The Honesty Dilemma in the Early Stages of Dating

Not all thoughts need to be shared. This is a healthy boundary to keep in mind when just getting to know someone. However, many singles believe immediate honesty about personal information will win people over that they want to impress. This leads to introducing yourself in the ‘I am an open book” style of communicating. This level of disclosure is not a good idea. Yet many people seeking approval, connection and intimacy convince themselves the sooner they are viewed as an honest person, the sooner they will be respected and desired.

Examples of areas where “too much too soon” disclosures occur are: 1) sharing personal traits or prior behaviors that are irrelevant to the date such as “I cheated on a prior partner or, “sometimes I can be selfish”; 2) sharing details of your relationship history 3) disclosing sensitive family matters 4) revealing sensitive details about childhood difficulties or 5) disclosing sensitive medical or psychological information about yourself. Disclosures such as these can make both people uncomfortable and ruin the fun and casual nature of a date.

Defenders of early disclosure of sensitive information in the early stages of dating say they have nothing to hide, have no shame, and want someone to know the good and the bad so no time is wasted. Also, overdisclosing is another way to deal with anxiety about what to talk about. Concerns such as “am I interesting, am I smart enough, am I funny enough,” may cause people to default to telling their life story.

The truth is, this approach of unbridled honesty with a stranger (even people who feel like immediate soulmates), usually leads to failure. False impressions and snap judgments can occur and result in rejection. Regret after premature disclosure can make one too uncomfortable to go out on another date. Healthy relationships grow over time, through shared experiences, consistent behaviors and appropriate boundary setting. The spewing of information is not a quick road to intimacy. It is just a collection of information that might be lies or exaggerations to create premature attachment. Time and shared experiences lead to clarity about who people are and whether genuine interests exist for the right reasons.

What Issues Drive this Kind of Inappropriate Disclosure?

It is undeniable that we all want to be loved, validated, trusted and admired. It is a fact that such needs are met through the experience of a romantic relationship. Dating is the main avenue for pursuing a person who might fulfill these needs. If a person feels urgent about getting their needs met, they will try to move fast with someone who they have just met and to whom they are attracted. The hunger for a connection to someone can drive disclosing without appropriate boundaries. A difficult family history and prior relationship experiences can drive the need to bond quickly through inappropriate sharing of personal information. However, doing so does not inject emotional closeness between people but it will increase false closeness and stress . Personal information out of context can cause false, negative perceptions that can sabotage a relationship before it starts.

What Kind of Information Can Easily Create Negative Perceptions?

Family information: Too often people reveal personal traumas, traits and events related to their families. For example, if addiction runs in your family and you are dating someone who knows very little about addiction, they could easily get scared away. To the contrary, if you meet someone who has addiction in their family, they might conclude, “This will be a disaster, I have already been through that.” In other words, this particular disclosure could cause unnecessary fear or inaccurate beliefs. Once a person gets to know you over time, negative suppositions about you, your family and your “worthiness or acceptability” will decrease, and accurate perceptions will increase through real time experiences.

Relationship History:

For a variety of psychological reasons, many people divulge detailed information about previous partners. This line of discussion has many pitfalls, and yet with all that there is to talk about when getting to know someone new, this past relationship talk often comes up early in dating. Even talking about your current dating status and experiences is unnecessary and risky. Common reasons for this pattern of disclosing or asking others to disclose information about their past relationship patterns are:

· To create a dramatic atmosphere for immediate intimacy

· To gain sympathy

· To create jealousy or admiration

· To avoid other topics of discomfort

· To create conent to make sure there is enough to talk about

· To create a sexual connection

Excessive sharing about the past limits getting to know the person in present time. It can alter mood by stirring up old feelings and memories. It can lead the conversation into an “interview” mode and details about old lovers can spark curiosities, prejudices, fears or sadness. Many people wonder what to say if someone asks questions about past choices in partners, or poses questions such as ” why are you single, have you ever been married, have you ever been abused by a former partner etc… ?” Here are some simple, non-insulting, privacy promoting responses:

· “I am open to talk about those topics after we go out more and get to know each other better.”

· “I find it much more interesting to talk about work, interests, friends, travel, goals etc.”

“I understand that you are just trying to make conversation, but I would be more comfortable if we just tabled those topics for down the road.”

Proceed to lead the conversation where you want it to go. Think of what you might learn and be interested in about the person by talking about what you are both presently doing in your lives or how the activity of the date is going. Anyone who presses to have their questions answered in the early stages of dating is being insensitive, inconsiderate, selfish and may have problems with healthy intimacy. There are plenty of things to talk about on a date besides who else you have been with, broken up with, or still might miss. How can any of that talk be useful to the here and now between two people who have just met and are trying to get to know each other?

What is the Difference Between Healthy Honesty and Unhealthy Honesty?

Unhealthy honesty is impulsive, strategic, manipulative or insecure. It is usually coming from a place of low self-esteem, exaggerated ego, weak boundaries or intimacy problems. Despite the conscious belief by some that this kind of honesty is a sign of wanting to get close to someone or a sign that we feel good about ourselves, what is really in play is a lot of insecurities that can eventually damage a potential relationship. In the history of the world, has there ever been an exception to this generalization? Yes, of course there has been. But in the majority of cases, going too fast leads people to lose interest or pull away.

Healthy honesty is a disclosure that incorporates good judgment, proper timing, courtesy, respect, healthy boundaries and appropriate risk taking. At some point, self-disclosing is a crucial aspect of getting closer to someone. However, it is through the passage of time and experience that it makes sense to do so. At some point we should take a risk and open up about ourselves and our histories. But doing so before mutual interest has been established or before we know if someone is emotionally healthy is ill- advised. Also at some point, we should honestly disclose what we want, need, like and don’t like. Withholding or lying about authentic aspects of who we are destroys the possibility of developing trust and a positive connection. Becoming aware of when the time is right to open up is an important dating skill.

Healthy honesty involves revealing who we are, flaws, feelings and beliefs. Unhealthy honesty is needy, lacks boundaries, and can create regret, shame, and the decision to prematurely end something that could have potential. In depth honesty too soon robs dating of what it is primarily all about which is, a social opportunity to have fun, meet a variety of people, get needs met, share and expand upon interests and passions, develop social confidence and competence, and of course to possibly find a partner.

Why not go out, have fun and let time pass before opening up has healthy utility to it? Healthy intimacy is only possible when the people involved are secure, patient, and set the kind of appropriate boundaries needed to strike the balance between availability to others and privacy. The inability to strike this balance may indicate the need for counseling to get to the source of the difficulty in setting boundaries. Commitment and effort put into developing a pattern of boundary setting and healthy communication skills aids in the development of healthier and more satisfying relationships. It also minimizes feelings of pessimism that can come from years of dating disappointments.

There is no exact time frame by which to start opening up on a more personal level to people you date. But generally, if you have had 6 or more consecutive dates, feel inspired to get to know the person better, it might be time to discuss each others comfort level with revealing more personal and vulnerable information.

If done in this manner both people will feel safer to open up and take small risks together. Holding off on having sex will also aid in slowing down premature sharing of sensitive, personal information. Slowing the process down in general creates more security and comfort and room to learn whether you want to move forward, get vulnerable or move on from dating someone. Done mindfully, dating becomes less of a dreaded process that many singles feel it to be, and more of an enjoyable, growth promoting experience.

Rebecca Sperber, MS, MFT

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