I started dating a friend recently, someone I trust(ed) wholeheartedly. However, I found some old internet postings of his that seriously freaked me out (jokes about domestic violence, et al.) I asked him about it, and he explained that he isn’t that person anymore and isn’t proud of what he’d said. I accepted that- it’s a reasonable enough response. But I still feel weird about the whole thing. Added to the stress is the fact that he followed this conversation up with asking me how I felt about being intimate, a question I wasn’t really prepared to deal with under the circumstances. (I asked if I could get back to him, and he said yes.)
Captain, I don’t know what to do. I want to trust him, and I believe him when he says he’s not that person anymore, but I still feel unnerved. However, it doesn’t feel fair to him to condemn him for something that I believe he’s moved past. Should I try to push past my worries, or back away from dating him? I don’t know what to think.
Be Careful What You Search For
Dear Be Careful:
I want you to let go of the idea of fairness. There is no fair, here, there is only what you want.
In your heart of hearts, do you want to go out with this guy?
If he brought up sex at another time (because, wow, that was not the time), would you be excited to have sex with him?
Because if you are not excited to be with him, you don’t need a reason like old internet postings to split up. The reason is: “I’ve reconsidered this and I’ve decided that we should not date. Can we take a break and then hopefully go back to being friends?” If you say this to him, and he turns into an angry, sulking, jerk, you’ll know that you made the right choice.
On the side of fairness, people evolve in their thinking as they grow up, and the nature of the internet is that people do their evolving in public and the evidence of who they used to be sticks around forever. We also participate in communities that have their own culture and standards, and those can give a weird illusion of anonymity and being a closed conversation even though non-members can read them. While neither are awesome, I’d look differently at someone participating in the Day of 1,000 Offensive Jokes on their gaming forum than I would at someone who was a member of an MRA site.
For example, playing Cards Against Humanity with my girlfriends a few months ago, we all made many jokes that we would probably not want to follow us around for the rest of our lives, say, at job interviews. For a closer example, I used to use the word “crazy” a lot to describe a range of bad behaviors on this here blog. Then someone kindly pointed out to me that maybe that was not cool, and I (hopefully) dialed it back. But the old posts where I did that are still there for anyone to find, and someone could find those and decide something about what I think about the word crazy based on them, even though that’s not what I think anymore. And they’d be within their rights to do, as you are within your rights to side-eye this guy’s jokes, because nobody has to give me the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of the doubt is something that’s earned by shaping up and trying to be less of an asshole, but not all the time, and not from everyone.
To sum up:
You get to reject this guy if the old posts skeeve you out. Even if they were long ago, even if he’s changed. That’s because you get to to have the valueset that says “I don’t want to date someone who ever thought that was funny.” That is also because you get to reject this guy for any reason at all. Love is unfair.
It is quite possible he has changed in his thinking and is genuinely embarrassed about the jokes, which he cannot go back in time and erase from the internet. If they seem really out of character from everything else you know about him, and you do trust and like him and want to go forward with him, it’s okay if you want to accept his explanation and move on. You’re not ruining Feminism. We live in a culture where one can be bopping along pleasantly and then get totally blindsided by the terrible thing that comes out of the mouths of our trusted friends and lovers, or a favorite TV character or entertainer, or someone we’ve voted for, and have to make the choice: “Swallow shit, or ruin the afternoon?“
Frankly, to me, you don’t sound all that excited to be with this guy. I don’t know what you saw, so I can’t make a judgment call about whether it’s bad enough to constitute a threat. However, you’re using words like “worried”, “seriously freaked out,” and “unnerved,” and you don’t have to swallow those feelings out of the idea of “fairness.” Maybe those worries are trying to protect you from badness. Maybe they are just part of having overall second thoughts about the relationship. What would be the worst thing that could happen if you listened to your feelings?