On Revealing Yourself to Others

Sometimes you tell someone something, and sometimes you just keep your mouth shut.

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.


All the world is a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and entrances;
Each man in his time plays many parts.

~ William Shakespeare

It is important to reveal ourselves slowly when we first meet people. As I’ve said before, when we meet people, it is not appropriate to dump our entire lives on them in the first meeting, the first date, the first week, the first month. Getting to know someone, even a potential mate, is a slow process and SHOULD be a slow process.

Also there is no rule that says you have to tell everyone absolutely everything. I’ve written on here before about revealing yourself and how to retain a balance with that as well. Not only who you reveal yourself to but HOW you reveal yourself.  There are guidelines in Getting Back Out There (GBOT)as well.

There are some things we may have done that we are not exactly proud of or that was a symptom of some issues we had but no longer have or some era in our lives when we were acting out. We may also have done things for a limited period of time and then felt uncomfortable with it or decided it wasn’t for us. These experimentations or strayings do not represent who we really are. These small bursts of erratic behavior are not necessarily us. But if we reveal them, we will be judged on them.

There is honesty in a relationship and then there is revealing absolutely every single little thing that could possibly be interpreted as a wart or a fault or a dark side. It’s important to know the difference.

You should not be putting on a false face to someone in the beginning of a friendship or a relationship but you DO NOT need to reveal every little nook and cranny on the first date or first outing. Sometimes there is no need to EVER reveal something that was part of some younger “sowing wild oats” or “acting out after a breakup” or experimentation that you did once or twice and decided it wasn’t you and you never did again.

Sometimes we go through phases when we’re hurt or angry and act out and live to regret it later. We learn from those mistakes and know we will never engage in that behavior again. There is NO need to tell someone about those things. Not in the short term or even in the long term. Keeping those things to yourself is NOT dishonest. You do not have to share absolutely everything. A client of mine once asked if she should tell her boyfriend how many one-night stands she had prior to meeting him. She was in her mid-thirties and since her late teens, it was about 5, none recent. I said don’t ever tell him anything about that. Neither of you want him to know. And she didn’t really want to know about his either. Almost everyone has them and almost no one is proud of them. So leave it off the table unless it happened last week and you might need to be tested.

On the other hand things we would want to know and have a right to know should be revealed. You know what you would want to know. You can figure out what to say and what not to say. Be honest with yourself and others. THINK ABOUT what needs to be revealed.

There should be a time in your introspection and your journaling when you think about things you’ve revealed to friends and significant others in past relationships and think, do you want to reveal this to future friends and relations?

Any prior abuse or criminal records should be revealed. If you’re still technically married, you have to tell someone that. If you JUST broke up with someone, you have to tell someone (you shouldn’t be dating anyone yet anyway but if you are, be honest about how long ago your breakup was). Before having sexual relations with someone you definitely have to have the “safe sex” talk including any STDs you have or have been exposed to recently (past few years). You do not have to say “I slept with 22 people in the last 5 years.” You don’t even have to say a name or a number. You do need to talk about any possible recent exposure but not the details and get tested. These are the things a good and honest and fair person reveals to anyone coming into their life and building a relationship.

It’s a balancing act with regard to people you are building a relationship with. You don’t want to be accused of “bait and switch” by revealing intense things too late. But you don’t want to blurt everything out and scare the beejezzus out of someone on the second date. Look for balance and moderation so that you’re not two months into a serious relationship and trying to figure out how to tell someone you’ve been married 8 times or was once accused of murder. Extreme examples, I know, but think about the right time and place for revelations. Not too early and not too late.  Months down the road is NOT the time for the big (and necessary) reveal.

And some things never really need to be revealed. If you cheated on your high school sweetheart and have never cheated in adult relationships, you don’t have to talk about that. If you were promiscuous after a serious breakup, you don’t have to talk about that. What are the chances these things will come to light down the road? They are probably not going to come up unless you’re still friends with everyone you slept with. If it’s not going to come up, why talk about it? Why cast yourself in a falsely negative light?

If you are recovering from something you can tell someone what and how long and what you do to maintain your recovery but you don’t need to go into details as to what a 12 step program is or take them there or “MAKE” them understand. They don’t have to understand. Most people have heard of recovery and it’s not a negative thing…it’s a positive thing…don’t be ashamed of being in recovery.  If you’re BRAND NEW to sobriety, you definitely should reveal that (although you should NOT be dating if you’re new in recovery).

If you’ve been clean and sober a while (years), you can say this is me and if you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them, but don’t act like it’s a wart or that you need to explain everything to them. Don’t answer a million questions like, “Did you drink alcoholically? Did you drive drunk? Did you smoke a lot of pot?” Instead of being peppered with questions, sit back and ask yourself if you really want to be with someone who is asking all these questions.

Something like being in recovery is your business and information for someone else to know so that they know you go to meetings and talk to your sponsor, but no reason to answer every question about your active past. If you are comfortable taking a non-addict/alcoholic to a meeting, do it. But if you’re not, then don’t.

Decide what you need to know from your Standards and Compatibility Inventory in GBOT I wanted to know how many times someone was married.  Did they have children?  Did they support those children?  Have they always been gainfully employed?  DUIs?  NEXT!  Child Support arrears…huge NEXT!  17 baby mamas…way way next.

You have to decide what is important for you and ask it when it’s getting serious.  Don’t leave the 4th or 5th date, when you’re talking exclusivity, without talking “deal breakers.”  And if the other person has a deal breaker that happens to be something you’re guilty of, let it be okay.  Just say nice knowing you.  Don’t lie or try to fit in a box you don’t belong in.  If someone reveals something that shows a broken moral compass, you need to move on that.

The reason that GBOT emphasizes doing the Standards and Compatibility Inventory long before you’re ready to date is because people will rationalize and justify for a person they know over a “relatively new” standard.   Even though you know, in your heart of hearts, that what this person just told you is a complete retreat from your morals, you will find a way to accept it rather than breakup and go your separate way.  That is, unless you have committed to your Standards and you’re commitment to yourself to LEAVE if they are not met.  Not everyone you like is going to be the right partner. You want the RIGHT partner and the right partner has similar morals, values and views of the world.

If you have a past that includes sexual experimentation or drug experimentation or something similar, you do not need to talk about it with anyone. You can put it in the past and leave it there.  You can also respect your partner’s leaving it in the past if it’s not a current issue or problem.

So the lesson is that there is a balance when it comes to revealing yourself to others. You don’t want to dump everything on everyone. A first date or first outing is NOT the time or the place to tell all your dirty, dark secrets. Don’t put yourself out there for the masses. It’s not your place to tell your life story on the first or second or third dates. Don’t apologize or think “I have to get this out of the way” with people who might not be a fit for you. Think about who this person is before revealing yourself. Is this someone worthy enough to know all about you? Not everyone is. Learn to discriminate with regard as to who you tell about yourself. You are precious. Scars and all. Warts and all. History and all. Honor that preciousness!

Sometimes it’s never the time or place to tell them…because you don’t need to…other times you need to wait and reveal slowly who you are as a relationship builds.

Lastly, do not feel afraid to say who you are. The RIGHT person will love you scars and all, warts and all. The WRONG person will not. If you reveal yourself and that person runs away, he or she was not the right person for you. But don’t pummel a person with every little thing you’ve ever done that you’re not proud of. Save some stuff for yourself that you’ve chalked up to experience. Reveal slowly and wisely. And be okay with who you are. The right person will love you for it and if someone runs away from it, they were not right for you.

In Getting Back Out There, (link to book on Amazon), I detail the Standards and Boundaries Inventories to help you decide what you must have in your next relationship, what is negotiable and non-negotiable.  Use this list and that inventory to get yourself in physical, mental and emotional readiness and become willing to walk away the minute you hear what you can’t live with.

Decide NOW that the only relationship you’re willing to be in is one that is good for you and that you will never sacrifice your own morals, values and standards for someone who has different ones.

Copyright 2007-2018 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a link back to the original content

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