Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: I am starting a new relationship with a woman I am excited about. One problem that I am not eager to address is that within the last few years, I broke off an engagement to a woman who was, at times, abusive.
I feel like I would not be dating unless I was over this ex, but I am apprehensive about how this new person might feel about this part of my past. If I were in her place, for example, I might wonder about a person who breaks off an engagement or about a person who was with an abusive person.
Any suggestions on how to broach the subject?
Answer: The right person for you will not only roll with your past, but also be grateful to you for sharing it.
That's why the bulk of my advice isn't going to be about ways to broach the subject, but about choosing people who won't leave you feeling as if you have to broach certain topics just-so.
Look for someone who listens, who is comfortable in her own skin and with her own failings, and who doesn't trot out a bunch of rigid ideas about how things are "supposed" to be. It can be on any topic; people who are set and certain in their ways usually can't wait to let others know this.
Most important, hold off on a long-term commitment until you find someone who makes you feel OK about being your bad self (both senses intended), but who also inspires you to be good.
How this translates for you now: Be patient with this woman you're excited about. Find out who she is. Then, when you get to the point where you want her to know this about you, then trust that and share.
Even if the worst happens and she judges you harshly for it, then you'll at least have learned this relationship wasn't going anywhere good - and it's still better to find out via Band-Aid rip than slowly, incrementally, and after you've committed to each other.
Comment: I had a brief first marriage to an abuser, and when I was getting serious with the man who is now my husband, I worried that when he learned this it might make him think less of me: that I had bad judgment, was too much trouble to take on, and the like.
Carolyn's advice is spot-on. The right person will not make you feel bad about your past, and will be grateful for the opportunity to know you better.
When I felt the time was right, I shared that part of my past and it felt like a huge weight was lifted. My now-husband could not have been more accepting or understanding, we grew even closer, and it was like turning on the light to see there is no monster under your bed.
Get to know her, and good luck! Also, congratulations on taking care of yourself and calling off that engagement.
Answer: Or, to see that there is a monster. I love that image, thanks - memorable and apt.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.