how much we should reveal to people we start dating

In the interest of full disclosure...

How much is our past worth, and how much should we share from it? These are questions I was asked while guesting on a radio talk show recently. Of course, as Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “Every tub has to sit on its own bottom.” We all have different answers to those questions, and will choose what to share and what not to share.

The process of dating and mating is already arduous. Trying to figure out what from our pasts is important enough to disclose is also quite tiring—especially if you’re in your 30s and beyond. Do you share past indiscretions and difficulties being faithful to your exes? How about the time you busted the windows out his car, á la Jazmine Sullivan? Should the number of sexual partners you’ve had be discussed?

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Everyone has a past, and it makes perfect sense that information from that past should be shared according to the stage of the relationship. 

In the initial dating stage, of course one should never lie. But s/he certainly shouldn’t run off at the mouth about every trifling ex-lover s/he’s ever had. If there are lovers in your past who are still possibly kind of in your present, that information should be disclosed. Crazy exes who stalk you in public places should probably be addressed on the front end, and not after your new boo has to call the cops. 

Relationships should begin with a bit of mystery and with goodness. If you are clear, free, and not putting the person you’re dating in danger, highlight the positives about yourself and concentrate on staying in the present. In the early stages of a relationship, there shouldn’t be conversations about exes, and if there are, keep them positive.  Remember that bad mouthing an ex isn’t only a reflection of that person, but also a reflection of you and your choices. (In short, I don’t want to hear about how awful your kid’s mother is because 1) you’re probably exaggerating to cover up your own bad behavior in the relationship, and 2) you chose her, so stop.)

When things get sexy, or when the topic of sex arises, honesty and transparency is paramount. If you are considering any kind of sex, discussing your sexual past is inescapable, but what information should be shared? A potential lover should know when you were last tested for sexually transmitted infections. (If considering unprotected sex, testing should be done and results shared before the act.) Of course, any STI’s you may currently have should be disclosed, and possibly recent ones you’ve been treated for. 

Do you share past indiscretions and difficulties being faithful to your exes? How about the time you busted the windows out his car, á la Jazmine Sullivan?

As I always argue during Twitter’s weekly “body count” conversation, I’m not sharing how many people I’ve slept with, with anyone—unless that information is required by a healthcare professional. Nope. It’s none of your business how many lovers your new lover has had before you, unless you’re somehow intimidated by his or her prowess… and then it’s still none of your business. (And you ain’t ready.) 

Your main concerns should be that s/he’s disease free and, possibly, any mental or physical issues that may affect his or her sex. One should always disclose whether s/he has slept with relatives, friends and close associates, because incestuousness might get you cut. Also, please don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t sexually. Don’t play like you’re into BDSM if you barely want to venture outside of sex in the missionary position. Likewise, don’t pretend you’re celibate and maintaining a three-month rule when you know you can’t wait like Sleepy Brown. Part of being grown is owning who you are fully, for better or worse and despite what other may think.

As a relationship progresses, we begin to share more of our life experiences. Once a couple has decided they are “official,” details about family, past relationships and expectations should be more accessible. What are your true goals in life, not the ones you told me when we started dating to impress me? Are there horrific events from your past that still affect you, and how do you plan to lay them to rest? Is there a criminal past I need to know about?

Asking and answering these kinds of questions alerts the person (and you) that you’re making permanent space for him or her. We are a sum of our experiences, and sharing ourselves requires sharing those experiences as well—otherwise, keep it superficial and cute.

When we begin thinking about long-term commitments like sharing living spaces and getting married, the game changes. You shouldn’t be keeping family secrets or ones about your mental health challenges from your husband. You should also be honest about your debts, fertility/health issues, and really, at that point, everything—any overall issues that might negatively impact your marriage. Isn’t that the major perk of committing in such a long-standing way—the ability to be vulnerable and fully you?

Chime in! What do share with those you date and mate with concerning your past?

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.