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How and when do you disclose relationship-altering information to a potential partner? One reader worried about sharing too much too soon, so she reached out to the 4-way panel for some guidance.

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Dear 4-Way,

About three years ago, I was diagnosed with stage two ovarian cancer. Luckily, my doctor caught it early and thankfully, I’m now in remission. Unfortunately, I can’t have children. I just started dating again about four months ago and I’ve been completely confused about whether to tell people about the cancer, and if so, when. On one hand, I think it’s better to disclose it early, so that I don’t want waste anyone’s time if he knows he absolutely wants his own children and isn’t interested in adopting. But on the other hand, I feel like cancer is a heavy thing to drop on someone who’s in the very early stages of dating. I don’t want to freak people out and push them away. When do you guys think it’s appropriate to mention this to someone? AN, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy

First off, congrats on beating the cancer! I’m happy to hear you’re in remission and out dating again. You ask a good question, but I caution you not to worry about it too much. I wouldn’t suggest you lead with, “Hi, I’m AN. I’ve just gotten over a battle with cancer and am incapable of having children. So, what do you do?” It usually takes some substantial progress in the dating timeline to get to the stage where you seriously discuss marriage and children and such. There’s usually plenty of time during the natural dating process where the subject of your predicament can come up without feeling forced. That said, there’s also no need to deny your situation if it comes up sooner rather than later. So relax and don’t stress about it. After all, you’ve had enough troubles lately. And don’t worry if a guy says he wants to have his own children and doesn’t think he’d ever adopt—he may change his mind if he feels you’re the incredible woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Or not. The point is, you can’t really know and it doesn’t make sense to pull all this heavy stuff out early on. You are able to adopt and you seem to have a strong, practical attitude on your dating life and your future family life. My wish for you is that you find a guy who shares this with you. May your new cancer-free life be enjoyable, long, and full of love.

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown

Congrats, AN, on being in remission, and also for braving the dating world and getting back out there. I think you’re lovely to have such a compassionate eye toward your fellow daters, but I’d stop worrying about them and focus more on what’s comfortable for you.  Right now, you’re worried about how your dates will react when they hear your news. Recognize that they might have some personal bombs of their own to drop, too. I’m not pointing this out so that you can rejoice in other peoples’ pain, but I think it’s important to remember that everybody has their stuff. But when we like someone and we’ve established trust with that person, many times we accept that stuff.

That said, dating can be harsh. Sometimes even the tiniest piece of information can cause the nicest, most normal person to write you off if it’s delivered too early. (And if that’s the case, then good riddance.) That doesn’t mean you weave a web of deception; just let someone get to know you a little before you throw down anything heavy. I once went out with a guy who I think never called me again because I admitted to liking country music, for the love of god.  Don’t forget: this whole relationship thing isn’t just about what they want. You have a huge say in this, too. Give yourself enough time to get a real sense of the kind of person he is beyond dating small talk. You need to decide you like him enough to deem him worthy of hearing your very personal and private information.

I’m not sure there’s a magic number as far as how many dates you should go on before you bring it up. I think it’s more important to decide that you like this person enough to envision a potential future, and feel comfortable talking to him about it. Just listen to your gut. Good luck, AN. I hope you find a great one.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox

First of all, congratulations on being a survivor! I’m sure if the same thing happened to me, I would want to shout it from my car window every day to anyone who would listen.

I agree with you. There’s no need to freak anyone out in the early stages of dating by telling them you had cancer. But then again, if you do tell them and they are completely freaked out, congratulations on getting a true character read from the guy.  Here’s the long and short of it: when you feel comfortable with someone, tell him. You’ll know if and when that moment arrives. But don’t beat yourself up about this one. The mystery and intrigue of dating is getting to know someone. If we all gave full disclosure on the first date there would be no need to get together for date number two. I’m sure whoever you go out with won’t necessarily offer up lifelong details on date one either.  As for the topic of not being able to have children, you’ll know soon enough if he’s someone you want to casually date a few times or someone who wants to build a life with you. When you run into the latter, you should think about the conversation. Don’t lose sleep until that happens, AN.

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer

AN, you’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years. I’m so glad that you are living your life, getting out in the world, and dating.

As to your question of when to tell a guy about your situation, I think it’s more a matter of when to disclose any big personal information. In my opinion, the early stages of dating are a time to see if you’re compatible. Is he easy to talk to? Do you feel like you can be yourself around him? Things like that.  The talk about kids and you being in remission seems like it should wait until you know if you like the guy. You mention wanting to be fair to him. Remember to be fair to yourself too. I don’t think you’re doing either of you a disservice by waiting until you feel like you know that he’s a person you want to keep around in your life.

Turn the tables for a second, if he had been diagnosed with a stage two cancer and it was discovered early enough so that he is now in remission, or he could not have children, when would you like to him to share that with you?  Perhaps part of your confusion is not just about how to protect your potential mate, but also how to help guide your choices. You want to make sure that he’s also interested in starting a family and is open to adoption. This makes sense.

Finding a person who will love you for yourself as you truly are is what we all hope for. You deserve it, and I think the guy who finds you has found a treasure.

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