My client Angie has been dating John for a few weeks. She is feeling happy at how things are going but she called me recently to ask for some advice.
She asked, “Should I talk about past relationships?”
I said definitively, “Yes.” But with some caveats. Basically, honesty is always the best policy when you are getting to know someone. Your past makes you who you are and avoiding talking about your ex might seem like a red flag – what are you hiding?
Angie understood what I was saying but then commented: “I feel like it will be awkward to talk about. What if I hurt his feelings or make him jealous?”
I reminded her that she is talking with a date, not a priest. No need to confess everything! The best route is to talk about what you learned about yourself from previous relationships and what you want and need in future relationships. You don’t want to get too specific. “Consider what you want to know about John’s past relationships and use that as your guide. The golden rule is always a perfect touchstone.”
There are, of course, those who feel no compunctions like Angie’s. Instead, they tell way too much. Oversharing about your ex is just as damaging as keeping it all in a vault. Have you ever been on a date and heard nothing but details about how the other person was wronged, or how his or her ex was “the one who got away,” or any other info that has no place in a new relationship? Ex-bashing or ex-bragging is just unnecessary and makes the listener feel bad. Too many details can set the stage for comparisons, resentment, or jealousy. Again, refer to the golden rule. There is a perfect balance between guarded silence and aggressive venting – it’s called honesty.
Angie asked another good question: “At what point in the dating relationship do I bring it up?”
Chances are the time will present itself in a natural way, as you get a little closer to one another. You probably won’t have to awkwardly say, “I wanted to bring up a subject that we should talk about….” Talking about past relationships is definitely not first date conversation material. But perhaps once you’ve been dating awhile, it will seem odd not to refer to past relationships, especially if any of them were serious. I told Angie, “One guideline is that the intimacy of the disclosure should reflect the intimacy of your relationship with John.”
“What about past sexual encounters?” Angie wanted to know. “Are those ever appropriate fodder for conversation in any relationship?”
In my opinion, sharing details of physical intimacy is a private matter between two consenting adults and should remain that way. What would be the benefit to your new beau to know that information? People often share info about their “first time” or other bits of info that have no potential to cause hurt. But as mentioned above, anything that could inspire feelings of inadequacy or jealousy needs to be left out of the conversation. If it comes up, you can always respond with, “I don’t kiss and tell.” I’d be wary of a date who shares intimate details of past sexual relationships with you – it’s a sign that if things don’t work out for you two, the same kind of inappropriate sharing might happen, next time about you. We’re back to the golden rule again.
Ultimately, when a relationship is new, it is time to spend some time experiencing one another in the now.