How much to reveal when that information is very important in a dating relationship?
March 20, 2012 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Late twenties female taking a break from professional school, met a man online who shockingly may be a potential future partner in life, yet does not know about the past six months of my life... when would you tell him and about what?

I recently met a man online…we went on one coffee meeting and I was shocked to find myself in the sudden realization that he may be “the one”. Prior to our meeting, I was considering chickening out – I was freaking out to meet a complete stranger that I knew little about. In addition to that, he first emailed me to ask if I was interested and when it took two days to reply, he e-mailed me again. Then when I waited two reply in confirmation of a convenient time, he e-mailed me again. And just the day before we met, he emailed just to confirm our meeting time and place. It made me incredibly nervous that he was a bit too eager and not normal for our meeting.

In addition to this, I have been going through many personal changes recently. Although my profile had been up, my interest level had really dwindled to nil due to several life changes. About 8 months ago my mother had been progressively getting ill. With no known diagnosis of her condition and increasing severity of her condition of vague symptoms of persistent chest pain, muscle cramps, sky rocket hypertension, insomnia etc. she became bedridden for several months and was rushed to the emergency twice and hospitalized in critical care for four days. Eventually 4.5 months ago, it was found that drug toxicity had caused her relentless pain leading to muscle atrophy and a vicious cycle of various other conditions. The situation was miserable and as a late twenty something female in professional school, I went through high anxiety and stress finishing out the fall semester passing some courses but failing several courses completely. I took a leave of absence this semester although my mother had recovered substantially after her medications were removed and she had time to heal. Since 4.5 months ago, things have gotten progressively better and profoundly less stressful. Although my parents are have been deeply disappointed that I had to leave school and prolong my time in school by a year, now that it has been several months later into the spring semester – I have realized that this was a wise yet tough decision. Talking to my burnt out classmates, although I could have stayed the fact that I did poorly and would have to retake the class anyways in the fall – it is just nice to have this time off after everything I went through in dealing with a potential impending death of a family member. This information is important because things have gotten better and I have used my time at home to get a job and study/read materials.
So in all honesty, a relationship was the last thing on my mind – and because I didn’t want to waste money on prematurely deleting my profile – having met this other person online was not something I sought nor expected.

However, to my shock of meeting them and then subsequently meeting this person for dinner later on. I have realized that although this is too early to tell, but this person may be a real potential future partner in life. The thing is, he does not know the past six months of my life. I am not sure whether to terminate this relationship because I may be too “raw” even though I may seem fine for a relationship as deep as this. Moreover, me being in my late twenties and extending my time in school, and him being in his early thirties, we have both realized how it would work along the time frame of marriage and raising a family. The most ironic part is that he used to teach and so upon asking me the question about when I would objectively find the ideal time to marry. Moreover, since I am trying to finish school he actually said that I would grow and develop quite a lot and then have to perhaps work two more years upon that to be not only financially independent and realize what I really wanted to do in life. He is a rather open minded and quite deep thinker. I can tell he at least likes me, and we both have an interest with one another in developing a future.

I just feel that our thoughts are both so open minded and he even had the guts to share me his personal dream later in life in obtaining a second career. We both have not shared much about our personal lives but I am also shocked to find someone who thinks even along the same lines and even deeper and more profound than me. For every thought I have said, he has countered it something more well thought and stronger.

I feel like a part of me feels as if I am deceiving him about not telling him that I will prolonging my professional studies by another year and the past few months with my mother’s illness. But another part of me never expected really to meet someone who was so similar yet so different than me. I almost have questioned whether I am in love as strange as that sounds. We spent dinner talking until the restaurant closed and both of us were shocked that we had forgotten how late it was.

Because I do see a real future I want to tell him what has been going on in my life. Yet, another part of me is not looking forward to opening up and being that raw with someone I just met. I am not prepared necessarily to share parts of my mother’s illness and health when that has been such a hard thing in my life and for him to then judge me and then decide to perhaps to not see me again. I also have no idea how much to share, what his reaction will be. I know too, that he may look down at me – I will not tell him everything academically – but really it wouldn’t be too hard to judge why a person couldn’t just keep going on through the rest of the academic semester. I am also scared of returning to school and doing academically poor once again and also being in a relationship – a part of me realizes too that “love” only comes around once in life if you’re lucky. I really just need the guts to tell him, but how and when? Is it too soon? And what right does he have to know about the painful ordeal of my mother… I just don’t want him to be too weighed down with this information and then either decide that he would like to choose another path. I also don’t want pity or him to just judge me and then decide he would rather just settle down. He already has expressed that he wished I was already finished with school because he knows how it is, having lived in that academic world. He already said whoever is going to be in a relationship with me would probably have to very patient. We are both very objective about our situation and where are in life.

I basically want to know what would you do in this situation? When you say something? And what really would there be to say? It sounds so easy to just tell him everything but at the same time I struggle with just whether I should even say anything. I would like some words of advice/wisdom on this situation. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him as much as you feel comfortable with and then chill out. First, there is nothing wrong with not telling him everything. You just met the guy. You don't have to lie, just say there are parts that are too personal to talk about right now. Second, you need to take time. You have so much time to figure this out. But I have to say it sounds weird that you guys are talking this much about the future this early. You say he is a deep thinker but he sounds a little possibly-controlling and judgey to me, and it's weird that he is telling you how you need to spend the next few years.

Relax, but proceed with caution.
posted by yogalemon at 10:21 PM on March 20, 2012

I feel like a part of me feels as if I am deceiving him about not telling him that I will prolonging my professional studies by another year and the past few months with my mother’s illness.

I don't understand why you're making this a big deal. It isn't.

"My mom got sick and I took some time off school to cope with it."

But this stuff:

I know too, that he may look down at me – I will not tell him everything academically – but really it wouldn’t be too hard to judge why a person couldn’t just keep going on through the rest of the academic semester.


He already said whoever is going to be in a relationship with me would probably have to very patient.

Those raise flags. Big ones from each of you. I'd think very hard about whether you want to be in a relationship at all, and specifically if someone who is this condescending is someone you want to be in a relationship with.
posted by rtha at 10:25 PM on March 20, 2012 [17 favorites]

Wait a've been on one coffee meeting with this man?

You know nothing about him. Really, nothing. Even if you felt a spark, you still know nothing.

Also, the fact that he emailed you multiple times when you didn't get back to him immediately is kind of a red flag. As someone who has dated a bit online, those little boundary-pushing actions have never boded well for me.

IF you've having a talk about "the relationship" after one coffee date, you are moving waaaay to fast. You should be getting to know each other at this point, and deciding if you even want to date at all.
posted by bearette at 10:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [22 favorites]

This seems to be such an important connection to you that I think you should decide on your own what to do, based on what seems right, not based on what we say.

But my advice would be to believe in yourself and trust yourself. A person's intentions and desires are probably the most important thing. People take years off of school for countless reasons. But you took it off for a particular reason, and you care deeply about the decision, and worry about having done so. It is your reasons, your worry, and your caring that define you, not the act of having taken the year off. Believe in those and the person that they make you to be.

As to what to tell him when, trust yourself and keep yourself safe. Reveal things at the pace at which you feel safe.
posted by salvia at 10:34 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I just saw that you have met him for dinner as well as coffee. Still, my point of view stands.
posted by bearette at 10:39 PM on March 20, 2012

Judging by the way you're overthinking this, it may be time to go back to school so you can turn all that energy to something productive. It's not like you're hiding anything from him - you had one date. If you decide to go on another, tell him, "I'm at X school right now, but my mom got sick and so I took a year's leave." Relax.
posted by gingerest at 10:42 PM on March 20, 2012

Oh, sorry, two dates. Still, it's not that big a deal - one might even say it's no one's business but yours (and your program's) when and how you complete your schooling.
posted by gingerest at 10:43 PM on March 20, 2012

Whoa there little buckaroo. You are getting waaaaaaaaaywaywayway ahead of yourself here.

The red flags for me have less to do with Mr. Stranger Dude than with the amount of anxiety and self-judgement you are carrying around the (wholly understandable and objectively not that big a deal) decision to take time off school.

Hang out with the guy. Get to know him. Chill the eff out, let the chronic stress chemicals fade from your body, and banish all thoughts of "the one" from your mind. And while you are taking it delightfully slow, find ways to cultivate some self-compassion, perspective, and serenity, whether it's therapy, mindfulness practice, or long walks.
posted by Gender is the Soul's Pajamas at 10:45 PM on March 20, 2012

This is going to sound harsh, but I think you need to sort out the bigger picture of what the past 6 months mean before you move forward in this, or any relationship.

You took a leave of absence from school because you needed to deal with a family member's illness. And you're going to graduate a year late, and you also failed a course or two. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but BFD. None of these things make you damaged goods in the minds of people with reasonable life experience.

Do you think that everyone has a neat, perfect little life where they finish their degree(s) on time (and in their early twenties) and their families never experience hardships that may affect their progress? Because it kind of sounds like that's your perception.

(You also wouldn't be the first person in their late twenties and have a relationship while in graduate/professional school. Not everyone is ensconced in their career when they find "the one", and somehow they often manage to make it work.)

It's possible that you're just very hard on yourself and/or somewhat credentialist and you're projecting that on him (I've been there and done that), but he himself doesn't seem to be that keen on being with someone who isn't in lock-step with him life stage-wise. "Moreover, since I am trying to finish school he actually said that I would grow and develop quite a lot and then have to perhaps work two more years upon that to be not only financially independent and realize what I really wanted to do in life." I mean, what? There's something a touch patronizing about that. He doesn't quite sound like the kind of person that the person you are today (rather than the person with absolutely no problems you think you should be) needs to be with.

For when you do want to explain this to a date, gingerest's line would work well. Mature people probably aren't going to head for the hills over something like this, and in time you'll take it in stride yourself.
posted by thisjax at 10:51 PM on March 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

The guy seems unlikely to be good for you, to my reading.

On the other hand, the decision to take a break in school is mature, and you should be proud of that. Own your life, it's whatever you choose.
posted by anadem at 10:58 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also like to share a story of mine. I hope it's appropriate.

Several years ago I met a guy in person from online (wasn't even technically supposed to be a date). We hit it off immediately, spent hours talking, he flirted and asked to kiss me, and I felt sure we had a strong connection.

As it turns out, we DID have a strong connection- he also turned out to be gay, and he had a lot of emotional problems, as did I, at that time. It was not a healthy relationship/friendship. Still, the first date was wonderful and very memorable.

Not trying to be a downer here, but I would just advise you to slow down and proceed with caution.
posted by bearette at 11:12 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, the only thing these dates have really taught you is that you actually do like dating. Great; go forth and date, either this guy or the next guy.

Second of all, failing out of one semester of college because your mother as seriously ill is... just not a big deal. I mean, you can make it out to be a huge personal failing if you want, but unless there is a cultural element you didn't share in your post, your anxiety about this is misplaced.

Third, what you say is "I took a leave of absence when my mother was ill. She's recovering now and I'm going back to school in September" or whatever. You don't have to share anything you don't want to share. You've had two dates; the details are actually none of his business.

Finally, there are people who have started their careers who are just over the whole student thing and don't want to date people still in school. That's totally fine but if that's his thing, then you may just be incompatible. You don't know because you don't know him well enough because you've had... two dates.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:26 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, on second thought, that you felt like he was invading your space, then felt deeply and immediately in love (but terrified of being judged negatively) does raise a serious possible red flag.
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on March 20, 2012

One thing that stuck out to me (that no one else has mentioned yet) is your comment that love only happens once in a lifetime. No matter what a romcom would have you believe, that's just not true. You can absolutely be in love more than once in a lifetime (otherwise the phrase "first love" wouldn't really be a thing). So even if you do fall in love with him and things end, you'll almost certainly find love again. Don't let that fear of only finding love once make you commit to something before you're ready.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 11:32 PM on March 20, 2012 [14 favorites]

It's absolutely no big deal that you took some time off school because your mother was ill. You seriously need to reframe the way you think about this. For example, instead of thinking "I'm a loser because I'm going to graduate a year late," think "I'm successful and proud of myself because I'm going to graduate from professional school." Instead of getting down on yourself for caring about your mother enough for it to affect your schoolwork, be proud that you're such a loving daughter that you care so much about your mother.

Frankly I'm very concerned that your self esteem is too fragile at the moment for you to date at all, and especially for you to date someone so pushy as this guy seems to be. I mean, multiple prodding emails and talking about marriage on the first fricking date - wtf???? That is not normal. You should be on your guard about him but instead you're worried about how he's going to judge YOU! I think that's ridiculous and unhealthy and if you get entangled with him you're risking your fragile mental health. But you're probably going to do it anyway. Can you get emotional support through a counseling service at your school?
posted by hazyjane at 11:34 PM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Prompting you by email when you indicated interest but haven't followed up for a few days isn't eager-beaver, it's shouldering some of the responsibility that you dropped. Online dating (before you've met) is so flakey that after a while you generally don't bother, but the idea that it's worrisome to have someone confirm their date (before they go to the effort of showing up and potentially discovering you forgot) is bizarre to me.

Different people have different levels of spontaneity and punctuality and formality. Some people who have inadvertently dated flakes will have learned the hard way that confirming date details is simply something you must always do.

Besides which, eager is often a sign that your profile looked like a great and rare match to him, worth double checking. Eager can be a good sign. I don't know what kind of people making what kind of advances have caused you trouble in the past, but I think your filtering process is probably going to also "weed" out guys you're actually trying to find. This guy may be an example of that.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:36 PM on March 20, 2012


Personal details are CANDY for emotional predators! Use wisdom. Suss this guy out before sharing.

Quoted for truth. And my predator sense is tingling about this guy.
posted by hazyjane at 11:36 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consider that maybe your sad experiences the last few months have left you craving something good in your life, and they are precipitating a situation in which you otherwise may have waited.
Your self esteem sounds very low and it does not sound like you are at a good time to make relationship choices.

Take time.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:57 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

we went on one coffee meeting and I was shocked to find myself in the sudden realization that he may be “the one”.

Um, how about going out on a second date, and having a conversation, and see what comes up? Let him get to know you over time, and let yourself get to know him over time. Like, as friends for now.

I say this, because any time you meet a person and think "hey, really great person" or "hey, I'm really attracted" or even "hey, he looks like the kind of guy I'd like to date", that's fine -- but if you meet someone and you think "hey, he might be the one", then there's something emotional going on with you, and it really isn't about the guy you just met. Be friends, get to know each other slowly, and in the meantime explore independent of him what your own issue might be.
posted by davejay at 12:42 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have been through a rough period. This guy isn't "the eons" because he has some magical qualities - just that he is a person whom you just met, is giving you his attention, and is interested in you. After what you've been through, yeah, that will seem nice.

He also sounds like a needy and condescending jerk.
posted by ellF at 4:45 AM on March 21, 2012

(Err, the one, not the eons.)
posted by ellF at 4:47 AM on March 21, 2012

Take things normally. When you first meet someone and start 'hanging out' you don't usually dump everything about you on the table like Ally Sheedy on the Breakfast Club.

It may be something, it may not be. If it is something, that could be cool, and give you some extra support/distraction getting back into the swing of school.

Yes, you just went through a personally traumatic 6 months, but when you first said 'tell him about the last 6 months' I thought you were going to come back with something about something that he should get a heads up about - like sex or drugs issues.

You can easily just say you've had a hectic last 6 months because your mother was ill (but on the mend! yay!) and had to take a school hiatus, but things seem back on track.

that's it, end of story. No need to dwell or be all consumed by it. If it goes further, then he knows to take that into account if you have to run off for your family, or have to do soemthing for school, but it really isn't something you need to craft a whole warning/lecture/story about.

Take it as it comes, don't jump feet first, but hey - some nice attention, connection, a bit of fun.. relax and go be 20-something!
posted by rich at 5:46 AM on March 21, 2012

I saw a lot of red flags reading your post.

He is a rather open minded and quite deep thinker.

Personally, he doesn't sound particularly open minded. He seems to have some fixed ideas: ...he actually said that I would grow and develop quite a lot and then have to perhaps work two more years upon that to be not only financially independent and realize what I really wanted to do in life... He's got a timeline all lined up for you, after 2 dates. Ick.
And that seems to be in direct opposition with We are both very objective about our situation and where are in life. If he's truly objective about where you both are, he won't judge you for being a year behind. Jesus, shit happens and you rolled with it.
He's said that whoever ends up with you will have to be patient. He's basically setting you up to think that you are unstable, borderline undateable, and that you should be grateful for anyone who risks dating you. At the very least, this is really creepy behavior.

Also? In my experience, anyone who is a self-identified 'deep thinker' is always a high-maintenance manipulative narcissist. Meeting someone great should not put you through this much emotional stress. Steer clear.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:02 AM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're only "damaged goods" in a relationship if you treat yourself as damaged. I speak from experience as someone who started dating while going through a divorce. I never planned to do so, but I met a guy and it just... happened. I never treated myself as unworthy or "damaged" and neither did he.

This is the kind of guy you want, not the kind who implies that dealing with one semester of less than academic perfection requires "patience." If you had to have your professional life completely sorted in order to be a good partner, most everyone I know between the ages of 25 and 32 would be immediately disqualified from dating anyone for at least the next five years. My own husband has had to postpone his PhD graduation several times due to factors beyond his control. If I'd "waited" for him to get it all finished, I'd still be waiting.

I know successful relationships where partners have had to move together or even endure a semester or two apart for one to finish their graduate studies and they've weathered it just fine. Things don't always go the way you plan and if someone can't understand that... well, you shouldn't have to justify it with your mother being ill, all you should need to say is "last semester sucked and I'm getting back on my feet now - but it's going to take a little longer to graduate." Seriously not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Also, in the grand scheme of things, you haven't known this guy long enough to judge if he's serious life-partner material. And if he truly, truly was "the one" you wouldn't feel uncomfortable at all with sharing what you've been going through with him because you'd be, well, comfortable with him. Since you don't feel that - don't share until you do. Maybe you'll be comfortable with this guy later, maybe you won't - but you're not now and you should listen to that.
posted by sonika at 6:04 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently met a man online…we went on one coffee meeting and I was shocked to find myself in the sudden realization that he may be “the one”.

This isn't a thing. Sloooooowwwwwwwwwwww waaaaayyyyyyyyyy down. Proceed at a normal pace and reveal things to each other as they come up in context or as you feel the timing warrants. If he's a nice, normal guy, one sure fire way to ruin this would be to on date #2 tell him you think he might be "the one" and emotionally vomit all over him.
posted by modernnomad at 6:08 AM on March 21, 2012

I found it hard to read all this.

You don't know if he's The One. You've only met him once.

He seems to be leaning down from Parnassus towards you, all right. He's quite a bit older than you, not enough to raise a flag in itself, but he has you wondering if you're good enough for him? Asking you questions about marriage and stuff? After one meeting?

I get that what you've been through has been incredibly distressing, but all that's happened is you took some time out to deal with an illness in the family. It doesn't warrant the extremely, extremely, extremely dramatic confessional tone that you have taken here, and you don't need to get wound up about whether it means you are GOOD ENOUGH! for THE ONE! And of course you don't vomit out highly dramatic True Confessions to someone you've only met once, because that would make you vulnerable and scare them off. So, after a few more dates, you mention, in these exact words, that you took some time off school to deal with an illness in the family.

For the record, I don't like him, for all the reasons that other posters have already stated. Maybe he's not so bad, though. You'll find out over a suitably long period of time.
posted by tel3path at 6:17 AM on March 21, 2012

I'd like to point out that they have actually been on TWO dates.

However, to my shock of meeting them and then subsequently meeting this person for dinner later on. I have realized that although this is too early to tell, but this person may be a real potential future partner in life.

...which doesn't make this situation any rosier, but I figured it should be pointed out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2012

When I was in my early twenties, I met the guy who would be "The One" after lots of online contact and one in-person meeting, so I know where you're at and don't think you're strange or going too fast. Sometimes the lightning strikes hard and quickly.

It doesn't matter if there's no big deal about saying you took time off from school -- it's a big deal for you. Whenever I have a hard time saying things, I script it in my mind in advance. Like..

You: I'm looking forward to getting back to school soon -- I had to take a half-year off because of Mom being so sick. She's much better now but...(look down, sigh) was hard on all of us. I'm just glad she's better.

One: What was wrong with her?

You: So much. Chronic pain, bad reactions to the meds. Lots. Thank (goodness/God/FSM/the stars) she's doing much better and I can concentrate on my studies again. (pause, sip coffee) Are you close with your family?

(end scene)

BUT... if he's going to have an issue because you left school temporarily due to family issues, he might not be "The One" for someone like you, who would wisely put school on hold temporarily rather than push forward and risk burnout/failure. So use your next coffee date to figure out if he's a Type-A, stiff-upper-lip, never never give up kind of guy.

(The One and I are no longer together, but had a great 12 year run. So he was The One for me for that pretty lengthy stretch of our lives. It was a shock to me to discover that there can be more than one "The One" for a person.)
posted by ladygypsy at 7:26 AM on March 21, 2012

Please please please please please cut yourself WAY more slack than you are. Your choice to leave school was totally understandable. Stop judging yourself for that!!

And if you're like me at your age, you love it when other people join in on the judge-fest, and in fact the judgier someone is of you, the more attractive you find them. Maybe I'm wrong, but seeing you flagellate yourself for not being superhuman is reminding me so much of Sidhedevil: The Co-Dependent Years.

If you have a minute to do so, I would encourage you to read Facing Codependence by Mellody, Miller, and Miller. It's not the most highfalutin intellectual book ever written by any means, but there are some insights in there that blew the top of my head right off. And got me out of the cycle of having relationships with jerks who would treat me as badly as I felt I deserved to be treated and into the space where I was ready for good relationships with people who respected me.

If I knew you in person, I would buy you a beverage of your choice and tell you about some of the assholes I loved because they told me what a shitty person I was...the Railsplitter, for instance, who spent three hours telling me why he would never be in love with me, or Fat Crying Guy, who made a scene at one of my book launch parties...oy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although my parents are have been deeply disappointed that I had to leave school and prolong my time in school by a year

In addition to all the good stuff people here have said about "The One," this really lept out at me. Are your parents always this hard on you and do they always hold you to very high standards? If so, that would explain why you're being so hard on yourself and expecting the same from others. Because your taking time off from school is really definitely not a big deal at all.

I bring this up because my father, while very loving and supportive, also pushed me very hard as a kid and young adult. In my twenties, I started realizing that, over and over again, I was falling into relationships with guys that were quite critical of me, and I couldn't figure out why. Finally, I realized that my relationship with my father had 1. normalized that sort of thing in my mind and 2. caused me to associate it with love. The problem is that the vast majority of people who will act like that in a relationship are not loving, supportive partners. Usually, they're at best unable to express love in a healthy way and at worst, narcissistic or abusive.

One other thing: you're getting a lot of people here saying there's no such thing as "the one." I think that's pretty much true, although there are certainly certain people who will mesh with you much better than 99.99% of the rest of the people in the world, and it's wonderful to meet those people!

But it's definitely good to step back and give it some time when you think you have met such a person. Mainly because once you've decided someone is Right for You, it's really hard to be objective about that person. Because when you start dating someone, how you feel about them is just as important as how they feel about you. But if you've already decided that you want them, then it's easy to start to feel like they have all the power - and if the person in question is abusive, or a narcissist or something like that, this can put you in a very dangerous position.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2012

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