marry you'll need to know the specifics of your divorce decree, e.g., the date, the court and other basics. For what its worth, even the people who know/knew about my early nuptials usually forget and my subsequent wedding included all of the first-timer trimmings.
posted by carmicha at 1:44 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

tldr; If your new beau is someone with whom more is possible, he may regard it as a pretty big breach of trust if he ever found out. Especially since it really isn't anything worth hiding from. You were young and foolish. So what? You did something a little dumb, not from the wrong reasons, and it didn't work out. It hurt. You got better.

Your thinking it is a big deal is itself a bigger deal than the marriage ever was. Your hiding it would be doubly so.
posted by Hylas at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't think you need to have any kind of a big full-disclosure statement right away, where you present a flow chart with all of your itemized relationship details or anything. You can disclose that when you feel comfortable, and in whatever way you like.

But, I also wouldn't call your ex-husband your "ex-fiance" the way you say you do sometimes. He wasn't a fiance, you did go ahead and get married. You wish you hadn't, but you had, and if you try to cover up that fact for whatever reason and this guy finds out a year later, that could backfire.

The only time I was with someone whom I'd found out had been married, it took about 2 months into our being an official "couple," and I didn't freak out or feel like he'd been withholding something -- quite the opposite (it came up by accident in the middle of a lighthearted talk, and I felt more guilty for having accidentally asked the question that turned things all bummer).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:46 PM on November 28, 2011

Seconding TPSH.

My girlfriend was in a similar scenario. She was 18 at the time, and got married to a (from my understanding) not-so-good person simply because their families frowned upon them living together. They were divorced within a few months after she figured out that it was a huge mistake.

She told me about it about 2 months into our relationship on the premise that "if you hear someone mention $NoNameEx, this is what happened". It's definitely a very distant part of her past, but it still has affected her and some of her ideas and opinions when it comes to relationships. After the fact, I'm glad she told me because it showed that she trusts me with this very private part of her history, and that if something is amiss, that there's some rationality behind it.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 1:46 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This has the potential to turn into one of those secrets that gets harder and harder to reveal as the relationship progresses. You may find yourself thinking "I can't tell him now that we're [foo], I should have told him earlier", where [foo] is "living together", "engaged", "married", "having kids", etc. And as your relationship progresses and [foo] gets "bigger", the worse he'll feel when the truth inevitably comes out.

Bite the bullet. If the "exes" conversation happens and you're not really ready to talk about your marriage in any detail, say, "I was married for about a year when I was 22. It was a bad situation, and I'm glad it's over with. I don't really like to talk about it, but I'll tell you more about it when I'm ready, OK?" And then, when you feel comfortable enough talking about it with the new guy, do so.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's not that big a deal. If it was me, I'd want to be sat down, handed a beer, and told, and then I would say "Oh, that was all? You had me scared!".
posted by ftm at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2011

Denial of something doesn't make it non-existent, no matter how hard you wish.

No good will come of keeping this a secret, you'll wear yourself out trying to, and you'll have to deal with the fallout when it does eventually surface. This is not a Big Deal, it's merely one of the things you did when you were younger that you now would do differently, and everybody has at least one of those.
posted by sageleaf at 1:49 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who conceivably could be in your Current Guy's shoes: I wouldn't mind at all that you hadn't disclosed it, but if I got very far past "this is officially a relationship" without having been told, I'd be a little pissed when I did find out. I wouldn't need/demand real details, just "Hey, just so you know, I know I call him my ex-fiancee, but the truth is we were married for X months. I was young, it was a bad call and we're on friendly terms though we don't keep in touch. That's all. Just wanted to make sure I'm honest with you."
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:49 PM on November 28, 2011

This was, and remains, very emotional for you. But you don't need to go into all that emotional detail until you're much further along in your relationship. "I was married briefly, we rushed into it and it was a big mistake," is fine for now. You don't have to be ashamed about what happened. Don't worry about how it reflects on you. People make mistakes. It's okay, just own up to it and have the in-depth serious talk if and when you're ready. Even then, try to be a little easier on yourself. Just because this happened doesn't mean you're crazy or that you can't have a good relationship.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2011

Yeah, after a while, the fact that you keep the secret becomes a bigger deal than the secret itself. You don't need to provide a lot of details, but I think you should tell the basics sometime soon.
posted by gaspode at 2:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Privacy is one thing; secrecy is another. You have every right to keep all the painful details of your marriage and divorce private. Keeping its existence secret is a pretty bad idea - secrecy is damaging, both to you and your relationships.
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on November 28, 2011

Nthing what everyone has said about "this is not as big a deal to everyone else as it is to you". Also, admitting to your new guy what happened with your ex is might help you both in not recreating the same mistake. At the least, not telling him about it is probably a very good way to put yourself at risk to fall into the same pattern. You being so worried about "seeming like" a Crazy Chick is kind of giving off warning bells to me. If you don't like how you sound when telling the story, just give him a very brief outline, and then let him ask the questions and steer the conversation. It sounds like you want to manage his reaction and you're uncomfortable with potentially leaving him room to make his own judgements, but you will have to if you want a relationship with him. I doubt it will be a deal-breaker for him, but if you don't trust his judgement, why do you want to be with him?
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 2:03 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell him. His reaction, or faked reaction, or non-reaction, will tell you what he's about.
posted by ryanpoly at 2:09 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not likely to be as big a deal in his eyes as it is in yours, and it's something you should definitely tell him. If it's not a "real relationship" with him, then telling him is probably not going to be a "take both his hands, and look deeply into his eyes, and say "honey, there's something you should know". This is just time to mention it. If he grabs on to the information, then you know he thinks it's worth finding out more, which means it's time to talk about it, and tell the truth. If he doesn't grab at it, it's not time yet. But you have to mention it, so he won't get blindsided when it comes up later.

For now, you mention Larry. As in, "oh, yeah, I haven't seen her since I was with Larry, that must've been 2001 or so!" He'll either say something relevant to what you're actually talking about, or he'll swerve off. "Larry? Who was that?" Meaning it's time to talk exes, at least briefly, but you don't have to tell him more than he asks for.

Later, you mention the ex-fiance part: if he's meeting any of your friends/family around Christmas, say "If Sue mentions my ex-fiance or talks about a guy named Larry, take whatever they say with a grain of salt. I can tell you more sometime if it comes up." And again, he might say "Really, you were engaged?" You're not allowed to lie when he asks. "Yeah, I said she might ask about the ex-fiance. She doesn't know we were married for N months and I want to keep it that way. Everybody in the family only knew Larry as the fiance, so that's still what I call him. It was one of those get married now, tell the family later kind of scenarios, except we split up before we told anybody."
posted by aimedwander at 2:10 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basically agree with what's said above. One important thing to remember if you ever plan to get remarried: Most/all marriage license applications in America ask for any previous marriages and how they ended. So unless you plan on lying on the form (bad idea) or somehow trying to hide that part of the form from your future spouse, they're going to find out sometime if you remarry.
posted by skynxnex at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like the Carolyn Hax rule: you have to tell when not telling becomes a lie.

Hard to say when that happens but if you are in a conversation about marriage or divorce, this early mistake of your should come up. If marriage or divorce come up in a group setting, you may want to mention your experience on the way home.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:20 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I came here to say exactly what Johnny Assay said.
posted by adamrice at 2:23 PM on November 28, 2011

You have to tell him. Exactly when you tell him is up to you, but I would recommend doing it soon, since you are now getting to the point where things are becoming serious between the two of you (i.e., you are no longer casually dating and are going to be entering a committed relationship soon).

While I haven't been in your exact situation, I was engaged once in the past (it ended before we got married). I told my current fiancee about it fairly soon after we started dating because I didn't want that looming over us if we did start to get serious (which, well, we did; she teases me about perhaps revealing my 'secret' a bit too early in our relationship, but would have been really hurt if I had kept it a secret).
posted by asnider at 2:31 PM on November 28, 2011

The really big reason I don't want to tell him about the ex is because I really seem like the crazy, rushing-into-things girl when I tell the story. It was a crazy-obsessive-compulsive type of relationship, and for him to understand the whole thing (like, yes, I was married, but no, most people don't know, but yes, you might run into some people who do know)... OhMiGod does that just seem complicated.

No. It's not that the marriage makes you seem like crazy, rushing-into-things girl. You were 22 and people do crazy things at 22 and make choices they regret. Probably most adults do not want to be judged now on the basis of things they did when they were college-aged.

It is the way you handle things NOW, at 26, that will determine how you come off.

Look, you could say it like this, as you did in the OP:

It was a crazy-obsessive-compulsive type of relationship, and for him to understand the whole thing (like, yes, I was married, but no, most people don't know, but yes, you might run into some people who do know)... OhMiGod does that just seem complicated.

Or you could say it like this:

"I was briefly married at 22 to a longtime friend... neither of us were ready, and it was a bad decision. We've been divorced for 3 years, and since then, I've been working on school and pursuing my own interests. Not everyone in my family knows that we got married, since we were worried about what people would think."

It doesn't AT ALL have to be drama-rama-rama. It's all about how you frame it.

But I think how you frame it comes from how you feel about it. You obviously still have very, very strong emotions around this, and still have pain around it. And you talk about the issues with trust that you have now. And of course, you still haven't resolved the whole issue of some people knowing and others not, and it seems like you really don't want to resolve it.

Hate to give the cliche answer, but I really think you should get therapy and work towards resolving all of this. I think the big secret thing in particular is totally unsustainable.
posted by cairdeas at 2:32 PM on November 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't care to share specifics, but from things we've said it's clear that it's going that way. And it seems right, too. It just has that "this seems right" vibe.

Then for God's sake don't screw it up by failing to disclose Material Information. As others have said, you get to choose the framing of how you tell him, but if you want this to be a real relationship, show him that you respect him enough to be honest. You can frame it as a learning experience to lessen the impulsive/crazy/rushing into things aspect.

There are a lot of us out there who made less than stellar relationship choices in their younger days. That's nothing to be ashamed of.

The really big reason I don't want to tell him about the ex is because I really seem like the crazy, rushing-into-things girl when I tell the story.

Are you now, today, a crazy, rushing-into-things kind of woman? Your new beau knows you as you are now, and if you aren't generally that way, then a story about your past is unlikely to overrule how he sees you today.
posted by ambrosia at 2:33 PM on November 28, 2011

Meant to say also, just to put my above comment in a nutshell, that if I were the boyfriend and you hid this from me, and then I found out, I wouldn't think you had issues because of the marriage, I would think you had issues because of how you had handled everything with me and the other people in your life around this topic. I would think, what other secrets is she keeping from me, what else does she feel like she has to hide?
posted by cairdeas at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was exactly in your boyfriend's shoes a couple years ago, so I can speak on this.

She told me at about the point where you guys are now, just as things were starting to get kind of serious. It came up in a kind of awkward way -- a friend of her's mentioned an ex-husband, so the next chance she got she said "yeah, so, I need to tell you about that...."

I'm glad it came up when it did. I wasn't at all put off by the marriage (I think most people in our generation see a short marriage in your early twenties as no different than having had a serious boyfriend) but I would have been weirded out if she had held on to that information much longer.

She, like you, didn't like talking about her ex at all, but she told me enough that I knew that it was over and in her past. If she had kept it a secret and I'd found out, I'd have wondered why she was hiding it from me.

As it was, it just became one of the tiny data points that made up who she was when I knew her -- one of thousands. I honestly never thought about it very much after it first came up, since it quite literally had nothing to do with our lives at the time (and her situation was arguably worse, since she hadn't actually gotten divorced yet when we met).

I hope this reassures you a bit. I know this seems like a big deal, because to you it is a big deal. But I suspect that to him it won't garner much more than a raised eyebrow. Unless he's a jerk, in which case the problem is that he's a jerk, not that you've been married.
posted by auto-correct at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Honestly, this isn't weird or a big deal, and if I were him I would think it was weird to not already know; I dunno, dating someone a few months and not knowing they had been married before would be strange to me. But it would be way less strange to find out now than any later, and if you wait any longer it's going to give him an uncomfortable "do I even know this person?" jolt. I would understand if you felt awkward talking about it but did anyway, or had weird shame issues about it even though there's no cause to because people are like that, but I would feel you were too secretive to feel comfortable around if you hid something like that. In other words, if you talk about it, you'll realize what a non-issue it is. Only someone really judgmental would be an ass about it. But if you hide it, it gives decent people a reasonable cause to feel wary of you or think poorly of you or not feel comfortable around you.
posted by Nattie at 2:45 PM on November 28, 2011

I'm a divorcee, married/divorced in my early 20's. It's okay to keep it in the bag while you're still feeling out the relationship. Work up to it with other personal discussions.

And when you finally decide it's a good time to tell him, you don't have to tell him every little detail and break down crying... yeah, if you are prone to reacting like that, maybe you should be a lot more comfortable with him first. But he's probably just going to want to know that the ex's out of your life, you're done with him, and that you've gone a long ways towards moving past the whole experience.
posted by lizbunny at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you two decide you're in a committed relationship it'll be time to spill the beans. Not before then. If I were you I'd mention it as casually as possible, apropos of something said in the snuggly morning hours.... with good will and intimacy running high. It's not as if you and your bf will be married under false pretenses at that point or anything, after all-- bf/gf is just a first step in commitment for most relationships, and it's fine to keep certain things under your hat until that first bridge is crossed.

You may want to stop referring to anyone specifically as your ex-fiancee. That's just a lie. Maybe don't bring the ex up at all until you're ready to try to really own your past marriage. The extreme element of shame you feel is not helpful. An ill-advised "starter marriage" is a common mistake, and many people would understand this, hopefully your potential new bf is one of them.

The more you set up the revelation of your past marriage as a HUGE THING, IMO, the worse the outcome will be.
posted by devymetal at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of thing where the line between "appropriate time to reveal" and "too late to reveal without it coming across as a betrayal" is very, very, very fine.

If this relationship became serious, there would be potential situations where he would have to know that you were married. For instance, my sister was asked about her husband's previous marriages on her citizenship application. She even had to list his ex-wife's social security number and their divorce information. That's a pretty specific situation, but my point is that eventually, this guy will have a right to know your prior history.

Not to mention, put the shoe on the other foot and consider how you would feel if someone you were dating neglected to mention to you that they had been married before. Or, downplayed the marriage by calling the ex-husband an ex-fiance--which is so very different.
posted by litnerd at 3:07 PM on November 28, 2011

My experience as someone with more than a few skeletons in the family closet is that they tend to create drama. You get into situations where everyone in the family knows bits and pieces of the secret from multiple sources, and just the fact that it is a secret that "no one else knows" tends to breed exaggeration.

If you don't want to seem impulsive, say something like, "it was a big mistake for me, so I've learned to take relationships more slowly."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:15 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to come across as crazy, you should tell him fairly soon. It doesn't have to be a dramatic event, but I think it would be best if it wasn't totally off the cuff either. Just say that you have something to tell him and tell him about it. I cannot imagine any reasonable person freaking out about that. I can however imagine a reasonable person freaking out about it if they heard from someone else a year after serious and exclusive dating, for example.
posted by ob at 3:19 PM on November 28, 2011

It sounds like you're really uncomfortable revealing your marriage/divorce just in general, but it might actually make your life easier (in the future, not so much with this guy) if EVERYBODY knew you used to be married. Not all the details, but just, yeah, you've got an ex-husband, whatever. I mean, I have friends who were married and divorced before I met them and I just... knew about it, from early on in the friendship. I guess I may have had a small jolt of surprise the first time D's boyfriend mentioned "D's ex-husband" or someone said "back when S was married to Y" but eh, it was all very casual. If everybody already knows it's not a secret, and you don't have to make such a big deal out of telling it.

Also, the older you get, the less anyone will care about this (especially since more and more of your friends and associates will also be divorced, some from shorter relationships, others from long ones).
posted by mskyle at 3:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell him. Secrets are poison.
posted by lulu68 at 3:38 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll join the general choir here: this will hang over this relationship (and any you have after) as long as you keep it and treat it as a big secret thing. Just be honest about it. For that matter, be honest about feeling awkward and embarrassed about revealing it, because who wants to be in a relationship with someone who expects them to be Smoothy McSmootherston Unruffled, esquire, at all times about the stories of their life?

I'll also second that things like this get less and less important as you get older. Short marriages that in retrospect were kind of silly and dramatic and dumb (despite their obvious positive qualities at the time) in one's early-mid-twenties aren't quite standard issue, but common enough.
posted by Drastic at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2011

I would tell your current boyfriend sooner then later. Just be relaxed about it and keep it short and sweet. Say hey, "I wanted to let you know that when I was younger I was married for a short period of time. It was breif and I've moved on since. Just wanted you to be aware. I'm not really into talking about past relationships, but I felt like you this was something you should know." He may accept it at that and not pry, or he may want to know more about it. Either way, if he's serious about being in a relationship with you, it won't matter and you won't come off as a girl who moves too quickly as long as you frame it right by focusing on the short marriage, and not the short engagement. Everybody makes mistakes. This was a mistake. He doesn't need to know all the details. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 3:42 PM on November 28, 2011

You are obligated to treat people that you are romantically involved with, and especially with those with whom you might have a future, with even more consideration than than you would a good friend. You are currently actively lying (the "ex-fiance" thing) to a romantic partner; this sets him up for looking foolish the longer you let it go. Keeping things from family can be understandable; keeping things from a lover is a potential deal-breaker. Cover-ups are bad policy for good reason. Have the "exes" conversation now. (I think you are actually overdue on this.) Good luck.
posted by Morrigan at 3:49 PM on November 28, 2011

When you talk about exes, I think it's appropriate and right to mention it then. Sometimes this happens early, sometimes late... I've actually had it come up pretty early most of the time (I've pretty much always had this conversation by 2 months, but I probably move into the relationship thing faster than some).

Here's the thing --- could you really keep this from him forever? I would hope not, that requires a level of lying and compartmentalization (since some people know) that would be difficult to sustain for a lifetime (if you see this guy as even a potential long term mate / husband).

If not, then it's better to be honest when the situation arises. I don't think you have to be super pro-active about it, but I would definitely not call him your ex-fiancee or something.

Frankly, if it was a dealbreaker for him it's better to know now. You've been together long enough, and it was long enough ago, that it should be an interesting detail and not some huge deal. I don't think most guys would think this is a big deal at all, but obviously I can't know that about your specific guy.

(I had a 14 year relationship/marriage and I tell women I'm dating about it reasonably early --- some have an issue with it and some don't, but especially in my case there's no reasonable way for them to date me and get to know me without that detail. Yours was a lot shorter, but it was still a Big Relationship for you and something I think most people would expect to be told at some point).
posted by wildcrdj at 3:57 PM on November 28, 2011

I think if you are talking about exes, or the relationship is getting serious, or he is about to meet someone who knows this about you - those are all appropriate times to disclose your prior relationship. You were young, you were in love, you made a mistake. People have done worse - why are you stigmatising your own decisions so much? The bigger deal you make out of this, the bigger deal he will, too. Just own up to it and move on.

The fact that you refer to him as your ex-fiance and try to pretend like it didn't happen is something I find a bit troubling, and you should stop doing that. It makes it sound like you have some sort of emotional hangup about it, which you shouldn't, and if you do, you shouldn't be dating. At any rate, it's an actual lie and many people don't cotton to that well, regardless of intent.
posted by sm1tten at 4:07 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did this for a long time. I was married in my mid-20s, and the relationship only lasted about a year and a half. My family didn't like my ex, but there was this serious shame component about Being Divorced that really colored their interactions with me through the whole process of splitting up, which made me very reluctant to talk to anyone about it. Add to that the fact that I moved hundreds of miles away from where my ex and I lived, back to my hometown, where most of the people I knew there didn't even know I was married (it's a complicated story), and it was just easier not to tell people about the relationship. I referred to my ex as my "ex boyfriend" (technically true), and people knew I moved somewhere to live with him, years ago, but that was about it.

Finally, I just decided to start telling people, just because I was tired of it, and I had moved again, and got involved with a much different crowd of friends. I came out as queer a few months before that, so it wasn't the biggest surprise of mine people had to deal with. No one reacted strangely -- why would they? No one freaked out. People seemed genuinely interested in hearing about it, and told me that it made some things about me make more sense (reluctance to get in romantic relationships, trust issues, etc.). It's been a good thing, particularly since I've become friends with my ex again.

Honesty is always the best answer.
posted by heurtebise at 4:19 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the "ex-fiance" label makes it sound like you're lying to yourself.

Perfectionism is the baggage that seems to lurk behind your question, not a brief marriage that was over before it began.
posted by gentian at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You really, really, really need to work on the "this is a big deal that says a lot about who I am and I am really scarred by it" thing. Because it's not a big deal, and if you've worked past it it doesn't really say that much about you and you aren't really scarred anymore. This fundamentally shouldn't be a Big Secret, or even a little secret. Actually, if this is the biggest thing in your history and the only part of your life that you're uncomfortable talking about with a potential love interest, I'm rather jealous.

Anyway, tell him as soon as any of the following happen:
1. He mentions an ex relationship (because this is an easy opening)
2. You start talking about your past trust issues or why you want to go slow (because this is a big part of that)
3. You invite him to meet someone who knows this thing about you (because it will come out)
4. You start dating exclusively (because that's a big increase in the giving/receiving trust scale and you can't keep something like this from him)
5. He makes any kind of an embarrassing (to him) revelation (because score, you can share one too and that makes everyone more comfortable)
6. Mental health issues are discussed at any length (sorry, you've got them, and it's OK to have them, but once the subject is broached in a romantic relationship you're in "bad to keep it a secret" territory)
7. He starts hinting at being annoyed about going slow or not meeting family members or something (because any explanation excluding this information is basically a lie)

And nthing not calling the ex your ex-fiance. It's actually the most disturbing revelation about your behavior in your entire post.

(I personally would expect to know that someone used to be married within the first few dates, but I come from a religious background where marriage is Very Very Important, and not actively telling someone you're seriously dating about a past marriage would be considered an incredibly bad sign, even if it was annulled two days after the ceremony. In general I think the more conservative someone's background is, the more likely they are to want to know ASAP.)
posted by SMPA at 4:23 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
What you're dealing with is something that shouldn't be discussed on the first date, but should also not be delayed unduly long.

I'm in a situation similar to yours. Instead of the issue being that I have a short-lived marriage in my past, my issue is that I'm a crossdresser (m2f).

It took me the better part of a year in therapy to figure out that crossdressing (or other potentially embarrassing topic) probably shouldn't be discussed on the first date, but that one shouldn't wait as long as I did to talk about it.

I once waited nearly a year into the relationship before I mentioned that I was a crossdresser. I got dumped immediately (of course, YMMV). My ex was partly offended by that side of me, but even more so, she was offended that I'd kept it a secret, and that it ruined any possibility of her being able to trust me.

It took me a long while to come back from that one, because it hurt me so badly (and not entirely undeservedly so, I might add).

The other relationship I've had since then ended, again likely due to trust issues. She took a leap of faith & confided in me that she'd had an abortion when she was younger (she's a conservative Christian), and had asked me a few times what it was that pushed me to the brink of suicide (see above). That would have been a golden opportunity to tell her. Alas, I didn't have the courage.

OP, you're not a mind reader. You cannot possibly know how your SO will react to the news until you give it to him.

If he's going to react well, then telling him now will be a relief, and you'll both probably be able to laugh about it.

If he's not going to react well, that won't improve no matter how long you wait to tell him. In fact, his reaction might get worse over time (e.g. more offended finding out after 3 years than finding out after 3 months).

Either way, I think you owe it to yourself & to him to take an evening, think about how you'd like to frame it when you discuss it with him, then discuss it with him the following day. If he's OK with it, you're set. If he's not and breaks up with you, yeah it will hurt & you will probably have a rough night full of crying, but at least you didn't move in together, get married, share a bank account, & have kids already.
posted by jessamyn at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I believe prior marriages are absolutely First Date Material and I surprised nobody else agrees. I think it's super-strange that you've dated this guy for two months without telling him, so definitely tell him now.

A prior marriage is a public fact. There is absolutely no reason not to mention it right up front. And consider that dating sites seem to require marital status in their profiles. It's considered super tacky to not be forthcoming about it in online dating; why would it be any different offline?

I think prior marriages are potential dealbreakers for some people, like it or not, so keeping it secret just doesn't seem like you're playing fair.
posted by jayder at 5:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should definitely tell him...what if you keep on putting off telling him, and then things get more and more serious, and before you know it you've been with him for coming on a year and have to tell him then? If I were him, at that point I would be very hurt and feel a bit mistrustful of you, that you hadn't told me earlier.

I also think it's no big deal to play it up as a mistake in your past, that you've moved on and grown and changed as a person, etc.
posted by Emms at 6:17 PM on November 28, 2011

My current (and amazingly awesome) SO is of a similar age to you, and was married and divorced. It 's not a concern because we talked about it openly and honestly, including my reactions to it, and now it's a total non-issue.

If she had kept it a secret and I hadn't found out until later, it might've been harder for it it to be a non-issue. I'm sure as hell glad she told me and we talked about it.
posted by flaterik at 6:17 PM on November 28, 2011

It's not like Current Guy is going to trot downtown and dig up the goods, but a matter of public record is a very poor choice for a Big Secret. Tell him ASAP.
posted by gingerest at 6:32 PM on November 28, 2011

"...so my ex-fiance... wait - I don't think I've told you - very few people know this, so you're sworn to secrecy! To me he's my ex-fiance, but at one point, without telling anyone we did one of those vegas weddings, so we were actually legally married for a few months before getting a divorce because, ugh, such a mistake! I don't mention it to people because it's embarrassing, so no poking fun about it, ok? At least not when other people are around! But anyway, so my ex-fiance..."
[continue back to topic after digression]
posted by -harlequin- at 7:19 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

In other words, don't approach this as making a confession to your boyfriend, approach it as letting him in on a secret because he's special. That's way more fun.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just the facts, Ma'am!
"Well, Significant Other, I just wanted to tell you that I got married at 22, divorced at 23.
It isn't something I talk about, since in all honesty, the marriage was so short/spontaneous, some people never heard that the marriage took place--just the engagement.
So, have you ever been married?"
posted by calgirl at 8:10 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I blabbed out the fact of my divorce on my match.com profile. A year and a half later, I found out that my brutal honesty was what caught the interest of my (fabulous) boyfriend. I didn't wax on about it, but I was 26 and very self-conscious that I was divorced at such a young age (married 22 - 25). I wanted to get it out in the open so I put a little line in there about it.

I honestly can't imagine trying to keep it a secret from him. Yes, for a while divorce is shameful and embarrassing. For much longer than that, it's painful and maddening, even after you've found someone else. I used to feel that my ex was part of a painful past I could not access -- but now, dammit, those years were mine, too, and I want my boyfriend to meet my roommates, see my college campus and see my yearbook pictures. Pain does linger sometimes and I simply don't know what I could do if I could not turn to my best friend for comfort when something comes up that makes me feel bad.

Most importantly, I could never foresee a future with him if I did not feel that I could honestly and thoroughly discuss with him my past mistakes, my fears of repeating them and my hope to avoid them. If you don't see a future with this guy, keep it a secret. (Two months in might not be as magical this time around, either?). If you at all see any real potential for a relationship with this guy, tell him ASAP in all transparency.

(To learn if there is potential with this guy....would you want to know if he were married before meeting you?)
posted by motsque at 8:15 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you everyone for the overwhelmingly one-sided advice :) I will have this talk with him soon, whenever it seems right. On reflection, I think he and I have both been avoiding the subject, so I'm pretty sure this will be fodder for a good two-sided discussion about our past.

For those who were advising telling on the first date: With this guy, things started pretty casually so there wasn't exactly a first date.

Finally, I have thought about the advice to stop calling him my ex-fiance altogether. I think you guys are right here, too. Perhaps you will see a future anon AskMe about how to tell the 95% of my family about this without creating tons of drama...
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:29 PM on November 29, 2011

Perhaps you will see a future anon AskMe about how to tell the 95% of my family about this without creating tons of drama...

I suggest getting a gossippy relative to spread it around and tell everyone you feel bad about it, so they need to keep it a secret. Then they will have to keep their drama in the bag because they're not supposed to know.
posted by cairdeas at 8:15 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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