Even after sixteen years, I still chuckle when I think of that phrase. As a sheltered, romance-loving, teenager, I lacked some basic relationship skills. For instance, I trusted way too easily, and all I had to know about a potential suitor was his name before spilling my guts and telling him everything there was to know about me – the good, the bad, and the insanely boring.
In retrospect, I am embarrassed when I remember all the data dumping I did on those poor boys back then; but, worse than that, I flung my heart at young men left and right and hoped for the best. The more I shared, the more they had of me; and, the more they had of me, the more easily they could wound me. Not to mention, the more I shared, the quicker we bonded; and, the quicker we bonded, the easier it was to “fall in love.” Falling too fast leads to all sorts of struggles. Come to think of it, the word struggle pretty much sums up my teen years.
“Could you just stop?”
After one particular love drama conversation, my best friend’s mom shared her deep concern for how readily I poured out my heart to anything male that moved. In her ‘to the point, no beating around the bush’ fashion, she simply asked, “Could you just stop?” I am not sure if it was the bluntness with which she spoke, or the desperation in her voice which made this simple question amuse me so. ~smile~ (I tended to exasperate the people who loved me by making the same mistake every six months.)
At the time, I thought, “What is the harm in sharing my world with others?” Even though I did not have a dozen skeletons in my closet or secrets which could sink ships, pouring myself out overnight did not serve me well. Not only did I lose an air of mystery, but I jumped through about seven emotional stages in a matter of weeks.
It has been so long since I was on the dating scene and I sometimes wonder what I would do differently if I was single now. Would I let old habits take over and hand each new date a verbal scrapbook detailing every major event in my life? Would I be so on guard that I would hold back basic information for fear of the flood gates opening? Would I double date with close friends until I felt trustworthy enough to be alone with a man again? I cannot say for sure how I would respond, but I hope my approach would be seasoned with wisdom.
If you are unsure of when and how much of your heart to disclose, let the following blueprint (written by a serial over-sharer) serve as a guide. ~smile~
First Few Dates
Get to know his or her likes, dislikes, and do activities together which break the ice. Avoid deeply emotional subjects and keep your mouth closed when you are tempted to blurt out deep feelings. You may feel like you are falling for this person after three dates, but it is not time to verbalize such information. Give yourselves space and time to learn the good and the bad about each other – and have some difficult conversations together before sharing your feelings for each other.
When I am tempted to speak too soon, this verse is there to stop me: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28, ESV).
Unfortunately, I was not well-acquainted with this verse during my teen years. And, let’s face it, even if I had plastered this verse (and others like it) all over my bedroom walls back then, I still would have allowed my tongue to fly free. Why? Because I trusted more in my fickle heart and in romantic comedies than I did in the powerful truth of God’s word.
Though it is important to save heavily emotional discussions for later (after the relationship has taken root), topics such as previous marriages and children should come up sooner rather than later. Bringing up such matters after forming a bond is unkind and your sweetheart may feel lied to or betrayed. However, do not linger on these topics. Talking incessantly about an ex is a turnoff. It leads your date to believe you are not ready for a relationship (and depending on how much you talk about him or her, you may not be).
After a Few Months of Dating
If the subject matter of your conversations has not yet deepened, it is appropriate to share a bit more about yourselves by this point; but, only if he or she is someone you could picture yourself marrying (you are not committed yet). If you keep your conversations on a surface level for too long, you will miss important decision-making information. Even though there is an element of dating which should be fun, you are also on a quest to understand each other. Being aware of his favorite food or her birthstone is not enough. What makes him tick? What gets her excited? What is the calling on his life and how is he pursuing it? What are the dreams which keep her awake at night?
Sometimes couples hide from these discussions out of fear. “We are having so much fun, together. What if we discover something we do not like about each other?” You will discover something discouraging, frustrating, and annoying about each other. Expect it, friends! ~smile~ It is better to discover your sweetie’s issues now rather than being caught off guard on your honeymoon. The person you are dating is not perfect; and, despite the Hallmark romantic garbage out there, he or she is not even perfect for you. No one is perfect for you. There are better matches and worse matches, but no perfect matches. Too many people are disillusioned in their relationships because this idea of a perfect mate has been ingrained in their minds since birth. The sooner you reject the idea of perfection, and move on to the simple question – Who is an optimal match? – the more peaceful you will be in your search.
So, after a few months of dating, your conversations should be deepening. If your new special someone is unwilling or uninterested in discussing anything of substance, that should give you pause. It is difficult to be in a marriage with someone who never wants to emerge below the surface – especially if you are one who enjoys intellectual conversations and emotional sharing. And, even if you do not enjoy deep discussions, sometimes couples have to have them in order to keep life moving forward – finances/retirement planning, children, vacation planning, educational decisions, to move or not to move, etc. Do you want to drag your future spouse through every slightly thought-provoking conversation you ever have?
You Have Been Dating a While, and You Are Thinking, “Wow, I Could See Myself Marrying this Person”
If you are in the ‘this could very well be the person I marry’ zone of your relationship, it is time to get real about the practical plans you have for your life. If you honestly want to move to Australia, that needs to come out now. If you feel called to adopt troubled teens, have that conversation before this train moves further down the tracks. If you have no intention of ever living more than two miles away from your parents, talk about it – even if you are terrified of his or her reaction. If you have ministry aspirations, plan to return to school, want to travel extensively, plan to give fifty percent of your annual income to charity, expect to have seven dogs and three cats, want to host weekly dinner parties, or are training to be the next hot wing eating champion, let your honey in on it. It is time.
It is natural to feel nervous when sharing personal information which might cause your sweetheart concern, but it is unfair to withhold such information – especially if he or she is on the verge of devoting a lifetime to you. And, even if it does not seem so at the time, keeping your significant other in the dark about your life plans does not serve you well, either. Let’s say you do get married before opening up about your plans. If your spouse is not on board, he or she will, purposefully or unintentionally, hinder your progress. Even though it is scary, is it not better to divulge your life plans now?
Dating Steadily and Seriously Considering Marriage
Once you are seriously considering engagement, it is time to be real about topics that could hinder a future marriage. If you cannot trust this person with the tender parts of your heart, can you trust him or her to be your lifelong partner?
It is wise to talk through difficult subjects with a trustworthy, objective third party present. This could include such topics as previous physical relationships, abuse, painful family histories, and anything that could be a potential hindrance to your marriage bed.
Do a once over on your heart. Is there anything you are hiding which needs to be shared? If after much prayer, you are still unsure of whether or not a topic needs to be broached, seek out a trusted mentor or counselor who will give you wise, biblical advice.
Keep Your Mystery Without Playing Mind Games
Yes, if I was single once again, I hope I would use wisdom and bridle my tongue until the time was right to share my heart. After a lot of years, and witnessing many young relationships, I see why it is so important to remain appropriately mysterious; however, I am too old and too tired to play games. ~smile~ Not to mention, games are painful, pointless, and immature. They only cause trouble and kill trust between couples. Couples who play emotional games tend to give a little of themselves to each other and then pull back – always keeping the other guessing. It is exhausting and has no place between two adults who are on the road to married life. Mind games steal peace, and living in a dramatic, chaotic home is miserable. If you date in chaos, you will marry in chaos.
Thankfully, it is possible to be slow and wise in your relationship without playing games.
Do not hold back to be coy and manipulative. Instead, consider yourself a budding flower that is waiting to bloom. A rose picked at its peak is a beautiful sight to behold. If picked too soon, the recipient cannot fully appreciate its beauty.
Have You Considered Dating Your Friends?
Because of my data dumping habit, I am blessed that God saw fit to send me my husband in a sneaky way – as a friend. ~smile~ Most of my relationships began as romantic endeavors, and when they did not work out, we tried to back track (with little success) to friendship. When I met Eric, I was a little taken aback by his straight forward personality. The day I met him he twirled around briskly in his desk chair and boldly introduced himself. My hair blew back a little bit. Who is this guy and where does he get his energy?
Having no romantic intentions for well over a year, Eric got to know me as a friend. By the time we moved into a marriage-minded relationship, we already knew tons about each other. We had experienced each other in real situations. There was not much to hide.
Do you have friends who might make good marriage partners? Have you ever considered them as potential mates? If not, pray about it. See if God changes your heart. Ask for guidance. You may be surprised. Love can grow beautifully out of friendship – in fact, we encourage you to marry your best friend.
If you are one who feels the “need” to share too much information too soon, I hope this post was helpful; and, if you are one who holds back indefinitely, I hope you will begin to unveil your thoughts and feelings one layer at a time (once you have reason to believe the one you are dating is trustworthy). When to verbally open yourself is not always clear, but having a general system in place can take some of the anxiety out of the process.
What changes, if any, do you need to make to your getting to know you process?