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I have recently become close friends with a male classmate in my college. It started with simple straightforward discussions about academics. Then we have grown closer as friends and we daily exchange texts.

As of a few weeks ago, the texts were simple and jovial, casual jokes. I had indicated a few times that my past was complicated and that I don't trust people easily, he had tried to gently ask me a few times about it.

But I am wary because of past experiences of telling about my past to friends so I immediately closed up and refused to talk about it. From that point onwards he didn't push me to reveal my past. He did reveal that he had an ex who had died of cancer in high school.

Then a few days later, late at night, he texted me, asking me to call him if I'm free, and when I said it'd be late, he told me that "some things could only be felt in the night" and that we could "talk about some dark secrets". I tried to be casual by asking him what his dark secret was, he replied asking me if I didn't have any, I asked him why he didn't start and he replied "why do men always have to make the first move".

By this time my defenses are already building up in my mind against his prying attempts on my privacy. He calls me, I take the call. He again prompts me to share some secrets. I reacted irrated, asked again why I should start while he was the one who started the whole "dark secret night shit". He picked up on the irritation, asked me to tell him about it, I told him "It's complicated" and when he said he could listen I told him "No".

After that, I texted him "Life isn't so simple to be explained in one call." But he had suddenly become cold and distant and told me to go to sleep, it was getting late. The next day I text him "Tonight 12. I am taking the initiative. Let's see how dark it gets.". I had made up my mind to reveal a bare minimum of things. He responded with "Leave it. My secrets are safe with me."

I thought he was still mad, so I call him up. We talk casually for some time, he asked me why I called him. I told him I wanted to clear the space after last night, and he dismissed it with "oh it doesn't matter anymore now." and went on to speak about vague topics like "People change, it's all a journey and we are travellers." and "I can't trust people with my secrets they might use them against me."

He also told me he wanted to talk with me at night because it reminded him of what he and his ex used to do every night.

So my main question is: how can I make him understand that I can't tell the full picture to a person I've talked to for a few months?

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  • Hey Amarylis! I've given this post a pretty big overhaul. I've removed your opinion based question: We really don't take those, not even with a disclaimer. Since that is gone, there's also no need to keep the dialog word for word, so I've edited that into paragraphs, with quotes. That should make the whole thing a lot more readable than all the disjointed sentences.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 11 at 18:30
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    As for the question that remains: What's keeping you from directly telling him like you did us? What did the 'indicating' from the second paragraph look like? You seem to have told him 'it's complicated', 'no' and 'life isn't so simple to be explained in one call'... which are all rather indirect ways of telling someone you have trust issues and don't trust them enough yet to share more, so I'm wondering how direct you're willing to be?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Aug 11 at 18:34
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    as a father of two daughters, I'd be really careful around and possibly try and take a step backwards. He will simply change direction and try another way if you tell him you're not comfortable with this yet Aug 17 at 12:24
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Especially at around college age, there is a particular pattern of behaviour I have seen in young men that is not a healthy one for the women around them. The actions of the young man you describe fit into that pattern.

The primary aspect of this behaviour is that they push you to do specific things that people do when they are in a close relationship, before you are in a close relationship. They often use guilt or transactions (I went first now you have to) to get you to do these things. Telling dark secrets is a classic example of something they push you to do. They may also push you to be more sexual than you want. A guy I knew in college, who sounds very similar to your friend, pushed women to let him take pictures they weren't comfortable with. He had asked me repeatedly for secrets, and to tell him sadnesses in my past, when we weren't dating. That was his pattern. Perhaps had I got into telling him such things I would also be on the list of people who let him take pictures and regretted it.

In a real relationship you want to know things about your partner: when did you learn to ski, what's your favourite pie, what do your sisters call you when they're teasing you, why did you break up with that boy when you were 15, do you want to learn to sail someday, can you sing, where do you want to live after college, are you a cat person or a dog person, everything! But you learn these things by spending time together, telling each other stories, showing each other family pictures, being at each other's family events, planning a future together. Not by being texted late at night and having them demanded of you.

In a real relationship, you're important. You need to sleep, to study, to do your homework. You need to feel comfortable and happy and relaxed. Manipulating you into revealing things you'd rather not reveal, whether that's telling secrets or taking your shirt off, is not what real relationships are about. You do these things joyfully because you want to, not because of a late-night text prompt.

You say the "friend" is being cold now. That could be part of trying to get you to come and offer what was asked for in an attempt to get him back. Or it could be a genuine, slightly sulky, reaction to learning that you don't want to reveal secrets on demand. Either way, that's fine. If the two of you are building a real relationship, it will have times you are together a lot and times you focus on other things: family, schoolwork, other friends, your health.

If you end up trusting this person and your "dark secrets" or "complicated past" become relevant, you'll tell him. Say the two of you are talking about sex, you might mention a bad sexual experience in your past. Or talking about living together and getting a pet, you might mention the loss of a pet and how badly it hurt you. Or if your secrets are something else, like that your brother spent time in jail, you will mention them when they are relevant. Say someone asks if you've ever been to a particular town. You might lie and say no. You might say yes, but it was a family thing so we never really did any sightseeing or anything. Or you might say you went there pretty regularly while your brother was in jail there, if you trust the person and feel like saying that. See how different that is than someone saying "tell me a dark secret" and you blurting out a fact with no context or reason other than being asked?

Your friend may not be like the young men I remember from university, or remember my daughter dealing with in high school. But he's doing what they did: pushing people while they are uncomfortable, suggesting that irritation or discomfort are not ok reactions, flipping scope from them and you to "men" as in "why do men always have to" when you want something from them, and generally not saying or doing things that say "you're super important, you matter to me, I want you to be happy, I really enjoy spending time with you, you're amazing." Why not? Isn't that what friends and boyfriends do?

So, how do you tell him you don't trust him enough to trot out your secrets, sadnesses, and complicated past on demand because he's curious? Don't worry too much about phrasing it just right. If he's asking because he wants to know everything about you, keeping some things to yourself isn't going to damage the relationship. And if he's asking as part of a pattern of manipulative and unhealthy behaviour, you're not risking anything by shutting that down. I would suggest something like:

I don't see any point in telling random secrets just because they're secrets. Especially not dark ones. We'll learn more about each other as we spend time together. Is there something particular you're curious about?

This lets him ask things like whether you have past relationships and how serious they were, which is the sort of thing partners often want to know, without putting you on the spot to "perform your trauma" by telling him about your past for no reason other than he feels like making you do so.

Or you could go with humour. I have had great success with this, which is not original to me, but I have used it out loud on purpose:

Someone: oh, [working there, living there, knowing that person] you must have some really juicy stories to tell!

Me: well, [pause, maybe even look around], can you keep a secret?

Someone: oh yes, absolutely!

Me: So can I.

Ba-dum-dum. It works, though.

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    (+1) While I'm sure that some guys act like this for the power and control it gives them, there are definitely some that do the same out of incompetence, not malice. They might be too shy to ask you out, afraid of getting rejected, or perhaps they feel they're being "friendzoned" and refuse to accept it. So what they do is kind of "quasi-dating" by skipping the first step and jumping right into the part where you discover everything about each other for the emotional closeness and intimacy. "We're texting all the time and sharing dark secrets, that makes her my girlfriend, doesn't it?"
    – TooTea
    Aug 14 at 21:03
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    indeed, I'm not commenting on the motivation - just my decades of experience that the woman in this dynamic is not well served by it. Perhaps the man isn't either; but that's not who came here for advice. Aug 14 at 21:23
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    @TooTea Incompetence that leads to hurt and manipulation is still bad, so you give them the benefit of the doubt and don't assume malice, but still be on guard and let them know it is not OK. If they are truly incompetent, they'll apologize. If it is malice, they'll do anything but apologize, and that's when you walk away.
    – Nelson
    Aug 20 at 2:38
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I'm not sure there's a way to make someone understand that you have specific boundaries about trust unless you explicitly tell them.

As of a few weeks ago, the texts were simple and jovial, casual jokes. I had indicated a few times that my past was complicated and that I don't trust people easily, he had tried to gently ask me a few times about it.

From what you're saying here it sounds like you already have, but in a more casual sort of way. Unfortunately men (myself included) are usually bad at picking up on hints. The only thing left to do is actually talk with him and be more direct and explicit about what you need to feel safe, so that you can be more vulnerable. He has to understand that earning your trust is something that you want him to value as well, but here's the thing...

he replied "why do men always have to make the first move".

he had suddenly become cold and distant and told me to go to sleep, it was getting late. The next day I text him

I had made up my mind to reveal a bare minimum of things

I thought he was still mad, so I call him up.

It sounds like you've been the one taking most of the initiative of at least trying to build trust in the friendship and I don't think that's healthy. Even if you are able to talk with him and have a heart to heart about your needs, I still think you're taking a risk with him, because from what you're saying it sounds like you're the one doing most of the work. Most mature men understand that prying and joking about this stuff gets them nowhere and that the only thing that really works is patience and time. We understand that we have to be willing to be vulnerable as well and it just doesn't sound like he's matured enough to really value your trust.

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