Question: Dear Luise: I have a few long questions that are related to my (unique?) complicated situation. First I will give the background and then ask the questions. About me: I’m a 36 year old female who grew up in an abusive family. It wasn’t my father, but my older brother who abused me – and my parents who allowed it to happen because they’re weak and didn’t institute any discipline or limits. You can imagine all the negative impacts a childhood life of tension, fear and no limits can have: lacking a sense of self-worth, not understanding what “respect” or “trust” means, living a life of isolation, and not having true friends because I didn’t know how and wasn’t capable of it. I began therapy when I was 21, and have made great strides since then, gaining much self-confidence, confronting my fears head on, getting a master’s degree, making some new friends. I still have far to go, especially in the relationships department. I have only had one sort-of serious relationship ever, and even he wasn’t really a boyfriend – I never slept with him because I knew I didn’t love him. (I shouldn’t have gotten involved with him at all.) I’ve also struggled with weight issues most of my adult life, but I take good care of myself (I exercise regularly, and I’m involved in sports) and I look much younger than my 36 years. So, questions: 1. I’ve read in various books that it’s best not to reveal your dirty laundry until you’re practically on your way back from your honeymoon. I know from past experience with girlfriends – let alone guys – that people tend to freak out when you tell them about abuse early on. But my age is a basic thing that I am not sure I want to lie about – and if I’m truthful, it raises a host of questions for the guy: why is she 36 and has never had a serious relationship? What’s wrong with her? In other words, I don’t want to lie about my age, but I don’t know how to tell them my age and not explain the rest of the story – especially if they’re direct and ask me why I’ve never had a serious relationship. Talk about a red flag! Even if I don’t tell them right away, isn’t it deceitful to wait until your honeymoon to tell the truth about something this big? Maybe I already know the answer: ie, I’m trying to focus on the future, so maybe the past isn’t really so “big.” In which case, is it wise to simply say with all the confidence I can muster: “Yes, 36 isn’t young, but there’s good reason why I’m 36 and at this level of experience, and if you’re lucky enough to stay with me, you’ll find out why one day.” 2. Online dating offers some of the best prospects for someone my age, but because people can filter you out based on how old you are, I’m extremely tempted to lie about my age to start, and then tell the person the truth on the 2nd or 3rd date – without exception. Of course, I wouldn’t want to tell him about the abuse on the 2nd or 3rd date, so I would just tell him my age and see what happens. Would this be acceptable to a guy, given the reasons above? S.
Answer: Dear S.: I would address this issue in a therapy session. Online dating can be dangerous. Others are just as motivated to lie as you are. I’d join new groups and meet people that way. It offers a much better opportunity to be authentic and to let others see what you have to offer, which appears to me to be a lot. And I’d leave the past in the past, acknowledging trauma without being specific. Blessings, Luise