Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dismaying Story #81: Jealousy Over Past Partners

Dear Andrew,

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

Dear Wishing,

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,


  1. I totally understand this man's POV. I am the one who can count all their relationships on one hand, using fingers only :) My husband cannot even remember the ammount of girls, and stopped counting in the hundreds. And he swears he never thinks about them and that he doesn't care-- that i am "the first and the only." And I relaized, like you said Andrew, that this is MY problem, not his. MY insecurities were somehting about was I good enough or enough to attract him and keep him (probably so as he has NEVER MARRIED BEFORE!!!) but there was another fear, and one this man may also have- -which is if he can forget those girls, their faces, their names, and their relationship all together, how easy is it to forget me? How much do I really mean? A dear friend to me told me simply: he married you. He will NOT forget you. He did not marry any of these other girls. And she is right. It's all about your own insecurities of which I have plenty.. which is probably why you keep coming over since I am ripe for psychological evalution :) Good answer :)

  2. To Wishing...

    In addition to what Andrew has said...

    There are many reasons why people choose to have sex before they commit in marriage, as Andrew had pointed out. Her moral upbringing might have been different than yours or she simply may have thought those previous guys loved her and it turned out to be false.

    In my experience, a past flame is thought of for the impact they have on someone's life, not simply because that level of intimacy was shared. Further, they are a past flame for a reason. If she was still in contact with her past flames, then there may be cause for concern as it may be a means to hold onto them. She is with you now and the focus should be on that.

  3. Anonymous7:53 AM

    ..and you've done it again and struck me with one of your lines. this is not about sex, this is about insecurity. i have a simmilar insecurity although the details are different.

    while i have had more sexual partners than my boyfriend (and he has expressed concern over that but not too much), i have never loved anyone before him. he before me had one relationship and he obviously loved her because he stayed with her for a very long time (and they lived together).

    everything you said about sex can apply to love. i have never had the experience of moving on to a new relationship after loving someone so i can't understand how he could. naturally, i'm very threatened by her (although she's far far away now) and the thought of him and her drives me, indeed, bananas (i have to say, an older picture of him that had her bag in it drove me bananas because i could feel her presence in that picture, even if she wasn't really there). but, as you said, i have to accept, this is about me and not about him. and that he's with me now for a reason.

  4. Well, as a woman who has easily had over a hundred sexual partners, I can say that part of the reason I choose the nickname of cathouse teri is because I must have a man who is secure with my past. It must be dealt with up front. It's true, there are many insecurities involved with love. It's the most vulnerable position in which we find ourselves. I've been oft heard lately saying, "Damn it! I think I'm in love with my boyfriend and it sucks! :)

    But I agree with Andrew's advice. Enjoy the positive fact that she's with you. And remember that love is centrifugal. Whenever we turn it inward, we begin to entertain those insecurities. And just like an unwanted visitor, it's hard to get them out the door once they are in.

  5. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Great article sir....

    I am in the same boat. I am almost 30 and was a virgin before I met my current GF. I am very introverted and have had basically no real relationships with girls at all. She has a child with a former ex, and we have both been open and honest with each other.

    My GF is very adventureous, and made no qualms about sharing how and who her relationships have been with, multiple partners, both men and women, etc. Earlier today I was getting upset at thinking about people she has been with. We are talking about moving in together, and I was thinking can I really live with a person who has been with such and such a person, etc.

    Facebook does not help in this regard, as I can see pictures of who she as been with, and I know of a couple people who have been 10 to 15 years older than her. (her child's father is one of the old men that I just shake my head and think WTF was she thinking??! She has said she wasn't thinking, and I agree. She was young and was easily swayed by a guy who at the time treated her nice and told her what she wanted to hear...which I guess isn't that what any of us really wants? )

    So I was stewing about all this ealier today, and it was really getting me upset as I think about her past. Me being a virgin I am feeling exactly how you describe in the one paragraph.

    "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."

    If she has had this kind of relationship before, how can it possibly be as special to her as it is to me?

    Everything is going too perfectly it seems.....except when my feelings of jealously and insecurites come to the surface, then of course I disturb the tranquil waters.

    But I guess the whole point of my rambling is to say thanks for your article. It has calmed me down and realize the obvious truth is that she is with me and that's all that matters.

    I guess a funny side affect of me not being a virgin anymore is I am more jealous of my GFs experiences since I did not get to experience anything sexually until her. I wonder what it would be like to be with other women now, as there have been oppurtunities in the past that women were attracted to me, and in my shyness or insecurness, I was too afraid to take advantage of the oppurtunity when I had the chance. I find myself wondering why did I wait so long to find a GF....well I guess the one I finally found is the one I was waiting for my whole life.

    I have to let go of the past in order to embrace the future of our life together. Sometimes it's hard to do that, but your article has really helped analyze what I am feeling and how to handle that.

  6. Anonymous1:29 AM

    Go get some more experience elsewhere man! She has control over your emotions and secretly loves the fact that she is your first. This gives her the power in your relationship and the only way you can take this back is to be with other women. Take it from me, these emotions will only become harder to deal with the more other opportunities you miss. You NEED to take control or your life will be miserable and she NEEDS to feel like she will lose you to someone else if she EVER rubs your face in it. This is all about power and no matter how much she swears she doesn't care for her ex's (and actually she may not care for them) she loves the fact that you're insecure about it. Good luck, I feel for you, and never forget how many more fish are in the sea. PS. It helps to remind yourself that most women are 'over the hill' long before most men are. (Hence the need to have more sex earlier in life). Therefore, bide your time and believe that the power will eventually come back your way. And for your sake and the sake of the male gender the world over MAN THE F××K UP! x