I’m 24 and dating a 64-year-old man. He wanted to get married, but I discovered he never got divorced. Have I been conned?


Dear Moneyist,

I am 24 years old and I have been in a relationship with a 64-year-old man for five years. He is financially secure, he takes us on vacations, and he wanted to get married when we first met. He was in the U.S. Army and has been married for 30-plus years with two adult kids.

He and I both took a trip to a lake and had an amazing time. I later found out that we were there so that he could finalize his divorce. That never happened, and I was never informed. Neither did I ask questions. I trusted him. I’m really not sure how to go forward with our relationship. I confronted him about not being divorced, and his excuse was he didn’t have enough time.

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I feel guilty a lot of the time for being in this situation. The hurt I feel for being in love with someone who I may or may not never have to myself. When the relationship began he wanted to get married, but now things have changed and it has been a shock to me. I didn’t want to get married at first because I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted from this relationship.

But now marriage is off the table as an option and, it seems, as a preference for him. The day will never come for us to be married. It breaks my heart. Have I been conned? He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a person: he’s smart, funny, intelligent, caring, and handsome.

Heartbroken

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Dear Heartbroken,

Add unavailable to that list.

People sometimes say what they believe they want the other person to hear, especially if they want something from that person: companionship, love, sex. The same is true for business: I know what problem you want solved and I can provide you the solution. Of course, the courts are full of claims that a business partner or contractor or former romantic partner were not who they claimed to be.

Divorce is a huge emotional and financial upheaval. He may be content with his life as it is. He doesn’t have to pay alimony to an ex-wife, split his assets 50/50, pay exorbitant lawyer fees, and get married and go through it all over again at the age of 65, assuming that’s what age he will be when he is finally a single man. My guess is the last thing he wants to do is get married again so soon after his divorce. If he ever decides to get divorced, which I say is unlikely. Plus, you are dating now, and he knows he likes you, and you have both invested time and created memories.

The world and dating sites are full of married men. Men not mentioning their marital status or the fact that they happen to be still living with their former partner until days or weeks into the relationship. By then, you will like the person and, I assume trust them and, as such, you are more likely to buy what they’re selling, and overlook the lying by omission. That’s why they call it a confidence trick.

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Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, spoke about the psychology of human misjudgment in a famous 1995 speech: Munger never took a course in psychology or economics, but he gives a fascinating point by point outline of all the ways we lie to ourselves and allow others to lie to us. Here’s a very brief rundown of the first five:

No. 1. Psychological denial. We believe what we want to be true. No. 2. Incentive-cause bias. It’s not too good to be true. No. 3. “A superpower in error-causing psychological tendency, bias from consistency and commitment tendency,” Munger says. You waited for that diamond or bus or return on that stock, so it’s more likely to arrive, right? Wrong. No. 4. Self-confirmation bias. We look for evidence that will support our wishes and/or our beliefs. No. 5. Agency cost. Too trusting of financial advisers or, in your case, a romantic partner with more life experience than you have.

And, let’s not forget, in your case the opposite may also be true. Your boyfriend probably couldn’t believe his luck, and may have also lied to himself. “The cash register was a great moral instrument when that was created.” That helps employers know that their staff are not shortchanging them. Cash registers produce receipts. You too should have a receipt: in this case, a divorce decree.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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