Thank you for writing. You and your girlfriend are out of step with each other. She gave herself permission to be a risk taker and partier for awhile. Now, as you say, she has gotten that out of her system and she is ready to have a more serious, lasting relationship. You, on the other hand, feel like you missed out on being young and wild. When she talks about her past, it reminds you of what you think you missed.
Being irresponsible when young isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. There is a fantasy in western culture that having that period of time is important, even necessary, before moving into adulthood. It is a fantasy. Although social media may present partying, substance abuse, and hooking up as normal and desirable behavior, it’s not .
A Child Trends study in 2011 found that only 8% of 18- to 25-year-olds reported casually dating with 67% reporting that they were dating exclusively, cohabiting, or were married. 25% reported having no relationship at all. According to a 2013 national survey, only 20% of college students had hooked up more than 10 times by their senior year.
More recently, a 2017 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that young adults do not hook up nearly as much as older people and even their peers think they do. In fact, 70% of 18 to 25-year-olds involved in the Harvard survey said they wished they had received more information from parents about the emotional side of relationships. They concluded that the fantasy about “hooking up” hurts young adults because they don’t know how to pursue a healthy, intimate relationship and don’t know how to identify when a relationship isn’t healthy. From the report: “Helping young people develop the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and treat those of different genders with dignity and respect also helps strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members, and citizens.”
In short: You haven’t been left behind, not when the majority of young people aren’t hooking up.
Your distress may be grounded in worries that you don’t have what it takes to match your girlfriend’s prior experiences. You may be in a kind of unconscious competition with her past hook-ups. It’s a competition you can’t win because you imagine that men in her past were somehow ideal or at least “better” at sex than you are. Or maybe you worry that she finds you lacking in sexual prowess because she has so many men to compare you to.
In addition, you may be dealing personally with the confusion Western culture continues to have about sex. On the one hand, social media promotes having lots of sexual experience. On the other hand, there is still value placed on virginity or limiting sexual intimacy to serious relationships. You may be struggling with that duality.You are jealous of your girlfriend’s experience but you chose not to do it.
If I were seeing the two of you for therapy, I would remind you that your girlfriend has chosen you, not one of the other men. She is with you because none of them measures up to you in ways that are important to her. It would probably help if she would tell you what she values about you.
I would also suggest that It is not helpful for your girlfriend to tell you stories about her carefree and risky past. Those stories only make you anxious that you are somehow inferior.
If your relationship is to last, you need to find a way to value your own choices. You could have done the same as your girlfriend, if not in your own town, while you were on vacation or at school. You didn’t. I believe there were good reasons for your choice that you may have forgotten.
If you can’t come to terms with the difference in your histories, your relationship won’t last. You won’t be able to tolerate feeling always inferior because of that difference. She won’t be able to tolerate your jealousy and your judgment.
If this letter doesn’t help you stop your obsessional thinking, then I think the two of you would benefit from a few sessions with an experienced couples counselor. In counseling, you can get to root cause of your distress and the two of you will identify tools for developing the loving intimacy you both want and deserve.
I wish you well,