When you meet someone you really like, you feel excited and anxious at the same time. On the one hand, you might be thinking, “It’s so hard to find someone decent and available that I want to tell him everything about me, and learn everything about him right away.”
On the other hand, you might also be feeling afraid that telling him everything about your past relationships and emotional struggles will make him head for the hills. Like Dr. Doolittle’s two-headed llama where one head goes east and the other west, your feelings are also going in two different directions at once.
Revealing things about your past in a wise way requires emotional navigation between haste and retreat. Here is some dating advice for women that will help you take charge of letting your new man know you, and getting to know your man:
1. Take your time.
You might regret telling all the heartbreaking details of your life to someone who will judge or dismiss you before he can experience your positive attributes such as your strength, bravery, intelligence, and kindness.
First impressions are hard to revise. Revealing too much about you can also signal loneliness and an intense need for love and approval. As one of the women in my study, Renee, said, “I think I pulled out everything in my emotional closet when I met Rick. I thought if he wanted me after I told him all the bad things about me that it meant he really loved me.” Renee was wrong. Rick sensed her vulnerability and desperation. He cheated on her, lied to her, and denigrated her—and knew she would put up with it. Rick was as desperate as Renee to be loved.
2. Focus on being you in the present.
Relationships exist in the now. Be your best self with him now. You don’t have to offer a laundry list about your divorce or your recovery from substance abuse, for example. Don’t fall for a skewed understanding of the saying “honesty is the best policy.” Honesty certainly is a good value, but the saying doesn’t mean that you have to roll out the movie of your past all at once.
Trust in who you are now. Your self will shine through, and speak for itself.
3. Live with your anxiety about not yet being “known” by your man.
I often advise my clients and research participants to “float” with the anxiety about not being sure if the new man in your life accepts you.
The beginnings of good, healthy relationships requires time to develop a relationship track record of factors such as shared values, ability to get along, joy in being together, and good communication skills.
If you have done your personal homework for you, then you will have developed your own self-acceptance and sense of self-worth.
4. Make general statements about your past rather than offer your whole story.
You can still be honest without detailing every aspect of your past. Tell the person that after you know each other better, you’ll talk more about it. Always be sure that whatever you say, you add something positive about you. Here are two examples of how the women in my study handled the balancing act of saying more than nothing but less than all:
a. If your childhood was unhappy—or even miserable, you can say something like, “My parents were very immature and selfish people, but I have really overcome that” rather than “I was abused all the time and got addicted to drugs, which I battle every day.”
b. When you discuss your past love relationships, you can respond by saying something such as, “I did have two really serious relationships, but the timing off, and we weren’t on the same page about what we wanted in life ” instead of “I’ve really been hurt in the past.”
5. Conduct a mini-test of your partner’s views ahead of time about issues that you think he won’t accept about you.
For instance, look for openings in your conversation where you can mention your issue. Refer to it and observe your man’s reactions. Here are stories from the women in my study.
a. Sally didn’t know how to test her date’s attitude about depression. She has been taking medication for her problem for a while, and she was worried about his response. At one point, her date mentioned that he had an impossible grandmother whose mood switched from mild to wildly mean, Sally said: “In my family we have a cousin whom everyone thought was nuts, but when her doctor discovered she was bipolar, he gave her medication that really works. The doctor explained to us that our cousin wasn’t at fault—she was born that way.” She’s now a really successful artist. Sally observed the man’s response. He said should fix their problems without relying on popping pills.” She didn’t go out with him again.
b. Barbara was ashamed that she lost her job as a paralegal, and was now working as a wait staff at restaurant. When she was on a fourth date with someone she liked very much, he asked her if she would like to help him check out some apartments he was thinking of renting. She said, “Sure, I’ve really good about using money wisely and finding good values. My brother got downsized at work, and he taught me a thing or two. And I’m no stranger to budgeting.” In response, the man opened up and told her about his financial situation.
They sensed the emotional support in the other, and they dated for a year, became engaged, and got married!
Live in the now, build love for you from within, and you will have less difficulty taking your time and managing your normal, human need for closeness and love.
I wish you bravery!