Self-Disclosure and Dating – Relationship Advice from Theo Nestor

Hi Wrong Planet Readers,

I’m Theo Pauline Nestor, author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed and writer of numerous articles on the topic of relationships. This is my first post on this site, and I’m excited to be a part of this community and to receive your questions about relationships, which I will do my best to answer.

Today I want to talk about what I believe is one of the keys to getting a new relationship off the ground: compatible rates of self-disclosure. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our rate of self-disclosure—the speed at which we tell people important information about ourselves—has a huge impact on the course of a relationship.

Generally, when we are getting to know someone as a friend, we naturally keep pace with the rate our new friend is disclosing about himself and he or she keeps pace with us. If I tell you about my love of cats, you might tell me about your interest in web design. If after we’ve known each other for a while, I tell you about how my parents’ divorce affected me, you would likely share something personal about yourself. Even if you had not gone through the same experience as me, you would likely share an event of a similar caliber that impacted you emotionally. And this is generally, how friendships are built—slowly over time, brick by brick.

But, in dating, it can be a little more difficult to judge what the rate of self-disclosure should be. You are getting to know the other person so hopefully they’ll be more than a friend—maybe even a life partner—so the urgency of getting to know the other person can feel much greater as is your need to know whether you will be accepted by this person. You naturally feel deeply curious about the person’s past—do they have secrets? Are they stable?—and you might also feel the need to tell them the intimate details of your life. Plus, when we’re nervous, it’s easily to start blurting stuff out (that would be me) or clamming up.

But keeping a rate of disclosure that is steady and pretty much in step with the other person’s is one way to ensure that a friendship is built (which could be the beginning of something more) and that both people feel both safe and increasingly closer to each other. If someone tells you too much about herself too soon, you can feel awkward and uncomfortable, and yet if they don’t tell you much beyond surface talk, you don’t know if the other person is interested in you and it’s hard to feel close to them.

So how might you apply this on a first or second date:

1. Before the date, think of topics that are of a low level of disclosure that would be good to talk about—college majors, where you grew up, a passion of yours. If you have a tendency to open up too soon, remind yourself to slow down.
2. Listen for the other person’s rate of disclosure. Are they telling you about their trip to Jamaica or about something more personal? If they are opening up to you, consider what you might share with them that is personal without being TOO personal. But only take this step if you genuinely like the person because when you open up to people you are signaling your interest in them and starting to develop a bond.
3. If the other person is disclosing too much for your comfort level, try changing the topic to something lighter.
4. If you’re past the first date and you know you like this person, strive to match their rate of disclosure. And, most important, demonstrate empathy and interest in the other person’s story when they do open up by establishing eye contact and asking follow-up questions.

Want to ask me questions about this? Or any other dating questions, send your mail to [email protected]

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over. Her work has appeared in a number of print and online publications including the Huffington Post and the New York Times. You can follow her blog at WritingisMyDrink.com

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