Artwork by Isabella Phung
In the dating world, it is understandable and even expected that you put your best foot forward.
There’s a good reason your profile shouldn’t just be a list of your biggest flaws. Although that would be an amusing and maybe even admirable experiment in transparency, it would produce poor results. But even worse than that, it wouldn’t actually be an honest representation of yourself. You have to show off the good parts of yourself, too, and because humans have brains that are easily biased, you’re not actually giving your good traits a fair chance if you’ve also revealed your negative qualities too early.
Why is that, you ask? Well, it’s because once someone has invested in something, they’re more likely to overlook flaws in order to justify the work or time they’ve already put into that thing. That’s why getting a first date is really important. Even something as small as that can bias someone into forgiving more of your flaws than they would have if they had found them out by reading them in your profile, because they’ve now devoted two or so hours to exploring you. They might have even learned things they like about you, which makes their attachment even stronger.
This phenomenon is the same reason why people stay in relationships for much longer than they should, sometimes. If you have devoted years to cultivating a relationship with someone, it can be a huge hurdle to admit to yourself that you judged this person wrong, and that it was all a waste of time in terms of finding your lifelong partner. We all naturally have a tendency to believe that what we invest time or effort in is worth it, because we like to think we are making the right investments.
All this leads, inevitably, to a socially-accepted practice of not revealing your huge negative traits too early. Obviously it would be dishonest if you never revealed your negative traits, or if you didn’t reveal them when someone asked. But people expect that when you are first getting to know them, that you are not telling them everything—especially the things they may not want to hear yet. (Like how you always manage to be late for everything, and how your idea of a “gourmet meal” is adding Sriracha to your Kraft Dinner.)
It is important to keep in mind what your potential partner might see as a “flaw” and adjust your behavior accordingly. If you know they want to have kids and you don’t, for example, it is probably not a good idea to hide that information from them, because that’s potentially a huge incompatibility that will trump any attachment they’ve made to you. On the other hand, if you’re terrible at remembering birthdays and buying gifts, you may want to hold off on revealing this unless your potential partner says something that indicates that it would be important to them to know now. The more time you spend with this person the less likely they are to cut and run when they find out something bad about you, unless it’s a deal-breaker.
So don’t waste anyone’s time—yours or theirs. If you have something major to reveal about yourself, don’t wait too long to get it out into the open. It shouldn’t take until the tenth date for you to mention you have a passion to spend the next few years backpacking around the world. Yet you must also try not to be the person who confesses on a first date that you’re afraid of the dark unless you sleep with the Powerpuff Girls doll you’ve had since you were a kid. There is a balance you must find. You must walk the line between saying too much too soon, and too little too late. But it’s worth it. It can make all the difference between coming off as “crazy and insecure” versus “quirky and charmingly vulnerable”. Timing is everything.
Also, do keep in mind that different types of relationships dictate different levels of transparency. Up until now, I have been speaking about serious relationships. But if, instead, it is understood that you are just looking for something casual, then you’re automatically less obliged to reveal information about yourself. A good rule to follow is that the level of commitment should match the level of honesty in a relationship.
Now I’ll tell you a story about when I was getting to know my husband online. From our very first chat, I mentioned that I was shy. What he didn’t know is that it was actually a lot more serious than that: I have Social Anxiety Disorder. If I had told him that upfront, maybe he would’ve been put off by it. But, over time, as we revealed more and more to each other, and liked each other more and more, I made increasingly more revealing comments about the level of my “shyness”. If he had been looking for “red flags”, and if he thought of extreme shyness as something he wouldn’t want to deal with, he no doubt would’ve noticed my comments and probed for more information. So I was able to give him the opportunity to show it was important to him while simultaneously being able gauge his thoughts on shyness. It was a good tactic. By the time I was ready to be completely candid with him, he wasn’t surprised my “shyness” was as extreme as it was, because of all the hints I had dropped.
So a slow revelation of something you’re worried to tell a potential partner could go a little like that. (But it might have to be very different, depending on the person.) Just try to be as observant as you can to pick up on the right cues.
Good luck on finding the right balance!