How My Boyfriend and I Deal With Each Other's Sexual Pasts

“We both have pasts,” he said. “The difference is that you broadcast yours."

Oct 18, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Love, diagrammed in crayon

My boyfriend and I were walking back from the movies when a peculiar feeling ambushed me. It was the day I submitted my piece about sexuality in the workplace, it was pouring, and the sense of vulnerability overwhelming me was as acute as it was unexpected. 

It’s uncharacteristic for me to fret over what others may or may not think about my work, but beneath the umbrella held up by the Man of My Dreams (yes, he stokes the cheesiness in me, and I love him for it), I realized that I cared deeply about what he may or may not think. To be clear, the dry humping incident featured in “I Use my Sexuality To Get Ahead At Work” occurred before my current relationship began. It should also be noted that my boyfriend has a track record of being remarkably understanding, even tolerating my one-off turn as a lap dancer at an exclusive, roving, underground club.

All of that said, I felt undeniably concerned, quite suddenly, that I might embarrass him, or, worse yet, taint his opinion of me. 

Staring down at Soho’s charming but impractical cobblestone, I decided that by warning him I would soften any forthcoming blow.

“So I wrote this piece,” I said.

“About what?” 

“Workplace flirtation.” Then, as blasé as possible, “I dry humped a high-powered executive a while back.”

Neither of us said anything for several blocks. What about this admission was supposed to feel good again? 

Finally, “Who was it?”

“Does it matter?” I tried.

“It sure does.”

I answered, and immediately something changed; I was no longer alone in the sticky emotional stew. 

At home, I cooked quinoa and grilled chicken. Things seemed better as we ate, but only because we managed to avoid any remotely meaningful subject. After doing the dishes, eager to pay reparations through some totally unselfish sex acts, I straddled my boyfriend.

“Get off,” he said, with a painfully dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t want you doing to me what you did to him.”

Humiliated beyond belief, I obeyed. I wanted to explain that I had not straddled the powerful media man in the same way at all -- that no sexual act from my past could compare to what we share -- but in my broken state, I didn’t know how to say this. I retreated to the couch to hug my knees and cry instead. 

“I’m so sorry,” I mumbled. 

No answer. As the Love of My Life surfed the Internet, I considered alternative career paths. I hated myself for pursuing such bizarre projects. For being so damn truthful, and inconsiderate of the person I loved. I could write restaurant reviews! Or hop on board the yogi train! Or, I could be a full-time homemaker! Whose home would I make, though, if not ours? 

Soon, I learned how noisy routine activities such as tooth brushing and changing clothes can be when shrouded in determined silence. I also learned how devastating it is to lie down with someone who refuses to cuddle.

Incessant tears wouldn’t let me sleep. I felt bad when my whimpering woke my boyfriend, but I spoke up nonetheless. 

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You -- and we -- are way more important to me than any job ever could be.”

“Stop that,” he said. “You know I support your writing. I just can’t get that picture out of my head.” 

How foolish could I be in the space of a day? My past actions and the fact that I’d written about them were not what upset my boyfriend. He is too open-minded, experienced, and evolved for that. The problem was that I’d completed a mental picture no boyfriend should have to envision by providing one additional, unbearable detail. Sure, he had asked the question, but I had made it impossible not to ask for specifics by drawing his attention to the scenario. The funny thing was, I could sympathize. 

“I guess it’s a little like fixating on a vision of you and your ex,” I noted. 

Of course I’ve always known that my boyfriend was previously married, but no matter how accustomed I grow to the idea, it infuriates me consistently. Months before, when I came across his wedding album, I knew better than to open it. Regardless, I spent an hour pouring over those photos in private, assessing each for signs of, well, anything worth resenting.

Did he look happy with her? Was he actually planning to spend the rest of his life with anyone other than me? Doesn’t he smile more genuinely when we’re together? Doesn’t he wrap his arm around me more lovingly? Isn’t what we have better?

Eventually sickened by my own sneering, I tucked the album behind a stack of books on the highest, least visible shelf in the apartment.  

At 4 am, I confessed this to my boyfriend.

First, he inched his way to my side of the bed. Then I earned the stroke of his hand.

“We both have pasts,” he said. “The difference is that you broadcast yours. But that’s your choice, and I respect that. Maybe I just need to read less.”

“Thank you,” I said, truly touched -- and relieved not to have to trade writing for a yoga mat. 

We agreed it might be better to leave some things unknown (or unread) because as much as we want to accept each other, we are just too maddeningly human. Next, we sealed our pact with make-up sex.

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The Venn way to relationship Zen

As of this writing, my boyfriend has yet to read that other article, and that’s okay. I feel as confident as ever in his supportive nature. I also see that by “warning” him that rainy evening, I was trying to quiet my own misgivings rather than thinking clearly about what might serve him -- and us -- best. I believe in honesty, but I also believe in tact. 

The following day, I passed a giant billboard of a Venn Diagram on Lafayette Street that summed it up best. The Venn approach to relationships says to allow room for mystery on both sides of a loving overlap. As a couple, maybe you have to shift those circles around before finding the right balance.

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Love, diagrammed in permanent marker