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Retroactive jealousy is affecting our relationship, what should we do?


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My girlfriend (19F) and I (20M) have been together for 8 months after meeting at university. Our relationship was going really well and neither of us had any issues or gripes. 

One night we talked about our past experiences, she had done a lot before me (a previous long term relationship and other sexual experiences) however all my experiences were with her. As a result this made me quite upset and I can’t stop thinking about her past and picturing it. 

I’ve been really struggling with retroactive jealousy as a result of this. I’ve been doing therapy to help and I’ve figured out that the issues stem from a lack of self-esteem caused by bullying during school. This gave me a great deal of anxiety around sex and relationships which I only managed to conquer when I met my girlfriend. This, however, has caused me to have of feelings of sadness, inferiority and regret regarding my past. I feel like this is also made worse by the fact that my girlfriend has had a lot more experiences in the past and I constantly compare myself to her.

Likely as a result of this, I also feel as if I may not be ready for a fully committed relationship at this point in my life. And I almost want to get back the experiences I feel like I missed out on as a teenager. 

We have talked about this a lot and my girlfriend is very understanding and supportive, however, this has put a strain on our relationship and now we are unsure what to do.

To make matters, I am on a work placement and I currently live about a 3 hour train journey away from her.

We feel like we have 3 options:

- Stay together.

- Go on a break.

- Break up indefinitely.

However, each one seems to have its issues.

We’re nervous that if we stay together the problem will only get worse and the relationship will continue to suffer and we will just end up breaking up anyway.

We feel like we don’t want to break up. Aside from my issue (while albeit being a big factor) the relationship is really good. We don’t argue, we’re best friends, we seem really happy together. And we feel like we want to spend a lot of time together in the future.

As for a break, this almost seems like the best option. As it gives us time to figure out what we want. But we’re just not sure what ground rules to set for a break (i.e. how long will it last? Will we stay in contact? Will we sleep with other people? etc.). 

As the main issue seems to be regarding my feelings of regret and inferiority regarding my past and the comparison to my girlfriends’, we almost feel like sleeping with other people may help the issue. However, this may obviously open a whole new can of worms and we’re not sure if this is the best idea.

TLDR; In short. I have really bad retroactive jealousy about my girlfriends sexual past and my lack thereof. And I am not sure if a break and (potentially) sleeping with other people would help. Context is very important though and I advise reading the whole post.

 

So, what should we do?

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48 minutes ago, Mack said:

ikely as a result of this, I also feel as if I may not be ready for a fully committed relationship at this point in my life. And I almost want to get back the experiences I feel like I missed out on as a teenager. 

What do you mean experiences missed as a teenager? Do you mean short term dating experiences without a longterm commitment?

Your mistake was discussing the past in detail. It's normal to give a brief summary such as "I had a one year relationship and we grew apart." But going into how many people you knocked boots with and who they were and where that happened is TMI. Nobody wants to picture those details in their head, so learn from your mistakes and refrain from exchanging unnecessary info like that in the future.

In your first sentence I quoted, IMO, after 8 months, when a person isn't 100 percent confident in continuing longterm, then it shouldn't happen.

No break. No staying in contact. People can always find each other years later on social media, but really, when you're both this young, you will likely be totally different people by then and either you would fit together at that time if both single, or not. In reality, this rarely happens.

As for you, I'd stay single until you get more time in with a therapist. Either you're not ready to date because of psychological problems, or have conjured that excuse as a reason to sabotage this relationship because you want to sow your wild oats.

Free her to be with someone who is 100 percent confident in being with her.

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57 minutes ago, Mack said:

- Break up indefinitely.

Unfortunately, this may be the best option. Not only because of distance dating, but because your relationship is relatively young and you are unwilling to commit. 

In the future do not discuss your or anyone else's past. It's unnecessary and invasive. It's something teens do at a slumber party so leave the past in the past.

 Sadly between your insecurities and opening this Pandora's box, it's contaminated the relationship.

At 20 you'll want to date more but being tied down to a contaminated distance situation seems to be eating you alive. Work on yourself. Be free and remember to be a gentleman in the future and not discuss a woman's or your past.

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53 minutes ago, Mack said:

I’ve been doing therapy to help

This is great. I would suggest you continue with therapy.

As for your current relationship - not sure it stands a chance as long as there's a "competition" element in your head. I understand it's not something that you can just switch off at the moment but as long as you feel you're "missing out" on something, you'll only hurt your girlfriend.

I don't see how going on a break will improve the situation. Your "numbers" will grow but hers will do, too. So, in the end, if you're still in a "competition mode", you'll continue feeling resentful. I won't even open up the topic of one of you possibly meeting someone else they actually want to commit to, while the other is looking forward to a reconciliation... I think it's a recipe for disaster.

A clean breakup is what sounds like the best option in my opinion.
I can tell you that number of sexual encounters has no direct correlation to skills, quality and satisfaction levels. In fact, when there are love, trust, connection and chemistry - wonders can happen in the bedroom (or everywhere outside of it, depending on preferences). There can still be good sex without those but it's a bit rare and it's really beyond comparison.

I think it's not about sex, though. It's about a journey into self-confidence and self-love that you're naively viewing through the prism of sex. That's alright - you're young. I think it makes sense to let your girlfriend go and embark on that separate journey, while finding support in therapy.

You don't have to commit if you don't feel like it. But make it transparent to your future encounters if so. Don't ever go into discussing numbers, acts, etc. with a partner. And, of course, always take safety precautions. You'll be okay.

P.S. Kudos to your girlfriend for being that understanding. She sounds great and deserves someone who loves her and would commit to her. The greatest gift of love you can give to her right now is to completely let her go. Good luck to both of you.

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Generally, I dont think you will "gain" anything by going away and dating others. OK, maybe you will learn some stuff and meet some more people to compare with what you have. But I always viewed  that finding the right person is more important then experience. I did got a lot of experience in my 20s. But ultimately it doesnt matter in the grand order of things when you maybe wont find somebody as compatible as her there. But you maybe do need more experience and wisdom to come to that conclusion.

Hence why, yes, you should definitely break up. You are in your 20s, so you want to explore what is out there, that is normal. She doesnt as she already experienced it and knows you are the right person for her. You on the other hand think you missed something and want more. So go out there and try to experience it. But without her in the picture. She deserves somebody who will know that she is the right person. And not wondering what else is out there. Right now, or even maybe ever, you are not that person. Get clean break up(not that "we are on the pause" BS) and let her go. 

 

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I think a big part of adult life is learning how to cope and accept the 'could have, should have, would have' scenarios.

In some ways everyone misses out on something.  If you would have had a lot of experiences with women, maybe you would not be with your current girl- because your life would be different. Everything that happened lead you here. If you change something maybe the whole things changes.

You can never go back and be a teen again or recapture your younger self. So a little growing up and a more realistic view is needed. No one can go back, we all age, we all have our own pasts, and they are all unique. not better nor worse, just different.

breaks never work.  they are just painful confusing times that ultimately lead to the full break. because it's too loose. there are never enough guidelines to cover all scenarios and each person is left insecure and eventually one person does something that throws the other for a loop. 

You're either with someone or you're not. 

You need to decide if you can accept her past and put it behind you or not. 

that's all you can do. pick something and go with it.  

Indecisiveness is the cause of the pain. Make a decision and live with it for a while.  Choose to move forward- whatever it is. 

 

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2 hours ago, Mack said:

Likely as a result of this, I also feel as if I may not be ready for a fully committed relationship at this point in my life.

2 hours ago, Mack said:

Break up indefinitely

You said it yourself, you are not ready for a relationship. You need to do a lot of work to get yourself in a place mentally where this won't affect you. You're only 20 so, as far as dating goes, the women you date going forward are likely to have as much experience as your current GF or more (as you get older). 

It shouldn't be about "catching up" in experience for you though. You may never, and it doesn't matter anyway how many partners your partner has had in the past. What matters is your compatibility with your partner. I honestly have never asked about past partners. I honestly don't even know how many people I have slept with in my life and it has not been very many at all. But I don't keep count. What's the purpose of keeping count? Only immature people would do that, in my opinion. 

You just need to work on accepting yourself and gaining the self-confidence you will need for these types of things not to matter to you. I think it's not fair for either you or your current GF to remain in that relationship while you are harboring a sort of resentment against her. It will only end badly.

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1 hour ago, JoyfulCompany said:

This is great. I would suggest you continue with therapy.

As for your current relationship - not sure it stands a chance as long as there's a "competition" element in your head. I understand it's not something that you can just switch off at the moment but as long as you feel you're "missing out" on something, you'll only hurt your girlfriend.

I don't see how going on a break will improve the situation. Your "numbers" will grow but hers will do, too. So, in the end, if you're still in a "competition mode", you'll continue feeling resentful. I won't even open up the topic of one of you possibly meeting someone else they actually want to commit to, while the other is looking forward to a reconciliation... I think it's a recipe for disaster.

A clean breakup is what sounds like the best option in my opinion.
I can tell you that number of sexual encounters has no direct correlation to skills, quality and satisfaction levels. In fact, when there are love, trust, connection and chemistry - wonders can happen in the bedroom (or everywhere outside of it, depending on preferences). There can still be good sex without those but it's a bit rare and it's really beyond comparison.

I think it's not about sex, though. It's about a journey into self-confidence and self-love that you're naively viewing through the prism of sex. That's alright - you're young. I think it makes sense to let your girlfriend go and embark on that separate journey, while finding support in therapy.

You don't have to commit if you don't feel like it. But make it transparent to your future encounters if so. Don't ever go into discussing numbers, acts, etc. with a partner. And, of course, always take safety precautions. You'll be okay.

P.S. Kudos to your girlfriend for being that understanding. She sounds great and deserves someone who loves her and would commit to her. The greatest gift of love you can give to her right now is to completely let her go. Good luck to both of you.

Yes, I don’t think it is about sex. It’s just been manifested in that form. I know that I have issues with insecurity and low self-esteem as a result of bullying and anxiety. And this is all just heightened by my current situation with my girlfriend.

She is incredible though. I really couldn’t ask for a better person and whatever happens I will always care for her and I just want the best for her.

Hopefully, with therapy and a bit of time to figure myself out all will be well in the future.

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1 hour ago, Mack said:

She is incredible though. I really couldn’t ask for a better person and whatever happens I will always care for her and I just want the best for her.

That's very nice and thoughtful. Doesn't mean she is the right person for you for a serious romantic relationship right now.  I agree with the others.  You lost me with your notion that you're not ready for a "fully committed relationship"  - odd word choice -what's a partially committed relationship? What feels so "full" about being committed - it almost sounds like you view it as restrictive -do you?

If you have the dream of someone else, if you want to explore your options that means you're not that into your partner because you think the grass could be greener or more plentiful elsewhere.  I know people with happy marriages and long term relationships who had very few partners/relationships and the opposite - people who feel they want to explore options may feel it's because they missed out or may have had multiple relationships but still have a grass is greener sense. 

My best friend in high school met her future husband when she was 15.  They are in their mid 50s now, married since their early 20s.  They've been with no one else and she did have temporary jitters about that right before getting engaged but she chose him.  They're happily married. 

My mother had one partner (my dad), they also met in their teens and my mom and dad dated other people a bit before meeting.  They were married for 62 years and happy. 

One of my nieces met her husband when she was 13 and he 15.  They're in their mid 20s now married with 3 kids.  She dated no one else.  I'm not sure if he did.  It didn't affect their ability to "fully commit" -and I think if you go out there and "practice" hooking up with other women to get "experience" the risks and downsides will far outweigh any benefits. 

Certainly get therapy, certainly date others if you feel like it but not for "experience" -especially sexual experience.

Also google Carly Simon's song "we have no secrets" -it's why the choice to provide TMI as your girlfriend did was not a wise move, it seems.

Good luck!

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6 hours ago, Mack said:

As for a break, this almost seems like the best option. As it gives us time to figure out what we want. But we’re just not sure what ground rules to set for a break (i.e. how long will it last? Will we stay in contact? Will we sleep with other people? etc.). 

As the main issue seems to be regarding my feelings of regret and inferiority regarding my past and the comparison to my girlfriends’, we almost feel like sleeping with other people may help the issue. However, this may obviously open a whole new can of worms and we’re not sure if this is the best idea.

 

First off, this thought of breaking up 'and for how long', shouldn't exist.  It could be for a year or more or forever.  As you need to work through some stuff and you have no idea how long that'd take ( and no it's not solved in 3 mos).

I don't suggest you remain as friends either... should she choose to move on, that would surely hurt you even more 😕 .

Second, this is a part of life.  We all go about our own paths and speeds.  You are both young and yes, many people are still virgins as they finish school and on, into their 20's.  No reason for comparisons or jealousy- but you seem to have it,

If you are going to break up, YOU should remain on your own.  IMO, no thought of sleeping around should be surfacing.

I feel what you need is some time on your own to focus on yourself... to improve these thoughts etc.

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I'm gonna go against the grain here. Don't breakup cuz you are going to regret it. How you feel is normal, we all have been there, it's just you don't have the coping skills yet to deal with it. You go to therapy and get this sorted out. I feel by talking through it, you will get over it. Right now you are flooded with these feelings, and you are just overwhelmed. You are not in a good place to be making such a harsh decision. At least give it a try and stay together, like for a couple of months. After that if it's not gonna work then do the right thing and end it. 

 

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You were happy with your girlfriend before you realised she'd had more sexual experience, right?  So if that conversation had never happened, you'd be none the wiser and still be feeling just as happy?  She cannot change her past and it has absolutely no relevance to how she feels about you.  You are letting this eat you up and spoil everything, but there's literally nothing you can do about it.  She continues to be the same woman you fell in love with; for her, there's abolutely nothing different about your relationship.

If you split up with her and sleep with other women, at some point you're going to fall for one of them and you'll torture yourself wondering if she's slept with more people than you or if she's done more things with those people.  Every woman will have her own sexual past and frankly, it's none of your business what she did before she met you.  You need to work on your own issues rather than sabotaging your perfectly good relationship.

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