Saturday, September 5, 2020


This is a sad story. Normally, Guardian advice columnist Annalisa Barbieri is sane and sensible. In her response to today’s letter, she does her best to be sane and sensible. To a large extent she succeeds. Unfortunately, this means that she completely misses what is going on in this relationship.

A young man writes that he has met a wonderful girl. Unfortunately, she has something of a colorful sexual history. He feels bothered by the stories of her sexual escapades, but thinks that he is in love. Barbieri will tell him not to worry about her past exploits, and blah, blah, blah. She even scolds him for being somewhat Puritanical about thinking that women should have few sexual partners.

I will share the letter in its entirety, before offering my comments:

I am in my early 20s and met a wonderful girl at the start of the year. I had only slept with one girl before, and since we’ve been together she has told me she has slept with nearly 20 other guys, including one on the night we met. And she’s played around with “countless” more. Some of these are close friends she meets regularly.

I’ve tried explaining that it hurts to hear about this kind of history. But that makes her close down until I apologise. She says her personality is naturally flirtatious and that she doesn’t want to feel controlled or required to change to better fit our relationship. Yet she seems to feel for me the way I do for her. I am even going to meet her parents soon.

I feel quite torn. Never before have I so truly clicked with someone and I am most certainly in love with her. I worry I am setting myself up for disappointment, although I try to remember the philosophy that it is better to have loved and lost. How can I put her past behind us when so much of it is reflected in her current behaviour?

The salient point here is that this young man has been seduced and even bewitched. He is young and naive, of little experience with women, and he is clearly being manipulated by the vixen who picked him out-- as prey. 

We do not know how old she is. We do not know anything about him, beyond the fact that he comes across as a love sick overgrown adolescent. One suspects that she sees him as someone she can exploit. One would like to know whether he comes from wealth, or some such. We will not understand her motivation without have some sense of the socioeconomics of the relationship.

Clearly, she has no intention of being faithful to him. What kind of woman shares that she had sex with another man the night she met him?

One might even suggest that the young man is the only man who is young enough and naive enough to want to contract a longstanding relationship with a woman who has such an extensive history of indecent behavior. She has what used to be called a reputation. She continues to hang out with men who have been intimate with her, with men who have known her in the Biblical sense.

And that means, as Barbieri completely fails to notice, that if he is in a relationship with her, he will be interacting with these same men. And, I trust that any  sensible human would understand, that they will see him as a chump. If she has had multiple lovers at a young age, they have all decided that she is not marriage or even relationship material. She is an easy hook up, with no scruples, no morals and no dignity. Other men will be laughing at him behind his back and probably also to his face. And they will probably be happy to avail themselves of his girlfriend, the no-strings-attached hookup.

For the record, assuming that she meets his parents, I guarantee you that his mother will instantly notice that the girl friend is what she is. Even if Mom does not see it, the information about her dissolute ways is probably widely known. Once Mom discovers it she will do everything in her power to end the relationship.

Unless of course his mother is Annalisa Barbieri. She believes that we should ignore petty details like reputation and see people on their own terms. So, she offers up some nonsense, comparing her experience as a woman with his as a man. They are obviously not the same thing, but she does not notice.

Be careful that you are not seeing her history as a reflection on you, for it has nothing to do with you, just as your sexual history has nothing to do with her. Past sexual partners are no guarantee of anything in a relationship. The man who hurt me the most had little sexual history of his own. The man who hurt me the least was the one who had had the most sexual partners.

And, of course, since we are in the world of cliches, Barbieri tells him not to be judgmental. She ignores the fact that the men she has dallied with will almost surely judge her and will judge him. 

Because I do wonder if there’s some moral judgment from you and that may be something to do with the narratives around sex, and how women were “meant” to behave, when you were growing up. So much of what we feel about sex has been learned and isn’t what we really feel. Part of becoming our true self is losing those ideas and discovering our own thoughts about, and around, sex, including what we like and don’t like.

If you were brought up to think that women should have few sexual partners, then you will look at your girlfriend’s past and think there’s something remiss. But if you were brought up to think sex is something that is entirely between consenting adults, and fun, and the number of partners isn’t really anything other than a history, then her past would carry little potency. Digging a bit deeper, in the privacy of your own head, into why her past “hurts” you may be helpful.

A bad hair day for Annalisa Barbieri. No thanks to her this story is not going to end well.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

She needs a blowout.

urbane legend said...

The mind boggles, both at her, mmmm, liberality, and his immaturity.

My very first thought, and comment, would have been, " so I guess you are rich now. " I was quick with sarcasm even at 20. Then walked away immediately forgetting her.

DocVinny said...

My problem wouldn't be with her past so much as her commitment to the future. He wants a relationship, with the thought that she might be the one he wants to settle down with. She's making it clear that she has other ideas. Someone needs to slap him on the back of the head and tell him he needs to wake up.

Giordano Bruno said...

The boy is a beta orbiter. He needs Chateau Heartiste badly. He will find out his true status once he realizes she is entertaining his friends, or worse, after he marries her and she has her Haitian divorce. It’s called hypergamy, beta boy, and you are just her stepping stone.

Nothing wrong with an honest slut, just don’t marry one. They can be controlled, but it takes a cold blooded man to constrain her, and few men today have that disposition. There are ways to enjoy her limited virtues without getting entrapped by her.

David Foster said...

"And, I trust that any sensible human would understand, that they will see him as a chump. If she has had multiple lovers at a young age, they have all decided that she is not marriage or even relationship material" fairness, it is quite likely that many or even most of a woman's previous lovers were ditched by *her*, rather than her being ditched by them. Most likely, both scenarios.

*Twenty*, though, is an extreme enough number to indicate that she is using sex as a substitute for something else. In Arthur Koestler's 1950 novel, 'The Age of Longing', the female protagonist muses:

"If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

By the laws of human biology-- something to do with oxytocin-- the chances are far greater that they ditched her. Unless of course she decided to ditch them first, in order to avoid the indignity. She could certainly be using sex as a substitute, but I would also add that women who suffer a certain ideological commitment believe that they need to have multiple sex partners in order to demonstrate that they have been liberated from patriarchy.

David Foster said...

Oxytocin certainly has an important effect, and a gender-specific effect, but it's not infinitely powerful...or no married women would even initiate divorce. Other factors can evidently overcome the bonding effect.