Do I Have to Share Everything from My Past?

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Hey Wendy,

There is something in my past that I’m ashamed of. I only did it once, and never again. I know if I tell the guy I’m dating, he might leave, or it will ruin things. Does he need to know everything about my past or are some things better left unsaid?

Kim C.

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Hey Kim,

In the age of ubiquitous social media, reality TV, and juicy tell-all autobiographies, it can feel like everyone’s baring their souls to everyone else alllll the time. And while that’s just fine and dandy for many, if it’s not for you, then that’s fine, too. You don’t have to share every single detail of your past with a partner, and not sharing everything doesn’t make you dishonest. As for what you do share, you can roll out stories as you feel safe. While you’re dating, the only thing you owe him is the status of your sexual health so he can make an informed choice when it comes to having sex with you. And before you move in together or commit to exclusivity, you owe him information on things (and people) that could possibly impact his life, too. “Like what?” You ask. Medications you’re on, mental or physical conditions you have, the size of your debt, prodigal children who might come wandering back—things like that.

All that said, consider this: Do you want to be with someone whom you’re afraid to be yourself with? I’d like to believe that the right person for you could handle all of you.

I also understand that if you did this thing once, it really wasn’t for you, you don’t ever plan to do it again, and it’s a source of embarrassment or shame, leaving it in the past is fair. You do not have to tell him you went to that Barry Manilow concert, it’s okay.

If your thing is something illegal or what you might consider immoral, but no one was injured or harmed, (i.e. shoplifting, drug use, consenting fringe-y sexual stuff, etc.) and you just feel embarrassed about it, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to take it to your grave.

Question: Were there other humans involved? If so, then your secret is no longer guaranteed. Secrets like these tend to rear their heads down the road in sometimes-ugly ways, so it’s worth being prepared over in case you do need to face the eventual music (with your partner in the audience). A quick note: My intention isn’t to scare you with this suggestion! Quite the opposite: I want to help you deal with whatever the future throws at you with grace.

I’m guessing you want intimacy in relationship. The path to intimacy is through vulnerability—a willingness to be seen and understood for who you are and who you aren’t. Most of us want to know things about our partners, but the only trouble with that is once you’ve heard something, you can’t unhear it.

So Kim, without knowing exactly what the secret is, I’ve only been able to give you valid reasons to either keep your secret or to share it. The ultimate decision is up to you and should be based on the unique circumstances surrounding this secret of yours. I hope I didn’t add more confusion to your conundrum. Good luck!