My best friend and I were debating the other day about how obligated you are to tell a person the whole truth when you first meet them. For instance, if you meet someone who interests you while you’re dating someone who’s sort of just there, do you have to tell them that you’re involved? BFF says no since you’re not serious with the other person and telling might scare off the new prospect. My philosophy says yes, the new person should be able to make a decision about dating me based on all of the facts. I don’t have the right to make that choice for them, by leaving out pertinent details.

But what about withholding even more serious information, like the fact that you have a serious illness, or you’ve been raped, or you have a criminal past. When are we obligated to tell these things and when is it considered dishonest if you don’t volunteer this information?

Fortunately, I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve had to reveal an unpleasant fact about myself that I was worried would scare someone off, but I have had occasion where a guy withheld facts about children, baby mamas, jobs, and the like for a rainy day in fear that if I knew the truth from the get go, I would run in the opposite direction.

Likewise, I’ve come across women with incurable STDs who never know when the time is right to tell someone they like or even want to be intimate with that their sexual health is compromised. Ideally, that time would be when you have “the talk,” but is it already too late at that point? Both parties are ready to escalate the relationship, feelings are strong, and this knowledge could be a huge blow to whatever connection has already been established.

But if you tell someone something like this too soon, aren’t you doomed from the start? The stigmas that define incurable diseases, mental illnesses, sexual promiscuity, criminal records, etc. are no stranger to any of us. If the person doesn’t immediately walk away once they’re told, their view of the person may still be distorted as they try to come to terms with whatever personal information was shared. Any chance to get to know all aspects of the person may be overshadowed by the one issue that they can’t get past. But on the flip side, if you were the person on the receiving end, would you feel betrayed if the person waited too long to reveal something that changes the dynamic of the relationship as you know it?

As someone who doesn’t even like to talk about my feelings for another person, I understand the pressures of disclosure. Two important aspects of telling someone sensitive information about yourself are timing and discretion. A first date is rarely ever the time to tell much info beyond your name, occupation, living situation, goals, and whether or not you have children. But listen to what the other person tells you. People often reveal information about themselves that we overlook. If they mention phobias about certain lifestyles or preferences for certain behaviors that don’t define you, take that as a cue that this is not a person that you can be open with. Decline to see them again, but know that you don’t have to give an explanation other than you don’t think the two of you are a good match.

If things are moving in a direction where you can see yourself getting closer to a person, then you have to begin to think about sharing the uncomfortable news. Realize your revelation is a risk, but a necessary one. If the person is going to leave, the sooner you know that the better. And if the person stays, then sharing what you feel is a deep dark secret can be the foundation of a new type of openness and really be the beginning chapter to a new, closer relationship together.

Getting to know someone new is never easy, and troublesome histories tend to only complicate things, but at the end of the day, honesty is always the best policy for yourself and the other person. Just know that it’s up to you to establish your own personal time clock for discretion as long as your intentions are in the right place.

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  • Jennifer Louise

    I think it is important for individuals to realize the value and importance of questions. Not all people may want to know everything about your past, like how many people you’ve slept with, job history or your relationship experience. Understand the power of questions and recognize that it is primarily your responsibility to ask if you want to know. I believe that there is a beauty in learning someone new through the gradual process of experiencing life’s moments with them; as this can often show us who one is better than any “testimonial” could. Sure putting everything out on the table may make us feel better in terms of honesty, but might not even be a true representation of ourselves … where we’ve been does not determine who we are.

  • Lauren

    @ConcernedIndividual I couldn’t agree with you more on the stigma comment. There is a great stigma around people living with HIV/AIDS and other STDs. These people are no different from you and me. They made mistakes or their partner was living foul and they gave them the virus,but we should not label them as if they are beneath us. Living with HIV takes a great toll on your life and everybody cannot handle it. I watched my father die from it because he was too ashamed he had it. We really have to stop the stigma. Besides any of us can get it especially if you are not protecting yourself.

  • missyjustice

    We all have secrets and stories to tell and some are just not appropriate for the first date e.g. being raped, abused, etc. I don’t think everything needs to be revealed right away. For example I suffered from an eating disorder in my past and I don’t feel the need to tell someone that the day I meet them because it doesn’t define me. On the other hand if I had a child, that is something I’d like the person to know from day one because if they’re not open to dating someone with children then why waste my time and theirs? A lot of our secrets come out with time as we get to know someone and spend time with them. If you ask the right questions you will get the answers you’re looking for.