Dear Dr. Frankie,
Lesbians are known to be extremely relationship focused. I have yet to go on a first or second date with a woman where she does not mention her past relationships. It’s a big generalization, but with heterosexual dating people don’t talk about their exes for quite some time, and definitely not as extensively as lesbians do. At what point should you mention exes, and to what degree?
I think people often find it tempting to discuss one’s relationship history because it’s something most people can relate to. Many of us have had our fair share of relationship follies, some more comical than others, and it can be a way to share similar experiences. My suggestion would be to hold off on trading relationship stories until you’ve been on at least a couple of dates, but even then keep it light.
I strongly discourage sharing relationship traumas or domestic violence incidents early on. I’ve heard women tell me about their “full-disclosure” policy where they lay out the gory details of their relationships and lives. They are operating under the false belief that if it’s meant to be, the person will embrace them and their baggage. This is just wrong. There is a time and a way to appropriately disclose this type of information, and first, second, and third dates are simply not the place.
Leaving a relationship on good terms is a sign of maturity and being emotionally healthy. If you have a string of breakups that ended badly and you’re not on good terms with any of your ex’s, be thoughtful about how soon and how much you share. One may make interpret your rocky relationship history as a red flag.
Before you ask the person you’ve just started dating about her relationship status, it might be helpful to think about what you’re trying to learn. You probably want to get a sense of whether she’s had long-term, healthy, intimate relationships, whether she’s had positive experiences in her relationships and whether she and her ex maintained a friendship after the breakup. An alternative way to learn about the quality of her former relationships is to ask about her friends and family. You can get a sense of how she views interpersonal and intimate relationships by how she relates to her friends and family. For example, does she have a long-term, close-knit group of friends? Is she close with her family? What type of relationship does she have with her family? The way she describes and discusses these types of relationships will often give you a window into the quality of her romantic relationships. Early on, it’s less intimidating and easier to discuss friends and family rather than former romantic partners. Learning about platonic relationships will give you a glimpse into their emotional availability and capacity for intimacy.