Does my female partner need to know about past relationship abortions?
September 26, 2008 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Should I tell my girlfriend about the abortion in my past relationship?

I have been in a relationship for about 8 years now.

Should I tell my partner about the abortion that one of my previous girlfriends had after I impregnated her? This was about 10 or 11 years ago at this point. I do not have any contact with the previous girl, and have not since we broke up (well before I began dating current girl).

Would she want to know about this? Would she care about something that happened that long ago? It's not something that I think about that much or have any regrets about at all, but it seems strange sometimes to have that one big secret.
posted by anonymous account to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the question is not, does she need to know, but, do you need to tell her? I don't know that I would need to know about that or any particular situation, but if something was weighing on your mind, I would want to know about it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

It's not a secret, it's just something that hasn't come up, and I don't think it's relevant.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:49 PM on September 26, 2008

Why now, if you haven't mentioned it in eight years?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2008

How on Earth would this be relevant to her? Do you feel the need to tell her about other medical procedures your ex-girlfriends have had?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

Seconding TPS. When it happened doesn't matter. If this is important to you and weighs heavily on you, it would be unfair not to tell her.

If you're asking for her sake, and you really don't care, then leave it be.
posted by cjets at 12:52 PM on September 26, 2008

I think that if it hasn't come up by now, it probably isn't important in your current relationship.
posted by rmless at 12:53 PM on September 26, 2008


this happened to me. i was on the receiving end of this same info. i wish he hadn't told me.
posted by subatomiczoo at 12:53 PM on September 26, 2008

We have no way of knowing whether your partner would care. Some women may care very much. Others (and I think I'm in this camp) wouldn't care at all. But if it's important to you, if you care about it (and it sounds as if you do, since you consider it a "big secret"), I think you should tell her. Not because she has a right to know or anything; I don't think she does. I think you have a right to have had a private life before you met her. But I also think that this is bothering you, and that you'll feel better if you tell her.

If it's on your mind enough that you've created a metafilter account just to ask us whether or not to tell her, you should tell her. Again, not because it's relevant to her life, but because keeping it from her is weighing on you.
posted by decathecting at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2008

I would think going through that decision was probably a pretty important thing for you, no matter the details, and as such, I'm surprised you haven't happened to mention it already. Perhaps you're concerned with the privacy of your ex. I don't think that's necessary if she never explicitly asked you to keep it private. I don't see this as Sidhedevil does, I assume you had a role in the decision, and your experiences probably inform your current attitudes about safe sex and family planning. It's nice to know the origins of one's partners attitudes on those matters.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2008

I would say, don't open that door. It can only complicate your current relationship and bring in unnecessary and irrelevant stress, because it will open up various questions that really have nothing to do with your current relationship, especially after all this time. It is OK for lovers to have certain secrets from each other for one reason or another; you don't have to confess absolutely everything you've ever done with another person.
posted by beagle at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just don't see how your past partners' reproductive choices are any of your current partner's business. Nor is your past girlfriend's medical history information that you have a right to share with others.

Now I can imagine that, say, in a discussion of abortion rights it might be relevant for you to say "I supported a past partner in terminating a pregnancy" or "I argued against abortion when a former girlfriend was pregnant, but she went ahead with it" or whatever is accurate. But it still wouldn't be even remotely appropriate for you to name that past girlfriend or discuss her circumstances with your current girlfriend.

Tell your own story if you feel you must. Disclosing another person's medical history to a third party is not cool, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:58 PM on September 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Perhaps you're concerned with the privacy of your ex. I don't think that's necessary if she never explicitly asked you to keep it private

I could not possibly disagree with this more. Medical information is something that people generally expect will be kept private, even by strangers: disclosing other people's medical information to third parties is a huge violation of trust and boundaries.

If the OP wants to talk about his own story of being part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy, that's certainly his story to tell. His former partner's story is not his story to tell.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Agree with Tomorrowful - It's not relevant to your relationship now. It's only a secret if you believe you have reason to hide it which doesn't seem to be the case here.
posted by glasskey at 1:03 PM on September 26, 2008

My advice to you is not to tell her.

Your confiding this information to her after having been involved with her for 8 years will be mystifying to her, regardless of her views on the subject. She will wonder, "why is he telling me this?" She'll likely be angry at you for telling her and forcing her to reevaluate her feelings for you.

There is little to gain, much to lose, and no ethical principle at stake. You aren't actively deceiving her. Unless she asks you directly about it, mum's the word.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:06 PM on September 26, 2008

I understand the caveats that others have offered you here, but if I were in your girlfriend's position, I'd want to know. And would probably be upset that it took you eight years to tell me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:09 PM on September 26, 2008

There is no need for her to know. There's no earthly reason why she would want to know - so there is no reason to tell her other than in the spirit of full disclosure - which is often a selfish impulse. I would not recommend that you bring it up.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:09 PM on September 26, 2008

It's not something that I think about that much or have any regrets about at all, but it seems strange sometimes to have that one big secret.

Though I'm sure it affected you greatly at the time, you're still disclosing another person's medical history to what is to her a stranger. And as much as some people feel they'd like to know if they were in your girlfriend's position, it honestly would not be their business. The argument that your ex would have instructed you not to tell if she didn't want you to doesn't hold up - who would think to say, "Oh, by the way boyfriend, please don't tell future partners about the abortion I had."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good lord, no.

Not unless it comes up in some sort of "did any of your girlfriends ever get abortions?" way, but even then that's a "yessss...." answer, and you really don't have the right to say "Yeah, Sally had six of them." Likewise, your current GF certainly has no right to know who/when.

If you really feel the need to do this, you'd really need Sally permission, since it's her privacy you'd be violating there.
posted by rokusan at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2008

Those of you who would want to know: Why? I'm not asking this as a challenge, I'm asking as a genuine question.

And part two of that is this: If your partner told the part of the story that was his to tell, would you then press him for information about the parts that were not his to tell, like the choices and circumstances of his former partner?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:17 PM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Why would she need to know? What are you trying to tell her about yourself by disclosing this?

10 years is a long time. It's OK to leave the past in the past.
posted by baphomet at 1:18 PM on September 26, 2008

I should clarify: don't give current partner ex-girlfriend's name or identifying information. That would be unfair to ex-girlfriend, as it would violate her privacy. But just as you might tell your current partner how it affected you to support an ex-girlfriend through a serious illness or to help an ex-girlfriend make some important life decision, this was a milestone in your life. If you want to talk about it, you can do so without compromising your ex-girlfriend's privacy.

And you don't need to make this a big deal, particularly if, as you say, it's not a big deal to you. You don't need to make her dinner and sit her down and have an "I have something important to tell you" conversation with her. But the next time abortion, or exes, or big life decisions that change the way you think about the world, or any other related topic that makes you think about it, comes up in conversation, don't refrain from bringing it up.
posted by decathecting at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2008

Depends on her views on abortion! If she's pro-choice, she probably wouldn't think it's a big deal, she might have done the same thing. Still though, you dont *need* to tell her, but if abortion conversation comes up I'd rather know than not know. It'd annoy me if abortion conversation came up a SECOND time and I'd have to be like, "well why didn't you mention this before, first time we talked about it??"

If she is pro-life, well, maybe don't tell her unless she asks or you have to for some reason.

Definitely don't lie if it comes up.

Personally, if I was with someone for EIGHT years, it wouldn't bug me knowing about it, I'd know that it's in the past, and wouldn't mind knowing more and more about my partner's past, even if it's not so pleasant. But, I'm always told I think different than most girls.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:26 PM on September 26, 2008

I have a friend who was on the receiving end of such news. Except she found out pretty much right after she got married. She found out by finding an old letter from his ex talking about the situation. What really bothered her was that it was kept a secret (although he didn't do a very good job if he has these letters sitting around) and that it bothered him but that he didn't bother to confide in her.

That's where my beef would be if I were in your gf's shoes - knowing that there is this "one big secret." How would she feel if she were to find out from an outside source or stumbled upon this information? It's not really about the abortion, but about the fact that you have this secret and (perhaps) don't trust her with the information.

Like others have said - you don't need to disclose any personal information, but if it bothers you to be keeping a secret, then come clean.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I honestly can't imagine how its relevant to anything in your current relationship except this: If you and she decide to have a child at some point in the future, the conception and/or birth of that child might stir up all sorts of feelings in you that you were not expecting. If that happens, be open about what you're feeling and why.

But otherwise? No need to tell her.
posted by anastasiav at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2008

I can only offer my own anecdote, from the time that I WAS the girlfriend being told about an abortion in a boyfriend's past. In our case, we'd only been dating for a couple months, and it came up when we were playing a game of "Truth Or Dare" -- I innocently asked if he'd ever had any pregnancy scares in his past relationships, and he just froze a second and then said, "um...yeah...the kid would have been four years old by now, I think."

I didn't think less of him, or of his ex -- I think at most I felt a rush of sympathy for him having to have dealt with such a tough situation, and it also gave me insight into what maybe had happened to their relationship in general (I knew that he'd lived with someone for a while and they'd broken up about four years before he and I met, and I did the math and realized, "ah, that may be why they broke up"), but that was it.

However, this is also something that just sort of naturally came up in conversation, rather than him sitting me down with a grave expression and saying "there's something you should probably know about me". I'm pretty sure that if it hadn't come up then, it wouldn't have come up for a while, because that was definitely something from the past between the two of them. (That boyfriend is now just a friend, and has been thus for six years, and does tend to keep information about relationships a little close to the vest.) I would say that the fact that you haven't said something yet isn't neccessarily a weird thing; but I would also say that if it comes up naturally in conversation, don't try to cover it up. If she's been with you for eight years, it's probably not going to be the kind of thing that makes her flee. But I don't see that there needs to be a specific scheduled full-disclosure press release about it or anything like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2008

If this is really weighing on you, and you think your girlfriend could handle it well, I think you should tell her, barring certain details. Although it was your ex's choice, it's obviously affected you as well.

These posts tend to have a lot of "what happened in the past should stay in the past" type of responses, but I don't really agree with that line of thinking. Certain things have a way of revealing themselves later. I mean, what if your current girlfriend gets pregnant and decides to abort? Would you feel weird then about not telling her you've "been through it" before?

I'm in the "I would want to know" camp. Why? For the same reason I'd want to know if he had ever been married, or engaged, or arrested, or had awful debt. I don't believe the past is ever truly left in the past, just because it's part of what makes you who you are today, if I may be cliche.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:54 PM on September 26, 2008

Depends on whether she'd need to know this to know _you_.
posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe take some time to yourself to think about why you're thinking about this, why it's on your mind, why you think it's a BIG secret.

Come to peace with it, and you won't feel the need to keep hiding it, or to make a big deal about it.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2008

Only, ONLY tell her if it becomes relevant. If you're going to talk about having kids vs. not having kids, then yes, by all means, you're free to mention this as a part of your reproductive health history.

Otherwise, if you mention it to her, she's just going to feel burdened by it. It's weighing on you, obviously, and perhaps you should talk to SOMEONE - friend, therapist, clergy, dog, whoever - but not her. She's definitely not the right audience for this.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:39 PM on September 26, 2008

Since Sidhedevil asked, I would want to know because obviously it was an emotionally significant event in my partner's life (significant enough that OP is still wondering about it, a decade later). I'm huge on total emotional disclosure in my relationships--and in fact know about a similar scare in my SO's past. I can't imagine how at least the context for discussing this sort of thing wouldn't come up in an adult relationship, where it's likely that, at some point, there will be a conversation along the lines of "What would we do if you got pregnant?" The fact that the original poster likely obscured their past experiences in this kind of discussion, or tiptoed around the issue, would bother me. Much, much more than hearing about this sort of thing happening in someone's past would.

His former partner's story is not his story to tell. . . If your partner told the part of the story that was his to tell, would you then press him for information about the parts that were not his to tell, like the choices and circumstances of his former partner?

While it's ultimately his former partner's choice, that doesn't mean that it's not a part of his story, too. I'm just about as pro-choice as you get, but to act like abortion is purely a medical decision impacting the female partner alone is to ignore part of the reality of the situation--that these decisions do affect other people, particularly the partners involved, especially if they were part of the decision-making process. Personally, I probably wouldn't ask much more than "How did you feel about the whole thing?" because little else would be relevant for me. I can't even imagine what else there would be to ask about it, honestly.

Depends on whether she'd need to know this to know _you_.

This. Yes. The fact that having a big secret, whatever the big secret is, bothers the OP makes me wonder if it wouldn't be better to just have this out in the open, rather than regarding it as a scary ominous secret. Scary, ominous things can get in the way of emotional intimacy, you know?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're going to talk about having kids vs. not having kids, then yes, by all means, you're free to mention this as a part of your reproductive health history.

I guess I find it difficult to imagine how any couple could not talk about this, even if the answer is fairly obviously "no" for both parties. Unless someone's sterilized or infertile, this discussion is one that should be had, right?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:51 PM on September 26, 2008

I don't see why you should tell. She knows you had sex with this woman. She knows there are no children. That means either you successfully used birth control or someone was infertile or that she may have had miscarriages or abortions.

If your partner is currently considering an abortion, then it's relevant if you think it will help. But other than that, I just don't see why you need to tell her unless there's a specific situation right now that makes it relevant.
posted by Maias at 3:36 PM on September 26, 2008

to act like abortion is purely a medical decision impacting the female partner alone is to ignore part of the reality of the situation

Well, that was the reality of my situation.

That said, I think it's perfectly appropriate for him to talk about his own participation in the decision-making process, and his own feelings about being part of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy situation, and anything else that's about HIM.

But I've been married for eight+ years and it has never occurred to me to ask Mr. Sidhedevil about whether any of his exes were ever pregnant. I just don't feel like it's my business.

On the other hand, if he wanted to tell me about his own experience of being the partner to someone who was terminating a pregnancy, I hope I would a) listen with understanding to his concerns and experiences, and b) not press for details about a third party's experiences or circumstances.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:45 PM on September 26, 2008

I'm not sure why this would be relevant except in (a) a pro-life-/pro-choice discussion of what you would do in That Situation, or (b) a discussion about your fertility.

That said, my exes disclosed to me pretty randomly related/similar information, and I was just kinda like, "um, whatever, this doesn't have any relevance to us now, so?" I'd be far more concerned if there was a kid out there I wasn't in the know about than that there isn't one.

I think this is a YMMV situation. Some people REALLY want to know, some don't, some don't give a crap. I was far more weirded out that one of my exes left out that his ex-wife wasn't someone he legally married than finding out any sperm whereabouts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:48 PM on September 26, 2008

not press for details about a third party's experiences or circumstances.

Again, I really have no idea what one would ask about an exgirlfriend's experiences with an abortion, beyond her wanting one. If the two weren't in agreement about it ("I wanted a kid, but she didn't"), I could maybe see her motivation coming up, but that doesn't sound like it's the case here. So I'm not entirely sure what you'd be afraid of someone asking, or someone telling.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2008

I don't think it would be appropriate for him to give the particular ex-girlfriend's name, for instance. It's none of his current girlfriend's business which of his ex-girlfriends had an abortion if the goal is for him to talk about his own experiences of having been part of that situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:08 PM on September 26, 2008

It's interesting to me that so many people advise you not to say anything. If I were in a serious relationship and learned that my boyfriend had impregated a former girlfriend, I would want to know, if only to help me understand his situation and thinking process better, and see if it is compatible with mine. I think I'd also want to know for my own sake, like if he's the kind of guy to have the abortion clinic on speed dial.

But I think I have an irrational viewpoint on things like that and I'm really conservative when it comes to relationships. I'm surprised, though, that most people would tell you not to tell her. If you're not telling her something you found important in your own experience, then you're hiding something and that's weird.
posted by onepapertiger at 4:13 PM on September 26, 2008

It might not be possible to hide that information, either, though, or it might be relevant to the situation, or the situation itself might give the person away (he only dated one girl in college, and girlx wanted to finish school before starting a family), or something. In which case, I would still advise that the original poster share with his significant other, because this bothers him and has become enough of an issue to make a metafilter post about. But, like I said, I'm into full emotional disclosure--that would be more important to me than preserving the anonymity of someone in my past. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but that's how I feel--and if the original poster, and/or his girlfriend share a similar attitude, it might be best to...fully disclose. If he or she are very private people who follow the path of MingYOB, then, probably not. She probably wouldn't care, then, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:17 PM on September 26, 2008

I think some people confuse having an open and honest relationship with "it is absolutely required in any worthwhile relationship that your current partner know every last detail of any somewhat significant event that has occurred in your life, ever".

If you feel keeping this information from her is an unbearable burden for you, then sure, tell away. But I don't think she is owed this information by virtue of having dated you for a long time, nor do I think her not knowing is a negative blight on your relationship in any way.
posted by The Gooch at 4:48 PM on September 26, 2008

I wouldn't say that it's an "unbearable burden" or anything like that. It's more like when the whole pro/anti choice debate bubbles up (i.e. due to the recent U.S. presidential thing) I think to myself, "Hmm, this affected my life once, a long time ago. I wonder how the GF would feel about it?"

I don't think I'll tell her out of the blue. If it ever comes up (i.e. family member in the same situation, deep philosophical discussion) I would consider it.
posted by anonymous account at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2008

Whenever you wonder if you should say a thing, STFU until certain.
posted by LarryC at 6:59 PM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Would you want to know if your partner had an abortion in the past? To me that is a lot of what this boils down to. I would want to know if my husband had been involved in a relationship where an abortion had happened.
posted by SuzySmith at 8:37 PM on September 26, 2008

Be honest if you're asked.

Now, forget about mentioning it until then.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:18 AM on September 27, 2008

I was the new girl in this situation. I was glad to know -- it was a pretty good-sized event in his life, and I'd be interested in anything of comparable impact, you know? But I would never have asked (it would never occur to me, honestly). And he didn't sit down and make it a big "there's something I have to tell you" dramatic confession -- we were alone when something came up in conversation, so he heaved a sign and looked at me to gauge my reaction, and that was pretty much it. We talked for a few minutes, and I was open to follow-up, but I wasn't pressing for details. How much to share with me was his decision.

However, if I had known the girl at all (had she still been a friend of his, still living in the same city, anything), I don't think it would've been nearly as appropriate for him to tell me.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:57 PM on September 27, 2008

After 8 years what makes you think it has any sudden relevance I wonder...? It's never come up, obviously?

It's a very personal thing and it's kind of only anybody else's business if you are like fertile as hell or something and you have to ensure you've explained. That would be extremely relevant and a woman would need to be aware of the dangers of virility such as that!

I don't think it's at all necessary to know and understand every single itty-bitty aspect of a person. Ugh! Micromanaging, smothering, obsessive control freak?? Get off me, let me breathe!

But I think you should look at why you were thinking about it. If it's been (weighing) on your mind for whatever reason and you need her to not hate you or whatever then tell her what's up. 8 years makes me think she knows just what to say to make you feel content and loved. If you all of a sudden feel that you have lied by omission then tell her :) If it were me and I could smell some guilt, that would make me suspicious...

Mostly though, I'm thinking if it hasn't come up in 8 years it's because it's been completely irrelevant to your relationship. And there's your answer.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:46 AM on September 28, 2008

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