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TODAY contributor
updated 3/18/2009 4:39:48 PM ET 2009-03-18T20:39:48

Q. Can you offer some healthy advice to me? I am a male, 23, going to Brazil in a month for a job and for my very dear and lovely new relationship with my girlfriend, whom I met when I was there five months ago. She is amazing and we have everything I want in a relationship — trust, comfort, sex, intimacy and love.

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She is the sweetest woman in the world. She just turned 29. In her past, she had several long-term relationships, the last one ending in betrayal. It was very sad for her. She went to therapy and it helped a lot. She has also dated a lot and has had casual, noncommitted sex before.

I have never felt comfortable being intimate with someone I do not feel special about. I know and respect that what people chose to do in the past, like casual sex, is fine. I want to be completely OK if my partner is much more experienced in this way than I am. I want to love my girlfriend for all of her!

But when I think about the fact that she has experienced casual sex while dating and I have experienced sex only in a committed relationship, I feel immature in a depressing way. I know it is normal in this world, but I end up dwelling on it. I want to understand it, or I want my girlfriend to share my feelings or me to share hers. The truth is, I want to fully accept it and not think about it.

It is unfair for me to blow up or judge her for her past because I know that what matters is the present. She loves me very much and knows I have these feelings, but I do not like to talk about it with her because I hate to upset her. She does not want a jealous boyfriend.

I also do not want to be like this. I know she trusts me and loves me enough to stay with me all these months! We choose to be committed because we both want only each other and it is the most beautiful thing in the world. I want to feel comfortable with our differences.

So what can I do to be more peaceful and happy with who I am, as I am? Can I get over this without experiencing more casual sex?

A. Sometimes, when you love someone, you feel a desire for a blurring of the boundaries. It is as though you must truly stand in her shoes and feel what she feels.

But, at the end of the day, it is not healthy to be too enmeshed and to insist that either of you feel what the other feels. You need to be able to understand where your partner is coming from, not just on this issue but on all kinds of issues, many new ones of which will arise in the future.

The issue of sex happens to be a particularly charged area, with you wishing she never did this wonderful thing she does with you with someone else whom she didn’t have deep feelings for.

The casualness of her dating life can be a disconcerting indicator that, morally, you may not come from the same place. On the one hand, you don’t need to. On the other hand, you are feeling great disparity, and such differences can split a couple apart.

But she wants to be in this relationship with you now. She cannot rewrite history and change the fact that in the past, before she met you, she had casual sex. For you to experience more casual sex won’t help you get over this. Trying to even the score by doing that would destroy your relationship.

It is not unusual to have undefined feelings of jealousy for anyone who has been important in the past to your significant other. But if this is eating at you in some big way, then even though you keep mentioning trust, your words belie that. It’s possible that in fact you do feel insecure. This may have to do with the distance between you. It is hard to feel secure when the person you love is hundreds or thousands of miles away.

So part of your attitude might be a defense mechanism toward your situation, which is that you are crazy for someone you don’t know incredibly well because you haven’t been with her long, and you don’t exactly know what she is doing. This makes you ruminate more than ever on the fact she has had casual sex in the past. You might actually be concerned she might do it again, worrying that her past actions indicate she has issues with intimacy.

If you feel immature, you shouldn’t. Your stance is actually quite mature. Sex is powerful and is best appreciated in a committed relationship. Your problem is this need to have you both be so intertwined.

It is a good idea for you to see a therapist and figure out why you feel the need for you two to be exactly alike and to have shared a similar past. Are there other aspects of the relationship that are worrisome to you, even though you have trouble identifying them?

In reality, the past is less important to your relationship than the future. It matters more that you are in agreement now, not that you were in agreement before you met.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: People in a loving relationship need not have had similar pasts, as long as they agree on their shared future.


Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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