How many people have you slept with?” he asked.
All of a sudden, six months into our relationship, my boyfriend was insatiably curious about everything that had happened before we’d met. The questions started out simple enough: How old were you when you were first kissed? Then they quickly escalated into questions like: Have you ever had sex in a public place?
When he got an answer that made me seem less than virginal, we fought. Instead of being intrigued, he was insulted. With each new inquiry, it was becoming clear that he thought I was a slut, and I thought I was normal.
I was 29 years old at the time, and he was not my first. He knew this. We had been friends for years, and in that time we both dated and slept with other people, but what mattered to me was that we were in a committed relationship with each other now. When he told me he loved me, I believed him. When he told me he thought we might spend our lives together, I believed him. We knew each other very well. But after all these questions, I felt like I barely knew him.
At first I thought maybe he was nervous that I was unsatisfied in our sex life. I explained to him that he was the only person that I wanted to be with. (No, I did not fantasize about being with other men. No, I didn’t want to have some sort of ménage a quatre.) He stopped ranting just long enough to listen to me whisper all these things, and the fighting would cease. Then another probing question would pop up.
“How many people have you slept with?” he asked again.
I wanted to lie, but I’m a horrible liar. Even when I consider fibbing, my face gives it away. I also knew the answer to that question was none of his business, no matter my number. What does it matter how many people I’ve slept with?
Instead of answering I tried a different tactic: “How many people have you slept with?” I countered.
All I got was a shrug followed by, “I don’t know. I didn’t keep count.”
I was infuriated. What a double standard! As the woman in this relationship, I was expected to be pure as the driven snow, but no matter how many women he’d been with, I was supposed to accept it?
The thing is, though, I did accept it. I didn’t care how many woman he had slept with. He was with me now, and that was enough. My answers, however, were never good enough for him.
This question — How many people have you slept with? — was a trick. My number wasn’t that high. But that wasn’t going to make a difference. Anything higher than one was going to be too much for him. Finally, I answered him. He walked out of the room.
In any relationship, I want to feel accepted as I am. There was no amount of proof I could offer to show that I was good enough for him. Obviously, I couldn’t take back anything I had done in the past. And even if I could, why should I? I wasn’t embarrassed. All of my experiences made me me. But suddenly I was in a relationship where I was required to defend my right to have sex — before I’d even met him. It was emotionally exhausting.
It became clear that this relationship was not going to offer me the level of understanding and trust that I craved. And clearly, he wanted someone … different. After months of arguments and trying to make it work, I broke up with him.
Even though there were moments of love with my boyfriend, there was always a nagging mistrust. I wanted to feel loved and understood by this man who said he wanted to marry me. Instead, I felt horribly judged and small. I promised myself that my next relationship would be different.
When I started dating someone new, I waited for the questions to begin. I wanted to see how this new man would react, but those questions never came. When I did offer tidbits from my past relationships, my past didn’t matter to him. I slowly began to relax, feeling from him the acceptance that I’d wanted. We developed a deep mutual understanding and respect for each other, and in this environment I blossomed. When he told me he loved me I knew that he did. When he asked me to marry him, I said, “Yes.”
The man I ended up with was never once concerned with my history. I was with him, and that was enough.