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How much should I ask about his divorce? Add to ...

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: I dated a man several months ago when he was going through a divorce, then decided I didn't want such an entangled relationship. But now we're talking again, and I'm not ruling him out. Initially I was fine with the Coles Notes version, but now I'd like details about the divorce arrangement, the marriage, his ex and his kids. How much is appropriate to ask?

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Don't corner him

For now, let him tell you what he wants. Men don't like to feel cornered and will generally offer things up in a natural way if there is nothing to hide. As things get serious, you have every right to know details, i.e. what went wrong. If he's not willing to open up, then there are bigger issues and you need to figure out if he is trustworthy.

- Carmen Belcredi, Toronto

Give him time

I don't think there is one answer. Obviously some fundamental information should be shared - custody of children for instance. Ultimately, the two of you need to communicate (which involves mostly listening) as mature adults. Divorces can be messy and people need time to heal before they can trust another person to share their life with. Time is usually good medicine - but there's an expiration date.

- Anthony Ricci, Calgary

Up to him to divulge

Depending on the stage of intimacy your relationship is at, anything should be on the table. But divorce is gut wrenching and embarrassing, and details are for him to divulge when he is ready and trusts you. Your question feels like you are more about qualifying him.

- Darby Brown, Kitchener, Ont.

The final word

The thing to understand about divorce, especially one that's fresh from the oven, is that it tends to keep a person "entangled," as you say, long after the final papers are signed. Especially if there are children involved. So if you are remotely gun-shy when it comes to messy emotions or custody-arrangement telephone screaming sessions, you may want to back away slowly.

Your hunger for details strikes me as a need to feel on top of the situation - to understand precisely what you're getting into without actually getting into it. You're like a kid hovering at poolside calling to your friends to describe precisely how cold it is in there. Shockingly cold? Bracingly cold? Or just refreshingly cold? Meanwhile the rest of the kids are doing cannonballs and having the time of their lives.

Darby makes a good point that no questions are out of bounds between couples who have achieved emotional intimacy. Your particular Catch-22 lies in your reluctance to initiate intimacy until every worrying question has been answered to your satisfaction. It may be pragmatic, but romance doesn't tend to flourish in an interrogation room.

What I'm trying to say is that your approach comes across as a mite overcautious, even clinical. I get the feeling you'd prefer to sit this man down with a questionnaire before agreeing to sit down to dinner. But think of the last job interview you had: Do you feel like you left the interviewer with a deep insight into who you are, your core beliefs, your ultimate life path?

You can quiz your proto-boyfriend about his post-divorce arrangements until the two of you are blue in the face and maybe you'll like what you hear and maybe you won't. I'm just asking you to recognize there are dimensions to the guy that you will only discover by being willing to relax, take a leap of faith and simply enjoy his company and conversation for a few nights running. This is how you genuinely get to know someone. Why not start there?

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question

I live common-law with two wonderful gay men who are legally married. We have been together 12 years and I have borne each a child. My parents and Tony's parents have been amazing in their support. But Geoff's widowed mother hates me, and won't even acknowledge her grandchild. She has driven Geoff to tears and rejected my mother's mediation efforts. I would write her off but I worry about the emotional impact on my little girl. What should I do?

Let's hear from you

If you would like to participate, e-mail us at grouptherapy@globeandmail.com. All questions are published anonymously, but we'll include your name and hometown if we use your response to someone else's question (it will be edited).

Follow on Twitter: @Lynn_Coady

 

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