Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I want to thank you for all your wisdom and advice. I now have a question of my own and hope you can help me out.

I recently dated a very nice guy who came from a divorced home. He was very sweet and our first two dates went very well. On the third date, he started to open up by telling me about his life and some of the hardships he went through growing up. His parents split up when he was young and his father has nothing to do with him.

I felt that the time was right for me to share something personal, so I told him about a discreet medical issue I have. He thanked me for letting him know, and after that communicated that he’d decided to stop seeing me.

I feel we left off very cold. I figure that relationships must be difficult for him, given how rejected he feels by his father. I was thinking it might be a good idea for me to write him a letter, to express my feelings that I think he’s a great guy and I'm not insulted and don't harbor any hard feelings about his decision. Or should I just let time go on and forget about it?

I’d greatly appreciate your advice.

Jacqueline

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Jacqueline,

Given that many courtships end after a few dates, before the daters have developed even a fledgling relationship, it seems a bit unusual to write someone a letter at this juncture. Perhaps the reason you'd like to write to this man is to give yourself closure.

We can understand why you’re feeling this way, since things “left off very cold." Your first three dates seemed to be going well, and yet when you opened up a bit to each other, it was over. It's a little unsettling to have revealed personal information which is now "just hanging out there,” without the two of you having the opportunity to discuss it.

It will be helpful for you to process what happened, so that you can resolve your feelings and move on more easily. But we don't believe that you should do so by sending this man a letter. The steps you can take actually don't involve him at all.

Imagine what you would say in such a letter. Would you say something along the lines of, "I understand that the information I gave you about my medical condition was hard for you to digest, and I don't have any hard feelings toward you for not being able to handle it”? If this was the reason he decided to end things, does he really need to hear, "I forgive you?" The two of you may have gotten along nicely, but at these early stages you didn't yet have a relationship, and it's expected to decide whether or not to continue dating without having to give any explanations.

You can write a letter expressing your feelings – and not send it.

And yet, while he doesn't need your forgiveness, perhaps you have a need to forgive him. You may feel resentful, and telling him, "I'm not upset with you" can help you release any residual negative feelings you have toward him. If that's the case, you can accomplish the same by writing him a letter expressing these feelings – then not sending the letter.

It may also help to understand that your medical condition might not be the reason he decided to stop going out. It may have been his revelation about his difficult upbringing, rather than yours, which made him feel uncomfortable. Many people are embarrassed after revealing personal information and exposing emotional vulnerability before they’ve developed enough sense of trust. Perhaps that's why he decided to stop seeing you.

Promising courtships end for all sorts of reasons. He may have felt in general that he wasn't ready to have a deeper relationship with anyone at this point in his life. Or perhaps he thought the chemistry between you wasn't what he expected.

While it's puzzling and frustrating to be on the receiving end of a break-up, this is an unfortunate part of the dating process and he is not obligated to explain his reasons to you. You're also doing yourself a disservice by agonizing over why this ended and if any of it was your "fault."

If writing a letter (that you don’t send) helps you move forward, then write it. Or, you may be able to accomplish the same by talking your feelings over with a close, trusted friend.

Looking Forward

We can understand that this experience may make you hesitant to discuss your medical condition in the future. Unfortunately, this is probably something you can’t avoid – a partner’s health is a factor that everyone is entitled to take into consideration when making a decision about marriage. However, you do have leeway about when and how to discuss your medical history. You don’t need to reveal a “discreet” condition early in a courtship. This is private information that only people who seem to have potential need to know, so we suggest that you wait until at least several dates have taken place before opening up about it.

We also suggest that you explain your situation with a positive perspective. If you have a condition like diabetes, you might say:

“I have something important to tell you. It’s a little sensitive, and I was advised to wait until we’d dated a number of times before telling you about it. I hope you’ve been able to see that I live a full life, that I feel good, and that I take care of myself. Most people don’t know that I manage a medical condition relatively well. It’s called diabetes and it means that my body doesn’t produce enough of a hormone called insulin that helps me digest carbohydrates. I take medicine, watch my diet, and exercise, and that helps me stay as healthy as I can. I can explain further if you’d like me to.”

The idea is to let him know that you are managing your condition, give brief but concise information about it, and be willing to go into more detail and answer questions.

What about those daters on the receiving end of this information? It’s important to take some time to understand and absorb it. You can ask questions about how the condition affects the person’s life and what she does to manage it. But don’t give her the third degree. You can ask if the condition is hereditary, if it will affect her ability to have children, and if it may shorten her life-expectancy. But understand that answers to these questions depend on ever-changing medical advancements.

Learn more about the condition before deciding whether or not to continue dating.

If you’re a bit unsettled by your date’s revelation, learn more about the condition before deciding whether or not to continue dating. Do some online research, contact a medical information organization, or ask for permission to speak with her doctor. After all your questions have been answered, and the surprise of the information has worn off, you’ll be better able to consider whether you are comfortable enough to continue dating.

Finally, it seems that the most difficult aspect of the courtship you described was the vague way things ended. Many people find it difficult to break up “diplomatically” after going out three or more times. They often don’t want to state the real reason for the break-up, usually because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Even though they’re not obligated to say why they are stopping, it is still better to use some “generic explanation” and make clear that the courtship is over. For example:

  • “I did a lot of thinking about our dating, and I realized that we’re going in different directions in life.”
  • “Although I enjoyed getting to know you, you’re not what I’m looking for.”
  • “We’re good for each other on paper, but we aren’t making enough of a connection. I think we should stop seeing each other.”

Your date will feel better knowing that this was a considered decision rather than a hasty one, and understands clearly that things won’t be continuing.

We hope you will soon come to terms with this break-up and move confidently forward.

Rosie & Sherry