The dilemma I have recently married and we have a loving, supportive relationship. Lately, however, my husband has become overly inquisitive about my sexual history. We have discussed this before, and he has admitted he has had 11 sexual partners. I told him I had three prior to him – two of them were very casual and one was a brief relationship after a breakup with a man where there had been no physical contact. I was not feeling desirable and, because of how I was feeling at the time of these encounters, I have tried to push these moments out of my memory and I have dealt with some shame around these experiences.
My husband and I had a conversation about my encounters and he insists I have not been honest with him about my past. I have tried to tell him that I feel embarrassment about that period in my life. I feel like I’m being forced into talking about this when I really don’t want to. Advice?
Mariella replies Where to start? I don’t want to be too bullish, but my immediate reaction is to tell him it’s none of his business. Also, who’s counting? I can assure you that there are plenty of people out there who in adulthood might have to offer a rough estimate of lovers past rather than an exact headcount. Few who’ve embarked on their sex lives post the 1960s could present a tally of past lovers that wouldn’t far exceed your near Victorian numbers. What were the two of you doing before tying the knot and swearing fidelity?
Rather than picking over each and every body you enjoyed proximity and brief union with, you should be congratulating each other for your discernment. I’d love to understand better why you feel uncomfortable about those three discarded lovers of yours. The whole point of not being married off as virgins is that we get the opportunity to sample a wider gene pool and work out what does and doesn’t bring us pleasure on both a romantic and physical front. How does anyone make an educated choice about who they want to spend their lives with until they’ve road tested a few less satisfactory specimens (those proverbial frogs)? You’ve displayed remarkable decisiveness in the circumstances.
When I think of the men I might have married I try not to do it near bedtime as in some cases it’s the stuff that inspires nightmares. The only good thing about keeping your numbers low is less chance of STDs (unless, of course, you’re sensible and use a condom) and later on, less knowledge about what you might be missing. With experience comes comparison and while that isn’t generally a problem in the first rush of romance, later on, as the years pile up, it can definitely fuel fantasies about lovers past.
It’s no coincidence that during the first lockdown many people wrote to me with regrets about previous relationships and lovers who’d found them on Facebook after decades. Too much stationary living, trapped with our own thoughts, leaves space for the past to waft in with surprising results. Deciding to focus in on your spouse’s history after you’ve made a lifelong commitment to them is not a very functional impulse. So it’s tempting to advise you to robustly deny him access to such irrelevant details. For your future together, however, patience and consideration will come in far more handy than my immediate brusque response. So the best thing you can do is try to understand what’s prompting him to dwell on a topic that is positively self-harming if it’s fuelling his paranoia.
Nothing when it comes to the landscape of the human heart is uncomplicated and your husband’s decision to start digging deeper into the relationship’s prehistory suggests insecurity or, more ominously, a desire to control. Let’s look at the less damaging impulse first. Is there any reason he should be feeling threatened or, indeed, unskilled? Focusing on the top layer of an individual’s concerns is rarely the way to illumination, but possibly you simply need to lavish praise on his lovemaking and assure him it eclipses entirely your past to such an extent you’ve wiped your memory clean!
What concerns me more is whether he’s trying to use his insider knowledge as a form of control and intimidating you by delving into your insecure areas. That’s something you do need to robustly rebuff and make clear that there are boundaries in terms of access to your past – and your present. When we agree to share our lives with someone else it’s not so they can take ownership of our existence and be guaranteed an open door into our private thoughts – or to sit in judgment on our past choices. Naturally when you couple up there’s privileged access, but there are always going to be areas of our lives that remain out of bounds. It’s a basic human right to own your own experiences – and whether or not to share them. You have no reason to be ashamed of your past, or to put it on the table to be picked over in the present. It’s a very good time to make the ground rules clear. Clarity is never a bad thing when someone is trying to muddy the waters.