The woman who wrote to Carolyn Hax dubs herself: Dirty, dirty laundry (DDL). In a few short paragraphs she shows why I keep advising against complete openness and honesty in relationships.
For those who think that I have caricatured the therapy culture, DDL bears witness to its pervasive and destructive influence.
I quote her letter, in full:
After multiple relationships not working out because both parties were dishonest in one way or another, I decided to use a new approach to my current relationship. I am 23, met my current boyfriend (also 23) online, and decided to be COMPLETELY HONEST.
This was meant to mostly cover my feelings, as I tended to hold things in unhealthily, but I let it fold over to all aspects, including the disclosure of my sexual history. I have now learned this was a mistake.
This man is all I’ve ever wanted in a partner, we live together, we’ve talked about getting engaged, and I’ve never had a better friend in the world. But he can’t get past what I’ve told him; he loves to throw things in my face, such as how I won’t try something with him in the bedroom that he knows I did with someone else.
How can I help him get past it? Expressing the frustration it causes me has had no effect on the way he acts or speaks about it.
DDL has drawn the correct conclusion from her experiment. She has realized that, however bad it was to hold back, it is worse to tell all. She has concluded that complete openness, honesty and shamelessness is a very, very bad idea.
She gained nothing of value by recounting her past sexual history to her new boyfriend, apparently in great, and dare I say, pornographic detail.
When I say that the therapy culture made her do it, I am assuming that no sentient individual in full possession of her rational faculties would ever do such a thing.
As for her boyfriend, he sounds like he is confused. He is right to be confused.
Perhaps he does not feel that he has a right to hold her history against her. Perhaps he does not feel that he has a right to hold her indiscretion against her. And yet, he still punishes her by continually reminding her of what she did with this or that man in the past.
Evidently, it’s very difficult to get the toothpaste back in the tube.
Uncharacteristically, Carolyn Hax offers some very bad advice to this woman and to her readers. She should have emphasized that total honesty is a character flaw. Once DDL shows that she is willing to betray her intimacy with her past boyfriends, who is to say that she will not do the same to her current boyfriend?
Hax does not seem to understand the value of discretion, so she tells the letter writer that her boyfriend is punishing her for being who she is.
In her words:
I can’t speak for you, but “all I’ve ever wanted in a partner” is someone who accepts me as-is. You don’t have that — he’s punishing you for who you are. Are, were: Same diff, by the way.
Nothing is to be gained by teaching DDL and other young women that if they do something stupid, if they demonstrate an egregious character flaw, the world is not likely to look very kindly on it? Even less is to be gained by blaming the boyfriend.
According to Hax, DDL did not come to her most recent relationship as a virgin. Hardly very shocking in a 23 year old. In truth, DDL is indiscreet.
You can’t prevent someone from having mental images of you with someone else, but you can certainly prevent them from being accurately detailed — and you can hold out for someone mature enough not to be haunted or threatened by the fact that you’ve had a life.
Unfortunately, this feels like double talk. It’s one thing to tell a man that you had a previous relationship. It’s quite another to describe it in pornographic detail. The first is public knowledge. The second is private.
You can certainly make it less likely that your boyfriend will envision you having sex with other men if you do not tell him, in detail, about your escapades with other men. If you do tell him, he will, among other things, ask himself why you want him to know this?
He might fantasize about you anyway, but then his basis will be his experience with you. He will fantasize himself as a participant rather than an observer.