Should I tell my new man that I used to date women?

I'm afraid if I tell him, he'll say, "Let's do a threesome."

By Cary Tennis
Published September 18, 2007 2:33PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am a 44-year-old woman who has had many female lovers in her past. These days, I usually date men. (Salon letter-posters: Don't bash me for dating women (womyn?) and now dating men. I dated women, now I date men, so what, no big deal.)

The problem I have is determining when I should be honest about my past. When I've been honest with a man, he always badgers me half to death with questions such as, "Am I as good as a woman?" "If I'm not as good as a woman, would you dump me for a woman?" and occasionally, "Would you do a threesome?" (To which my answer is no.)

Now I am involved with a nice guy, and see a possible long-term relationship. He is a sort-of liberal Republican, but would probably completely go nuts about this. Do I have to tell him about this part of my past? I don't think it is any of his business, especially as it was all very long ago.


Dear Confused,

You are participating in a relationship in the category of "heterosexual," as a member in the category of "female."

But you have had some out-of-category experiences in the past.

How do those out-of-category experiences define you?

They define you as a traveler. You have traveled through some categories. You are not a one-category woman.

You have done things. But those things do not define you. You define you. What I sense lurking underneath your question about what to tell him is the question of who or what defines us? You must make this determination yourself: Who or what has the power to define you?

Can he define you? Does he have a right to?

No. So you should be able to tell him these things.

Now, it would be reasonable for him to have reactions, concerns and opinions. Maybe certain bells go off in his control tower when he hears certain noises. That's understandable. He's wired a certain way for security purposes. And he may be reasonably concerned that if he gets into a relationship with you, one day you might wake up and find you no longer want to date men. And then where would he be? But the central issue in an intimate relationship is: Who are you? If this relationship is going to work long-term, you have to clarify and define yourself; in doing so, you may have to expand his categories. That will not be entirely unpleasant -- if he is an agreeable man.

Let's focus on what you can reasonably say to this man.

Try saying, "This is who I am." Try saying, "These are the categories of my experience."

They are different things. Try saying, "This is what I am doing today." Try saying, "That is what I was doing 10 years ago."

They are different things. You did one thing and then you did another thing.

It is interesting, theoretically, to consider why in God's name you have to tell him at all. Why should it even be an issue? But of course it is an issue. It is an issue of who you are. If you do not tell him, you are not being intimate with him; you are not declaring yourself.

So realistically I think you have only one move, Ms. Category-Switcher: You tell him the truth. But you lay the groundwork first.

You tell him that there is some information about your past that you want to tell him but only under certain rules.

What would the rules be? Give him something to live up to. Give him some specific behaviors he can do. Like, say, you want to tell him and you just want him to hear it and think about it for a week or so, and then if he wants to ask you some questions he can. Afterward, you might tell him that there are certain questions that he really shouldn't ask -- like the ones mentioned above. That way, he can avoid making stupid mistakes. You might also advise him to talk to other women like you -- if he knows some -- and ask them what might be an appropriate thing to ask you. Tell him you want to preserve this relationship and this is a delicate matter and he pretty much has the future of it in his hands -- if he wants it.

Give him the whole speech.

And then you will have a very interesting conversation.

And then perhaps you will have a very interesting long-term relationship.

Or perhaps instead you will have a very interesting fight, after which you will be left only with that most valuable of commodities: an edifying experience.

Either way, you will have held on to that which is most dear and sacred: the power to define yourself.

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