Can’t Get Over Girlfriend’s Past

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’ve been dating my girlfriend for several months now. I only new her a few months before we started dating, but things progressed and here we are. She’s an absolutely amazing woman. She has everything I seek in a partner, except for her sexual past. I’d like to clarify that we are both 27 and both have been in relationships before.

My problem is not that she’s been with other people before me, but the actual number. I’ve always held myself to a certain standard when it comes to this, but being with her and knowing her sexual past has taken me outside of my comfort zone. Now, her sexual past is very similar to mine, but mine is slightly more promiscuous – I feel a bit of a hippocrit here, and I know it. I just can’t seem to get this out of my head because, like I said, I’m used to dating girls who haven’t been with many guys. For the record, she voluntarily gave me this information which I very much respect her for. She’s very comfortable with who she is.

She’s a very successful girl, with a great job and great family. Her parents were divorced when she was 7 or 8 due to her fathers alcohololsim. Dispite her parents divorce, she remained very close to her Dad – even her brothers and mom remain close to him.

Everything is absolutely great between us. She’s an extremely caring and loving person, and shows her love to me everyday. I’ve found lately, though, that I can’t get her history out of my head. We’ve had a discussion about it, and she was surprisingly very open to discuss, in general, her past. She was in a long relationship, six years, which was always off and on. She would date in between breakups. She would always find something wrong with the guy/or she didn’t see a future with him and break it off. She also told me she’s only had one one night stand. She dated before and after the six year break up. I know she lost her virginity at 17 which is quite normal. I guess I’m troubled that she could go through so many sexual partners, well more than I’m used to, and was in a relationship for so long. Her number was 16 before me. She knows my discomfort with this and that’s why I don’t bring it up.

I realize my thoughts are selfish, immature and insecure, but I absolutely can’t help it. I’ve always had an idea with what I’m comfortable with. I hate that I’m judging her by her past, but I can’t help it. I love her so much and I’m at the point in my life where I’m thinking about a future, and so is she for that matter. I’m worried her history will taunt me forever if I stay with her..and I just don’t want to be in a relationship like that. It’s not fair to her or me. My ultimate wish would not to think like this, to know she’s all mine because what she’s gone through has brought her to me (and likewise in my life situations to her), and that her life experience’s has molded her into the beautiful, confident and smart young woman she is. That’s what I want, but it’s not what I totally believe/understand.

My questions are
1.) How do I deal with this and accept her past so I can concentrate on just us?
2.) Why am I having these feelings/thoughts? Is it insecurity/immaturity/selfishness/passing judgement? If so, how wrong of me is? Is there a right or wrong here?
3.) Knowing myself, having a hard time letting go of things (stubbornmess), could this be something that inevitably haunts the relationship for as long as we’re together? Or is it just a speed bump that has come about because I care for her so much?

A: Thank you for writing. As you quite correctly pointed out, the problem lies not with your girlfriend but with you. At 27, you’re unlikely to find someone with as many strengths who hasn’t been with a number of partners (just as you have been). The twenties tend to be a time of finding out who you are and who you want to be with. Often that sorting means trying on different relationships, making mistakes, being hurt, and sometimes being the one who does the hurting.

Instead of maligning your own character (insecure, immature, selfish), it would be more helpful for you to look at what is keeping you from taking the next step in a relationship that is so promising. I suspect that you are unconsciously using the number of her past sexual partners as a reason to slow yourself down or to not commmit. If it were not this reason, it might well be something else. If you don’t figure out your side of this issue, you’re right to be concerned that it will continue to undermine your otherwise perfect relationship.

I can think of a couple of possibilities that may or may not be relevant since I don’t know enough about you.

Could it be that you are trying to level out the relationship is some way? Your girlfriend sounds exemplary. If you don’t feel that you are as mature and well-developed as she is, perhaps your concern about her past is a way for you to feel equal.

Could it be that you have a need to have the upper hand or to feel superior? If that is the case, it’s trouble. As you undoubtedly know, a partnership is most likely to survive and thrive when it’s based on equality.

I hope you will work on this – both for your sake and hers. You wrote a very honest and open letter and this relationship sounds so promising. If you can’t figure this all out with your girlfriend, you might find it useful to have a few sessions with a couples counselor. A counselor could help you get out of your own way. Take your email and this response with you to the first session to jumpstart the work.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Feb 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Can’t Get Over Girlfriend’s Past. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/02/11/cant-get-over-girlfriends-past/