My niece's suitors want to know too much too soon

Men who call for dates want to know who she has been with before -- and we think it's totally inappropriate.

Published September 14, 2006 10:45AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My wife's nieces came from South Korea to the United States to live with us and earn college degrees. Both nieces are wonderful and successful, and we feel blessed at our good fortune for the time we've had together.

Now in her own place and working professionally, one niece has starting attracting the interest of men who may make good suitors. Unfortunately, these guys phone her up for conversation or a lunch date and soon they're calling back wanting to know if she had any past relationships, how many, where, with whom and why, as if her life is some crime scene in need of investigation.

Such questioning seems entirely indiscreet or inappropriate to her, and she feels such an approach disrespects the way she was raised. She has a very transparent life, and there is no reason for this line of questioning by men other than that they are jealous, paranoid or untrusting that someone could be so wonderful. If she discounts the question, it only reappears later with more urgency. She is very uncomfortable when it happens, so thinking on the matter, we provided our best advice. However, we really are at a loss to advise her what to say to resolve the problem of dealing with men who exhibit some factor contributing to low emotional intelligence.


Dear Perplexed,

Your niece should say something like this:

"Before we talk any further, I have to tell you something. And I need for you to listen carefully. What you are asking about my past relationships and so forth: In your American culture, these questions may seem reasonable and appropriate. But I assure you, in my particular South Korean culture, it is definitely not OK for you to ask these things.

"You didn't know that. So I'm not mad at you. I'm just telling you, nobody would ever ask me such things where I come from. It is considered disrespectful. I am completely uncomfortable with it. I would never go out with someone who would ask such things -- unless he just didn't know. So I assume you just didn't know.

"But now you do. You seem like a nice person. So if you want to call me up and go out on dates, I think I would like that. But you must respect where I come from and how I was raised. And don't worry: If sometime in the future the time should come when such a conversation would be appropriate, I would start that conversation myself.

"Until then, you must not ask such things.

"So, what time do you want to pick me up?"

I'm not suggesting she say this word for word. But it contains the basic points: If he wants to go out with her, he can't ask her these things. That doesn't mean she doesn't like him or that she's mad at him. It's just a fact: You can't ask these things if you want to go out with me.

There are, of course, people who would say that such privacy is out of place in the age of AIDS, that all of us must learn to be frank and open about our whole history from the get-go. But I don't agree. I don't agree that a woman ought to be required to give some kind of relationship affidavit before even going out with a man, as if intimacy was assumed the minute she agreed to go out on a date. That seems to be the underlying message that she rightly finds troubling: Why would he be asking these things unless he planned on having sex with her right away?

So maybe they need to have another conversation as well -- about the expectations implicit in his question. But that conversation, too, might be just too darned indelicate for her taste. One hopes that if she tells him that her past is off-limits to casual inquiries, he will understand, as a corollary, that she is taking control of the timetable, and that whatever happens will happen on her terms.

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