Q: I’ve been in a wonderful relationship for eight months. She’s beautiful, bright, a feminist, and we have quite a bit in common. However, while we’re out with her friends, they all reminisce and joke about past flings and one-night stands. The first time it happened I became upset and wasn’t sure I was justified or rational in my feelings. I later explained to her that that kind of locker-room talk makes me uncomfortable, that I’m not “one of the girls,” and asked that she have those conversations when I’m not around.
Her friend(s) have continued to bring it up, and she feels bad, I get silent, and it kinda sucks. She recently said that I overreact in those situations and that she likes joking about sex. Thing is, I like joking about sex, too, but don’t need to reference past lovers, their body parts, etc. Sex is funny without those references, don’t you think? How can I explain to her that I’m not being oversensitive? Or am I? Alex, 38
A: You’re not being oversensitive. You’ve given her one simple request that shouldn’t be too difficult to oblige: Stop talking casually about all the sex she’s had with other people. It’s a completely reasonable request. It doesn’t matter that those people are from her past; she’s still creating feelings of jealousy by comparing you with others. She’s also disrespecting you by dismissing your feelings. Accusing you of being oversensitive achieves nothing — it’s only going to make you feel like you have to defend your own emotions.
The next move is yours, and you don’t even have to wait until she brings up that one time she banged a flight attendant on a layover in Memphis. Tell her it’s bothering you that she called you oversensitive, because you feel like your request is reasonable. Ask her a simple question: “I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to hear about all the sex you’ve had in the past, so why do you still insist on telling me about it?” Instead of defending her actions, your girlfriend should try explaining them. She may say she’s being open with you about her past because she has nothing to hide. However, simply shutting up about past sexual endeavors achieves the same thing. If you wanted to hear about that time she got fingered in the middle of Section 125 while the Twins were hosting the Phillies, you’d ask. She doesn’t get to play the feminist card, either. Incessantly telling a current partner about past partners has nothing to do with gender equality or empowerment. It only serves to boost her ego. When the topic of old flings is the anchor of conversation every time she’s with her friends, it’s the same thing but with a bigger audience.
Getting your girlfriend’s friends to shut up is a whole other problem, one that she has to handle without you. She also has to handle it without blaming it on you, so be clear that you have no desire to be a scapegoat. She can start by saying to them, “I really like Alex and things have been going well, so I want to cool it with the whole ‘talking about my exes’ thing.” It shouldn’t be hard for her to tell her friends that she sees a future with you, so it’s time to stop bringing up everyone from her past.
You always have the option to skip the next happy hour and hang out with your own friends. Tell her you’re not hating on her crew, but you can think of better ways to pass the time than listening to stories about the Great Lollapalooza Tent Orgy of 2008 or that one time she went on a cruise with the Stanford rugby team. With the exception of cuckold fetishists, no one really wants to know how many other hands have been in the honey pot.