Why Do You Want to Know?

It is inevitable that you are going to be asked this question. It is one of the first questions, right after your name and date of birth, on the form you must complete every time you update your information at a doctor’s, dentist’s or other health related office. You will also be asked when you complete membership forms for civic groups, clubs and fitness centers. Thankfully, there are discrimination laws that prohibit this question on a job application or interview. The question reads, “Are you: Married, Single, Widowed or Divorced?”

While the stigma of being divorced is not as prevalent as it used to be, it is still with us and going strong. More than a few times I have been in a conversation where someone starts babbling about how so many people (these days) do not take marriage seriously, they just say their vows then jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes this person continues to rant on and on. I grow silent, raise my eyebrows, and look at them without blinking. After what feels like an hour, they remember I am right there. They inhale sharply and mutter something like, “Oh, I don’t mean you.” I usually smile my sweetest fake smile and say, “Oh, Thank you, for a minute I thought you were trying to insult me.”

When your past calls don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.

I used to feel shame over being divorced. I am not proud of it, but it is part of my past history. It not only feels like failure, it is. No one likes having their failures publicly dissected and criticized. Consider this; many intact marriages are on-going failures, where one or both people are miserable and the relationship is toxic. My failed marriage had an end date while many just keep going and going like that crazy pink bunny beating it’s drum. Do you put the soured milk back in the refrigerator or do you pour it out? We all know it isn’t going to smell better next week. I am not saying that marriages can’t be repaired. They can and should be salvaged in some instances. My point is that the only people that will claim that divorce is easy are the ones that have not experienced it. Ending the relationship that you thought would last until death takes courage regardless of the circumstances.

Getting back to the question about marital status. Think about this, a person may have been through several divorces, or been a widowed once or more, yet if they are currently married they get to check the married box without qualification. If they get to do that, then why doesn’t a divorced person get to reclaim the title of single? Of course, after a certain age that carries it’s own stigma since people will make assumptions about you that include the possibilities of you being a closet gay or just such an awful person that no one can be happy with you for long.

It is possible that decades ago they asked this question because they wanted to know who else they could bill if you didn’t cough up the payment due for their services. That excuse is outdated. Before HEPA they might have claimed they wanted to know so they could share information in the event of an emergency. That is no longer valid, they can’t tell anyone squat without your written permission. That is why, near the bottom of the final page, they will ask you about who they should contact and what information should be shared and you will sign on the line giving them this permission. You do not have to name anyone. If I can refuse to allow them to call anyone other than the coroner, should I drop dead in their waiting room, then I certainly do not have to answer questions about marriages past or present.

It takes courage to begin again when your support system disappears and you can’t see what lies ahead.

Regarding the Bible, I know what it says about divorce. Again, I am not trying to say it is not big deal. It is a huge, enormous, gargantuan deal. So is stealing, lust, idolatry and murder but I have never had to check a box by any of those at the dentist office.

This isn’t the most important battle to be fought today. All I am saying is that going forward I will leave that question unanswered. If asked, I will inquire as to why the information is needed. I have found that when someone asks a question to which has an answer that it is none of their business, it is polite and oh so satisfying to put put on my kind face and ask, “Why do you want to know?” Unless I am given a plausible response I still won’t answer. I don’t expect to get such an explanation, but if I do then I will say that I am single. My past is comprised of experiences and lessons learned. It is who I was, not who I am today.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your feedback in the comments.

Photo Credits belong to Tyler Lastovich, Nick Fewings, Jon Tyson


  1. I never thought about how divorced people have to choose “divorced” instead of “single” on forms. It does seem wrong, pointless and hurtful. It’s interesting that I have a single friend who says she would prefer to tell people she is divorced, rather than single. I’m sure it’s for the reason you point out, and I feel it myself sometime. It is hard to be single—especially as an old single—divorced or in an unhappily married, which I imagine makes up a very large majority of the population. I try to press on and embrace the old saying: “It’s better to want what you can’t have than to have what you don’t want.”


  2. a thoughtful post; I associate with much of what you say: I have been separated for a number of years now and it happened gradually : we were just moving along different paths; fortunately our children have grown up so that isn’t an issue. I believe people are much better single than together in a toxic or non-caring relationship. Thanks for examining my lite little post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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