Dear Justine,

I’m a 30-year-old guy and I’m a “child of divorce” – my parents split up when I was 10.  It was a nasty split and it definitely had an impact on me.  Obviously I still want to meet “The One” and get married myself someday, or I wouldn’t be on JDate, but it takes me a while to open up to women emotionally.  Is that weird?  And how do I get this message across to dates without revealing all my family baggage right off the bat?  


A Child of Divorce


Dear Child of Divorce,

You’re not alone.  Watching – and feeling – your parents go through a nasty divorce has an impact on pretty much every kid.  The experience can undermine your belief that relationships can stay happy and that you can trust your partner not to turn on you.  This can make it hard to open up to people you’re dating.

So you’re definitely not weird.

But, how to convey to dates your preference to take things slow emotionally is another question.  There can be a strong urge to show your cards on the first date: “Nice to meet you, Rachel.  What would you like to drink?  Where did you grow up?  I grew up in Minnesota and it’s important you know that my parents went through a nasty divorce so it can be hard for me to open up to new people emotionally.”

If life were a Woody Allen movie, maybe that intense and hyper-direct approach would make sense.  And especially as we get older, there’s a strong urge to lay our cards on the table – and for our dates to lay their cards on the table – right off the bat so no time is wasted.

In the real world, however, a little mystery is sexy.  Vulnerability is charming, but confidence is too.  Perhaps you have trust issues, and perhaps your date doesn’t, but I can guarantee that she has other insecurities.  So by keeping your Achilles heel under wraps at the beginning, you’re actually being gallant and thoughtful, because you’re giving her a chance to present herself in her best light without feeling self-conscious.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m certainly not advising you to push yourself out of your comfort zone, or to share information you don’t feel comfortable sharing on the first few dates. Your reservations are real and understandable.  But the best approach is simply to be a little reserved and steer the conversation towards topics you’re comfortable talking about.  If you don’t want to talk about yourself, how about movies? Or books? Or…gasp….her?

Gentlemen, I’m about to blow your minds: ladies love talking about themselves. If you have a hard time opening up in the beginning, just ask your date question after question about herself.  She will not notice that you aren’t talking about yourself.

Trust me.

Of course, after a few dates, it is a good idea to explain that you have a tough time opening up, because if you don’t, your lucky lady might misread your aloofness.  At this point, she will care about you and will be invested in accommodating your needs.  And this is how even guys who have trouble trusting can develop trusting relationships.

Justine Borer is a family and matrimonial lawyer practicing in New York City. In her spare time, she loves to write, act, do pilates, and spend time with family and friends.
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