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Ethics in Dating

Eight things you might or might not want to disclose

Garry Wilmore, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Garry Wilmore, Flickr, CC 2.0

We tend to think of ethics regarding business, but equally important are ethics in relationships..

For example, how much should you disclose to someone you're dating or contemplating dating?

It's clear, for example, that if you have a sexually transmitted disease, it be disclosed before the partner is put at risk. But there are areas in which disclosure isn't as clear. Here are thoughts about eight of those, which may be helpful in deciding what you want to disclose. That needn’t necessarily mean more disclosure. There is room for privacy even in the most intimate relationship.

Past relationships. Baring all may wisely warn a potential partner (and yourself) of potential pitfalls but full disclosure may also have liabilities. For example, let’s say that you’ve often gotten involved with people based on looks and edginess, which blinded you to the person's other characteristics. Of course, keep lessons learned in mind as you evaluate a new relationship, but disclosing your many unsatisfactory relationships could unreasonably bias a person against you. Also, full disclosure could trigger the person making unhelpful comparisons: "Am I attractive enough? Edgy enough?" Most people are better off telling a potential partner what you’re now looking for. But the question is, how disclosing do you want to be?

How work vs. play-centric? This is an under-discussed factor in partner compatibility. If one partner prefers to work long hours while the other craves a readily available playmate, trouble is afoot. Because such incompatibility can be a deal killer, it's usually wise to disclose this in your first conversation or on your dating app profile. For example, you might say, "I find my work very rewarding and so I work long hours. Will that work for you?" In your situation, do you want to disclose your approach to work-life balance?

Probability of generating significant income. Some daters who seek a long-term relationship are deceptive about this: They imply or state that they'll likely make significant income, but privately, doubt it. Money is among the top issues that couples argue about. So candor about this is important. In your situation, what do you think is wise to say?

Ambivalence about relationships . Privately you may wonder whether it's wise, at least for now, to be in a romantic relationship. Of course, you're open to the possibility or you wouldn’t be dating. Acknowledging your wariness could encourage potential partners to be their best self but also could scare them off. How much to disclose your ambivalence and how early? There's no black-and-white answer. Rather, in your situation, estimate the risk versus the reward.

The desire to explore feelings. Some people want to reveal and explore malaise even about minor issues, while others don't. For example, "I get impatient with a lot of processing. It's not that I don't have feelings but all the discussion usually gets us nowhere and can even open a scab that needn't be reopened. What do you think?"

The desire for processing of feelings tends to be relatively immutable and if the couple differs widely on it, it can be a source of serious discontent; on average, it's wise to disclose it early. But you're not an average; you're you. How early, if at all, should you disclose the extent to which you want to explore feelings?

Anger . A predisposition to anger tends to be hard to cure but is often ameliorable. Some people with an anger problem may want to, at least for starters, defer broaching the issue—It's an understandable turn-off. That might be wise if the anger problem is unlikely to rear its head early in the relationship.

But if the relationship starts to deepen, most people with an anger problem are wise to disclose it but in a constructive way. For example, "I sometimes can get angry. I particularly get annoyed when someone stubbornly insists they're right even when shown they're wrong—Not all disagreeing is gaslighting. Perhaps we can work on this together. I certainly know that anger rarely serves anyone."

Not only is it ethical to disclose this weakness, verbalizing it might help you keep vigilant against undue anger and recruit your partner's help in avoiding and responding to the problem before it escalates.

A serious disease. Disclosing that will make some partners not want a relationship with you, but the right partner will—It's a good screening tool. Besides, it’s unethical to present yourself without disclosing a truth that well could significantly affect the relationship. Here I believe that ethics demands early disclosure.

How giving you'd be. Some people are willing to give, give, give to the one they love. We've all heard of people who stop their lives to care for a sick romantic partner. Conversely, other people fight even over what TV show to watch . I know someone who, upon her husband contracting multiple sclerosis, divorced him, and a client told me that he is too afraid to divorce his wife but that in an emergency, he "mightn't run so quickly to the phone to call 911."

There would seem to be little need to, early-on, disclose your likely extent of giving. Much will depend on the depth of your relationship. But later on, it becomes a personal choice. You might want to not discuss it, just be as giving as you deem wise. Or, especially, if you perceive a big difference between your and your partner's level of giving, it may be worth discussing.

Depending on you and your circumstances, an ethical case can be made for being quite giving or quite selfish—The medical researcher who works 70 hours a week comes to mind. But if you’re unwilling to be more than minimally giving to a specific partner, ask yourself if you might be better off with a different partner, or solo, at least for now?

The takeaway

Think about each of the above potential disclosures: past relationships, work-vs-play-centricity, income generation, ambivalence about relationships, anger, disease, and extent of giving. Is there one or more about which you want to disclose more? Less? Earlier in a relationship? Later?

A Google search found 27,000 listings for the quote, "A true relationship is when you can tell each other anything and everything." But that dictum seems too black and white. Perhaps the foregoing will help you in choosing your shades of gray.

I read this aloud on YouTube.