Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’m currently in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend. We’ve been together for about three months and I’ve been constantly concerned about my girlfriend’s past. I’ve known her for around seven years and as long as I’ve known her, she has always been a conservative person. She always said that she wouldn’t get in a relationship until she was 18 and wouldn’t have sex until she was 21. However a year ago, one of her teachers, who was 26 at the time, started to pursue her, both in school and out of school. She fell in love with him and had sex with him over the course of three months. We’re both 17 now and she’s been telling me how she’s completely over him, but I’m still slightly bothered after seeing their texts and how a single person changed her from a incredibly conservative person to a very open minded person. Her ex is also much better than me, in bed or just as a person in general. Everytime I have time by myself I just get bothered by the fact that she’s been with someone 10 years older than her, at the age of 16.
I know this might seem normal to some but for me, a traditional Asian guy, I just don’t seem to be able to get over it. Could you please give me some advice?
Long Distance Dilemma
Y’know, LDD, normally when I get letters like yours, especially from younger guys, I have a standard lecture about how a person’s past is what made them the person they are now and how their life’s experiences have lead them to this point where they’re dating you. I also have a lot to say about the harmful double-standards we have about male and female sexuality and the fact that someone’s previous sexual history doesn’t make them a bad person and being unable to accept it is only going to ruin your relationship with them. This is especially true in one’s teenage years, when people are sorting themselves out and learning who they are. Her being sexually active – or sexually adventurous for that matter – are part of growing up and learning who she is as a person. That person, incidentally, is the one you care about. Not being able to accept her past means not being able to accept her; you can’t separate the two or pretend it doesn’t exist.
I would also point out that it’s perfectly normal and natural for someone to make grand statements about how their life will supposedly be, only to go in completely opposite directions as they mature and get some experience under their belt. When you’re a teenager, you are continually reinventing yourself as you try to figure out just who you are and what this is all about. It’s completely understandable that the things a person will swear they will never do falls by the wayside over the course of a year… or even a few months. The fact that she made some dating and virginity pledge that ultimately didn’t happen is par for the course for teenagers; life comes at you fast and the things that you thought were true one year are completely different in the next.
And to be perfectly blunt, somebody’s sexual choices are their business. The fact that she had sex with someone – and between you and me, the real issue you’re having isn’t that she had sex, it’s that she had sex with someone who wasn’t you – has nothing to do with you at all. It doesn’t make her a bad person, it doesn’t have anything to do with her feelings for you or your relationship. The only way that it’s a problem is if you’re going to be an asshole who can’t accept someone has a history that doesn’t involve him at all.
But then I got to this part: “ However a year ago, one of her teachers, who was 26 at the time, started to pursue her, both in school and out of school. She fell in love with him and had sex with him over the course of three months.” and um…
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK.
The bigger issue here isn’t that your girlfriend had sex before she was 21, it’s the fact her goddamn teacher had a relationship with her. That is a far, far bigger deal than whether she became sexually active before she said she would. Even if 16 is within the age of consent in your area, the fact that he’s a) her teacher and b) 10 years her senior is far more concerning. At best, that’s predatory behavior and an abuse of his power and position and something that can – and should – get his ass fired. At worst, that’s statutory rape.
So let’s get’s something clear here: the circumstances being what they are, your girlfriend was in a relationship that ethically and quite likely legally should never have happened. Under even the most charitable interpretations, his is someone who abused his authority and coerced a child into a sexual relationship. Even if she fell within the legal age of consent, this is a man who had power over her. Whether he implicitly or explicitly hinted at his power or never even brought it up, that power is still there. It is baked into the relationship and can’t be ignored. By pursuing her, both in school and out of it, he’s abusing his power and ultimately pushing her into a sexual relationship. That is NOT OK. That is not in the same time zone as OK.
She may not see herself as a victim here and hey, that’s her right. People have the right to define their own sexual experiences, and even people who’ll admit that the relationship they had was not right will also say they don’t regret it. But the fact that she doesn’t see herself as a victim doesn’t mean that the relationship was even slightly appropriate or good.
You don’t need to be concerned about whether he’s a better person than you because a good person doesn’t sleep with his high-school students. This is someone who preyed on a child, one who he had power and authority over; this is the sort of thing that causes major scandals and ends careers. There is no comparison to be had here because this man was a predator and you are not.
But here’s the thing: holding her past against her in general is not cool. Let’s be real: you wouldn’t be having this problem if you had had sex with someone else before you started dating your girlfriend. Nor, for that matter, would you be having the same issues if it was you that she had that tumultuous three month affair with. It’s an asshole move to condemn her for doing things that you would cheerfully have done, either with her or with someone else, given the opportunity.
It’s doubly fucked up to hold it against her when the the affair was an adult predator coercing a child.
Look my dude, you need to examine your feelings here and just why you’re having a hard time getting over this. You’re jealous, I get that. But – and I can’t emphasize this enough – her sexual history has nothing to do with you. Those were things that she did when you weren’t in the picture. You are in a relationship with her now. She has chosen you, now. Her past is what makes her who she is today… the woman that you’re dating and that you care about. If you can’t accept that part of her, then ultimately, you’re rejecting all of her.
You don’t have to like it. But you need to accept that it’s the past; the only reason why it’s coming up is because you won’t let it go. Stop focusing on her past and embrace your present… with her. Otherwise, you two won’t have a future.
Hi Dr NerdLove
I met my husband when I was 19, him 18. We married 5 years later. We essentially grew into adulthood together. Despite both our good intentions the relationship became one of me doing pretty much everything. He’d do his chores, but anything out of the routine – organising a plumber, car maintenance, replacing the fallen down shed etc fell to me. He’d often prioritise his friends over me, ran up a massive debt on a secret credit card and basically did whatever he wanted (including cheating on me at least once) while I sat at home worrying about money and feeling totally taken for granted. We’d have counselling, things would briefly improve then I’d be back to being an unpaid housekeeper. He’d listen to what I was saying, but never really hear it.
After 22 years(!) I finally left. We’d not been intimate for years. Affectionate, yes, best friends even. But not a husband and wife partnership.
It’s now 1 year on. Neither of us are seeing anyone (I’m having way too much fun catching up on all the sex I hadn’t been having) and the 2 girlfriends he’s had fizzled out quickly (both were women who’d tried to initiate a relationship with him when he was with me, and both broke it off after less than 2 weeks).
Phew! So that’s the history. Now the question. Can we be friends? He knows me better than anyone on the planet, and vice versa. At the end of our marriage we were pretty much best friends who lived together. Immediately after I left he was so hurt that he’d blank me. That was fine – I deserved it. But then we slowly started messaging, could I feed the cat if he went away, would he help me with mobility aids for my mum (still his mother-in-law). To the point where we are back to being the team to beat in the pub quiz. It’s nice to touch base once a week or so to catch up. It’s exactly what I’d hoped we’d become when I left… BUT I suspect that he sees it slightly differently. He wants me back, I know that, why wouldn’t he? The marriage was great for him! I’ve found myself having to tell him, periodically, that we aren’t getting back together. Things like him referring to me, to mutual friends, as ‘my wife’ or inviting me back to our marital home after a night out, even just possessively grooming me – removing stray hairs, brushing off dust, attempting to remove make-up smudges… I tell him we a building a new, different relationship now. Where we love and support each other as the best friends we are, but we’re not getting back together. Then he withdraws, sulks and the cycle starts over. He listens but doesn’t hear me.
I really want the friendship, but it was absolutely awful having to break his heart when I left. I am so much happier and it was definitely the right decision for me! But the way this is going I feel like I’m going to have to re-break his heart every 6 months or so because he sees any friendship as a hopeful indication of us getting back together. I don’t want a friendship based on his false hope (as much as it would give me what I want – I refuse to be a bitch) but it hurts me so much every time I have to remind him that I’m not coming back.
It would be really hard to cut him out of my life totally, so will it get better? It’s only been a year. How long is it going to be before he realises and accepts that this is the new normal? Will that ever happen? We’ve been together for half our lives, I really hope you have some ideas as to how I can salvage a friendship from it.
Not Going Back But Not Quite Moving Forward
It’s going to take some time to make this transition, NGB. Break ups and divorce hit us so hard because we have to relearn who we are and how to live as a single person again. Relationships carve a groove in a person’s brain, a pattern of habits and behaviors reinforced by repetition and time until they become muscle memory. And in your case, the two of you have some pretty damn deep grooves; y’all were together for two goddamn decades. That is a lot of muscle memory to retrain and unlearn. And our brains are inherently lazy; it would much rather stay in the same groove – which takes no energy – then have to learn new patterns and new habits until those become automatic.
So it’s understandable that the two of you fall into familiar patterns of behavior. It’d be hard not to.
The problem is that you’re aware of this and you’re actively trying to move on. Your ex isn’t. He hasn’t quite adjusted or accepted the new status-quo and the changed nature of your relationship and that’s a problem. And to be perfectly honest… he may not want to accept them.
So you may have to be the one to make it clear to him, once and for all, what that relationship is. And this may require being cruel to be kind, by establishing some very firm boundaries. Sure, you’re close. Yeah, you have a lot of shared history and intimacy. But the relationship has changed and the rights and privileges of behavior that he had before don’t exist any more. He needs to know that he’s not allowed to do make those possessive gestures or invite you back to his place for a “once more for old time’s sake”. That means telling him unequivocally “no, stop that”, “hands off” and “no I’m not going back to your place, please stop asking me.”
And if he won’t stop… well, then you need to have a come-to-Jesus talk with him where you lay down the law. Either he can accept your boundaries and your new relationship, or you two are going to need space.
Though, to be perfectly honest: I think you may need that space anyway. Even though you’re enjoying your new sexual freedom and have a firmer view of your current relationship, I think you’ve fallen into some of the same old patterns that he has. And while you clearly don’t want him back, the comfort of the familiar is still calling to you and blurring the lines of where you are now. I don’t think that you need to cut all ties – not unless he can’t accept that you two are never getting back together, but you may need to put some distance between you and dial back the intimacy. Y’all can be friends, even best friends again. But a year after the divorce? I think that may just be too soon for everyone.