Sunday, August 13, 2006
Dismaying Story #31: Insecurity over Past Partners
Traditionally my family goes to a resort every summer. I've been going there for 13 years and I had a tryst with a staff member there when I was about 17 or 18. Totally sexual, never saw or talked to this guy ever again. He doesn't work there anymore.
My husband and I are newlyweds. Recently we went to this resort to meet some of my family. Right before we got there the two of us stopped to eat at a restaurant. While we were there, my husband asked me right out of nowhere, "So, have you ever had a fling at this resort?!" My head went down and I tried to hide my face. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I hadn't told my husband about it because, had I told him about this in advance he probably would not have wanted to go.
Of course I told him the truth though. Then he got mad because I was "sneaky" in not telling him. He also said in so many words, I wonder how many sexual partners you've really had?! As if I lied when we talked about it before.
He then got up to go to the restroom. While he was gone I began having a panic attack, (as I have a history or anxiety.) When he got back, I went into full fledged panic, couldn't breathe, began crying and shaking. This all happened right in the middle of the restaurant and I couldn't control it. He told me to wait in the car and he got our food to go.
Why oh why did he even feel the need to ask that stupid question!? Any type of question about my sexual escapades in the past is totally uncalled for. I don't understand why an intelligent man like my husband would ask any kind of question about this.
Signed, Anxious Newlywed
Let's play "What if?" for a moment. What if your husband asked you that question but the two of you had a completely different reaction? Instead of shame, suppose the question amused you and, when you answered truthfully, you and hubby had a quiet and comfortable chuckle about it before dismissing it and moving on to other topics of dinner conversation. In my view the problem is not the asking of the question but rather how the two of you reacted to it.
Newlyweds go through many types of transitions as you begin to adjust to married life. One such transition is the loss of what I'll call the dating mentality, replacing it with the comfort of a lifelong partnership. Like many other changes in life, this one takes time. It is clear to me that the two of you are still in the midst of this journey.
To me, the dating mentality is the feeling of the chase. Since single people are relatively free to switch partners, there is often a perceived (and sometimes very real) danger that you might lose your boyfriend or girlfriend to a different partner. You are constantly in a competition. Any hint that your partner might have an interest in another can be threatening. Sexual involvement with a former boyfriend can be construed as one indication that you were very strongly attracted to that person, even if only for a short period of time. For a young man who has yet to shed the dating mentality, learning about such strong attractions can make him feel insecure. It seems this is the case with your husband.
More than that, society teaches a young man to have conflicting expectations of the young women in his life. When dating, Mother Nature supplies the hormones that turn teenage boys into hunters. Hungry to gain sexual experience, guys will often put considerable pressure on their dates to go as far as possible. When it comes to getting married though, we want to feel secure, unchallenged. The Hollywood image of the perfect bride is one of virginal innocence. She dated but "saved herself for marriage." Like it or not, your husband has been taught that you are not supposed to be like all those other girlfriends he had. You are supposed to be special, above the rest. Is it any wonder he feels stress when he learns you are (gasp!) ... NORMAL?!
Girls also face a host of conflicting pressures. Premarital sex brings with it the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Mothers preach about the importance of protecting yourself. Girls who are known to "give it up" easily may be labeled as sluts. These factors combine to associate with sex a powerful negative stigma in many young girls' minds. Mother Nature, however, would be perfectly happy if all girls started having babies as soon as they are able. In fact, Mother Nature wants this so badly that all young women come equipped with a sex drive. When out on a date with an attractive young man, your body can wake up and say, "I bet some sex would feel GOOD right now!"
Many (heck, probably all) young women struggle to maintain self esteem. They know the guys want sex. It can be easy to think of this as one way to be popular; make him happy and he will like you. Add to this the natural tendency to be curious about the unknown, as well as peer pressure from all the other girls who swear they are doing it ... well you get the idea. Young women are pulled in ten different directions when it comes to premarital sex. Then, to top it all off, when you get married you are expected to magically shed all those inhibitions and become completely comfortable with marital relations. Is it any wonder that you, too, feel stress over this sort of issue?
While it is understandable for you to feel that way, you have no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed for having a sexual history with former boyfriends. Whether anyone likes it or not, premarital sex is widespread and is considered by many to be normal behavior. I understand that some cultural groups may differ in these types of expectations, but I am speaking of the North American norm. Ask your girlfriends; how many of them were virgins on their wedding nights? Not many, I bet. Popular culture is reflected in the media, and TV shows like Friends treat premarital sex as hardly worthy of a raised eyebrow.
Parents must try to balance how we treat these opposing forces when it comes to our children. We all want to protect our children, to keep them safe from guys who just want a thrill, from STDs and unwanted pregnancy, and from the emotional pain that often comes when sex is introduced into relationships that are not mature enough to handle it. Knowing our children will have Mother Nature and peer pressure urging them on, the natural tendency is to resent all those messages that casual sex is okay, to teach our children to protect themselves. The hope is that these opposing influences will result in a healthy balance in our children's lives.
This healthy balance is key. Finding out that your wife has a deviant sexual history would cause legitimate concern for a young husband. This is not the case with you, though; you were not a prostitute or an adult film star or the girl every guy in school knew he could count on for a good time. You simply had a few relationships that included normal sexual behavior. Why should you be ashamed of being normal?
The answer lies in all those expectations I discussed earlier. You and your husband have not yet shed that dating mentality. In your mind, sex still has that negative stigma attached to it. You also sense that your husband is threatened by the thought of you with another, even if it was in the past. Who could blame you for being hesitant to discuss this with him? I certainly don't. It is completely understandable and I urge you to forgive yourself.
I don't believe your husband was trying to attack you when he asked that question. That was his insecurity peeking out. His behavior might seem judgmental but I suspect he was only reacting to the social programming he has received all his life. I urge you to forgive him as well. He is human and has frailties like all the rest of us.
The normal course of events would be for you and your husband to become more and more comfortable with these sorts of issues as time goes on, and I suspect that is exactly what will happen. You might even speed up the process by reassuring your husband that his insecurities, while understandable, are completely unnecessary. Tell him you are his forever and your past boyfriends mean nothing to you. They are part of an ancient history that simply doesn't matter anymore.
Finally, I have to wonder if you have ever sought help for your "history of anxiety." Having difficulty drawing a breath because of such a conflict seems extreme. You might consider consulting with a physician to assess the severity of the issue and to determine what help might be possible.
I wish you and your husband all the best,
I have yet to receive any questions about relationships between adults and their parents, adult siblings, folks who begin dating again late in life, as well as many other widespread issues. We have also barely scratched the surface of that most complex of relationships, the one with your significant other. Help broaden our discussion by sending an email with your relationship question. Comments entered using the link below can be anonymous and the identities of email respondents always remain confidential.