In today’s world of people delaying marriage well into their 30s and 40s, all of us have a past. Just some pasts are harder to talk about than others.

I should know. I have a few “doozies” of my own in the form of past mental health woes and a divorce. But while I solved my “when to tell your friend or significant others your potentially deal-breaking dirty laundry” by becoming a media personality and mental health advocate, you might not be able to blog your way out of this. And at some point, you have to tell them.

Here’s how.

Scenario #1: My Relationship Past Is A Battlefield

Is your past love life threatening to haunt you like the skeletons of so many exes in your closet, itching to come outside? Maybe you’ve been divorced … more than once. Maybe you’ve been engaged two or 12 times? No matter what, it’s never appropriate to do the past relationship info dump before you and the person you’re dating have the time to get to know each other.

When to say something: When things start to get serious — depending on your definition of “serious.” For some, that’s when you’ve dated long enough that you’re interested in having sex and/or entering an exclusive relationship with the significant other you’ve been dating. But if you had sex before date two and have been blowing up each other’s phones since day one, you might want to gradually ease your paramour into your dating history.

How: Keep it light, tight and focused with bits of your dating history coming out over a nice period of “getting to know each other time.” Once you both feel secure and have built some trust you can start filling in the less savory details.

Exception: You have kids. You should mention those on the first date or pre-date phone call. There’s no shame in it. Chances are, if you’re both over 30, your date has kids too.

Scenario #2: I’m ____, Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

All of us have things about ourselves that we prefer to keep private. And I’m not talking about your embarrassing stuffed animal collection or how you have more electronic equipment in your apartment than furniture. I’m talking about the things about ourselves that would give us problems at work, or even with those we love most, if we haven’t already told them about it.

Examples: HIV status, chronic illness/STD, married, criminal record, controversial past “career” (think drug dealer, gangster or prostitution), the inability to be faithful, drug and/or alcohol addiction, what could be seen as “fringe” religious beliefs, severe mental illness, sexual orientation (if you were once with a guy and now you’re dating a girl, you might want to get that reveal out of the way sooner rather than later) or gender identity (as in, if you’re a woman living as a man – or vice versa – you need to divulge long before things get physical).

When to say something: Fatal deal-breakers should be eliminated right away. Even in the pre-dating screening process when possible. You don’t have to put on a big production, but if you can tell that you’ve gone beyond casual conversations and it has converted in to a desire of “more” – whatever that more may be – you need to have the Big Reveal chat ASAP. Don’t wait until you’re both emotionally invested.

Exceptions: The only potential “deal-breaker” condition I feel like you can take time to “ease” someone into is possibly mental illness and past drug/alcohol addiction. But you can’t have a first date info dump OR wait until months after you’re serious. These are good things to gradually get out during those first six weeks of “we’re exclusive” dating commitment. And not just out of courtesy to your significant other, but for your own education. Someone may not dump you for being Bipolar or an addict, but they may use it as a catch-all excuse to treat you poorly.

Scenario #3: I’m Super Important, But You Don’t Need to Know That Right Now

Some people don’t care how they get attention, just as long as they get it. But if you come from money, a certain class, have famous parents or have pretty much ANYTHING going for you that will attract superficial or opportunistic individuals, the slower the reveal, the better.

When to say something: When you get to a point where you’re ready to introduce the significant other to your close friends and/or relatives. Genuine love is hard to find and even harder to get to when you have a “free ticket out of shopping at Wal-Mart” target on your back.

But do try to say something BEFORE you start hearing wedding bells in your head. While it may be unfathomable to you that your dream girl or guy would be upset to learn you’re a secret heir the Chiquita Banana fortune, no one likes to be lied to. Even if the lie will pay off their student loans. Your man may love you, but your man may not love the limelight tied to your upcoming reality show or growing political career.

Let them know what they’re getting into.

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