Monday, November 2, 2009

"Hey, er, sweetie? I have something I want to tell you..."

The topic of this post was suggested to me by a friend. (Thank you!) It's a follow-up to my How To Tell A Friend post.

How Do You Tell A [Potential] Significant Other?

When do you tell him/her? What do you say? What reactions should you look for? How much can you expect?

The worries are endless. This is trickier than telling a friend, because on the one hand, you want to make this all work out and you hope your [potential] significant other will be fine with it, but on the other, you want to figure out right then and there if s/he is actually comfortable with it-- no self-delusion here. As sad as I would be if someone I was interested in decided he wasn't comfortable with me because of my passion for survivor advocacy, I would rather know now than be more hurt later on, because that's a part of who I am and I won't give it up. If someone rejects my friendship because of it, I would probably judge them for it, but I do try to understand and accept that not every guy is going to be the right kind of caring, interest, and support for me, and so he and I might just be better off as friends. The bar is higher for a relationship, and this is one test for you to see if s/he passes.

So, I'll be honest here-- I've only ever had to do this once, and I was so nervous about it that I wrote out a little script for myself. Let's start with that:

There's something about me that I want to share with you. Some of this you might have deduced from earlier conversations with me. You know that I took a year and half off, right? Part of the reason was that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and so I went out to work and explore different fields. I was also really burnt out from classes. But the main reason I went on leave my senior spring was for post-traumatic stress disorder-- for several instances of rape and coercion in my earlier college years, and the one final time my senior spring that set it all off.

I don't want to burden you with more information than you want to hear, but I am willing to share some of the details if you want to know. I am not ashamed of what happened to me, and I am willing to talk about it. I understand that this makes some people uncomfortable, though. This is why I wanted to tell you now, so you know, and so you can decide if you're still comfortable with me. I won't judge you or be upset with you if you're not. It's all right.

(Why would anyone be uncomfortable with me because of this, you ask? For some people, it's because they still believe myths about rape. Some people would feel like I wanted it, or enjoyed it, or deserved it. For others, it's because now I'm somehow sullied or tainted. But for many, it's just a general sense of discomfort, that somehow I remind them that anyone could be a victim of assault. I certainly talk about the issues of rape and sexual assault a great deal; it's become a passion of mine, and I am not ashamed of what happened to me. This makes some people uncomfortable.)

So I guess this is what I want to say: if this affects our friendship, I will be a little hurt. But I would understand if you would rather just be friends and not something more, because this is an important issue in my life. For what it's worth, I like you, and I'd like to see where this goes, but I wanted to tell you this now, so you can make a decision about whether or not you're still comfortable with me, now that you know this. If you have any doubts, better you acknowledge them now rather than later.

If you need some time to think about this, that's fine. I'll give you space until you decide you'd like to discuss it.

That general script worked out fine for me, I think, because he had already guessed to some degree. I talk about the issue of sexual assault and rape culture and PTSD a lot. To my friends, definitely, but in particular to anyone I'm interested in being more than friends with. I'm not sure if I do this on purpose or if I do it just because my passion about this spills over into everything (and sometimes I talk a lot), but it kind of primes them for The Talk, I guess? It's like testing the waters. If they seem okay with it from brief mentions and allusions, then I'll step it up a little more, then finally actually sit down with them and talk.

(Side note: It makes having this blog a little awkward, actually. It's my major project right now, so I like to talk to my friends about how things are going with it, but I try to make sure people know my story before they find this so they can hear it first from me and not just get overwhelmed by me doing nothing but talking about it here. While I do try to find the right time to tell friends, it's not something I stress about as much as trying to figure out the Opportune Moment to tell someone I'm interested in.)

So, yes, I don't really have great answers to all the questions at the beginning, because I've only ever had to do this once (and things with him didn't work out soon afterward for various reasons, so I don't even really have long-term feedback and success evaluation). I think the only tidbit I picked up from my one experience is that it's a good idea to try to test the waters little by little to see how your [potential] significant other responds, and then if things look good, talk to him/her towards the beginning of the relationship. You don't have to spill your guts, but at least put the notion in his/her head that a) this is a major part of your life and who you are; b) you are not ashamed of it because you shouldn't be; and c) it's up to him/her to adapt and respond appropriately. The ball's in their court now.


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