The green monster

My girlfriend's past -- full of other men -- makes my head hurt.

Published March 25, 2003 8:34PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am 31 and have been involved for nine months with a woman (also 31) who, by her own admission, has slept with a substantial chunk of the men in the city where we live. When she references her previous dalliances (or when, invariably, we run into one of her conquests in a bar or restaurant), I try to write it off as youthful indiscretion or rationalize that she is an attractive, independent woman who has rightfully celebrated (and celebrated, and celebrated) her freedom and sexuality. Of course, the truth is: It drives me insane with jealousy, sparks palpitations, and makes my head hurt.

I have asked a mutual friend about my girlfriend's history, and he confirmed that her relationships usually last between one night and six weeks, but said that she has been more invested in our relationship than any he can remember. I, too, feel deeply committed to making this work. Still, I feel unsure about getting more involved with a woman who has been so indiscriminate in her choice of partners.

A final disclaimer: I have been with many women, too, and feel hypocritical for even voicing this concern. I am hoping you'll call me out and tell me to get over this or risk losing her.

Green Thoughts

Dear Green,

The issue here isn't the past but the future. It's possible to chart a new course. You just have to do it consciously and deliberately. And you have to take the lead. That means taking some risk. It means that you do the only thing you can do -- which is the right thing -- and trust, or pray, or hope that she will follow suit.

What I'm suggesting is the complete opposite of having a talk in which you explore your feelings. I would steer away from any generalized discussion in which you tell her that you really like her but you feel jealous about her past lovers and unsure about her ability to be faithful. It would just sound like you're throwing up a red flag, or you're trying to get out of it, or you're unsure. That's not the way to go.

The way to go is for you to be the strong one, set an example, lay yourself vulnerable, and take the risk. Say to her that you have done your share of dating and playing the field and that you are ready to settle down with her. Tell her that's it for you. End of story. Tell her that all you require is that she do the same, that you think you two can make a life together and you're willing to give it a try. And tell her that you are convinced the only way it will work is if you are both true to each other. Tell her there is no room in the relationship for sex with other people, and that if either one of you has sex with somebody else, it's over.

Ask her if she is willing to commit to that. She may not be. She may just be going for some kind of personal record, like one year with the same guy. Or she may think she's able to stick with it for the long haul but find later on that she really just can't. You have to be prepared for that. If that happens, it might be because she finds it just isn't worth the sacrifice, what with there being so many interesting people out there to have sex with. Or it might be that she wants to commit but can't. If she wants to commit to you but can't stop screwing around, if she finds that she's out of control with her sexual behavior, it might be time to consider whether she has a problem and wants to change. It might be time to consider counseling of some sort. But not yet.

Right now, I think it's time to just state your position clearly and ask for a clear answer.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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