Monday, 10 January 2011

Reticence is Golden

I am sure that I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: don't tell suitors/the girl you are pursuing about your ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends.

Obviously, don't deny that they ever existed. If (IF) you are asked about one, then talk, but be brief and as positive as possible. I am cudgeling my mind for a memory of some suitor desperately wanting to know about an ex-boyfriend, and I can't think of any. But I do remember wanting to talk about ex-boyfriends, either because they made for good anecdotes or because I wanted to process the leftover pain with a sympathetic soul, and this always drove the future ex-boyfriends insane. By the way, never, ever, EVER discuss an ex on a first date.

This is by no means solely a feminine failing. Some men can talk endlessly about the women who broke their hearts into a trillion pieces, and I know of one woman who put up listening to a man vent about me for months and months. Finally she told him that if he didn't stop, she would walk. (I'm afraid she was otherwise a doormat: she gave him years of devotion, and he never married her. When he left town, he didn't take her. Very sad.) Obviously I heard this story secondhand, but I'd bet the grocery money it is true. I have listened to other men go on about other women who got away.

I cannot stress how important it is when you meet a new person not to sound off in a bitter fashion about an ex. You might feel like the new woman is a kindred soul who understands you like no-one before, but many women are startled when you inform them that your last ex-girlfriend was a cheap, money-grubbing, psycho-bitch from hell. And if you mention the rest of the harpies it was your misfortune to date, the new woman may very well reflect on the long list and conclude that one day she, too, might be described by you in such unflattering terms. Buh-bye.

Even worse is telling your new flame how perfect your old flame was. I remember feeling very miserable as I listened to how smart and how sensitive my predecessor was. I heard about her child (from another relationship), her dog, her job, her work rivalries, her skin cancer scar, and on and on and on. It was rather foolish to have been so surprised when he went back to her, but I was. Now, of course, I thank my lucky stars.

The time to mention pain from a last relationship is when you are having a fight in a new relationship. If the girl of your dreams is demanding why you do X, Y, Z, and it dawns on you that this is because of your last relationship, you can tell her that. ("I'm sorry. It's not you. You're wonderful. It's her.") A woman in love, and a woman who has grown to trust you, is perfectly willing to believe you when you say your ex was bonkers if you provide examples of her bonkertude. Women almost always take their man's side when it's him versus another woman.

So women feel wary or sad when men trash or extol their ex-girlfriends. Men, I have read, throw another wrinkle into the dynamic. Men take their cues from other men, and so if you tell them that other men have treated you badly, they subconsciously get the message that they can treat you badly, too. Therefore, if you keep finding yourself being treated badly over and over again, ask yourself if that might not be at least partly because you keep telling men how badly other men have treated you.

I can't remember if this is in the Rules or the book I used to hide under my bed, but the idea is that if you want a man to treat you like a queen, you have to give the impression that you're used to being treated like a queen. And by that I don't mean some spoiled brat of a prima donna. I mean a real queen--like the Queen of England (Scotland, Canada, etc.) when she was a young thing like yourselves. Gracious, smiling, lady-like, and a wonderful listener. Feathery hats optional.

A NCB left a comment in yesterday's combox about an ex-girlfriend who keeps a scrapbook of all her ex-boyfriends. What blows my mind is not that she does this (although it does seem a bit weird for a woman to emulate Don Giovanni) but that she let him know about it. It is just not very smart or healthy to lead a man, especially a marriage-worthy man, to believe that he is just another man in a long, never-ending list of temporary boyfriends.

So this morning I encourage all of you to remember that your past is your own, and you neither have to nor should necessarily share it with the objects of your affection. If asked about a former relationship, sum it up briefly and kindly with, "A nice man/girl, but we had different interests/there was no real spark." The fact that s/he was a raging alcoholic can wait for the day you have a fight because your beloved got drunk, took his/her shirt off and sang the national anthem on a park bench.

And, girls, I beg you. Stop telling people how badly you've been treated. If it's become a compulsion, consider therapy. I know some people take it as an insult when I suggest therapy, but I was in therapy for five years and say so without an ounce of shame. I found it very helpful. I have two caveats:

1. Freud and most of his disciples hated and hate Catholicism, so make sure your therapist is a practising Catholic or at very least Catholic-positive. I've heard of therapists assuring their clients that their problems stem from Catholicism. If your therapist tells you this, find another therapist.

2. Therapy is a business. Your therapist, like your hairdresser or trainer, has an interest in you returning to him/her. Be clear with yourself how long you wish to work with a therapist, and when you feel done, be clear with your therapist that you feel done. Don't expect your therapist to tell you when you're done. And sometimes they are done. If they start asking you for advice, or make inappropriate revelations about their lives, they're done. Say good-bye.

If you cannot afford therapy or find a Catholic-positive therapist, spiritual direction can also be a great help. Usually spiritual directors are not qualified psycho-therapists, but they can help you develop a closer relationship with God, the great Healer.


leonine said...

Fabulous advice as always, Auntie S. Just a few addenda regarding therapy:

2b. Since it's a business relationship, if it's not working for you, simply say goodbye and find someone else. It may take a few tries for you to find someone with whom you feel comfortable.

2c. Be honest. If you're not honest, they can't help.

Jennifer said...

It is solid, good advice to not launch into epic tales of your dating history, whether you are a man or a woman. I think that advice also applies to a number of other topics as well, including your health issues, family dysfunction, and any personal drama whatsoever. Anything that could cause someone who does not know you well to suddenly define you by these events, even if you yourself do not feel defined by them. When someone hasn't known you long enough to know who you *are*, it's distressingly easy for them to see you only through the lens you've unwittingly provided, and for them to be put off by that.

Many personal details require appropriate context for someone to understand how those details have affected and shaped you. That context takes time and patience to develop. You also need the appropriate context of the other person, before revealing certain details, to know whether they are discreet or indiscreet, understanding or judgmental. Why risk your dignity by revealing all that to someone you don't know that well? Too many people have a 'I'm going to lay this all out on the table from the start, and you need to accept me for who I am' attitude about their personal information, which I think is completely misguided.

I dearly wish more people were circumspect about any number of things. I think of the first dates I've been on where I've listened to some guy excoriate his ex-girlfriends, or the luncheons I've had with potential new women friends who gave me blow by blow descriptions of the fight (and make up sex) they had with their husband the evening prior, and all I can think is 'TMI.' and 'Can I wrap this up quickly and get out of here?'

Seraphic said...

Since I've seen the subject come up twice now, I have to say that I believe it an absolutely disgusting betrayal of one's spouse to discuss your sex life to anyone but (in extreme circumstances) a doctor, a therapist or a priest. There is absolutely no excuse for a detailed description or even a mention of an encounter---unless you are absolutely miserable and confused.

Can you imagine finding out that your husband, whom you love, had described the intimate details of your life to his workmates?

I get so angry when I hear that women do this. No-one has discussed these things with me, thank goodness!

Jennifer said...

And yes, I think it's a betrayal as well. My mother, bless her, hammered that into me often and early. Not just as it applied to dating or marriage, but also as it applied to my relationships in general.

KimP said...

I second the therapy advice. I found an excellent Catholic therapist in 2006 after a particularly painful breakup from a man I thought was The One. He was so far from it, I was clearly not dealing in reality. Without that counseling (which was hard work) I don't think I would be ready for the relationship I have today. I think counseling is another way of healing that can get us ready for the relationship God wants us to have.

Claire Christina said...

Another thought is to be careful telling stories - good or bad, no matter how relevant - to friends of the opposite sex. Even if the friendship is solid with no apparent romantic tension, discussing exes can definitely lead to a development of romantic tension...

If a story about an ex is relevant to conversation, I usually refer to them as "a friend from college" or whenever, rather than "my ex". It helps.

Jeff McL. said...

As the aforementioned NCB, may I say a couple more things before I stop reading women's blogs and return to more masculine pursuits. (Although as a man I do find this blog utterly fascinating, believe me...) First, men are most attracted to women who have innocence about them. Whatever insecurities I may have hearing about a girl's 25 past boyfriends, each one having slept with her, the worst thing is that it robs her of her innocence. This makes her unattractive rather quickly. I don't care how many men say they want a "slutty" girl--if you put them in a room with a tramp and an innocent girl, guess which one they'll go for. Now most men today have a predatory desire to take and use the girl and get rid of her, but a man of faith and morals still prefers innocence. It brings out a protective instinct within us, not predation. Sadly, "equal rights" has eliminated this idea men used to have that they should protect women. My second comment is that I know of the "Rules" book, have read some of it, and can't stand it. Any woman who tries to play those head games with me will never get a call back. As Christians we are called to honesty in our relationships and not silly games.

Seraphic said...

Jeff McL, welcome to the blog. It isn't really a girls' blog; it's a Singles' blog, but mostly girls read it these days. I had a larger percentage of guy readers when I was Single myself. Whether that was because I was Single or because I wasn't doling out advice like medicine, I know not.

Anyway, one thing I tell female readers over and over is that they must not disclose their sexual sins to anyone but a confessor, a therapist and, if necessary, their doctor. Men should probably keep their mouths shut, too. But if anything men-in-general try to hide their sexual peccadillos. Women simply do not understand that while a close woman friend can hear all that stuff with equaminity, men, not so much.

Meanwhile, all men hate "The Rules" with a blind hatred, so there may be no point in telling you that "The Rules" is not about CIA-style mind games but about women training themselves to spend time and energy only on those men who are REALLY interested, and not on those whom they merely hope are interested.

It is by no means a perfect book, but it contains a lot of sense. I know you won't believe that; chalk it up as some weird female mystery more-or-less closed to the male psyche.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely right on. I have a question -- if you are thinking of marrying someone who is divorced (post-annulment), how much should you ask about their previous marriage. Not to pry into sordid past details, but to try and figure out whether anything could possibly go differently in a new union, or if one's potential husband/wife has learned anything from their first try at marriage.

Perhaps you have written about this already, but I would be grateful for any advice.