#1026: “Obsessed with my girlfriend’s sexual past.”

Thanks for the emails. I made some small edits. -CA


Dear Captain,

I’ve been in a wonderful relationship with my best friend for a little over three months. She is the perfect partner, we communicate well, we love each other, and everything is (in theory) going as well as it could be.

However, I have a problem. I’m plagued by this bizarre, irrational retroactive jealousy and insecurity about her past relationships and I can’t seem to get over it no matter how I try to rationalize it away.

She’s had two serious relationships: one for a year with a guy she dated while we were friends and before she was out as bi (we’re both women, I am gay), and one that happened between when we first dated for a few months (broke up because of distance) and this current relationship. I literally can’t stop fixating on her past relationships and feeling jealous of those guys for having experienced that side of her. I know that there is nothing wrong with her having dated other people, and that it’s wrong to feel possessive of her, but I do anyway. I’ve fallen into weird destructive habits like searching her instagram for old photos of her with her previous boyfriends, thinking about their interactions and how they might have been better than me and how she must have cared for them and the sexual things she did with them. I feel so sick and miserable when I have these thoughts but I can’t help but indulge them anyway.

What really exacerbates this is the fact that I never had any experience before her. I used to be awkward, shy, and unattractive, and never had any sort of romantic experience whatsoever before her. She has been my first and only kiss, first only relationship, I lost my virginity to her, everything. So not only am I jealous of the fact that these other guys got to date her, I’m also jealous of her and her exes for having had such normal romantic experiences. She’s literally never been single since she started dating unless by choice (and for good reason!) while I am lucky to have somehow fooled this incredible person into being attracted to me. I feel incredibly inferior for not having had the life experiences that she has.

I know that logically speaking, all these feelings are bullshit, and that I should just enjoy our relationship as it is now and let go of the past. I would love to do that if I could. I’ve talked to her about this before and of course she reassures me, but then I’m back to my self destructive spiral again. How do I get over this without destroying my relationship?

Thank you!

Friend, you need a therapist.

You need someone who is not your partner who can help you process these feelings and redirect your thoughts in more positive directions. You need this yesterday. I’m not going to give you scripts to talk to your partner about it because none of this is actually her problem to deal with or reassure you about. This is a problem between you and you. Enter: A therapist.

I can’t diagnose you through the internet and won’t try, but it seems to me that “debilitating insecurity,” “intrusive thoughts that destroy your peace of mind” and “compulsive actions like constantly searching for old photos of your girlfriend and her exes and creating negative fantasies about them to beat yourself up with” has got to check off some ticky boxes on some intake form somewhere. Find somebody to talk to about this. Tell them: “I can’t stop thinking about this and it’s making me feel really insecure and unhappy and I’m afraid I’m going to keep sabotaging my relationship. I’m looking to find healthier ways to redirect these thoughts and process these feelings.

I know the feelings this is bringing up are hurting you and I don’t want to beat you up for having them, but I feel that it’s important to say that you are unintentionally participating in a deeply misogynist narrative. You’re both women who date women but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t grow up in a misogynist culture that has complicated messages about sexual experience, “purity”, and “performance.” Or the biphopbic idea that bisexual women date women but “end up with” men. You don’t believe those things but it doesn’t mean they don’t affect you. 

Your girlfriend’s sexual history is not up for debate or discussion. It doesn’t exist at you, for you to measure yourself against and compete with, as a judgment on you. She is a separate human being who gets to have a sexual history that is not about you. It’s fucked up for you to insert yourself into that history and then to ask her for reassurance about it. Working on getting over this attitude is going to be good for you personally and a necessary step you can make toward making the world more accepting that it’s okay to have a sexual past and okay to not have sexual experience. The sex that matters most is the stuff that’s happening right now, the stuff you create together.

You know it’s bullshit, which, great! These feelings are messing with your happiness and your life and that’s what therapy is for. Lots of people need a look under the emotional hood now and then and you’re not broken or alone for being one of us. You took the first step and asked us for help. Now find local, consistent, trained help that you can talk to on an ongoing basis. Work on your own emotional health and resiliency and take care of your feelings around this so she doesn’t have to.

And if you’re insecure or curious or inexperienced about sex in general, do some reading and learning. For example:

Good partnered sex is extremely context dependent. If you can start thinking of it as something you create together with a specific person not something that you perform in a vacuum, hopefully you can get back to enjoying this lovely new relationship and not putting so much pressure on yourself.

Moderation Note: I have class all day every day for the next couple of days so I’m not able to moderate comments. I’ve turned off commenting. People can create a discussion thread at the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com. Letter Writer: Get a therapist. Learn some more about sex. Be well.