Maybe your date’s profile mentioned their ex or maybe it didn’t. Either way, there you are, sitting across from them as they say the words: “I’m divorced.” And now it’s your turn to talk. But what do you say?
About 10% of 30-year-olds have been separated or divorced, which means if you’re 30+ and dating, that narrative should sound very familiar. And yet, even though it’s incredibly common for someone to be upfront about their divorce, many people fumble through their reaction. Do you ask what happened? Make jokes? Change the subject? What if you just say nothing?
If you’ve been searching for the perfect way to respond to when your date says, “I’m divorced,” then these tips have you covered.
Don’t say, “I’m sorry.” Do say, “Congratulations!”
This suggestion is based on a conversation I had with a divorced friend who told me—in no uncertain terms—to stop saying “I’m sorry” when someone says they’re divorced. She kindly explained that, for her and for most modern divorcees, ending her relationship was an overall positive. The marriage wasn’t working out and they were both happier and more excited about the future now that they were living separate lives.
In the following years I’ve followed my friend’s advice with almost universally positive results. Occasionally you may encounter someone who was dumped and isn’t happy to hear your congrats, in which case you’ll have to apologize. But think about it this way: if your date is still feeling raw about their divorce, then they probably aren’t ready to date you in the first place.
Follow their lead on whether to keep talking about it.
Some people like to discuss their exes early on while others prefer to save the conversation for later. Just because your date married their ex doesn’t suddenly change the rules. Even if you really, really want to know the gory details, it’s a sign of maturity if you first ask, “Do you want to talk about it?” Your date may say yes or no, or they may leave it up to you. Whatever the case, you can’t go wrong if you follow their lead.
And most importantly: if your date says they want to stop talking about their divorce, listen.
Get real about what divorce is. (And what it isn’t.)
Assuming your date is OK continuing the divorce-centric conversation, one way to make them feel at ease is to reduce the stigma around divorced daters. You can say that divorce is common or that you have a lot of divorced friends. (Side note, it’s still weird to say you have a lot of “fill in the blank ethnicity” friends, but divorce is not an ethnicity, so saying you have divorced friends is perfectly acceptable.)
I like to joke that divorce is basically a fancy breakup and that, if I’d married my college boyfriend, I’d be divorced now, too. Whatever you say, the ultimate goal of getting real about divorce is to show your date that you don’t see divorced people as scarred, stained, disgraced or dishonored, and that their divorce doesn’t impact your interest in dating them.
Talk about something else.
Even if your date is glad—or mostly glad—they got divorced, they probably aren’t gung-ho to spend hours rehashing it with a potential new partner. It’s ironic, but because the subject of divorce is sensitive and because you both probably feel awkward talking about it, you may actually end up lingering on the topic unintentionally.
If you don’t know how to transition to a new conversation or what that new topic might be, you can always say, “Would you like to change the subject?” Most likely your date will say yes and then you can toss out some ideas like favorite bands, travel, or hobbies. Or you can give your date a compliment because who doesn’t like a compliment? Whatever you choose, just choose something, otherwise the night might start to feel like a hot therapy session rather than a hot date.
Of course, all of this advice assumes that you’re open to dating someone who has a legally-recognized ex. If you’re not, then that’s a shame. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 44% of first marriages end in divorce, which means there’s a decent possibility you’ll someday find yourself divorced and dating, and you’ll probably want others to give you a chance just like they want you to give them one today. Closing yourself off to anyone with a divorce under their belt also means that you’re missing out on some excellent potential partners, one of which could be the future love of your life.