How much should I reveal, and when?

By: Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC

Dear Toni:

I’m a 53-year-old woman who has been divorced for almost three years, and I would really like to begin dating again. There is only one problem—my spouse cheated on me and, as a result, I have an STD. It’s not a deadly one, but it is devastating nonetheless.

Even though I didn’t do anything “wrong,” I think less of myself because of it. I always saw this as something that happened to women who made bad choices, but would never happen to me. I think that mindset has made it even harder for me as I struggle to accept that I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.

It’s hard enough that I haven’t been on a date in over 25 years—now I have to figure out how to date with an STD. I’ve done some reading on the topic, and I’ve learned that there are dating sites specifically for people with STD’s—which does simplify things, but I’m not sure I want to go that route. Honestly, I’m feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. What I need help with is deciding whether to go with one of those STD dating sites or not—in other words, what are the pros and cons if I go that route. If not, and instead I sign up for a large website catering to the general population of daters—how do I know what I should share, and with whom and when? Then there are the guys I might meet through friends and in my community. If I meet a man at a party, he asks me out and we hit it off—is it wrong that I didn’t tell him upfront, just before, during or after the date? Or is it reasonable to wait until the second or even third date or until it seems we have a real connection and the mutual desire to pursue it?

I can certainly understand why some people in my situation might decide to just get a dog and build a great home library—and stay home with their dog, a good book and a nice view from their patio or a comfortable chair by the fire. It takes guts and a willingness to expose oneself not only to discomfort, but potential humiliation and rejection. Am I crazy for even considering this at my age?    --Feeling like Cheap Goods

Dear Feeling like Cheap Goods:

I’m sorry that you are in this difficult situation—especially as a result of decisions made not by you but by your ex-spouse. Life is certainly not fair. and I commend you for having the courage to consider putting yourself out there in the hopes of finding a new relationship. Let me answer your last question first. No, you are not crazy to be considering dating at your age. You could have many years ahead of you, and it’s understandable you would want a partner to share them with.

As far as which dating site(s) you should sign-up for, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for that. Dating is part timing, part luck, part design, and part savvy and smarts—all with staying power sprinkled throughout. In other words, you have control over some of it, but not all of it. Therefore, it is wise to begin with what you can control and approach it using sound research, planning, and an eye to your allocation of resources.

A great first step is to go online and select several sites to spend some time learning about. Choose ones that represent both kinds you are considering. Virtually all of them let you read profiles—you just can’t communicate with members until you are one yourself. Read a number of the profiles of both men and women and get a feel for what they say about themselves and how they say it—which will give you an overall sense of what the membership of the site is like, what they have to offer and if they sound like the kind of people you are looking to meet. Reading profiles will also give you a much better sense of how to write one yourself—you will find that many are unimaginative, monotonous, and that they almost put you to sleep. After reading several it’s very possible you won’t remember anything about the people because nothing they said stood out. But you also might happen across one or two that really catch your eye and leave you wanting to know more. Spend some time figuring out why they stood out and what you can learn from what they have written and how they wrote it. Think of this first step as your background research—which I am sure you do before buying a major appliance, car or home. Certainly looking for a partner deserves at least as much time and energy.

After you have a good feel for what different sites offer and what their members are like—it’s time to make a decision about whether to join or not. I do recommend you consider at least one free site and one paying site—in your case, you may want to make it one general dating site and one site specifically for folks with STD’s. My only caution is to really do your homework on the free ones as the quality of membership can really vary. If you follow step one carefully, it should help to ensure that you choose wisely. Of course if you sign up with a free membership and aren’t happy with the experience, it’s easy to delete it and walk away without leaving any money on the table.

Before actually signing up, you will need to get a profile together. There are many how-to articles that you can find online to assist you with this. I have written some and you can find them on this page on my site. Scroll down to “online dating” to access them. It’s important you put real effort into this as you will only get one first shot at making an impression on other daters—and even though you can and should make adjustments and do updates, if you left a wrong impression, it may stay with people who have already viewed it.

Now to your important question about if, what, and when to share sensitive, personal information. Obviously using a site for daters with STD’s takes care of that question. However, you will encounter men there who define themselves by this issue and for many, it’s the topic of conversation. This can be a big turn-off as who you are is about so much more than that. That’s why it will be important to both read profiles very carefully and write yours so that others see a good snapshot of what you have to offer, and don’t just focus on this one issue.

If you sign up for a site like Match and a guy contacts you and shows an interest in communicating with you, I recommend you handle him like any prospective dater would — sharing information about yourself, your likes and dislikes and anything else that helps you both to see if there is potential there. Then go ahead with that first date—as an online relationship is one-dimensional and that person is mostly a stranger until you meet in person and have real face time together.

It’s what happens next that should determine how much you should share. If you really click with someone and they have real keeper potential—you should begin to open up more in general about your history and how it has shaped you. Since dating is a process and it’s not uncommon for people to have one to three good dates and then crickets—resist the urge to offer a big confession too soon. You do not owe complete transparency to every guy that comes along. Play it by ear and if it really looks like this could be going somewhere and/or if the topic of sex comes up—you will have to begin preparing to share this. There is no “right time,” or perfect time. It is best to do it in person and to make sure you have adequate privacy to talk and won’t be interrupted. His reaction will tell you a lot about how he really feels and if this could be a deal breaker. Either way, it will be important to talk it out and see what or if the next steps will be. You have a right to your privacy and no one has any right to information about you until and if it directly impacts them. So, relax, take a deep breath, do some homework, get out there—and have fun. Here is another article on dating dilemmas. 

Toni Coleman is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of http://consum-mate.com. Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications, top-ranked dating and relationship websites. Toni has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in The Business And Practice Of Coaching, (Norton, September 2005); and authored the forward of Winning Points With The Woman In Your Life, One Touchdown At A Time (Simon and Schuster, November 2005). Toni's popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self-help, personal growth, and dating/relationship websites. From March until December 2005, she was a weekly contributing commentator (love and dating coach) on the KTRS Radio Morning Show, (St. Louis, MO). Toni holds a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and holds certification in life coaching. She is a member of The International Coach Federation and The National Association of Social Workers. Toni writes bi-weekly for HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com. Follow her on FB at www.facebook.com/coachtoni.coleman and Twitter @CoachToni.

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