Carolyn Hax: When to bring up past loves; fiance’s friend causes discomfort

Columnist January 14, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I started dating someone whom I like a lot. I’m sure the whole “past relationships” talk is going to come up. I hadn’t dated for 11 / 2 years and had an emotional relationship with a married man. The physical never went beyond kissing. It was something I’ve grown from quite a bit, and I see the error of my ways.

I feel like I should tell him because I grew from it, and at one time it was a big part of my life. However, I don’t want to “brand” myself negatively in any way to him early on. Can you give me guidance on this?

To Disclose or Not to Disclose

I could argue it’s not anyone’s business. However, there’s a lot to be said for being open about the things that shaped you. Not only does it allow the person you’re seeing to get an honest look at you — frailties and what we do about them are the Rosetta Stones for who we are — but it also gives you a chance to see how he handles your frailties.

You don’t want to go the distance with someone only to find he holds people to exacting standards, or dwells on the negative to the point where he can’t trust anyone who has ever swerved into the breakdown lane, or sees one admission of wrongdoing as a mandate to dig into everything you’ve ever done to see what else you’ve messed up. You want someone who takes mistakes seriously but also in a human and humane context.

So, when do you start exploring all this? My answer over the years for uncomfortable admissions has been that you make them as soon as you start to feel that withholding them is a lie. But I’m going to update that with a nod to self-preservation: Take your time, and pay careful attention to the way a date responds to bad news. If you notice a punitive streak, or if you suspect for any other reason that he’s not a safe place for your secrets, then think carefully; the best course might be to keep the secret and lose the guy.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m going to an event where my fiance’s friend will be. I hate her. She flirts shamelessly with my fiance in front of me, wants nothing to do with me, and I feel like when we’re all together it’s like a competition. I don’t want to compete, but I feel like if I don’t go I’m just giving in to her.

By the way, my fiance doesn’t seem to think any of this is a big deal but that I’m overreacting. Any reactions from third parties?

Need Advice for Tonight

No, you hate your fiance for not backing you, and giving his passive consent to rudeness in his presence and at your expense.

The friend bears her share of the responsibility for being rude, sure. She is but a housefly, though, without his cooperation.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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