At the movies

“Honesty is the best policy.” Or is it? When you’re falling in love, growing intimacy is all about the well-timed reveal. A natural inclination to overshare can intimidate your new partner, but hesitating to disclose certain things about your past can cause hurt down the road. How will you know when it’s the right time to share your secrets?

Exes: On a Need-to-Know Basis
Your new love interest doesn’t need to know how many exes you have, or who they are. Even if the waiter serving the sushi on your third date once took you ice skating, hold off and dish to your best friend afterwards. Even if your funniest story is about a guy you dated in college who ate a gallon of applesauce a day for its medicinal properties, don’t you dare. It can be tough to refrain from sharing these details— especially when they’re too weird or hilarious not to— but, for the sake of your newest date, try! If you absolutely can’t resist, try to take as many personal details out (you don’t have to mention that applesauce guy gave killer back rubs). Withholding identifying info about your ex-partners isn’t about creating a mysterious image for yourself; the point is to make your date feel like they’ve taken center stage in your heart. There are two cases when you should bring up exes, though: when you’re still friends with an old flame or recently divorced. If you regularly hang out with or text a former boyfriend or girlfriend who has transitioned to a completely platonic buddy, being upfront about your history with a new beau will inspire more trust than allowing that fact to emerge over time. If you’re in the process of divorcing, still settling things like property and finances with an ex-spouse, or sharing custody of children, your ex is still part of your life, even though the relationship is over. It’s nearly always better to acknowledge this openly than keep it a secret.

Your Past Lives
Perhaps you’re a pretty different person now than you were ten years ago (or even six months ago). Maybe you used to be a hardcore partier, or much heavier, or the voice of a rapping blue dog in a children’s movie before you arrived at your present self. Is it false advertising to withhold details about who you used to be? Nope! Everyone changes, and your date probably has his own less-than-flattering phases behind him. Of course, the problem is more complicated if you’re still dealing with the fallout of past actions— like if you wound up with a criminal record. If a Google search of your name reveals a 2008 news article about your night (or longer) in jail, or that time you embezzled from a preschool, best to bring this up sooner rather than later. Today it’s practically inevitable that your date will search you online, but being the one to break the news lets you control how the story gets presented. What about more intimate details, like that you’ve cheated on a previous partner? That’s up to you, but understandable not to share unless it becomes relevant somehow. If you’re afraid to speak up, you’d be surprised how often other people are willing to accept the things that cause us the greatest shame.

The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to You
At some point in your life, you might have experienced a real low point, like a major trauma, a severe illness, or a premature death in the family. Because of the highly personal and upsetting nature of these terrible events, it’s totally understandable not to disclose them to a new partner until (if ever) you feel comfortable. The only case when it could be essential to share is if the struggle continues to be a major part of your day-to-day living. If you’re frequently visiting a family member in the hospital, involved in a bitter and protracted court case, or managing a difficult health problem, mentioning this to a potential partner— even if you don’t intend to share your private world with them yet— is a courtesy after a few dates. There’s a difference between disclosing a tough situation and demanding help, so sharing your pain doesn’t have to mean sharing the burden.

Religion, politics, and other preferences
They say you shouldn’t discuss religion or politics on your first date— well, when should you? Because faith and ideology can be quite important to people, putting off that discussion indefinitely could backfire later in the relationship. Only you’ll know when the time is right, but sooner than later (perhaps dates three and later), start throwing in some hints about your political leanings to give your partner a clue. Don’t be shy about things that matter to you! If your partner responds badly to the news that you’re a Libertarian or a Buddhist, aren’t you glad you found out before going official?

Sharing is, for many people, one of the very best parts of dating— it’s not just about the act of disclosure, but also receiving acceptance from someone who’s just crazy about you. You can help foster mutual tolerance and acceptance with your potential partner by modeling the kind of listening you want to receive. When they start to share some of their dirty laundry, be careful to monitor your response for subtle (or obvious) judgments. Even if you hear something that makes you uncomfortable (and it’s okay to break things off if you do), making a genuine effort to listen compassionately is the first step towards real intimacy.

Are you working on opening up to a new partner, or struggling to crack a tough nut? Advisors at KEEN.com can help you understand the situation.