The dilemma My partner of two years told me that she had been single for 12 years before I asked her out, but then, six months into our relationship, she told me her last partner was the love of her life and, after they broke up, they continued to regularly have sex for 10 years. She also recently told me she still loves him, but is no longer in love and that he is incredibly good-looking. She maintains she was single for 12 years because they “just” had sex together regularly.
I don’t understand how this could happen. You are with someone or you’re not. I am scared she will be unable to resist him and never really be able to love me. It is haunting. She has never said I am good-looking. She once said our sex is OK, but hopes it will get better and that, based on her own experience, sex gets better the longer the relationship. Should I be worried?
Mariella replies It’s not ideal. All relationships should be judged on the here and now, rather than a partner’s past, and in this case I’m not sure yours is being allowed to.
Lingering over a lover’s romantic history and exhuming details to deliberate over is an extremely dysfunctional pursuit, guaranteed to make nobody happy. We all have previous passions and unions, which are part and parcel of the rich blend we bring (or, in less constructive cases, the juggernaut we dump) into adult relationships. How we’ve been treated in the past and how much we’ve been damaged is hard to escape – and important to work through and understand. We all wrestle with the challenge of learning from relationships that don’t work in order to shape ones that do. A partner’s past can be embraced and navigated with confidence when you are secure that what you have now is solid enough to rely on.
For long-term relationships to survive, you have to relinquish any form of ownership or censorship over your lover’s previous romantic history, and digging to find fault, or allowing it to create uncertainty, is a fool’s pursuit. For all those reasons I would normally, where someone is overly concerned about their partner’s past, advise they abandon such a backward-facing position and start looking ahead. It’s certainly how most romantic unions find the space to move forward. But, of course, it depends on how willing both of you are to let go. Hanging on to painful details that are destructive to your thoughts, or squandering your time mentally labouring over relationships that don’t concern you, is a treacherous path to self-defeat. And this seems to describe both of you.
How real your girlfriend’s connection is with this past relationship is part of what needs to be addressed. At the very least, your description of the situation suggests she has her priorities askew. Whether a love from more than a decade ago is good-looking or not is neither here nor there, and if she’s consciously using it to play on your insecurities, it’s unacceptable. That’s where my crystal ball lets me down – I don’t know how over-sensitive you’re being. Telling you that sex gets better over time is a reasonable observation – unless you take it as an insult. I wonder how much emotional baggage she carries with her. It sounds as if she was the loser in the long aftermath of her last relationship. Describing herself as single is an indication of how she was maybe made to feel. It must be hurtful to continue having sex with someone who wants no further commitment – a stance which is rarely the case for both parties.
My suspicion is you are nursing a damaged woman who doesn’t understand the benefits of a loving relationship over a dysfunctional one. Perhaps you should feel pity rather than insecurity about what was clearly a coupling of convenience for one participant. To be so wrapped up in a relationship that ended so long ago suggests she’s the one with self-worth issues.
The first place to start is always with your own emotions and the consideration that you might be allowing your insecurities to flourish, damaging your confidence and your partnership.
If, however, you are confident that your girlfriend is, consciously or unconsciously, trying to undermine you, then you need to tell her how you feel and establish some boundaries and ground rules. Simply suffering is not the answer. Comparison to an ex is a big no, and if she’s not happy with your sex life, the two of you can surely work out together how to improve it. Nearly everything that goes wrong in a normal relationship is about communication and misread signals. Only you can establish where the messaging between you is faulty and resolve to make sure there is clarity. The least-likely scenario is that this woman will return to the arms of a lover who doesn’t appear to want a relationship with her. But if you don’t take action and, instead, allow your thoughts to eat away at your confidence in what you have, you’ll destroy the relationship all on your own. Once you’ve resolved whether these fears are rational, the next place to take them is into a conversation with the woman you love.