Sunday, November 12, 2006
Dismaying Story #81: Jealousy Over Past Partners
I am in my ninth month of a relationship with my current girlfriend and I care about her very much. The problem is I was a virgin when we first had sex. I am the seventh guy that she has been with. I really care for this girl and I love her very much. We are both eighteen years old. She has made it clear to me that she doesn't think about them at all. I just want to know what I can do because I still have feelings of absolute hatred for her past relationships and flings. I really think that if I didn't love her like I do, I would leave her because it's very hard to take at times. How do I get over this?
Signed, Wishing I Was First
Mother Nature is a very effective salesperson. She starts working her wily ways as soon as young people are old enough to physically become parents, trying to get them to have sex with each other. The urges are strong and I am enough of a realist to know that in many cases Mother Nature has her way.
Despite that, my advice to teenagers is to be very cautious about how early you become sexually active. Some of the risks are obvious -- pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases -- so you take the pill and use condoms and feel you are protected. No method of birth control is one hundred percent effective, and condoms have been known to break, so there is always some risk. More than that, such measures do nothing to protect you from the emotional landmines that sex introduces into a relationship, especially when the people involved are still maturing.
Two people can hold hands and kiss and touch, and it can feel like sex should be just an extension of that. Some people might think nothing will really change in the relationship if they go that one step further. Like it or not, that's simply not true.
Young women have many potential concerns. Pregnancy impacts both people involved, but obviously more so for the girl. Often girls worry about whether they will get a reputation as someone who is loose and easy. For many people, sex implies a deeper commitment to the relationship, which can add pressure if things don't always go smoothly or when you break up. Girls tend to be taught that good girls don't, so their inner voice can pipe up and suggest they are now a bad person, that the sex is wrong. This can make it difficult for them to relax and enjoy the sex (which makes me wonder if it is worth doing in those circumstances). And here is another common lament: "Does he really like me, or does he only want to be with me because I give him the sex he wants? Would any guy want me if I didn't put out?" I could go on.
The list is somewhat shorter for the guys, but can still cause plenty of dismay. "Why can't she just relax and enjoy it like I do? Why does she have to act like it's such a big deal?" The answers are essentially found in the preceding paragraph, but young men frequently lack the insight to understand the concerns involved from the girl's point of view. This apparent lack of empathy can, in turn, deepen the issues for the girl, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of problems.
Another common concern for young men is the one expressed in the letter. Despite the realities of pre-marital sex, society perpetuates the image of two virgins on their wedding night as ideal. A virginal boyfriend can feel that his more experienced partner somehow falls short of that vision. More than that, the dating game for guys is one of attracting a girl, beating out the competition. They want the girl all to themselves and past sexual partners can be perceived as competitors. This may seem illogical -- they are, after all, in the past -- yet your letter is an example that proves my point. "She has made it clear to me that she doesn't think about them at all." In other words, you worry that she still thinks about and has feelings for those other guys, that you are competing with them for her feelings.
The bottom line is that life is simpler in teenage relationships that don't involve sex.
To me, your situation is all about (a) knowing what you want in life, and (b) your emotional development. Perhaps you would truly prefer a virginal partner, someone who fits with that societal ideal. You may not be attracted to a girl who has had several partners at such a young age. If so, then this is not the girl for you and you should move on. If that's the case, though, you should examine your own behavior; by having sex with her you have created exactly the situation you are trying to avoid. It would be hypocritical to act one way and expect others to behave differently.
I don't believe that is what is going on with you, though. You simply can't get past that competitive mindset. The image of her with someone else drives you bananas, and you worry about what those images mean to her.
Here's the thing. This is your first sexual relationship so it feels extra special to you. You have never had this feeling before and you can't imagine it going away. The natural assumption is that she must have had this special feeling for those other guys, which makes it difficult for you to imagine that her extra-special feelings for them could have disappeared. You have never had the experience of moving on to a new relationship after having sex, so you find it hard to understand what it must be like for her, and you imagine the worst.
If a girl has a sex-less relationship and breaks up, her partner becomes an ex-boyfriend. The relationship is over, done with. If she has sex and then breaks up, her partner becomes (surprise, surprise) every bit as much of an ex-boyfriend. The fact that sex took place does not increase the threat to subsequent beaus.
You need to come to the realization that this is not about her; it's all about your own insecurities. She is with you because she wants to be. Count yourself fortunate and let the past go.
All the best,