Dear Wendy: “How Do I Mention My Dad’s Recent Death On A First Date?”

I took a break from the online dating pool for about four months because my dad was in the final stages of cancer. He passed away in July, and I’ve been back in the online dating waters for a month or so now and am having trouble deciding what’s appropriate to share about my dad’s death on a first date. I feel that I have taken time to focus on myself and deal with my feelings, and I can talk about his passing very easily because of the work I’ve done on myself. However, in the few dates I’ve had these past few weeks, the topic of family, whether my parents are still together, what my relationship with my parents is like, etc. naturally comes up. I don’t like lying, especially on a first date, but I also don’t want to bring down the room by saying, “Oh actually, my dad’s dead.” I don’t feel uncomfortable telling people he passed away recently, but it seems to make some guys uncomfortable, like I’m telling too much too soon. Is this a case of “Well, if the guy can’t handle it , hen that’s his problem” or more of a “Hey, stop revealing so much about yourself on a first date”? I don’t make the subject of his death into a long drawn-out discussion — it’s just a fact of my life. Is there “proper” etiquette for handling this? — WWMMD (What Would Miss Manners Do)

First, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your father, and I commend you for taking some time to work through the initial stages of your grief. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but if you feel like you need another break from dating, take one. Grief comes in waves and you’ll be better in the long run in you honor it and take care of yourself when you need to. All that said, there’s no reason at all you should avoid mentioning your father’s death on a first date. Sure, it’s not the most uplifting topic of conversation, but as you said, it’s a part of your life — a pretty big part — and leaving it out would feel disingenuous. Besides, death, unfortunately, touches all of us. It isn’t rare and it isn’t going to shock people that you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, particularly if you don’t dwell on the news, you don’t continually bring it up, and you aren’t melodramatic about it. For the record, I’m not saying losing one’s father isn’t traumatic, but a first date isn’t the appropriate time to go there.

So, the next time you’re on a first date and the topic of family comes up and you’re asked about your parents, this is how you can mention your father without dramatically changing the tone of the conversation: “My dad passed away earlier this summer after a long battle with cancer. I miss him a lot, but his death wasn’t a shock and I was able to spend a lot of time with him in the end, which I’m really grateful for.” Your date, if he has any sense or manners at all, will say something along the lines of, “Oh, wow, I’m really sorry to hear that,” to which you can reply, “Thank you. It’s been a difficult time, but my family’s had a lot of support and we’re doing OK and we’re happy we have so many great memories of my dad. And what about you? What are your parents like?” It’s all about putting a positive spin on what’s surely a painful thing and keeping the conversation moving. If the first date turns into a second and third and eventually a relationship, you’ll have plenty of time to get into specifics and delve a little further into your grieving process as you begin to build trust. But on a first date, keep things short and sweet. And, yes, if a guy can’t handle that, then that really is “his problem,” and he wasn’t the right one for you anyway.

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months, and although it’s still early, I am very much in love with him and I want our relationship to work. The problem is that I have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. We’ve been having issues for about two months that are directly linked to BPD. He knows that I struggle with depression and anxiety/panic attacks but he has no idea about the other thing. I’ve been in therapy for the past year and have made a lot of progress but it’s still there. I’m at a point where I see what I’m doing and I know my behavior is crazy but I have a hard time controlling it. It’s very hard to explain to someone who is non-BPD that I can’t control my behavior. My boyfriend, to his credit, is very supportive and has told me numerous times that he wants to make it work and he wants to understand me. I think it’s time to tell him about my BPD, but I’m really scared. I’ve Googled the disorder and everything is the same: “Don’t date someone with BPD!” or “Stay away from BPDs! They’re manipulative and will ruin your life!” While I can understand where that is coming from, it’s also completely discouraging. Help? — Borderline in Limbo

Oh, people say all kinds of things on the internet! Seriously, if I paid attention to even a quarter of the stuff said about me online, I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning. But the people saying things about me — bad or good — don’t know me and their opinion isn’t even any of my business. What you’re talking about, anonymous people writing random comments that aren’t even about you but about a condition you have “traits of,” is such a waste of your energy to think about. They have nothing to do with you. Those comments are written by a bunch of loser morons who were probably recently dumped or sexually rejected and they’re just saying stuff to make themselves feel better. Why give them any value? What if they said, “Don’t date someone with red hair! They’re manipulative and will ruin your life!” or “Don’t date anyone who lives in New Jersey … or watches reality TV … or joins a fraternity.” Ridiculous, right? It’s called “projecting.” They were hurt and they picked some trait of the person who hurt them to justify their anger.

Look, it’s wonderful that you’re in therapy and you’ve made a commitment to understand your issues and learn how to manage them. It’s equally wonderful you have a supportive boyfriend who wants to understand you. But he can’t begin to understand you if you’re withholding information that would help explain your behavior. And you know, he may never understand what BPD is or why you act the way you do, but there’s a better chance that he will if you give him the opportunity to learn. Even if he does learn to understand, though, there’s no guarantee that your relationship will last forever. You may break up. He — and maybe even you — may be tempted to blame your issues, but let me tell you something: breakups are rarely one person’s fault. Sometimes two people simply aren’t a match, or they grow apart, or the timing wasn’t right. I’m saying this because I don’t want you to think that if things don’t work out between you it’s because you’re broken and that those random internet comments were right. You’re as whole as anyone else. You’re as deserving of a happy relationship as anyone else. And if you want a true representation of humanity and how others feel about you, turn off your computer and talk to real people.

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