When does waiting to tell your partner something become a lie?

Have you ever been on that intensely awkward overshare first date?

You sit down and the guy you just met tells you he has been in therapy for seven years, used to self-harm, and has three children by two different mothers. You were really just hoping to order a good appetizer and find out how his day at work was. Maybe trade favorite concert stories or discover you’ve both been to Austria. But now you feel like his shrink or his exhausted mother and you have no idea whether he now expects you to share tales of junior high humiliation and an ugly custody battle.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, have you ever been about to move to Idaho with your long-time boyfriend, about whom you thought you knew everything, and gotten a call from the cops the night before the move asking you to please pick him up from the police station because they finally picked him up for his outstanding warrants?

The thing is, we all have skeletons in our closet – low credit scores, DUIs, unexpected (even if adored) children. Life goes smoothly for no one. Some of our stories are worse than others. Some really should make you run the other way as fast as you can. But people also change and they learn from mistakes and improve their lives and become entirely viable partners. How do you know when there’s just too much to deal with? And if you really like someone, how do you tell them something you afraid is going to make them like you a lot less?

Because at some point, things NEED TO BE REVEALED. It is not fair to get into a relationship with someone and casually mention as you start your cross-country roadtrip that you have to detour around Illinois because you burnt down a casino there. Revealing your son’s existence the day after you get engaged is unacceptable. Sometimes, the longer you keep a secret, the worse its reveal. I mean, most people don’t care if you have an adult son. But they’re going to find it pretty weird if the first they hear of it it is when they discover his photo stuffed in a drawer six months into your relationship.

The thing is, though, that as human beings we are judgmental and some of us are more judgmental than others. If we don’t know someone well and learn something about them that we feel is negative we might nix them despite a whole lot of good things we have yet to find out. It is intimidating to tell someone new things that are off-putting because if they don’t know all the great parts of your past and personality, the bad things take center stage. Yet when you put it off too long, things that really aren’t that big a deal take on ominous proportions.

Responsibility for this lies with both participants, but the one with the potential secret has a greater duty to reveal. If you are online dating and you read that someone absolutely does not want to date anyone with kids or who smokes or who lives with their parents, don’t lie. Move on, look at the next profile. If you’re the suspicious (reasonable?) type, maybe you want to avoid online dating entirely and go through friends or a matchmaking service that offers background checks so that you can avoid some of the most potentially damaging men and women.

And ask questions. Don’t be confrontational about it, but if there’s something you are curious about or suspect or worry … bring it up and bring it up before you get attached to the other person. Don’t try to trick them into revealing too much too soon, but it is completely legitimate to find out early if they have a job or a car or a pet tiger. It gets a little iffier when it comes to something like student loan debt or the fact that they’re in recovery.

On the whole, though own your past – the good and the bad. Don’t terrify your new love interest right off the bat, but try to let them know important things about you in a timely and psychologically normal way. And if you’re the squeaky clean one, cut your potential mate some – but not too much – slack.



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Posted 09-09-2013 8:29 pm by