I can't get over my girlfriend's past. What should I do?
December 19, 2012 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I can't get over my girlfriend's past. What should I do?

My girlfriend and I have been together for 10 months. She is really awesome and we make a great team together. A few things have caused problems in our relationship though. Most of which I have internalized up until now. As I have gotten to know her more, certain things have come to light that has caused me to think very hard about the relationship. I will try to be as detailed as I can in this post and would appreciate any advice you can give. Sorry in advance for the long post, I want to make sure you understand where I am coming from.

I have actually known my girlfriend for about 2 years. We started out more as friends with benefits, although, we were exclusive during that time (to the best of my knowledge). It got to a point where we knew we needed to take things to the next level or cut them off. I liked her a lot and wanted to continue to get to know her, so about 10 months ago we started dating.

As things progressed I began noticing some strange behaviors. Our relationship progressed and then I would do something "wrong" (very minuscule things that bothered her) and it seemed like we would start back at the beginning again. She would distance herself and it would take a bit to get back to where we were comfort-wise. She would also have trouble being alone, we spend a lot of time together. I didn't realize it until recently, but we tend to spend every moment we can together. I realized that we did this because I found she would feel distant if we spent a night apart and we would need to work back up again to where we were. This was all very confusing to me because she has always been a very rational person and this behavior did not make sense.

After learning even more about her, I found out she did not have an 'ideal' family life growing up. Her parents were divorced and neither were really there for her. So, I began to suspect trust issues in her.

She has always struggled with depression. A few months back she slipped into a very deep depression that escalated to her talking openly with me about suicide and me needing to act fast to get her help. We ended up getting her admitted into a psych hospital and the doctors discovered that she is bi-polar. She has been prescribed medication and is doing 100% better, it's like she is a different person which is awesome.

The past few months have really affected my emotional state. Trying to keep someone you care about alive against their will can do wonders on someone's emotional health. I considered leaving a while back to get help myself, but stuck it out for her sake and now am so glad I did.

Because of this situation, she and I have grown even closer and she has been opening up to me a lot lately. She has told me things about her past that nobody else knows.

She has told me that she has trust issues, which I assumed she did. If her and I are apart for a night, she assumes the worst (cheating) and begins to distance herself to soften the blow if it happens. This would explain why we always seem to move forward and then back again over and over. I have never and will never cheat on my significant other, it is not even a thought. So, she knows she has nothing to worry about and knows it is irrational, but she cannot shake it. She is currently in therapy and hopes to be able to work through these issues.

Now, one thing that has really bothered me has been how she has handled her relations with others in the past. I have always kind of known she was pretty loose sexually in the past. I have had a few partners but have always been extremely selective and am proud that I have not gone buck wild in my sexual endeavors. I hold on to the thought that sex is a very emotional experience that I like sharing with people I really care about. It has kept my emotions safe and also kept me from making some really dumb mistakes while growing up. She has never delved into the details of her sexual life but has hinted in to the fact that she has been with a lot of people. From my talks with her, I would assume the number is in the teens. She has also said that she does not hold sex as an emotional experience, except if she is really close to someone. She has moved fast physically with most everyone she has been with.

This really bothers me. It has been something that I really have not been able to shake. I am not sure why. I think part of it may be that I have kept my sexuality in a healthy state by being selective with who I share it with during the course of my life. She has thrown it to many people and many situations. So, part of my problem may be jealousy. I am always wondering who she has been with, what the situations have been like, how she feels about them now. Another part may also be that I think we are at different places. I think I deserve someone who has handled their sex life the same way I have. It would help my mental and emotional state to know that my partner has always been a very respectable person and never have to wonder about anything.

I now know why she did what she did though. Her past has led her to need to seek out romantic endeavors in search for someone and also caused her to not hold herself to a very high standard.

So, now I would like to turn this over to you. I can't seem to get over the fact that she has been with so many people. It eats away at me and causes me to doubt my value to her. I also can't seem to move past the fact that she has a lot of things she needs to work through, I wonder if a relationship is the best thing for her and I right now.

Does this get easier with time? Will I get over the fact that she has been with so many? Can she work through her trust issues?
posted by *lostatsea* to Human Relations (30 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- cortex

 
Another thought as well. She has really opened up to me recently, which I see as great. If I leave, I may feel like an asshole. It would affect her trust issues as well and she may never open up to someone again...
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:57 AM on December 19, 2012


Hypersexuality is part of being bipolar. What you describe is not that uncommon with people with the illness. That may or may not be germaine to HER but it is something you need to be aware of.


That said, social support really goes a long way when someone is trying to recover. If you love her and want to stay it would be good for her. (Of course I am assuming here she is going forward in treatment and doing what she needs to be doing to be responsible with her illness.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you need to isolate what is bothering you. Is it that:
- maybe you wonder if something that's very meaningful for you is not that meaningful for her? like she could (in theory) be doing this with anyone?
- do you wonder, when she seems to project cheating onto you, whether she might be cheating or tempted to cheat?
- likewise the 'trust issues' - maybe it's you that don't trust her?

I am not trying to suggest that she *is* cheating or anything like that. Just trying to probe what it is you're worried about.
posted by tel3path at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2012


First off, if you think of "teens" as too many sexual partners, I'd say you're cutting out a majority of the dating pool.

Second, you aren't happy with her. A relationship (especially in the beginning stages) should make you life better, not worse. Yeah, relationships take work. But so much work, so early on, is quite the red flag.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:03 AM on December 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think part of it may be that I have kept my sexuality in a healthy state by being selective with who I share it with during the course of my life. She has thrown it to many people and many situations.

One of your issues is that you and her see sex very, very differently, and you assign a moral judgement to that difference. You're saying she has been "loose" and "thrown it" (what "it?") at people, while you have been more "healthy" about it and are "proud" that you haven't slept with a lot of people. This mentality will get you absolutely nowhere, not with her at least. The number of partners a person chooses to have is their right and privilege. You can certainly judge them for it, and that is your right and privilege, but you are not doing yourself or her or the relationship any favors by judging her like this. If you can't get over the idea that morality is tied in with the amount of partners -- and you can't if you don't want to -- then being with a person who has had multiple partners is not for you, and neither is this relationship.
posted by griphus at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2012 [36 favorites]


I think I deserve someone who has handled their sex life the same way I have. It would help my mental and emotional state to know that my partner has always been a very respectable person and never have to wonder about anything.

You should break up with her and let her find someone who isn't going to think badly of her for having slept with other people, someone who doesn't think she's weak or loose or damaged. No one deserves that kind of shit.
posted by elizardbits at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2012 [63 favorites]


*lostatsea*: "I can't seem to get over the fact that she has been with so many people."

*lostatsea*: "I think I deserve someone who has handled their sex life the same way I have."

You two are incompatible. You have different ideas about sex than she does. She is not wrong, no matter how much you think her way of "handling her sex life" is wrong, it is not. Just different from the way you handle yours. Which is also not wrong. But it does seem like it is a dealbreaker for you, so I think you should end this now, before you end up making her feel bad about her past, which is definitely wrong.
posted by Grither at 9:06 AM on December 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


You are being inconsistent. Given that your relationship began as FWB, I don't think you're really entitled to be so prideful about your careful choices in sexual partners and holier than thou about how "deserving" you are about having "someone who handled their sex life the same way [you] have." She did handle her sex life the same way you did; she just had more opportunity than you and FYI "teens" isn't very many sexual partners. If you hadn't converted this FWB into a relationship, you might have wound up with that many yourself.

And for what it's worth, memories of yesterday's sexual relationships fade quickly when one has a good, loving relationship today.
posted by carmicha at 9:06 AM on December 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


Just limiting your number of sexual partners doesn't make you sexually healthy. Experiencing sex as a physical - and not emotional - sensation doesn't make your girlfriend sexually unhealthy.

You probably need to see a therapist to untangle why you believe these things that are objectively false. If you can't get over it, you owe it to her to let her be free to find someone who isn't going to judge her based on things she shouldn't be judged for.
posted by jph at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you have much bigger problems with your girlfriend than how many sexual partners she's had.

I think you really should re-evaluate the relationship in terms of whether you want to be dating someone who has such trust issues that you have to be together 24/7, has a history of depression (I've dated people who struggle with mental illness and I think if you really love the person and are confident in the relationship, it's worth working through together, but it's also good to question what you're getting out of it), and seems to have values that conflict with yours.

I mean, I personally think it's shitty of you to be worried about your girlfriend's "number", but if you have drastically different ideas about what sex means, that's a valid concern.
posted by Sara C. at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think you are letting the sexual past bother you because the real issue here is too difficult and overwhelming. She has some type of depression, bipolar, or some other issues going on here. It is not normal to be apart for one night, assume the worst, and then take a long time to get back to where you where, while being with someone constantly in the meantime to make up for it. This is a huge red flag and a huge problem to leave not investigation.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to clarify, I don't think it was wrong of her to have as many sexual partners as she has had. I just think it is a different route than the one I have taken. I am sorry if my post makes me out to be judging her for that.
posted by *lostatsea* at 9:12 AM on December 19, 2012


From someone who's been in your shoes, you'd be saving both of you alot of pain and heartache to end it sooner than later and find someone more compatible for each of you. I dont think her past is the main issue here, I think its a combination of her past, her emotionally needy nature, and the way you have to keep starting from square 1 every time you don't meet those extreme needs. I've been in this relationship before, and spent months in the state that you are now: You love her, you want everything to be great, but you are where you are and have to realize you can't change the past or her condition.

As someone who's done it before, I suggest breaking up sooner than later, and chalking it up to incompatibility. To lighten the blow, tell her you have things to figure out in your own life, and just can't put the effort into the relationship that she needs. Don't bother bringing up her past or shaming her for things she can't change at this point.
posted by el_yucateco at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2012


Just to clarify, I don't think it was wrong of her to have as many sexual partners as she has had. I just think it is a different route than the one I have taken. I am sorry if my post makes me out to be judging her for that.

I don't believe this at all. Your post makes it very, very clear that you are judging her for that. And as other posters have said, that's your right -- but don't kid yourself about what it is you've written here.
posted by Jairus at 9:18 AM on December 19, 2012 [37 favorites]


Also, FWIW, I learned from my experience and realized that I succumb to those feelings of jealousy and resentment. My current girlfriend tried to casually bring up the "number" conversation, and I told her straight out I'm not comfortable talking about it, don't want to know hers, and it should be a nonissue for us if we're happy together. She agreed and we haven't mentioned it since. So thats my suggestion, move on and learn from this experience.
posted by el_yucateco at 9:18 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just think it is a different route than the one I have taken.
Could you articulate why it's a problem that she took a different route? Most people wouldn't consider that a problem. Your question is full of moralising language regarding her 'different route': she is 'loose', has 'thrown [her sexuality] to many people', '[did not] hold herself to a very high standard' while you are 'healthy', 'selective' and 'respectable'.
posted by Acheman at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


She has told me that she has trust issues, which I assumed she did...So, she knows she has nothing to worry about and knows it is irrational, but she cannot shake it.

Her trust issues are justified in this case, because you're considering breaking up with her due to information that she "trusted" was safe to tell you. So it would be kind of you to stop making her feel irrational and wrong for having trust issues while you decide whether or not to end the relationship.

I now know why she did what she did though. Her past has led her to need to seek out romantic endeavors in search for someone and also caused her to not hold herself to a very high standard.

Or maybe she just likes sex....
posted by acidic at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't see this as a problem SHE has to work on. You have a problem with being judgemental about deciding her actions before she met you don't match your current values. You need to take ownership of that problem and solve it. If you cannot see solving it soon you will be unfairly blaming her for your problems. You post is very clear on judging her for that; that you cannot see that judgement indicates these ideas are very deep-set and ingrained in your thought processes.
posted by saucysault at 9:20 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you are emotionally drained from the hospitalization and suicidal discussions (which is normal) and are using the sexual partners "issue" as an excuse because you feel guilty for being exhausted. As someone who has been in her shoes, it is nearly impossible to maintain any sort of healthy relationship with someone while you are dealing with a mental illness that is actively affecting your behavior. This isn't to say she can't, or won't, get better. But she has to put a lot of work into herself to get there. It sounds like you know this, and the idea exhausts and terrifies you. And it's more acceptable (in your brain, or society, or whatever) to focus on the "she's slept with a lot of people" thing than the "I can't be there for her" thing.
posted by picklesthezombie at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think I deserve someone who has handled their sex life the same way I have.
Then go find that but depending on how old you are, that may not be easy and do you really want to be asking prospective dates their 'number' before embarking on a relationship?

It would help my mental and emotional state to know that my partner has always been a very respectable person and never have to wonder about anything.

Promiscuity is a symptom not a character failing although what you've described doesn't sound particularly promiscuous, she simply views sex differently to you, neither view is objectively wrong. But as someone pointed out, you started as FWB so um, I don't see how that really connects with your view of sex as an emotional experience to only share with people you care deeply about. FWB is much more compatible with her philosophy than yours. Don't get me wrong, my 'number' is a staggering 1 (what can I say? I got it right first time ;) ) so its not like this question is pushing my buttons ;) I know a guy a few years older than me whose number is 3 digits - that guy has issues!

You say you're not judging her but you're saying she's not a respectable person and that she's thrown it(?) at people etc. Your language certainly is very judgy and if you're not judging her then why do you think its grounds for a break up?

There are plenty of reasons to not want to date someone who is bipolar, number of sexual partners wouldn't even rate for me.
posted by missmagenta at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well. I, too, tend to think that you are kind of looking for a way out and are picking on her sexual past as something "safer" than her emotional issues.

Yes, if you want to, you can work through your judgement of the different path she took to get to where she is now, and accept that it's different from yours. Just like she could work on her trust issues. But it sounds like you should instead seek out a partner who you respect and who shares your views. The fact that you think you "deserve" better/different than her is pretty telling.
posted by sm1tten at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I leave, I may feel like an asshole.

Let's be clear here: if you leave her within months of being diagnosed with a serious illness because you can't handle the private details of her sexual history which you coaxed her into trusting you enough to tell you, you will indeed have proven yourself to be an asshole. However, you shouldn't stay with her just to prove to yourself that you're not an asshole, because if that's why you're staying with her, you're still an asshole, plus she has to be in a relationship with you.

The best solution here is to not be an asshole. The second best solution is to break up.
posted by Acheman at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


Just to clarify, I don't think it was wrong of her

I think maybe you believe you think this, but read your post again, and look at the language you use, as other people have pointed out.

You need support, too. Whether you're going to be with her forever n ever or just until you're not, you need support as someone who is with someone who has a mental illness, especially one this stressful.

It's also okay to not want to be with her (for whatever reason).

Either way, I'd say some counseling is in order for you, because you've got some shit to work out on your own.
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't sound like you like her very much. Let her go.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2012


Yes, I too think maybe the sex issue could be a red herring. It could be one of the few symptoms of her mental health challenges that feels socially acceptable (in some circles) to judge and reject her for. On preview, um, you totally are judging her. Look at the sentences others quoted above.

Have you considered ways that having a lot of sexual partners could reflect well on someone? Consider thinking of her past relationship style as open, unabashed, easily connecting, full of life, expressive, natural, welcoming, being honest about what she wants. Consider thinking of your past relationship style as repressed, puritan, closed off, shut down, disconnected from even your own desires, and overly controlled by society's dictates. I'm not saying you have to get rid of your old attitudes and switch to these; I'm offering this as a thought experiment if you want to consider another way of looking at this.

Ultimately, though, my guess is that the real reason you're feeling like you deserve better is that you are having to deal with a lot of hard situations. It sounds like the relationship isn't working for you, and you can just say, "I'm sorry, but this relationship isn't working for me." I don't think you should do tons of work to get yourself to accept things that are unacceptable to you (I think you're doing enough of that already), but I do think you'll be better-served in the long run by being as open minded and non-judgmental about sex as you seem to want to be.
posted by salvia at 9:42 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If my partner were capable of writing the sex-related parts of this post about me, I would very much want to know so that I could dump him immediately. Don't think I'm unsympathetic though; I've dealt with jealousy myself so I know it can be irrational and painful. To answer your first question, it does not get better. It gets worse.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I knew you were going to get brickbats for putting your sexual morality above hers. Your language is indeed as judgemental as everyone says it is. I just can't help thinking that it's a red herring.

As a woman, I've had it burned into me that men regard sex as purely physical and that what that means for me is, who it's with is of minor importance. That I could, given the man's ideal world, just as easily be substituted for anyone or anything that gave off warmth, and that I might as well jettison any illusions otherwise for my own sanity. If I believed that stereotype, then from my point of view I would have to abandon hope of ever being really desired or treasured.

I actually think that this is what you're afraid of and that your moralistic language is rather predictably drawing attention away from what is really worrying you. Except that I don't even think that that is quite what's really worrying you.

As has been pointed out, it's exhausting for you to have to start the relationship anew every time you spend a night apart. If you have to earn back her love every time, doesn't that make her the cherished, precious one while you are always in a one-down position? And I think unspoken here is the fear that maybe she will cheat if left alone for a night (not saying she will, just saying that I wonder if that's what you're worried about).

But the basic problem seems to be that it's hard being the loved one of a mentally ill person, you are not getting any support, and when you start to crack under the pressure you say things that get you criticized for having whatever bad attitude you seem to be expressing, when in reality you just need help.

So I rarely say therapy, but, therapy.
posted by tel3path at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know you SAY you're not judging her, but that's exactly what your post sounds like --- even more, your post has a strong scent of an old-fashioned double standard: the male can (should!) have extensive sexual experience, which only means he's 'manly'; but a female who dares to have had more that one or two partners is a slut (but it's best if she's virginal, of course!)

Either way, the two of you are not at all suited, and I'm sorry to say you should let her find someone who will appreciate her without judging her for her long-gone past.
posted by easily confused at 9:51 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Her past is her. The events in a person's past are what make them the person they are in the present; if she had made different choices, she wouldn't be who she is today. You can't both love her in the present and judge her past, that's not consistent. If you can't get to the point where you are fully and joyfully accepting of the decisions she's made because they're what brought her to this place, here with you. . . then you should break up with her.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be with someone who has the same view of sex as you do. And there's nothing wrong with having the view of sex that you yourself have. But there IS something wrong with wanting someone else's view of sex to be different than it is.
posted by KathrynT at 9:55 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


You are so not ready for this relationship. You want someone easy w/ little baggage. I suggest you move on. You will never get over her bipolar, depression, family's divorce, her hypersexuality. This is more your problem than hers. Find someone less "bothersome". It's as simple as that.
posted by stormpooper at 10:01 AM on December 19, 2012


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