Auntie SparkNotes: Dating While Cutting
To cut a long story short, I self harm. I’ve never told anyone this and it's something I’ve kept secret for a long time. In all other respects I am a perfectly normal teenage girl, lots of friends, loving family, decent grades, etc.
But this isn't about the self harm problem, I know only I can fix it and only if I truly want to change. What I want is an opinion on dating when you self harm.
I would like to date but it's not something I am desperate to do. However, recently guys have shown interest in me and I’m not sure whether it is unfair to them to date someone who self harms. I would have two options:
a) not tell them (and as relationships are built on trust I'm not sure if this is a good idea, and I have lots of scars on my arms and legs that would be quickly noticed), or
b) tell them before we start dating.
I don't think a relationship would work, though, because if I did tell them, they would feel like they couldn’t help me, and would possibly worry they would cause me to self harm, which is highly unfair to the guy. I’m not good at talking about feelings and have some major trust issues, so would find it difficult explaining why I self harm, as well as admitting it in the first place.
Furthermore, I would never, ever want someone to start dating me, find out I self harm, then think he couldn’t break up with me for fear of me self harming.
So do you think I can enter the dating game, or should I just join a convent and never look at a guy again?
Wait, what? Are those really your only two options, Sparkler? Surely there's a third, more exciting alternative out there for you—like becoming a Vegas showgirl, or marrying your cat, or spending your days jumping off the tops of mountains in a pink leopard-print flying squirrel suit!
Or in other words: start by widening your perspective a bit. You're not deciding the rest of your life, here; you're just deciding for the time being what's best and healthiest for you. Whether or not you decide to date now, there's no law that says you can't date later, or even that you can't date while seeking help for your self-harming. (Which you are going to do, right? It breaks Auntie's stony little heart to hear about you guys hurting yourselves. Please, before you do anything else, make a decision to stop and get help.)
That said, I think it's clear that you ought not to get involved with anyone just yet. And that's not because of the cutting, but because you're not yet comfortable with the possibility that you might have to communicate about it. Which, if you're going to be intimate with someone, is pretty essential. This isn't a question of either keeping your self-harm a secret or disclosing it in advance; it's a question of getting to know someone, letting him get to know you, and letting the truth about your scars come out on its own—not right away, and not necessarily in detail, but as just another part of the natural process of connecting with someone.
And if he deals with it badly, or doesn't understand, or doesn't believe you when you tell him that you're not looking for a savior? Then he's not right for you, nor you for him, and you go your separate ways.
Because everyone brings baggage to a relationship, whether it's something as serious as self-harm or something as silly as an irrational fear of hedgehogs. The only unfairness is if you fail to be honest about what you're packing. So when you're ready to put aside your trust issues, accept that you can't control the outcome, and just be who you are? That's when you'll be ready to be who you are with someone else.
How do you disclose your baggage when you're dating someone new? Share in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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