Most of us have secrets, personal issues that are important to our sense of self as well as to the development of a relationship. We don’t want to lie by omission to someone who might be right for us, possibly alienating them or running afoul of our own moral compass. But neither do we want to tell all too soon and be rejected, humiliated, denigrated or have our secret blabbed to others by someone who later turns out to be wrong.
Plus, the ick factor can run high when we realize that someone now irrelevant to us has information we want kept as private as possible.
There are many types of secrets we’d like to keep to ourselves: divorce, infidelity, mental illness, criminal convictions, cancer, diabetes, sexual pasts, sexual dysfunction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual abuse, and much more.
Two of the most common concerns are past sexual partners and STI’s. For instance, someone may say:
“I’m totally ashamed about the number of dudes I’ve been with and I need someone to tell me that either my number isn’t that bad (15), or that I should stop worrying about it. Never tell a guy the number, right?”
“I’ve got a sexually transmitted disease. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s not curable either. I just began dating someone I really like. I don’t want to scare him away, but I also don’t want him to feel I’ve kept a secret from him. I’m so confused about timing. Please help.”
So here’s the deal:
As for when to tell guys about your number? I recommend never. Instead, be faithful and silent. If a guy asks, tell him it’s not something you care to discuss. Oftentimes men use the number of partners question as a litmus test for paternity assurance. They have a double-standard Geiger counter that says, “She’s been with *how* many men?! She’ll cheat on me!”
With other issues, such as how many times you’ve been divorced, or whether you were sexually abused, or have an STI, the timing is tricky. It’s really important to reveal any fact that has direct bearing on your partner, so when you tell matters.
Fortunately, there’s no specific science about when to spill the beans. However, I do offer some guidelines that may help you make an informed decision:
No sex until you tell:
There’s no truly safe sex if you have any of the incurable STI’s. There’s just safer sex, and disclosure is key to keeping your partner safe. So if this is you, morally and legally you’ve got to make sure your partner is aware before you two go there.
Disclosure can also help keep YOU safe. If you have an STI, you’re not the only one. About a third of Americans have herpes and/or HPV right now, according to the CDC. So there is a sizable chance that your partner may be infected too. An STI conversation, with each partner disclosing his or her conditions, if any, will benefit both of you. You want to wait for sex until conversations like these (and possibly blood tests) are a done deal.
No telling until you actually know each other:
For everyone, timing disclosure to match the actual level of intimacy and commitment does more than protect your partner. It protects your emotions and you’re worth protecting.
Having sex too soon tends to short-circuit men’s bonding apparatus, making them lose long-term interest and move a possible Ms. Right into the Ms. Right Now category.
Either sex can head for the hills if they hear a secret too soon. A man wrote to me that he lost all interest in a woman because the relationship got too heavy too quickly when she revealed her STI before they’d even kissed. What must it have felt like to be her – to be rejected immediately following that confession? We pay lots of attention to physical dangers of sex and relationships, but emotional risks deserve our prevention focus too.
Why can’t we tell all up-front and have the odds of acceptance on our side?
Because we judge others and are judged in turn. Our judgments are unconscious and rapid, and we especially hang onto what we learn first and worst. It’s human cognition.
So whatever your secret, if it is going to impact your partner’s life, you’ll need to tell someday. But that day is probably best kept until you truly know your partner well past the point of mere dating. And you should hold off sex until your secret’s out too.
Ultimately, we seek someone whose truth melds with ours. It’s important to share our secrets at a time and pace that work for us. Love isn’t just for those without a past. We’re all more than the secrets we keep.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do; this article (copyright Duana Welch, 2015) is a partial excerpt. You can read more and get a free chapter at http://www.lovefactually.co
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