Do I have to tell my date problematic things I have done in the past?

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Guilt is a healthy response as a reaction to the past, yet it is a dysfunctional response to our posture for the future. If you have done things you should be ashamed of, not feeling guilt would be a bad thing. But if the guilt is undermining your confidence in your ability to move forward in your life, it is a really bad thing.

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If nothing else, dating is about honesty. There are several important reasons for this. As just explained, the first thing to understand is that the main element of dating is “mutual self-disclosure.” The way that the bonding process works is by each party progressively sharing and revealing more about themselves. As the dating intensifies, the would-be couple are sharing increasingly personal thoughts and feelings – matters they would normally not discuss with anyone – and this is the glue that binds them together. Those deep verbal exchanges is what creates the conditions for feelings of love and affection to blossom. Therefore, if one or more participants in the dating process withholds key information, this undermines the mutual self-disclosure that is essential to its success.

Another issue is that the essence of dating is letting go. Some people have a hard time “taking the leap,” which can put a major spanner in the works. But even for a person who does not experience difficulty surrendering themselves to another person for marriage, this is still a profound and delicate process. People who may have only met recently are now willing to so fully trust another person as to commit absolutely everything to them. For this to happen, it is ideal that the people contemplating this step are in a relaxed and open state. Having to monitor and screen information so as to conceal past events from the other person contradicts this. It creates a closeness and anxiety that makes the transition from independence to interdependence more difficult.

Finally, everyone understands that marriage is based on trust. A married couple is willing to take highly important actions (like having a child) and assume significant risks (like taking on a mortgage) because of an unquestioned belief in the commitment their spouse has to them and the partnership. If a person has any doubt as to their spouses’ investment in the relationship, the system breaks down. That is why lying in a marriage is so devastating.

For the same reason, hiding things from one’s spouse usually leads to an erosion of trust. Starting of a marriage while withholding significant information flies in the face of the basic assumptions people are entitled to make regarding the terms of the union. A simple way to think about it is if “the shoe was on the other foot.” How would you feel if the person you are contemplating marrying was concealing key information from you?

How Much to Disclose?

It should be clear that lying or keeping your date in the dark are not appropriate. So, the question is: must you reveal everything? What if you are concerned that this could derail the relationship that is going so well for both of you? The short answer is that it depends on what and when.

Before explaining this, it must be noted that it is nearly impossible to state hard and fast rules about these things, as they are influenced by the culture of each individual. For some, the dating process is more formal and the extent of mutual disclosure is limited, while for others the dating process gets more personal. Whatever follows is written with the conscious awareness that this delicate matter is not a case of “one size fits all.”

The first major point to consider is “what.” You do not need to disclose every embarrassing thing that ever happened to you. Nothing is going to be gained by you revealing that when you were thirteen you got into a fight and broken someone’s nose. You are probably best to leave out that you made an unfortunate choice in body piercing when you are fifteen, if you are concerned that will raise uncomfortable questions in his mind. Any kind of disclosure can lead to greater closeness, but if you think that knowing the person you are dating this will scare her, you are best leaving this out.

You do not need to disclose that you were expelled from school when you were eleven for insulting a teacher, nor that you jumped the line at an amusement park when you were twelve. I would not advise you to blurt out that you cheated on their driving exam, nor to mention that you consumed an entire quart of ice cream it a single sitting. I am not saying that you should definitely not disclose these things, but you are under no obligation to do so. If concerned it will not be well-received, you should probably drop it.

Do Not Hide Important Matters

However, there are issues that you most certainly need to contemplate discussing during dating. If you are formally bankrupt or if you are in some other major financial predicament, you need to talk about it. If you have a plan for how to handle it, there is a good chance your date will take it in their stride. But concealing such information is problematic on many levels.

If you are in legal trouble – such as for significant tax evasion or major fraud – you need to understand that not saying anything is a much bigger risk that being open about it. You can explain your “side of the story” and discuss how you are handling it, but just staying shtum in the hope that he or she never finds out is highly questionable. If you have a significant medical issue – such a Crohn’s Disease or Diabetes – you need to open about it.

Most people will be challenged initially, but they will take the time to absorb the information and take a rational decision. If the relationship is important to them, they will not walk away so easily. Besides for the psychological and moral aspects set out above, if you hide these matters, you have to think about how it will be taken when eventually it comes out.

The “What” and “When”

Of course, there are plenty of gray areas, and it is not possible to cover every scenario. Must you let your date know that you have a criminal record? I think most people would agree that it depends how you acquired it. If it was over a “child protection” issue it would be very different than if you were convicted on a mild public order offence by an over-zealous judge. Plus, in different contexts and communities, what counts as minor or major will vary. For example, as people get older certain factors either grow or diminish in importance. Some communities view any brush with the law very poorly, while others do not regard it as seriously.

The second consideration is “when.” Some information is best put on the table from the outset. If this is a deal breaker, then it is best to know from the get-go. Other information is almost certainly best left until you have become closer. The rule of thumb is that if there are really big issues, they should be disclosed as early as possible – perhaps before the dating even begins. What is the point going through extensive dating and potentially developing strong feelings for one another only to have the have the foundations of his or her world shaken to the core?

To illustrate, if you have a major psychological illness (for example, schizophrenia) it is best that the person you are dating knows and can process this before the dating starts. On the other hand, if you have a mild anxiety or depressive disorder, you are best bringing this up once you have decided that you like each other. I am aware that not everyone will agree with this stance, but outlining these thoughts gives you some considerations to bear in mind when deciding what to do.

In conclusion, there is a myth that “what you do not know does not hurt you.” This is sometimes used to justify concealing information. The information will only upset them, this theory goes, if they know about it. If someone is stealing money from your account and you do not know about, this is going to impact you in exactly the same way and to the same degree if you did know about it. In short, this idea is ridiculous.

When thinking about what you share on a date, you need to consider what the other person would think of your decision to hide the information. You need to think hard about whether you are sabotaging the dating process by your decision to not be open about significant issues in your life. Keeping quiet may seem the easy answer, but in many cases the matter has to be confronted in the end and you are left looking dishonest and compromised. Overall, for anything significant, honesty is the best policy.

 

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