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Oct. 25, 2020, 11:08 a.m. EDT

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?

‘He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a person: He’s smart, funny, intelligent, caring and handsome’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

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 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. Nor 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 from 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 the other person wants 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 age 65, assuming that’s how old 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 you like him, 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. 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, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, spoke about the psychology of human misjudgment in a famous 1995 talk to a class at Harvard University . 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. It is regarded as one of the most basic defense mechanisms that we carry into adulthood because it has its roots in early childhood development, but it often influences our decisions related to finance and romance.

No. 2. Incentive-cause bias. The reward outweighs the risk and/or any doubts you might have. “Take sales presentations of brokers of commercial real estate businesses,” Munger said. “I’ve never seen one that I thought was even within hailing distance of objective truth.”

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No. 3. Commitment tendency. This is a “superpower in error-causing psychological tendency,” Munger said. You waited for that diamond engagement ring or bus or return on that stock you bought in 1999, so it’s more likely to arrive, right? Wrong.

No. 4. Self-confirmation bias. We look for evidence that supports our wishes and/or our beliefs. Nowhere is that more powerful, perhaps, than social media and the “echo chambers” that exist on Facebook and Twitter, as social-media companies tailor algorithms to our likes and dislikes.

No. 5. Agency cost. This comes into play when we are too trusting of paid financial advisers, doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, politicians, business leaders or, in your case, a romantic partner with more life experience than you have.

“The cash register was a great moral instrument,” Munger said. That helps employers know that their staff is not shortchanging them. Cash registers produce receipts. You too should have at least one receipt: a divorce decree. And, let’s not forget, all of these errors of judgement may also be true for your boyfriend. He probably couldn’t believe his luck, and he may have also lied to himself.

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

<STRONG>Hello there, MarketWatchers. </STRONG> <STRONG /> <STRONG>Check out</STRONG> <STRONG> <INTERNET URL="https://www.facebook.com/groups/moneyist/" LOCATION="EXTERNAL">the Moneyist private Facebook</INTERNET> <PHRASE TYPE="COMPANY" SIGNIFICANCE="PASSING-MENTION"> <SYMBOL COUNTRY="US" TICKER="FB"></SYMBOL> </PHRASE> group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.</STRONG>

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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