“I Have a Secret…” - How to Reveal It To Your Date

Lots of people have private matters that are tough to share across the dinner table—whether it’s “I’m bankrupt” or “I’m bipolar.” Here, case studies and advice on when and how to tackle the topics.

By Julie Taylor

Chris’ secret: “I declared bankruptcy.”
Once a struggling musician, Chris, 40, of Los Angeles, CA, leaned heavily on credit cards to make ends meet. “But before long, I was in over my head, and I couldn’t even pay the minimum balances,” he recalls; he was forced to declare bankruptcy. “Even though this happened three years ago, it still affects my dating life today,” he explains. Once confident with women, he’s convinced himself that women wouldn’t want to date a man with money trouble. When he’s been even halfway tempted to tell a girl about the bankruptcy, he quickly stops himself. “I worry that women will judge me for it,” he says.

“Don’t lead with a worrisome comment like, ‘I have something upsetting to tell you.’”
How to break the news to a date
When to tell: Just like a date’s 401K balance is none of your business, a bankruptcy is none of theirs—unless it impacts them directly. “The only way I’d ever tell someone is if I was buying property with her,” says Chris. Good idea, says Eric Tyson, author of Personal Finance for Dummies. “If you’re moving in together, buying a major purchase together, or getting married, it’s time.” They’re going to find out anyway in any situation that requires a credit check—better they hear it from you than your mortgage broker, right?

What to say: If you do need to mention your financial past, put it in perspective. You could say, “I took a financial risk to pursue a career path/work project/travel plan I was really passionate about, and as hard as I tried, things didn’t go as planned.” Paint your bankruptcy as the solution, not a sign of defeat, by focusing on the positives. “the good news is that I’m now out of debt,” says Chris, “and I’ve been given a second chance to manage my finances better.”

What to do if your date freaks: “Some people will fear you’re financially irresponsible and that you won’t be able to provide for a family,” says Tyson. Combat this assumption by emphasizing the bankruptcy was in your past—and that it taught you many valuable lessons you employ today. Chris uses this tactic with good results. “I’ll tell dates I only use American Express and pay off my balance in full every month,” he says. Your date may also wonder what it means for your financial future. “There’s a lot of shame associated with bankruptcy, but it’s not as serious as people think,” says Tyson, adding that 1 in every 100 households declares bankruptcy every year. People who do can still get credit cards, and buy cars and property—they simply pay a higher interest rate. Plus, bankruptcy only stays on your credit report for seven to ten years. So if you two are together for the long haul, this scarlet “B” will eventually disappear completely.

Dana’s* secret: “I have an STD.”
When Dana, 39, of Brooklyn, NY was diagnosed with genital herpes, she was convinced her dating days were over-she felt completely alone. But in truth, her situation was far from unique: One out of five people have this sexually transmitted disease. Gradually, Dana’s self-confidence rebounded after her diagnosis, and treatments curbed her symptoms (she hasn’t had an outbreak in over ten years). But one big issue remained: Dates rarely reacted well when she shared her news. “I used to tell guys on the first date, which was way too soon,” she recalls. “Most guys would just get this repulsed look on their face and never call me again.” After a few years of the tell-all policy, Dana started waiting until she and a guy were a little more serious to spill the beans. “I remember telling one guy after we were making out on my bed,” she says. “He just rolled over and said, ‘Why does nothing ever work out for me?’ He made it all about him, and I just felt like a leper.”

How to break the news to a date
When to tell: Since herpes could affect the health of your partner, it’s crucial that you tell him before you’ve had any genital-to-genital or oral-genital contact (even with condoms, since there’s still a slight chance of transmission), says Brennan Ames-Phares, a health communication specialist at the National Herpes Hotline. But that said, many herpes sufferers opt to tell dates right away, as Dana often did. Ames-Phares advises against the first-date confessional: “There’s no need for him to know unless there’s a risk of exposure,” she says. Waiting allows you to build more of a connection, so you won’t be rejected right away.

What to say: “A lot of times I would just blurt out, ‘I have herpes,’” Dana says. “That didn’t work so well.” Instead, Ames-Phares recommends saying, “I really like you and would like to take this further, but before we do so I’d like to talk about our sexual histories.” Ask your date if he or she has ever been tested for AIDS or STDs, and if not, encourage him or her to do so. (Case in point: 90 percent of people with herpes are unaware they have it.) This approach shows that you’re serious about your health — and your date’s — which
“If I tell them I’m in therapy, they’ll encourage me to just ‘get over it’ or ‘cheer up.’ As if it were that simple!”
will soften the blow when you say, “As for me, ten years ago I was diagnosed with herpes.” Your date may be a little scared when he hears this, but explaining how you felt when you found out you had it and how you’ve dealt with it since will help him better relate to what you’re going through and see how well you’re managing your health.

How to deal if your date freaks: Allay your date’s fears by keeping these comforting facts on hand: Herpes is highly treatable. “Herpes today is much more manageable than having it 20 years ago,” says Ames-Phares. Thanks to new medications, outbreaks can occur infrequently and less severely. More good news: Recent studies have shown low transmission rates among couples in which one partner has herpes—less than 2 percent if condoms are used at least half of the time. Encourage your date to call the National Herpes Hotline at 919-361-8488 for more information. Dana now vows to be more prepared the next time she ’fesses up. “Herpes really hasn’t had much of an effect on my daily life, and from now on I’ll make a point of letting dates know that,” she says. “I figure the more they learn, the less leery they’ll be about dating me.”

Jamie’s secret: “I suffer from depression.”
On dates, Jamie comes across as fun, flirtatious, successful. The truth is, though, that this Oklahoma City native has struggled with clinical depression and suicidal tendencies—conditions that have kept her in therapy and on anti-depressants since age 19. When, and how, to share this info with guys has proven difficult. “If I tell them I’m in therapy, they often think I’m crazy,” she says. “Or they’ll encourage me to just ‘get over it’ or ‘cheer up,’” she says. “As if it were that simple! It’s often made me wonder if I can find a guy who understands and accepts me.”

The best way to break the news to a date
When to tell: Not too soon...“Many people mistakenly assume that people with depression are unhappy all the time,” says Lea Ann Browning-McNee, a spokesperson for the National Mental Health Association. To combat this misperception, try to log at least three or four dates with someone before revealing anything. By then, they’ll have known you long enough to conclude you’re not always a downer. Jamie agrees: “Letting them get to know the real you before going into your history is always a smart thing to do. Who wants to go into their life story on the first date, especially when you don’t know if there will even be a second?” Jamie didn’t tell her current boyfriend the extent of her depression until they’d been together six months. “When I did tell him,” she explains, “he was very sympathetic, and I think the fact that I’d waited until we were close had a lot to do with it.”

What to say: The bigger a deal you make out of it-say, by starting off with “I have something upsetting to tell you”—the more your date will worry. So let it come up naturally, says Browning-McNee. If your date confesses he’s struggling with a serious problem at work or with his family, ask him if he’s ever been to therapy, mentioning it’s helped you immensely. Or, if your therapist has mentioned a bit of wisdom that pertains to the conversation at hand, bring it up then. “My dates are usually pretty supportive of me going to therapy, because it shows I am dealing with my issues,” Jamie says. Explain that you have depression, and “treat it like any other health issue, like migraines or diabetes,” says Browning-McNee. Make your delivery casual rather than confessional and that’ll help put your date at ease.

How to deal if your date freaks: One of the biggest fears a date may have is that if a relationship ends it will stir up your emotional issues, says Browning-McNee. To put those fears to rest, tell your date that you’re handling it and are on an even keel, and that you don’t need special care or coddling. If a date can’t understand why you can’t “get over it,” don’t assume he or she is insensitive. Your date may need some education (there’s a tip sheet on how to support loved ones with depression at “Twenty million Americans will suffer from depression in any given year,” says Browning-McNee. “Today, the majority of people see it for what it is-an illness, not a character flaw.”

Julie Taylor is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. She’ll keep her biggest dating secret private a little while longer, thanks.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed.
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