The past is the past right?
May 21, 2014 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Do I need to disclose to someone I'm dating that I briefly dated my coworker who I still work with?

This has been oddly stressing me out, more now because I recently met someone I could see seriously dating.

Last summer/fall I dated my 15 years older coworker off and on for a few months. It was a very intense, but brief relationship that fell apart primarily due to his dishonesty. Despite it ending very badly, we were able to repair our working relationship and now are back on friendly terms. It's an odd situation that I don't love, but it's more or less fine. I am looking for another job, but I'm doing well where I am and don't want to leave for an inferior position with fewer opportunities. Making this more complicated is that due to some political struggles with our upper management, my boss has been taken out of his position and my coworker has temporarily been assigned the day to day management of our group. However, he isn't officially my boss and this is supposed to be temporary, but it's possible that at some point in the future he could become my boss.

Fast forward to now, I don't see my coworker socially except for the very occasional work happy hour and it's been well over 6 months since I ended things for good. Is this something I need to disclose to a future boyfriend?

The last time I was in a serious relationship my boyfriend specifically said he didn't want to know if I had at some point hooked up with or dated someone in my friend group before we had started dating. However, most of my friends in relationships seem to have exhaustively (on penalty of perjury) disclosed every romantic encounter they've ever had down to their first kiss in 8th grade. I know some people that would be irate if they and their partner ran into an old friend at a party, who the partner had made out with years before they met them, and they had failed to disclose this well in advance. I think this is crazy, but this seems to be pretty common.

I don't want to lie by omission and I don't think this is something I need to talk about until I'm a few months into a committed relationship (unless I do?), but I don't see telling a future partner about this leading to anything good. I work very closely with my coworker and the nature of our work requires me to regularly take calls and respond to emails outside of normal work hours. Also, while it is not widely known that we dated, several of my close friends know. It's not inconceivable that it could one day come out.

I'm all for Dan Savage's a relationship is not a deposition and I think that if I did tell a future partner I would go light on the details, while still making them aware that I do have a past with my coworker. Is this a mandatory disclosure in a relationship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total)
Why don't you ask them how much they want to know about your previous relationships?
posted by chaiminda at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

There's no right or wrong, just what works for you & the person you're dating.

If it were me, I'd mention it pretty much the first time Coworker's name came up - in my opinion, there's nothing to hide. I'd go light on the details - "So I was talking to Bob - have I told you about him yet? We dated for a little while and it was dysfunctional, I'm so glad that chapter of my life is over. Anyway, Bob said that the . . ."

It's not a big deal unless someone makes it a big deal.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:08 PM on May 21, 2014 [27 favorites]

In my opinion, no, it is not mandatory unless there are lingering issues that might affect a new partner or if the old flame is around all the time and everyone else knows the history. However, if you are moving beyond "just dating" with someone, and the subject comes up (eg in a general discussion about dating at work), it would probably be a good idea to mention it casually, along the lines of "yeah, would you believe Bob and I had a thing many moons ago? Me neither, it seems like another lifetime, and I am really glad we have maintained a decent working relationship." Otherwise you do risk looking like you are hiding something.

The bottom line, though, is that everyone has different thresholds when it comes to this stuff. Personally, my partner and I do not want to know about every past fling or flirtation, and I would be more disturbed by a pointed need to confess than by finding out about some minor involvement after the fact. You need to get a sense of where a new partner falls on the spectrum and go from there.
posted by rpfields at 3:09 PM on May 21, 2014

I only disclose this kind of thing if my partner asks in a way that's healthy (rather than creepy or controlling). There's no rule that you have to disclose your past dating life to a new partner and not doing so is in no way lying. In fact, I think more people would be happier in their relationships if the past was left in the past.

Personally, I can't imagine being with someone who felt entitled to all of the information about my past relationship history. I'd consider them getting angry about information being "withheld" as a giant red flag.
posted by quince at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the "Rule" for this stuff is that you should have a common understanding with your dating partner or life partner about what one tells and doesn't tell. At this early stage, the best approach might be that, "How much do you want to know about my relationship history?" type thing.

Personally, I hate intentional omissions from partners and they do feel dishonest to me. The "I used to date my coworker" thing could be sort of awkward, but for me would not be a big deal. But knowing that you never mentioned the issue for months (or years) would feel like a lie to me when I did finally find out. So if you were dating me I'd want you to know that I would want to know.

I now recognize that many (most?) people would not want that level of sharing, so that's why I now subscribe to the belief that you must have a shared understanding of what is shared or not, before you make this decision.
posted by latkes at 3:51 PM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you'd feel weird NOT mentioning it, mention it. I like what insectosaurus suggests. "So I ran into Carl today, HOOOO, I've learned my lesson about dipping my pen in the company ink. Thank goodness it's not awkward, but it sure could have been. So, how 'bout them Dawgs."

Once said, no need to think of it again.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:55 PM on May 21, 2014

If new partner and workplace ex were ever likely to meet irl I would mention the simple facts well beforehand as I wouldn't want Partner to feel embarrassed if it was alluded to by Ex or anyone you thought might have a clue you had dated each other.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:06 PM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You should discuss these questions -- (how much to disclose, comfort level with disclosure, etc) -- with the person you're dating as you get to know each other. Be prepared to ask and answer: how much about my past do you want to know? How much about your past do you want to share? How have you handled these issues in past relationships?

Don't treat it as a Big Scary Issue. It's just another fun aspect of getting to know each other.

Also remember: there are very few things that are "mandatory" in relationships. It's about figuring out what kind of agreements, boundaries and commitments feel right for the parties involved.
posted by Gray Skies at 4:10 PM on May 21, 2014

I agree with insectosaurus. It all depends on you and future boyfriend. It is not mandatory to disclose anything that would make you feel uncomfortable.

If everything was going well in the relationship, it would not bother me at all if my girlfriend had briefly dated a co-worker. If I found out later on after meeting and/or hearing about the co-worker several times, I'd probably ask why she hadn't told me sooner but also wouldn't make much of it.

Everybody has a past and it's important to date people that understand that.
posted by AtoBtoA at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is this a mandatory disclosure in a relationship?
Clearly, everyone is different and context is everything but I think in all of my relationships, the question of "have you ever dated a coworker/classmate/whatever" came up somewhat organically or randomly. It was not a Thing. (The only times it was, it was just a harbinger of doom that I ignored, but mileages vary of course.)

I think it also should be mentioned that as much as what New People want to know is important, how much you want to or feel comfortable sharing equally is.
posted by sm1tten at 5:00 PM on May 21, 2014

I dated a guy for a few months and then went on to effectively become his business partner for TEN YEARS, and he's still one of my best friends.

I only ever mentioned that fact to any subsequent boyfriends once I knew that they were either about to meet, or if my ex came up in conversation. And all I even said was "we dated a while, then broke up and then started working together; we work together great but he's definitely an ex," and that was all it needed. No one ever blinked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:28 PM on May 21, 2014


Instead, I think you should examine why you feel the "need" to disclose this. Seems like too much drama to insert into a promising start with a new person, to be honest. I think you should rethink this urge.

- You only dated coworker briefly, so there's not much to tell. You're not hiding an ex husband or anything remotely meaningful.

- It ended because coworker was lying? If you knew he was deceitful, you would never have dated him in the first place. In a way, not being who he represented himself as negates that you were in a real dating relationship with coworker. I can easily argue that you were scammed, but not that this guy is a true "Ex Boyfriend," capital letters.

- Turn off the drama, don't bring it into your future relationships. Resist the urge to discuss this Bad Past Experience with current partners.

Your coworker already caused enough trouble and drama in your life. Stop talking about him. Don't give him the power to hurt you further by becoming something you or your current guy continue to focus on, when really, you and your current guy should only be focusing on each other and how happy you are.

Don't self-sabotage. Let this incident go.
posted by jbenben at 7:28 PM on May 21, 2014

I'd say, don't worry about it until you are actually dating somebody, and maybe not even then. If you are certain there is no risk of you ever getting back together with your co-worker, then I don't know if your new sweetie NEEDS to know about your old history. It's not really relevant to your current relationship, is it? It'd be your choice.

If you'd feel weird not mentioning it, I think you could just say that you dated this guy and it's so over and he was dishonest and yucky, and now you are looking for a new job. If your new partner got huffy about you getting stuck working with somebody like that, I'd worry about him being a little too jealous. I mean, what are you supposed to do about the situation, you know?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:35 PM on May 21, 2014

Is this something I need to disclose to a future boyfriend?

If I understand you, you're not dating anyone now. Why on earth are you worrying about this?
posted by sfkiddo at 11:07 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's necessary to tell a new relationship partner about previous relationships, unless there's significant baggage/ complexity. Like, if an old bf is stalking you, you might want to explain why you are very cautious about personal safety. No lying, though. If you talk about previous relationships, don't make up fake details.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2014

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