Did I emotionally violate myself, or did he emotionally violate me?
April 3, 2015 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I've been getting closer and closer to the guy I've been dating for six months. He's very lovely. The other week I worried a little that we weren't close 'enough' for where I want to be, and mentioned in passing that I usually would've told past boyfriends some pretty big (dark) things that haven't come up yet in our relationship. I explained that this was less because I didn't trust him and more because I guess I'm experimenting with the idea that these things (child sexual abuse, a very abusive relationship with an alcoholic in my teens) don't define me and I don't need to 'fess up' as being 'damaged' like I have previously. However, he took it to mean that there was lots about me he didn't know which he has said he finds 'distressing', and he also wants me to trust him with these things. He's mentioned it twice since, and I ended up just telling him the other night mainly to reassure him, but I now feel a little....emotionally exposed, and not sure whether I did that to myself (he didn't force them out of me, but I did feel pressured), or whether I should let him know that it made me feel uncomfortable and that I wasn't quite ready. I don't want to offend him again, or cause a rupture in what is otherwise a great relationship.

I guess I'm worried that if I stay quiet about this uncomfortable feeling, that I'll kind of be doing to myself what has been done to me in a number of ways by people - feeling violated / pushed into something I didn't really understand I was consenting to. I guess this is a confusing question, and I don't want to come out all confused and angry at him and cause an argument. It's already come up twice as upsetting for him that I mentioned there were things he didn't know, and then still wasn't ready to share. I guess a part of me said it because I did want to share, but the way it ended up coming out felt a bit unnatural and forced, and now I feel like we've crossed some kind of threshold where he's seen my 'real', damaged self and now we can't go back.

He's off on a trip for two weeks so luckily I've got some time to process this and perhaps feel less 'exposed' by the time he comes back. He couldn't have been nicer about these things, and he said that I should be proud of having achieved so much etc when there has been quite a lot of stuff that would have broken another person. I think he wanted to know so he could feel closer to me, and tell m that there was nothing to be ashamed of. But I still feel kind of weird about the whole thing.

What do you think? Should I be annoyed with him, or should I see this as another instance of where my subconscious has created a situation where I allow myself to be 'violated' in some way (there have been others?) In which case I don't really need to be annoyed with him. I dont want to be, because he's genuinely wonderful and I think we have a great thing growing here and I don't want to get into deep, confusing discussions about what it is to really know someone / whether or not he violated me / why it's difficult for me to be open etc.

NB. I have been seeing a therapist for three years (I told him this too). I think I've made good progress. Therapist says that one of my deepest fears is 'infecting' someone else with what I perceive to be my darkness. In the past, when I've been open about these things with people, it's then that I get more insecure and dependent. I really don't want that cycle to happen again.
posted by starstarstar to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
mentioned in passing that I usually would've told past boyfriends some pretty big (dark) things that haven't come up yet in our relationship. I explained that this was less because I didn't trust him and more because I guess I'm experimenting with the idea that these things... don't define me and I don't need to 'fess up' as being 'damaged' like I have previously.

I totally understand why you did this but I do think that the way to not talk about these things is to not talk about them, not sort of talk about them.

I have a guy I'm with who sometimes will blurt things out like "I don't want to talk about this now, but I have something important that I may want to talk to you about" and I'm an anxious type and it makes me sort of nuts wondering what it is. This is, of course, partially my problem and partially "Hey man could you not do that?" territory.

So I'd "no harm, no foul" this. I understand your working out what boundaries work for you for this information but I think this is maybe an example where you set up a situation that turned out to not be the right boundaries. It's totally your prerogative to tell him there is stuff you're not telling him, but I also think it's in the range of normal to have him find that vaguely off-putting. If he was cool about it, I'd leave it be, maybe mention when he gets back "Hey I could have gone about that differently, didn't mean to make you alarmed, can we move away from this topic for a bit until I'm a bit more comfortable?"

I have some crap in my childhood which causes me sometimes as perceiving situations as people doing things to me in a negative way when really it's just more an awkward situation and everyone's doing more or less their best. As an adult you have a lot more agency over this stuff and I think that includes not feeling violated by an awkward situation (if, as you said, he couldn't have been nicer) and then just move forward with this working out the way that is more comfortable to you, now that you know more about he reacts to this sort of thing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:28 AM on April 3, 2015 [55 favorites]

and mentioned in passing that I usually would've told past boyfriends some pretty big (dark) things that haven't come up yet in our relationship

If you don't want to talk about these things yet with your partner, then it's not fair for you to say things like that to your partner. For all he knew, your dark thing was that you were HIV+, or had cheated on him, or one of nine million other possible things that would have directly involved and affected him.

It's great that you're realizing your past doesn't define you, and it sounds like you're working with your therapist on integrating that past into your current life in a healthy way. Maybe talk more with your therapist about setting appropriate boundaries with yourself in terms of what and how (and if) you're sharing that information.
posted by jaguar at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2015 [28 favorites]

It may also be worth examining whether relegating your past to the past is making you question your identity as someone worth being attracted to; there can be ways in which people who think of themselves as "damaged" or "dark" hold that aspect of themselves up as the only interesting thing about them (and our culture, or certain subcultures, can certainly fetishize being "damaged" in a lot of ways), and I'd maybe poke around in your head with your therapist about whether your comment in passing was an attempt to say something like, "Hey! I'm more interesting than I seem!" to your partner.
posted by jaguar at 9:36 AM on April 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm trying to understand how I could feel upset with my partner for asking me to provide more detail about a cryptic reference to "(dark) things" that I'd previously told other lovers.

I understand most of what you say and the feelings that go along with your thoughts (that you're thinking about moving past the thought that you have to disclose these details of your history, that you feel exposed and anxious because of it, that this is a confusing combination, and so on), and I empathize with the dilemma you feel internally.

Nevertheless, I'm not seeing any indication that either of you have done anything unreasonable. You hinted at some history that is complicated, and he was understandably curious about your hinting. He requested more information, and you gave it to him. Feelings ensued.

It's very reasonable to let him know that the disclosure left you feeling uncomfortable, but the toothpaste doesn't go back in the tube as they say. It may be best to simply leave it where you've gotten and hold off on offering any additional detail until you're more comfortable. As in, "hey, thanks for being human about these (dark) things in my past, but I feel weird about it now and it'd be cool if we could consider all that no-go territory for a while--does that sound ok?"

Speaking from my own life history, this whole disclosure-->feel awkward-->process-->move past it process has been a pretty essential aspect of the deep, deep bond I have with my partner. And a lot of that bond has developed over years of our mutual respect over boundaries when it comes to how we discuss or even view our pasts.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:36 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with the folks above and say that, nope, he shouldn't have pressured you. At most, I think he should have made sure it wasn't something that affected him directly (an std, cheating, etc, as indicated above)--without getting specifics--and then dropped it.

Perhaps you shouldn't have brought it up, but that does not excuse his bringing it up repeatedly to the point where you felt pressured to tell.

A more mature response from him would be to say he's there when you're ready to talk and leave it at that. His curiosity and distress are his problem.

he took it to mean that there was lots about me he didn't know which he has said he finds 'distressing'
People are allowed to have secrets. People in couples are allowed to have secrets. People are allowed to have secrets even about things they've mentioned. No one knows everything about one person. And certainly not someone they've been with for 6 months.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I notice that you have described only two frames available here - either you set yourself up to be hurt or you should be upset with him for actively hurting you.

Can you think of this in a more neutral way, like "sometimes two people who are good for each other and care about each other can still, though no one's fault, say things that make each other uncomfortable"?

It's not unreasonable or abnormal for someone to ask for a follow up about the kind of remark you made. Admittedly, if someone were perfectly self-actualized and had internalized all the best contemporary advice norms from, like Captain Awkward and metafilter, he might think "hm, my girlfriend dropped an anxiety-provoking hint but I will stay strong and not ask her about it", but that requires a kind of inhuman detachment plus 11th level self-actualization skills.

Advice culture is wonderful, but I think that sometimes it creates a norm where if someone isn't acting according to the consensus gold standard behavior, then they are actively Doing Wrong.
posted by Frowner at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2015 [107 favorites]

Well, I don't think it is really fair to tell somebody, especially a close relationship like a romantic partner, "There are major details about myself that I have not yet revealed to you...and by the way I'm planning on continuing to keep them a secret from you indefinitely" and then get sore at the person for having his curiosity piqued.

You are of course not obligated to reveal any painful details about past to your partner if you are not comfortable doing so. But if that is the case, the appropriate behavior would be to not bring such things up at all, rather than vaguely referring to some deep dark secrets you are intentionally keeping from him. I don't think your boyfriend did anything wrong here, though, because his reaction is what I imagine anyone's would be after having been given the same information.
posted by The Gooch at 9:47 AM on April 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

You both could've been more perfect in this situation, but I'd forgive him. I agree that he should've made sure it wasn't something that affected him and then dropped it, but maybe he interpreted your statement as "there's something I want to tell you, but I'm freaked out," and he wanted to reassure you-- or maybe he was just curious. It's hard to tell. Keep an eye out for future boundary crossing, but if he's generally cool with you having your own life and existing beyond his control, I think things are peachy.

If he keeps being pushy and wanting to know everything about you so he can "accept you," or is just too nosy, then maybe think about whether he's a healthy partner for you at this stage.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:50 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the problem is that what you have said can be interpreted in multiple ways. Like, you think you were saying: "I just want you to know I've had some stuff in my past that I'm trying not to let define me, but a lot of the time I've used 'confessing' this stuff as a way of feeling closer to my partners, and I want you to know that I'm still figuring out how to talk about it with you and whether I want to go into it in depth." (Which is inherently kind of an awkward thing but good communication is all about talking about even the awkward things.) And he thinks you were saying: "There are some secrets about me that are bad and I told my former partners...but I'm not going to tell them to you." (I mean, I'm not sure of your exact phrasing but at the level of detail you gave us here, this could come across as anywhere from 'there might be a bad thing affecting our relationship right now and I am not telling you it' to 'nyah nyah, my former partners all know my secrets and you don't')

I don't really see a lot of violation here per se, I just see ways that you could both be clearer about communicating what you are trying to say and what you are hearing from each other. And communication is always an ongoing process in any relationship because every combination of two people is going to require a unique communication strategy. This is an opportunity for you both to learn from each other and your needs when you communicate about difficult topics. And I think it's totally fair for you to keep talking about your feelings around this and why you are feeling bad now, but you just have to make sure you're also checking in on his feelings at every step. I'm not saying that your history of abuse is all about him and his feelings, because of course it's not, but your relationship now is 100% about both of your feelings and making sure you are both comfortable and safe.
posted by capricorn at 9:59 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a great time to let him know how you're feeling! You could say something like, "Hey, ever since we talked about that stuff from my past I've been feeling really emotionally exposed. I think I set us up for a weird interaction by telling you that I normally divulge certain things about myself on a certain timeline, and I imagine that made you feel kind of strange since I hadn't told you those things yet. Now that we have talked about them, I feel pretty stressed out, and wanted to be honest with you about it. I really like you and care about you, and I am grateful that you were willing to listen to me in th way that you did, but it's still stressing me out. Does that make sense?"

Then see where the convo goes. Use it as a chance to validate each other and demonstrate how much you care for him -- and for your own emotional wellbeing.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:00 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

With all due respect, you can't drop "there are big, dark things about me that I haven't told you but that I had already told other boyfriends by this point in the relationship" and not expect him to want to know more. You're dangling a carrot in front of him, it's not his fault if he wants it.

If you had said that and he expressed no curiosity, would you have preferred that?
posted by amro at 10:04 AM on April 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: On a slightly different tip, as someone for whom all the stuff you were saying about having difficulty revealing stuff about yourself and feeling uncomfortable with having done so really resonated....you may feel like, now that he knows this stuff about you, you can't go back to being the cool, collected, has-her-shit-together version of yourself that you were for those first six months. But that was you also. That was also true you, and you can still inhabit her skin, because you are inhabiting it and you have inhabited it. Being someone who's more stable and healthy for the past six months with him wasn't a lie. It was who you are now.
posted by maggiepolitt at 10:04 AM on April 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

This is a great time to let him know how you're feeling!

Oh my goodness, I heartily disagree.

Boundaries are about recognizing what we keep to ourselves and why. We learn how we can care for ourselves.

You feel bad. You feel upset. That's totally natural for what happened! Of course you do! Too soon, too raw, a total recipe for feeling exposed and weird and maybe a little violated.

You can have those feelings. They will be experienced and they will move off and be accomplished. You don't need to do anything. A mild mistake was made—you alluded to hiding secrets from him! Which triggered whatever variety of abandonment thing he has! And then you guys fixed it, in a compromise!—and now you have feelings. That's how it should be. They will settle.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:06 AM on April 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

There is this phenomenon I've noticed in interpersonal relationships where when a person wants/needs to talk about something they don't know how to bring up, they dangle a hard to ignore enticing comment about that subject in front of the other person to get them to draw it out. The result is the subject is brought into the light and the teller feels not entirely responsible for the sometimes difficult conversation that resulted. It's not the most mature form of communication, but it can get uncomfortable information out in the open.

It's clear based on your feelings of violation that you didn't consciously do this, but your partner may have read the situation as described above; as you wanting him to draw the information out so you didn't have to lay it out there all by yourself. Either you did it subconsciously or he misread your intentions, but either way I don't think anyone intentionally emotionally violated you.
posted by cecic at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Maggiepolitt - I think that's totally going on, thanks for the insight and encouragement! I think when I say to him 'don't let this define your view of me' and worrying it will, actually what I'm doing is battling with the last vestiges of that feeling that I'm 'damaged' in myself. It really helps to hear someone (even a stranger!) say that they have faith that I'll be okay and not turn into some depressed victim (like I have been in the past). I feel like this emotional equilibrium has been fairly hard-won and has taken a lot of work. I don't want to unbalance it, but I realise that as someone else put - 'integrating' it into my life is really the only way of properly building it up.

Loads of really useful comments here, thank you! RJ Reynolds - I'm inclined to go with you. I think sharing this and turning it into another 'issue' to talk about would be creating momentum from not much. I'm glad he's gone away so I can now regain some of that calm myself without feeling like I need to take him on the ride /ask for reassurance etc.
posted by starstarstar at 10:14 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

If he were writing-

Should I be annoyed? My girlfriend of 6 months, out of the blue, let me know that there were really serious, dark things about herself that she has been keeping from me, but that she has told other boyfriends sooner. And now she won't tell me what. I'm freaking out a little here. I finally got up the courage to ask her. It isn't what I thought it would be but it is bad. I'm really proud of her for overcoming so much but, at the same time, I'm frustrated that she had to tell me in such a dramatic, heart wrenching way. We are great together. The way she brought it up really caused me to feel a lot of things that I didn't want to feel. And now she is acting weird around me, as if she is the victim and I forced her to tell me something that she brought up in the first place.

Look, you feel how you feel. But in a relationship, there are two people who feel how they feel. I think in this case you maybe set yourself up to feel like a victim. But, it seems like he is a great guy who really does care about you. Let him care about you.
posted by myselfasme at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2015 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Eesh....myselfasme....thanks. That's kind of helpful to hear and see it from his point of view. I now feel quite guilty. I hope I didn't make him feel awful.
posted by starstarstar at 10:33 AM on April 3, 2015

and mentioned in passing that I usually would've told past boyfriends some pretty big (dark) things that haven't come up yet in our relationship

The thing that I get from this--and I understand this wasn't your intention--is that saying something this way is so often a passive-aggressive way to get someone else to ask. So it's possible that he was actually following established social cues that didn't actually fit the situation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2015 [11 favorites]

I hope this doesn't seem too flip, but I'd like to give you a very short answer. No, your boyfriend did not emotionally violate you. No, you did not emotionally violate yourself. You feel violated, however, and that seems to be the issue. Whether or not you should feel that way is irrelevant. A lot of feelings we have are irrational, that does not mean they are not valid.
Also, very briefly, you seem to be asking g for permission to feel annoyed at him. You do not need permission. In my personal relationships, I have always been afraid to feel strongly negative emotions toward the other person. This can be very ruinous, in my experience. Please allow yourself to feel that way, remind yourself to act with sensitivity and tact toward your partner, and you will resolve the feelings in the least, and perhaps the issues that drive them, as well.
posted by Mr. Fig at 11:25 AM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Personally I find that when I recount an experience to someone else, I relive it to some degree. I bring this up because you might have done great, and he might have done great, and you might still feel upset and exposed because that's the experience you were travelling through again when telling it. It's hard to untangle these things sometimes.

It's okay to not do every little step of a relationship perfectly. None of us do. If there are things you wish had gone differently, you could either try that strategy when a similar conversation comes up or talk that through with him. Sometimes when I have a fight or an awkward conversation with my partner, we come back to it later. Those conversations often start with something like "So, I didn't really like how that went. I felt like we weren't on the same page and maybe I was kind of snappy and I wanted it to go better. What did you think?" And we usually agree that it wasn't awesome and then we try again and it usually goes better because we agree that we want it to. Or sometimes we just agree that some things are tough to talk about and they're uncomfortable but still worth talking about even though it usually sucks at the time.

A middle step here might have been to assure him that you're not sick or anything, you didn't personally do something bad (like... Is your dark thing having been in jail? Or being a serial cheater? He may have wondered), and that it's simply some tough past history that you're still processing and trying to get some distance from. He still would have been madly curious but more reassured. Or there may have been a shorter version, like "my childhood included some abuse that I'm still working through and I'm working on how much to talk about it or not talk about it so I can move on and build a new life that has nothing to do with that."

If it's any help, I was recovering from some crazy stuff when my partner and I started dating too and I'm sure I unloaded too much at times and didn't share enough at other times and we muddled our way through. It's okay to figure it out as you go. Now you have more info that you can integrate.
posted by heatherann at 12:58 PM on April 3, 2015

I understand what you're going through. I've been there. Other commenters are being a bit harsh, and please please don't take their words to heart and internalize them in a negative way. Don't beat yourself up. You don't need to be mean to yourself.

It's ok. You made a mistake with boundaries. You're figuring this stuff out. It's so hard to figure out how to have healthy boundaries after abuse! I've been in your exact position.

Please don't feel bad. Just realize that you still don't exactly know if, when, and how to disclose this stuff. For me, I've learned that I don't really want to share that stuff much at all with boyfriends. My current boyfriend knows the general gist but he's not really privy to most of the details. I like it that way.

You don't have to share everything. The men you date don't need to know your whole life. It's about now and later with partners, not about the past.

When I find myself needing to talk about my abuse I go two places: here or my therapists office. This has changed as my abuse becomes part of my past and I don't think about it much anymore. It just doesn't matter the way it used to largely because I've dealt with it and consider it closed and done.

Best of luck to you. We all make boundary mistakes. That's all this was. Just a boundary blip. It's ok. Don't beat yourself up.
posted by sockermom at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you've likely been told this many times in the course of therapy, but these are things that happened to you, not things that define you.

Talking about your negative life experiences to someone new can definitely seem like a bonding experience, especially in that it gives that person the opportunity to reject you based on things you feel devalue you. It's a very good feeling to feel valued and loved when you feel like you're carrying this burden.

In this relationship so far, you've found acceptance for who you actually are, and not this thing you perceive as a burden you carry around. To some extent, it sounds like you've begun to accept it's not a burden -- it's just events that happened. But the way you phrased it described it to him very much made it sound like a burden, and something he'd want to know about because he cares.

So what you're feeling is kind of a feeling of violation, but maybe a sort of disappointment or apprehension about whether others will judge you based on these things.
posted by mikeh at 1:53 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe you're feeling weird because you aren't entirely comfortable with the way the conversation happened. It sounds like you had a conversation you didn't really want to have yet just to soothe him. That's not a good feeling. However, other people have pointed out that it's also not a good feeling to know someone isn't telling you something big and dark, and not know what that thing is.

Maybe now the boundaries feel waffly and the question "how do I talk to my partner about my past in a way that feels right for me" is wide open and hasn't been satisfactorily answered yet.

So maybe try living with the weird feeling and see if you can find a way that you like better?
posted by bunderful at 2:09 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's a bit "off" that you would even contemplate being annoyed with him, after what you did. When you allude to deep, dark stuff you haven't told him, you get his hackles up and he's left wondering WHO he's got himself mixed up with. I mean, time we spend with a partner is time we are not able to spend finding someone more suited to us, and your allusions to this stuff can only lead him to wonder what you are hiding. It is totally natural for him to need to know after your weird hinting.
posted by jayder at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to be clear - I did tell him that it was nothing that affected our relationship, and nothing that I had done. It was some bad stuff that had happened to me, and that I was trying to get over. It's less 'hiding', Jayder, and more not wanting to burden someone that I'm just getting to know with some heavy shit that I've been trying to process for most of my life.
posted by starstarstar at 2:27 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

With all due respect, this is quite a baffling question with many incongruous things in it; it might be worth it to reflect on why that might be to see what really could be happening here. Starting with the first line most of all:

I've been getting closer and closer to the guy I've been dating for six months. He's very lovely. The other week I worried a little that we weren't close 'enough' for where I want to be

This doesn't make a lot of sense. Usually early in relationships, if you both are progressing and acquiring an increasing feeling of closeness, that feels great and is a sign that the "honeymoon" phase is working. If things are going well (I've been getting closer and closer to the guy I've been dating... He's very lovely.), how then, in the midst of all this improvement, would you simultaneously feel you aren't becoming close enough? Closeness and trust with a partner is kind of either on or off, not both "on-off" at the same time.

Given the personal history that you have mentioned, I would guess it is more likely that it was because things were progressing well with him and he was getting closer to you that your own subconscious fear that he will eventually see your "darkness" and that it would be a threat to the relationship cropped up and precipitated this whole thing. To manage your fear, you devised a sort of stress test for him and the relationship by giving him the vague idea that there is this dark baggage behind the scenes and then sat back to see how he would react with that information. Because you are afraid of him rejecting that part of you, you have to know now before you get any closer and really make yourself vulnerable.

As others have said, his reaction has been completely reasonable as he has his own set of natural psychological defenses that kick in and scream caution. Which brings up incongruous point #2. You've asked in your titled if it is possible that he has "violated" you, yet you've also written this about how he has handled this curveball:

He couldn't have been nicer about these things, and he said that I should be proud of having achieved so much etc

That doesn't sound like someone who violated you. Ask yourself why that seems like it might be the case . There could be many reasons you are feeling and thinking this way towards him that you are not in touch with, but I would guess that you are projecting onto him negative attributes as a defense mechanism; in that way you won't feel blindsided when, according to your deepest fears, he gets a good look at you and turns away.

Therapist says that one of my deepest fears is 'infecting' someone else with what I perceive to be my darkness. In the past, when I've been open about these things with people, it's then that I get more insecure and dependent. I really don't want that cycle to happen again.

I am sorry to say that the cycle is happening again. The insecurity and dependency was always there, it just took the emotional stakes in the relationship to reach a level where it finally came out. You can make sense of your past and what happened to you and reach a place where your fears lose a lot of their power. It is difficult, but I believe in you- you seem to have some general insight already. Really try to work this out in therapy and if your therapist is just not probing and confrontational enough, perhaps think about finding someone else. I wish you the very best.
posted by incolorinred at 2:28 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that you've only been dating for 6 months, which means that you both probably don't have the perfect grasp on each others communication style. So like others said he may have misread your vague statement as a way of testing the waters, so to speak. Maybe he's used to dealing with people who say "everything's fine" when the world is burning down. Or maybe you process things out loud, while he's a instinctual fixer. You'll both have to learn to navigate that each other's quirks, and it's normal for weirdness to happen.

I also don't think its bad that you're getting other opinions about the interaction. It sounds like you're learning not just to establish boundaries, but where you want those boundaries to be. You felt icky about something, and wanted to make sure your gut feeling (that overall he's been wonderful about this) was accurate. You're learning to trust yourself, and that's a tricky process.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:05 PM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this is what you meant by violating yourself, but it could partly be that subconsciously you associate increased intimacy with these kinds of forced confessions. So if you're feeling closer, but not at the same time, you might subconsciously be trying to clarify by falling back on old patterns. Your current discomfort to me sounds like it's sourced from the past - echoes of your own past behaviour and others'. Not trusting that you really have moved on and made progress, a worry that you're repeating your role which may force him into another kind of role.

So here goes: the past is part of you but it does not control you unless you let it by being unaware. It sounds like therapy has helped a lot and you have a lot of insight so that's a good start. Be critical, but kind. Admit that some things you do and say may have their roots in the past. Decide if you don't want that and be vigilant for a while until the new way of being takes hold. Don't beat yourself up though: you are a work in progress, like all of us, and you'll never be free of the past until you accept that it's part of you. Not all of you though!

Sorry, I realise this all sounds very nebulous and airy-fairy but it's stuff I've worked through - am working through - too and it's hard to explain. Especially if your past involved someone convincing you that your behaviour and thoughts were unhealthy and needed to be changed so you could be a better person (this was solely an altruistic thing on their part, of course!) then sometimes the whole process of self-analysis and deciding what works and what doesn't can feel like you are now doing to yourself what once was done to you - no more need for an external abuser! Just be patient and kind, and trust your instincts, and if they turn out sometimes not to be the best, just adjust and go with it.

Your guy sounds awesome. Well done. You deserve an awesome guy, just believe it yourself.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:50 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah. I'm going to go against the tide here, and here's why.

A boyfriend had some pretty dark things happen to him in his childhood and he gave me a similar cryptic line about it once, and I didn't pressure him or say that it 'distressed me' to not know what those things were, or that he hadn't opened up yet. I recognized that they were extremely difficult things for him to talk about, that he'd only ever told a couple of people, and that I couldn't expect him to open up to me when the relationship was so new. Also, I wasn't stupid, and I realized his past might have to do with some really gnarly stuff-- and I absolutely didn't want to violate his boundaries or make him feel bad or shameful both about his past or disclosing these things to me.

I said, 'if you ever want to talk about it, I'm here.' And dropped it. Was I curious? Yes, on some level, of course I was. But I recognized the fact that he might not ever want to talk about it with me. I recognized that I didn't have the right to know what his past was. He didn't owe me, even though I was his girlfriend. It eventually came up in a really natural safe way for him, when he was ready, and it was fine. And when it did, I felt privileged (and still do) that he trusted me enough to tell me.

I absolutely didn't say 'I want you to trust me with these things,' because in my experience, that statement is not conducive to well, actually trusting anybody. Because think about it. It's implicit. We were in a relationship. Of course I wanted him to trust me with these things. Me affirming that out loud to him would have been me actually saying, 'I want you to tell me these things,' and that would have been manipulative.

On the other hand, I was once with a guy who, when I mentioned 'I'd been through some painful stuff in my past that was similar to his, with my Dad's death' started to pressure me into revealing what those exact circumstances were. By saying things like, 'I'd like for us to be close,' and 'I feel like I've told you so much about my past,' and things like that. The end feeling was similar for me. Mainly, it didn't feel natural. It didn't feel like it was my decision to disclose. I felt exposed and kinda pushed into it. I wasn't disclosing so they could be there for me, and could help me, I was disclosing because they wanted to know and be reassured. And you know what? I actually regret opening up to that person to this day, because in the end, my gut was kinda telling me I shouldn't trust him. And I was right.

That said, you do have to understand that saying something like, 'In my past relationships, I used to reveal more by this point in time' is hurtful to hear. It makes him feel like he's not as trustworthy as the others, or that your relationship isn't as valued as your past, even if that's not true. In short, I think your statement made him feel less than your past, and I'm pretty sure that's why he reacted why he did. I think he felt threatened and scared, and that's kind of understandable, because he obviously really likes you and he doesn't like the thought of not being on par with your past- even though that's not what you meant at all.

That said, I still think he shouldn't have pressured you, or brought it up again at all-- and doing so was not okay. You mentioning that you had a dark past, and yeah, even saying something like 'I'd disclosed more by this point in time in other relationships, because I felt I had to apologize for myself more before' and it being something that makes him curious, doesn't make it okay for him to push your boundaries. It's tiny bit like saying 'well you dressed provocatively. If you didn't want him to oogle you, why show your cleavage?' And, yeah, I guess, but that doesn't make it right. You said those things partly because you were trying to be more honest in the progress of your relationship. You were trying to tell him it was a good thing. I feel it was a fair thing to observe, and in a way, it was a step in being honest. You were actually trying to tell him that it was a good thing that you didn't feel the need to justify your past or yourself or come into the relationship right off the bat with a disclaimer about yourself, like you would in the past. I feel that's a fair thing to want to explain to him, and I think he missed it because he was too wrapped up in being hurt in the superficiality of the statement 'I disclosed more in the past' and couldn't move past that statement. In short, I think he really didn't get what you meant.

I don't think this is a dealbreaker-- I genuinely think he's a good guy and I think it's mostly miscommunications. I think you have to be clearer, but I also think you have to be firmer if you feel that he is violating your boundaries. If your intuition gives you a nagging feeling that something isn't right, please listen to it.

Because the truth is you have the right to disclose whatever you wish (provided it's not something that affects him too like infidelity or an STI or whatever) if and when you're ready, and when it feels right, and when you feel safe. You should never, ever feel as if you need to disclose something to reassure someone else, or for someone else. You should absolutely never disclose something about your past if you feel pressured. Because doing so makes it not about your feelings any more, it makes it about them. And anyone that cares for you shouldn't make your pain about them.
posted by Dimes at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think some of the variation in answers may also be coming from the relationship patterns you laid out in previous questions, which made it seem you're used to a lot of drama and insecurity and jealousy. I think it's worth looking at your motivations for making your original statement -- Was there an aspect of wanting to spark jealousy, with the mention of exes? Was there an aspect of wanting to push him away because you're scared of "infecting" him? Was there an aspect of wanting to push him away because you're scared he's getting too close and that he'll eventually reject you? Was there an aspect of wanting to test him or the relationship in some way? I think if you can get a better sense of what you wanted to happen when you made the original disclosure, you'd have a better sense of how to handle that going forward and whether you need to talk more about this interaction with him.
posted by jaguar at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

« Older How can we make our wedding celebration at a bar...   |   What to do - Card and Flowers for a dying friend? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.