Full Disclosure in Online Dating

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When you look for a date online, you learn a lot more about potential dates than you would if they were just guys your great-aunt kept setting you up with. But you’re also at a disadvantage when it comes to private information. Years ago, you might’ve dated a girl you knew from college or the guy from down the street. You would probably have had some window into their background, and they would have had some window into yours. But internet dating lacks the social glue of shared past experiences or acquaintances, and no one is going to clue you in about his past but him. Similarly, no one will be able to tell tell him your dirty little secrets but you. It can be tricky to know how much private dirt to share with your date (and even trickier to know when it’s appropriate to drop very personal news). Here’s a handy guide to “coming clean” in the internet age:

Before you meet in person, fess up to:

  • Any fibs, omissions or little white lies that they’ll notice upon meeting you.If you have gained more than ten pounds or developed a shiny bald spot since your photos were taken, mention it beforemeeting your date. If you smoke (even if trying to quit!) and haven’t mentioned it, do it before meeting face-to-face. Most people are more willing to forgive your foibles than they are your fibs.
  • Having children. This is a dealmaker/dealbreaker for parents and those who date them, and it’s not fair to make your date play the “what if I was unattached?” game. (It’s not fair to you, either.) It doesn’t have to be a big discussion, but it’s worth early mention. It’s generally considered good manners to let people know about kids before meeting in person, but if you feel more comfortable talking about your children in person for safety or other reasons, let the person you’re dating know about your child on the first date.

Within the first few dates, let them know about:

  • Any “non-traditional” lifestyle which you publicly acknowledge.If you keep your non-traditional lifestyle, habit or belief tightly under wraps, you’re not at all obligated to share the details of your personal life with a new partner. However, if a quick google of your name will turn up the fact that you’re a Wiccan priestess or the founder of a local polyamory or BDSM organization, you should clue your date in sooner rather than later. Some people feel more comfortable explaining unusual lifestyles to a date in person, because they’re concerned about being judged or misunderstood. If you don’t want to get into it over e-mail, that’s fine, but make sure you share this information very early in the “getting to know you” process.

 Before you sleep together, let them know about:

  • Any other current partners or romantic interests.As antiquated as the notion seems to some, there are still lots of people who view “doing it” as a step in a chain of monogamous commitment. If you’re seeing other people, let the person you’re planning to sleep with know. (Do this outside the bedroom, before things get hot and heavy.)
  • Any current or recent STDs.Even if you’ve got symptoms under control and use protection, your partner deserves to know that you have or have recently had an STD. (Obviously, if you had the clap ten years ago but have tested clean since then, you’re under no obligation to mention it.)

 Before you get exclusive or “serious,” let them know about:

  • Any current life events that may affect your partner.If there’s something that you don’t tell casual partners but that you’d expect a long-term bf/gf to deal with, it’s important to come out with it before they are that long-term bf/gf. Maybe you are involved in a lawsuit against a former stalker, or you’re in therapy. Maybe you have an ongoing medical issue that you don’t like to talk about, or a scandalous family situation. It’s understandable to keep your struggles and problems to yourself when dating casually, but when someone is becoming seriously emotionally invested in you, it’s only respectful to open up to them about your ongoing struggles.
  • Any “non-traditional” lifestyle that is private but important to you.If you have something that you are “closeted” about, you might not mention it when dating around. But when you agree to date someone seriously, it becomes more important that they understand your long-term needs. If something is part of your identity (such as identifying as bisexual, even if you’re dating “straight”), your sexuality (craving whips and chains) or your lifestyle (preferring to have an open relationship), this needs to be clear to your partner before you proceed further. It may be scary to come out to someone you like about a private but important part of your lifestyle, but it actually serves both of you well. Communicating your needs and desires is an essential part of a serious relationship, and if your preferences don’t sync up with your beloved’s, it’s absolutely best to talk about it early in the relationship. Don’t keep mum and hope they’ll just clue in eventually… it’s likely that you will end up feeling resentful and unfulfilled. And when they discover why, they’ll feel upset or deceived.

Before you move in together (or make any other serious financial, legal or emotional commitment), let them know about:

  • Past experiences or traumas that continue to affect you.If you are at the point of creating a shared day-to-day life with someone, you may consider trying to open up to your partner about things you rarely share (whether they be past addictions, abuse, medical or legal problems or other traumas). It’s crucial to come clean at this stage, since a partner who is moving in with you will spend a significant portion of their time with you, and should be aware of things that might trigger bad feelings, recollections or behaviors. If you don’t feel like you can talk about a particular subject but know that it will continue to affect your behavior, it’s fair to just say, “Because of some things that have happened in the past, you might find that it’s really important to me that _____.” This will open the channel of communication enough to let your partner know what to expect, and help them be respectful of you — without forcing you to talk about something you have difficulty discussing.
  • Current debt (whether you’re paying it or not).The good news is that most people have some level of debt. The bad news is that this fact doesn’t excuse you from talking about it. If either of you owe any significant amount of money, you and your partner need to talk about it before combining finances or making plans that require you to be financially responsible to one another. Nothing is worse than finding out from a realtor that your wonderful, sweet boyfriend “forgot” to mention that bankruptcy to you.

The bottom line, as always, is that your level of honesty and the degree to which you can be expected to share highly personal information is directly linked to your level of commitment to the other person, and to the relationship. If you don’t know whether or not it’s time to tell your partner something, imagine them asking you, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” If you don’t think you could answer them truthfully with “Because you didn’t need to know yet,” it’s time to come clean.

Good luck, stay honest, and happy dating!

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