How Soon Should He Tell Women About His Abuse?

April 21st, 2015

Disclosure, NEW!, Sex, sexuality, Shy Guys

Alias (DO NOT USE A REAL NAME!!): Oizysguylaptop
Comment: How do I start dating for the first time as a 28 year old man?

I experienced sexual abuse from the age of 7 to 13, and as a result was never comfortable around people or able to date. I have been going through therapy for this and finally feel comfortable enough to start dating but I don’t know how.

I don’t know if I should let women know upfront that I don’t have any experience, it will probably be apparent. How much should I let someone know about my abuse and when?
Age: 28
City: Turnersville
State: New Jersey


You shouldn’t tell anybody about your abuse until you and they have established a strong trust. You’re going to hear a lot of people tell you that you shouldn’t be ashamed of what happened to you, and that you’re brave for revealing it..and they’re right. It isn’t your fault and you are brave for talking about it. But the reality is that abuse and trauma are experiences that fundamentally change and affect us.

In a recent post, I discussed a woman who decided to reveal her history of abuse publicly and to men she didn’t know very well. In her group therapy session, the other abuse survivors warned her that being that open was going to work against her, and they were right. This woman struggles to connect with men in a healthy way because she’s written so frequently about her abuse. And when she’s not writing about it, she’s teaching classes on how to write about sensitive topics using her history of trauma as Exhibit A. And when she’s not doing that, she’s sharing her history of abuse with men she barely knows.  From an outside perspective, this woman comes off not as someone who has come to terms with her abuse, but as someone completely defined by it. She’s not being judged for having been abused. Rational people know she was not to blame. What is being held against her is the impression that, because she talks about it so often and so openly,  she has not dealt with what happened to her and is therefore not capable of developing a healthy relationship.She’s so focused on sharing her story that she has no comprehension of how she’s being perceived. Her writing peers will applaud her rawness and authenticity, but none of them will tell her she’s actually shooting herself in the foot by making her past so public.

Abuse of any kind critically impairs our ability to trust and makes intimacy of any kind very difficult for us. That’s a given. That’s what gives people pause when they hear that a potential romantic partner has suffered major trauma. It’s not the trauma itself that we are being judged for, it’s the after shocks that we experience that concerns people. Will it be hard for us to trust? Will sexual compatibility be impeded? These are valid reasons for someone choosing not to pursue a romantic relationship with us. It doesn’t make them bad or wrong or evil or too judgmental.

Your history is yours, and you have the power to decide that it will not define you. So, no, I would not tell future dates about your history of abuse. Not until you’re sure that they are trustworthy and compassionate, and not until you have let them see other sides to you. If you’re still in a place where you think you need to tell people right away, then that’s a sign that you may need to put dating on the back burner for a while.You also need to understand that waving your abuse around like a big red flag will attract people who have a thing for wounded dogs. You don’t want that, either. The sad thing is, as a man you’ll probably have less of a hurdle to get over than a woman who has been abused. Many women like the idea of nursing or fixing a guy. Most men don’t share that desire. Many men still feel that the most important thing a woman brings to the table is sex, and if she’s got issues, well then that might mean problems in the bedroom. To them, that’s no bueno. A lot of women would be more forgiving if sex weren’t a priority to a guy. In any case, please keep your history to yourself until you get to know someone.

In the mean time, focus on developing your social skills by doing activities that have nothing to do with dating. Join a special interest group. Find a Toastmasters meetup and work on speaking in public or to strangers. Do anything you can to develop an ease in social settings. That’s a great place to start.

And while you do that, stick with one on one therapy.  I have no problem saying that I don’t care for group therapy. My therapist suggested I give it a try in order to help process my grief and the tragedy fatigue I was experiencing, and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be around people who wanted to sit for an hour and dwell. That’s fine for some people, but not for me. I’m not a fan of communities that involve everybody vomiting up all of their problems all the time. (Lookin’ at you, xoJane.) Not only that, but whether it’s online or offline, when people gather to hear other people’s problems, the end result is a collective of concern trolls. You’ve got the people projecting all their issue son to you, or you have people who are there strictly to feel smug and superior, and there’s always that one person who hijacks the sessions in one way or another and becomes a disruptive force. Kind of like the comments on blogs. The last thing you need is to be surrounded by people who want you to sit and marinate in your problems. Avoid at all cost people who encourage you to share intimate details of your past to strangers.

Once you feel confident enough to get out there, then I would try an online dating site and couple it with a social group that meets semi-regularly. You don’t want to stay behind a computer screen the whole time. That sort of approach will only encourage you to hide. Adding an in person setting to the mix will help prevent you from being too comfortable only chatting online.

Good luck.


Sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life. (R)



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17 Responses to “How Soon Should He Tell Women About His Abuse?”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Maybe you could role play w/ your therapist or a close friend, addressing questions about your last relationship and why aren’t you trying to get me in the sack and what are you looking for, etc.,? Those questions are bound to come up in one way or another and it will be better if you’ve given them some thought and have plausible explanations. Best wishes.

  2. Fyodor Says:

    Here here. Wait until you’re in a strongly committed relationship and have a bond of trust. I’d do it for at least the following reasons.

    1. You don’t owe anyone this information.

    2. While most women will support the idea that victims of abuse should have the same opportunities to find love, some will rather you do it with someone else.

    3. Generally traumatic serious disclosures should be shared with someone you know and trust and casual acquaintences will be uncomfortable with it.

    ” don’t know if I should let women know upfront that I don’t have any experience, it will probably be apparent.”

    This one is easy. Fake it until you make it. The world is full of 28 year old men who don’t know what they’re doing for whatever reason. Don’t let it slow you down and figure things out as you go.

    • fuzzilla Says:

      **” don’t know if I should let women know upfront that I don’t have any experience, it will probably be apparent.”

      This one is easy. Fake it until you make it. The world is full of 28 year old men who don’t know what they’re doing for whatever reason. Don’t let it slow you down and figure things out as you go.**

      Yeah. I was gonna say, if the OP finds himself at an awkward spot in a conversation he might want to have some short responses he can use that answer the question, yet don’t plunge someone right in the swim of All His Issues. Like, “I haven’t really dated much, I was working on some personal issues. Anyway, what looks good for dessert?” Something like that.

      • Fyodor Says:

        I wouldn’t even go there. Deflect with a joke “what, are you going to call my exes?” There is no upside to even acknowledging it.

        • fuzzilla Says:

          Your joke works, but I think acknowledging that personal problems exist in a very gentle and brief manner might feel more comfortable for someone who’s anxious and worried about spilling the beans. Just whatever works to keep the Overshare Bear at bay.

          • Fyodor Says:

            Women will look down on him for not having dated much, especially if they find out early on.

            OP, this doesn’t mean it’s something that should stress you out, I started dating late and I did fine. Men and women mangle so much in their dating lives that everyone is fumbling around. But from a tactical perspective, keep quiet about it.

            The fact of his not dating will make women draw negative inferences about his social sophistication or personal qualities. There’s no upside to it and considerable downside, especially before he knows someone well.

        • Julie Says:

          I’m with Fyodor. If OP is on date #1-6 and the girl says, “So how long have you been single?” If I were his date, I would rather hear a joke or something vague like “its been a while” then “I’m working through some personal problems…whats for desert”. Awkward! And kind of scary! Save the personal problem talk for like month #3.

          • fuzzilla Says:

            I think it’s vague enough to cover everything from, er, what actually happened to legal battles to “my house was destroyed by a tornado.” What do I know? Point is, don’t bring up dating history, but do have a quick answer and a way to steer the conversation to safer ground if the other person does.

            • Yvonne Says:

              I’m all for emphasizing the positive. “Working ion personal issues” could set off alarm bells. Better to say something like, “I’ve been really focused on my studies/career and not so much on relationships, but I’m ready to change that now”. Many guys are busy establishing their careers at that age anyway.

              • fuzzilla Says:

                I guess my instinct is that the “personal issues” line would definitively shut down further discussion, whereas laughing off something really painful might make the other person go, “Aww, come on, it can’t be that bad. Tell me.” I dunno, if it were me, I’d want to set down a definite “not up for discussion” boundary, and vote for whatever gets that done.

                • Julie Says:

                  “Personal Issues” can come across as scary. That could mean anything…was he an alcoholic or a meth head? Was he in jail? Was he in a mental institution? What could he be hiding that is so bad that he needs to immediately shut that conversation down?

                  I do agree he should have some canned answers ready to go because the questions will come up. If its early in the dating process though, I’d be careful about saying anything that can set off alarm bells. Like Moxie said, he should avoid being defined by his trauma.

  3. bbdawg Says:

    No, don’t mention it until AFTER you have established a bond, and you are dating exclusively. Which takes a while anyway.

    Many years ago I had a friend and roommate who had also been abused did a lot of therapy and she was in the habit of telling a lot of people about it, just “oversharing”, in Lena Durham fashion, to all of her friends, including people she’d start dating and it just made me – and from the stories she’d tell me about her dating – a bit uncomfortable. It created a situation where of course everything was about the person and her abuse.

    I understand how abuse defines people in some way, and how a person experiences relationships, but that is just A LOT to bring to the table initially. If you do it too soon, it creates a kind of therapy-relationship where one person needs constant attention and hand-holding that isn’t healthy either. It’s draining to the other person.

  4. E-B Says:

    I had to deal with trauma (not as severe as sexual abuse) that kept me from dating for most of my adult life, and I have some thoughts to share:
    1) Moxie has never been more correct than her advice in this column. Just be yourself and people will learn that there is a lot more to you than what happened in your past. That part of your life will always be there, but there is no reason to lead with it.
    2) I found it helpful to go to non-dating social activities too, just so I could be more comfortable with myself. Going to those also helped me develop other things to talk about, since being interesting is pretty important. I thought that Meetups were pretty good because you can give them a try at no risk and stay as long as you want. Over time your social and dating skills will improve, and remember that it is normal to be “two steps forward, one step back”.
    3) Remind yourself that no one is “normal,” and everyone has stuff they have to deal with. If you are awkward, so what? So is everyone else!
    4) Moxie is right that there are “Many women [who] like the idea of nursing or fixing a guy”. I was amazed how many women can be really understanding of awkward guys. BTW, I found that dating women in the social work/psychology/psychiatry fields to be great, but even then don’t let them know about your history early on. Women are a lot more intuitive than men, so if they are cool with you, they will be when they learn more about you, too.
    5) Regarding intimacy, remember that everything you see in the movies or TV is bullshit, so don’t get intimidated. The type of women you have a relationship with will be understanding, and everyone has insecurities.
    6) Dating takes a lot of fortitude no matter what, so get your support system ready. If something works out, tell yourself that it is for the best, and not the result of you being “broken”. Basically, if a women is into you, she’s into you and if she’s not, let it go.

    Think of it like a roller-coaster: there will be exciting times, scary times, and times when you need to take a break and recover. Be gentle with yourself, rely on your support structure, give it time and your future will be bright. Hang in there and good luck!

  5. CGB Says:

    I’m with those who suggest having some “canned” answers about having put dating on the back burner while you were putting school behind your or getting your career on track and sharing these issues once you’re in a place of commitment and trust.

    I recently went out with a guy who, on our first date, had disclosed that he was a child when his father was killed, that his grandfather was murdered by a crazed patient, that he had a catastrophic accident which resulted in his missing his mother’s funeral, that he had two divorces, that he ended up homeless after losing his job, and that he relied on opiates to manage his pain. By our third date, he had disclosed his suicide attempt and the death of a sibling at birth.

    On one hand, he’s probably much more resilient than most people to have rebuilt his life, but he never gave me the opportunity to get to know him as a person. All he put on the table from the beginning was sadness and tragedy. It was way too much too soon.

    We all have baggage, and knowing when to disclose it is more art than science. But you want to give your dates the chance to know who you are now–what you binge watch on Netflix, what makes you sing in the car, who you follow on Twitter and Instagram.

    Good luck and stay strong.

  6. fuzzilla Says:

    OK, so I’m not swaying anyone on the “personal issues” thing. Just have some canned answers.

    Also wanted to say that I disagree on the group therapy advice, it could be just what the OP needs to feel understood and less alone. Or the OP may feel as Moxie does. You may need to try a couple different groups before you find a good fit, just as you would need to try out individual therapists. It’s an individual preference, and it seems unfair to dismiss the idea out of hand. Why is group therapy “wallowing” and one-on-one therapy not?

    • fuzzilla Says:

      If the OP does feel the need to spill his story because he feels “broken” or is just that hungry for someone to talk to, group therapy could fill that need. It could be precisely the thing to nip that self-sabotage in the bud out in the real world. Better to genuinely change the need internally than to just keep a list of do’s and don’t’s in mind (I mean, do’s and don’t’s are helpful but will only take you so far).

    • Gabi Says:

      Agreed. Good psychodynamic group therapy is about confronting the concern trolls and the monopolizers and getting them to make the unconscious, conscious. The group dynamic can be very effective at helping you to identify your blind spots and incorporate them into your personality in a more healthy way.

      I did it for several years and appreciate what it taught me and I was also glad I ended my group treatment when I did.

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