On Past Relationships, In Present Ones

Remember that time when I wrote that I was trying to turn over a new leaf and take things more slowly when I met someone?

Yeah, that was a big lie. I mean, I didn’t think it was a big lie at the time. I honestly thought that being in contact with a guy I’d just met multiple times a day qualified as “going slow” because I didn’t yet know anything about his previous relationships.

Oh well. Baby steps, people.

More on my inability to be cautious later. (Preview: I may be coming to terms with it.) But this previous relationship discussion thing, that I am starting to think might be a problem.

I once asked a friend who had been dating someone for a few months about his previous girlfriends, and she said she didn’t know. I was completely shocked.

“How could you not know?” I asked. “Haven’t you talked about your past relationships yet?”

“No,” she said, casually. “It hasn’t come up.”

“Really?” I said. “How could it not have come up by now?”

“Well, the length of time since my last serious boyfriend is not something I’m eager to discuss,” she admitted.

Point taken. And, were I not someone who discusses this–equally unpleasant–personal statistic on a regular basis, on the internet, I would feel the same way.

But the reason I was so baffled is that this is a conversation I tend to have almost immediately when I meet someone. Perhaps it is one of the things, as my NY best friend S was speculating about recently, that prompts guys to make casual comments about meeting their families or buying a TV that we can watch together–before they disappear in about the time it takes to view an MTV reality show. Without commercials.

As in, it is symptomatic of my general tendency to prematurely escalate the intensity of things: a tendency that, as we know, causes said things to crash and burn and me to exist in a perpetual state of hurt, vulnerability and overall self-pity.

(Sorry, it’s the end of the semester, there are several other things I should be writing, and I have a cold. I’m feeling dramatic.)

Anyway–that’s all I thought it was. Or, why I thought it was a problem. More for what it signifies than what it reveals: I’ve always considered it useful to know what a potential interest’s romantic history is. It lets you know where they’re at, what they’re capable of. Perhaps whether they are or aren’t emotionally available. (Whether I go so far as to make use of this information is another story, but hey.)

But then I went out with a guy who told me quite a bit about the women in his past. A lot of them. And I began to wonder if this was information I really cared to know.

He told me one story in particular that involved kissing a girl’s neck. It was a long, complicated and–to be fair–amusing story, in which said kissing did play a crucial role. But a couple of dates later, when he kissed me on the neck, that story was all I could think about.

I mean, it’s not as though I really would otherwise have thought that I was the first woman whose neck this man had kissed. But still, the awareness of him having done so was not something that I needed in my head.

Similarly, it’s not like when you meet someone you really think you’re the first person that they’ve ever been interested in–that they’ve ever felt smitten about, or held hands with, or kissed tenderly on the forehead. But when you’re in that stage, it’s kinda nice to at least pretend that you are.

It’s like Alex Blumberg’s wife wanting him to tell her that he thought she was the only person in the world he could love, rather than one of a hundred thousand: it’s not that it needs to be true, but it’s a nice–and generally pretty harmless–illusion to hang onto in the moment.

And it’s difficult to do so when you’ve got visual images that prove otherwise.

Obviously the romantic history conversation is not one that can be postponed indefinitely. At a certain point it does become strange not to divulge the outlines, at least, of one’s past relationships.

But, until then, perhaps it is wise to avoid the subject. And, as much as possible, extend the time in which we pretend that the past has nothing to do with the present.

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3 Comments

Filed under Love Life

3 responses to “On Past Relationships, In Present Ones

  1. I just randomly came across this post, interesting thoughts and I feel torn between the two choices as well. With my most recent boyfriend, we both were pretty open about our past relationships and his sexual experiences and my lack thereof. I feel like it can either hurt or harm in both ways, also depending on how mature you both are to not get caught up in the others’ past or get jealous. Interesting that I came across this though, I’ve been thinking about this a lot as well!

    • Glad you came across the post and glad you can relate! Agree that it can go either way. I think I just need to be more mindful of the dangers in the future…

  2. E

    I would like to respond to this part: “I once asked a friend who had been dating someone for a few months about his previous girlfriends, and she said she didn’t know. I was completely shocked.”

    There is no way that I could date someone for that long, and NOT know about their relationship history. I mean, that information is not necessarily first or even 5th date material, but I feel that knowing about someone’s past is the key to learning about the roles they expect from both people in the relationship, what is motivating their current behaviors and ideas towards the current relationship, their sexual history (IF THEY HAVE SOMETHING YOU CAN CATCH!), if they cheat, and it also becomes a good bonding experience when two people share such personal information about themselves, opening up new levels of trust and intimacy. If you are serious about someone, it is important to let them know where you have come from, but they should be willing to do the same.

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