My girlfriend has admitted to casual ‘fun’ sex with multiple partners, along with two serious relationships where she also lived-in with her partners then. While she’s a fun person and great in bed too, she has often referred to her sexual exploits in passing. I am not comfortable with her frequent references to her past, and also not comfortable with her continuing to chat with some of her ex-boyfriends. If I express my discomfort I might come across that ‘possessive’, ‘controlling’ and ‘conservative’. If I don’t express myself, I would be inauthentic with her and not be able to proceed wholeheartedly towards a committed relationship and marriage. What should I do?
Ans: There are 4 separate matters that need to be addressed here. Let me list them out for additional clarity-
- Your discomfort with her having had casual sex in the past
- Your discomfort with her having lived in with partners in the past
- Your discomfort with her references to her sexual exploits in passing (to you)
- Your discomfort with her continued friendship and chatting with her ex-boyfriends
I’m going to break up the answers to simplify this.
- Your girlfriend is a sexual being and has every right to determine her sexual choices. If she had partners before, it was probably an important part of her need to discover herself sexually and have her bodily needs met. While sex with multiple partners certainly carries with it the danger of STDs spreading or getting ‘emotionally confused’ about who is the ‘right one’; this process of discovery is a natural one for both men and women and as long as it was done with mutual consent between adults. You may want to explore being more open-minded with these details from her past, if you want to be able to accept her fully for who she is or was. The past cannot be changed but the future can certainly be created with care.
- Living in with someone who one is romantically attached to, is commonplace in most countries in the world. Even Indian society that has often been closed to the idea of ‘live in relationships’ by deeming it as ‘morally or culturally inappropriate’ has become increasingly open to the idea at least in the modern urban context. This is once again a part of her life which is a part of her personal history (whether you like it or not). You’ll have to decide to what extent you want to allow her past to affect the way you perceive her in the present. Whatever you decide in the present, know that it’ll certainly affect the future you’ll build and share together. The fact that she has chosen to be with you means that you are very much a part of her present context. What you do with the time you’ll share, is entirely up to the two of you.
- It is disrespectful and unfair towards a partner to benchmark him or her against previous relationship experiences or sexual exploits. Such comparisons lead to subjective debates between couples on a range of topics that can usually be grouped under the theme of ‘how good is good enough’ fuelled by ‘nostalgia-ridden competitiveness’. This usually doesn’t augur well for the emotional health of a relationship since egos are fragile and a partner may feel slighted if compared to ‘previous lovers’. To feel like one is playing second fiddle to some ‘ex’ could feel disempowering. Few people would be ok being talked down to. To be told to better one’s performance based on the abstract criteria set by previous sexual or romantic enmeshment can also feel insulting. It is important for you to state your discomfort to her and see how she responds to your feedback and to honest feedback in general.
- In cases where a person is still friends with an ex-boyfriend, there always lies the danger or temptation of old feelings re-surfacing at emotionally vulnerable moments or after a few good-natured drinks during a night out. Emotional addiction to feeling a certain way about someone can be as compelling a force as a physical addiction to certain substances. Sometimes being friends with an ex could reek of such ‘unfinished business’ with someone’s presence in one’s life. A lot hinges on the circumstances that surround a breakup. Sometimes people find it difficult to emotionally and socially disentangle themselves from someone they’ve invested themselves in so heavily. Sometimes being friends with an ex also could mean keeping one’s ‘options open’ in case things don’t work out in the present relationship. It’s like making good of a previous investment. There are also some people who see being friends with their ex as a numbers game wherein it feels good to hang out with someone who knows them really well or for ‘bragging rights’ to prove to someone else that ‘one is open-minded or totally cool about such things’. Friendship with an ex-speaks of unmet emotional needs. If you’d like to invest the time to understand what she ‘gains’ out of these friendships, you’d stand a better chance at understanding her and expressing your discomfort over this with her to find a win-win solution.
To be authentic with her is the only way for you to be happy in your relationship in the long term. Perhaps you could enlist the help of a mutual friend or couple’s counsellor if you are unable to approach this topic in a direct manner with her. If she cares for you, she’ll take the time and effort to understand how you feel.
(Aman R Bhonsle is a qualified Psychosocial Analyst and a Professional Youth Mentor with specialisation in Transactional Analysis and REBT. He is available for consultation at the Heart To Heart Counselling Centre.)