Tom

Partner's Past

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I have been steadily progressing in friendship with a woman I've been attracted to. She is not an intellectual, but I have observed over time (a year or so), the basic philosophical ideals by which she lives--I am compatible with her most basic ideas--as well as a benevolent sense of life, an ability to take herself and her life seriously, and the idea that morality is an objective field. She takes romantic relationships to be profound and serious--including personal intimacy, which she would only share with the understanding of how important and profound those relationships are. However, recently I asked her details about her past, particularly as a young adult and minor. I learned things that disturbed me.

These weren't crimes (a couple were, in a self-destructive way) and they are not nearly as bad as I've come to learn about many other women I've become interested in. The one issue I became fixated on was her number of previous partners--it was not ridiculously high. But higher than I could ever have (I've believed sex to be highly profound from a young age; thus I never engaged in sex outside of a relationship based on deep values.) I cannot, in my own world, understand why that many partners could happen. Her explanation for that, which she regrets having experienced (she appeared disturbed when recalling these things), and for other self-destructive behaviors were some psychological struggles she was able to overcome by the time she was 21 and was able to gain discretion in her choices. Particularly depression disorder, which she learned to cope with long ago. She understands the causes for those behaviors and rectified them many, many years ago. Since then, and continuing today, she has done nothing (or very little) that has been selfless or immoral, to my knowledge--including her choice in initiating romantic relationships, which she has now gone years without committing to intimacy because she didn't find a match.

I do love her and care for her friendship--which has slowly been progressing toward a romantic relationship--however, I continue to be fixated on her past and it continues to cause me distress. Enough to halt my desire to become closer to her when my thoughts turn that way. My perception of her has changed, but during the times I interact with her I go back to feeling the same as before. I would hate to lose her friendship and my interest in her (she is wonderful) because of this fixation on her past. What might be some basic steps to begin rationally evaluating what is going on in my mind? And is there any insight you can offer me?

Thank you for reading!

Tom

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First I think you need to give her proper credit when evaluating her past. You only mention the bad things, but what about the good things? Something about her character back then made her change and become a better person. To overcome these things takes alot, and the good things you see in her today she already had back then - she's just become more of the good and less of the bad.

Then, why does her past matter so much to you? Does it make her different and if so, how? Does it change the nature and value of your relationship and if so, how?

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First I think you need to give her proper credit when evaluating her past. You only mention the bad things, but what about the good things? Something about her character back then made her change and become a better person. To overcome these things takes alot, and the good things you see in her today she already had back then - she's just become more of the good and less of the bad.

Then, why does her past matter so much to you? Does it make her different and if so, how? Does it change the nature and value of your relationship and if so, how?

So her basic character as a person was there all along, and despite the bad experiences, she was able to become psychologically and philosophically healthy? I can see that. And other than these experiences, she was very good and even lived by principles from a young age at the detriment of her social life (which lead to self-esteem issues and then bad behaviors as a teen, which according to her was a result of not being able to cope with the results of her acting on principle and its social effects.) I do admire her for a lot of these kinds of things.

It is sometimes like I am blinking between this fixation on her past and moments of clarity where I have everything in its right place and it doesn't bother me (other than feeling sad in general about her her past, but I don't stay on that long when I'm having a clear moment.)

I have thought some about your questions and these are the answers I can come up with:

1. Then, why does her past matter so much to you? I consider it to be a part of who a person is--and obviously to a greater degree than it might ever need to be.

2. Does it make her different and if so, how? It feels that it does only when I'm not around her, not in her physical presence. Before I learned about her past, it just seemed like she had held these ideals forever because of the strength she believed in them. According to her, she had them when younger as well, she was just not good at coping with social pressures and psychological problems at the same time while in her youth. It makes her seem different to me because I never had that problem and cannot understand that sort of experience. It is hard to talk with her now because unintentional things will remind me of her past and I will distance myself as a result.

3. Does it change the nature and value of your relationship and if so, how? Because I have some underlying belief that this part of her past will forever devalue any intimate or romantic relationship she has. It is a numbers thing--can a person be intimate with that many people and still have a romantic future?

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I was going to contribute personal experience but am going to watch this thread develop first.

1. True. But the past is also about building experience and learning from your mistakes (in trading, losses are known as "tuition fees"). She's done this and won't do it again, because it hurts. Hopefully.

Alternatively, there's the French proverb "qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf" - who steals an egg steals an ox - implying that people never change.

2. If this helps, looking at it from the evolutionary perspective (the aversion to cheating and multiple partners as a form of protecting your future offspring from competition), since she has no children and is clean of diseases, you should not feel jealous.

3. The caveat being in the above proverb, which is that her past tells you about her character and therefore likelihood of future behaviour. This would be my rationalization of your feeling that her past taints the future.

The problem with women is that they are very good at removing rationality from our thinking (this is not true conversely, see here). For you as a rational being, this means you need to get dispassionate data about her character, for example by introducing her to rational friends or asking her rational friends what they think about her, and then you need to trust the arbitrator's judgement even if it feels wrong. It took a dispassionate and rational friend to tell me the woman I used to love was not as perfect as I made her to be (and I'll leave it at that for now). Future behaviour confirmed his judgement.

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Hey rtg24, thanks for the reply. These are some perspectives I've also wondered about.

1. Based on her behavior--which is quantifiable in favor of her changing how she used sex to cope with self-esteem/depression--it would seem she has changed. She understands what caused the bad things to happen and then implemented a fix that she has sustained for decades.

2. I was wondering if it were some sort of thing like that, because when I've researched this issue, it is primarily men who have this problem with their partners. She does have children, but this does not bother me.

3. Yes, this would account for continuing to feel uncomfortable about the present in light of the past. However, it just seems, given how she presented her past and its causes, that it cannot logically reoccur.

I have encountered enough beautiful women with flawed characters that they failed to be attractive after I learned of their faults (e.g., drug use, risky sex) that I feel I am able to see through beauty to learn about the person before allowing my emotions to affect my thought. It's been a long series of disappointments. Which is unfortunate...but just a mechanism I developed over time, I can appreciate female beauty, but I don't attribute much else to it until I learn more about the person.

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In which case, Tom, I look forward to hearing your decision, its consequences, and the rest of this thread.

To your last point, I think the study applies not just to beauty but also to projected character and personality. This lesson cost me two years, which is cheap to learn to judge people by their actions, and to get to know this personal bias.

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rtg24, I don't really know any objective third parties to evaluate this woman and give me their evaluation of her character. The closest I would have, to eliminate the possibility of this type of projection, is what I have already done--I've looked at her friends and mutual friends we both have. She spends time with people who, before I knew her through friends, are rational and do have a good sense of life and have maintained friendships with individuals of similar philosophy. Perhaps it is possible to figure out something from that.

It was a fear that I didn't really know her that prompted me to want to learn more about her history--it is still a fear I have, though it isn't as strong as it was before I asked more about her past (since I know a lot about who she is in the present.)

Otherwise, what clues might I have in an overly optimistic appraisal of her? (I am reminded of Dagny Taggart's over-optimism in the ability of humanity to change for the better--how could she have been able to tell she was doing this without having to be shown how it played out in reality?)

And for the actions and behaviors I've witnessed in the year I've known her, and of her own telling of her history, there has been a change for the better, and it has been consistent for her entire adult life after about age 21. She had a higher than average number of partners for a few years while she was a teenager, all were attempts at starting romantic, loving relationships which she thought sex would lead to. That, of course, wasn't the case and she realized it and decided it wasn't the way to get love. She then became engaged for a few years and left that relationship as it was not progressing how she wanted and then married another. She was married for a long time and then her spouse changed (for the worse) and the relationship ended. She was single for a few years, started another relationship, but it failed due to personal circumstances beyond her control. It has been half a decade since that had ended and we became close--she had told me of some men she had been attracted to and had only carefully pursued before she realized they weren't right for her and she moved on before it became a relationship.

Either she has had terrible luck (things beyond her control) or bad premises. She started with bad premises and fixed them and then went through terrible luck thereafter. That's what I think it has been. My trouble is that, after such bad luck and bad premises and indiscretions is it possible that an intimate romantic relationship can never be as valuable?

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Tom,

This is a hard problem. I'm younger and have only had one relationship, so please keep that in mind when you read my advice.

First of all, I have to say that I've had the same trouble. Personally, I tend to stay away from people who have had bad relationships because most people my age haven't had the time for me to feel confident that they truly understand the mistakes they made. However, I can see how a good person could make mistakes when he/she is young and learn from it. The question is whether she has indeed reversed her trend of poor relationships.

This is where I see a mistake in what you wrote. You believe that she started with bad premises and then went through terrible luck. I would urge you to consider the implications of such a statement. From what you describe in the paragraph above, this woman seems incapable of choosing a suitable man and having a life-affirming relationship. It would appear that she has not defined for herself what exactly she finds attractive in a man and why that is. But perhaps she truly desires a relationship and simply hasn't found a man truly worth pursuing.

As I said before, this is a very difficult problem. I would suggest you simply spend more time with her. It is not fundamentally a question of her past - it is a question of who she is now and whether she is capable of having a good relationship.

Good luck!

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Tom,

"Either she has had terrible luck (things beyond her control) or bad premises. She started with bad premises and fixed them and then went through terrible luck thereafter. That's what I think it has been. My trouble is that, after such bad luck and bad premises and indiscretions is it possible that an intimate romantic relationship can never be as valuable?"

To build on realitycheck44's point, I'm reminded of one of those generic success books I leafed in once, where the writer did say something of great value, which I will attempt to paraphrase very badly. "People try to get relationships at all costs, they go and date, they meet people in bars, and none of these relationships work. If you want a great relationship, build yourself to have the values you are looking for in your perfect wife, and eventually she will fall into your life."

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I have encountered enough beautiful women with flawed characters that they failed to be attractive after I learned of their faults (e.g., drug use, risky sex) that I feel I am able to see through beauty to learn about the person before allowing my emotions to affect my thought. It's been a long series of disappointments.

Could the problem be your own inability to trust due to past disappointments more than it is anything she is or has done?

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I have encountered enough beautiful women with flawed characters that they failed to be attractive after I learned of their faults (e.g., drug use, risky sex) that I feel I am able to see through beauty to learn about the person before allowing my emotions to affect my thought. It's been a long series of disappointments.

Could the problem be your own inability to trust due to past disappointments more than it is anything she is or has done?

That is possible, I have gathered an estimation about women I become attracted to given some basic concrete facts about them (number of previous partners) and built from the disappointments a view that is not entirely accurate. I don't ask for more details about her past other than the number--the quality of those relationships doesn't matter to me. It is the number I am fixated on. How I managed to build this up over the years I do not understand--and I don't want it to be detrimental to my attempts at a relationship with a woman who has been nearly a perfect fit, other than her past I cannot fully overcome.

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Tom,

This is a hard problem. I'm younger and have only had one relationship, so please keep that in mind when you read my advice.

First of all, I have to say that I've had the same trouble. Personally, I tend to stay away from people who have had bad relationships because most people my age haven't had the time for me to feel confident that they truly understand the mistakes they made. However, I can see how a good person could make mistakes when he/she is young and learn from it. The question is whether she has indeed reversed her trend of poor relationships.

This is where I see a mistake in what you wrote. You believe that she started with bad premises and then went through terrible luck. I would urge you to consider the implications of such a statement. From what you describe in the paragraph above, this woman seems incapable of choosing a suitable man and having a life-affirming relationship. It would appear that she has not defined for herself what exactly she finds attractive in a man and why that is. But perhaps she truly desires a relationship and simply hasn't found a man truly worth pursuing.

As I said before, this is a very difficult problem. I would suggest you simply spend more time with her. It is not fundamentally a question of her past - it is a question of who she is now and whether she is capable of having a good relationship.

Good luck!

These failed relationships occurred over a significant span of time, other than her teenage years--and the circumstances for the failures of her greatest attempts to date were, and I am being completely honest, far beyond her control.

You are right, I need to be more clear on her standards in a partner and understand what it is she sees possible. From what I've gathered, however, is that she wants a positive and fully loving relationship--nothing that is less is what she wants in sharing her life with another person. She does have high standards for who she loves, but she has a few mistakes in (explicit) thinking that I've noticed--but it might be due to just fuzzy thinking on her part and not reflective of her underlying personal philosophy. But I will need to investigate that more closely.

It would seem that I am completely comfortable and love who she is right now...it is just the nightmares of her past that keep returning to my mind and distressing me. I am unsure how to break that fixation on the past once I know I'm sure she is who I think she is in the present.

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So her basic character as a person was there all along, and despite the bad experiences, she was able to become psychologically and philosophically healthy? I can see that. And other than these experiences, she was very good and even lived by principles from a young age at the detriment of her social life (which lead to self-esteem issues and then bad behaviors as a teen, which according to her was a result of not being able to cope with the results of her acting on principle and its social effects.) I do admire her for a lot of these kinds of things.

It is sometimes like I am blinking between this fixation on her past and moments of clarity where I have everything in its right place and it doesn't bother me (other than feeling sad in general about her her past, but I don't stay on that long when I'm having a clear moment.)

I have thought some about your questions and these are the answers I can come up with:

1. Then, why does her past matter so much to you? I consider it to be a part of who a person is--and obviously to a greater degree than it might ever need to be.

2. Does it make her different and if so, how? It feels that it does only when I'm not around her, not in her physical presence. Before I learned about her past, it just seemed like she had held these ideals forever because of the strength she believed in them. According to her, she had them when younger as well, she was just not good at coping with social pressures and psychological problems at the same time while in her youth. It makes her seem different to me because I never had that problem and cannot understand that sort of experience. It is hard to talk with her now because unintentional things will remind me of her past and I will distance myself as a result.

3. Does it change the nature and value of your relationship and if so, how? Because I have some underlying belief that this part of her past will forever devalue any intimate or romantic relationship she has. It is a numbers thing--can a person be intimate with that many people and still have a romantic future?

I think she must have had it in herself in order to change. To change I think you have to practice and develop your virtues.

1. Yes, but look at the whole person. Also keep in mind that your relationship with her is not with her past, but rather now and in the future if you choose to. I also think rtg24 makes a very good point here about building experience.

2. I think this sounds like you are creating this picture of her on how she was in her past which is not congruent with how you see her today. Perhaps try to focus more on the present, what ideas she holds now and how she acts. You can also talk to her about the future, what she wants from it and how she acts to get it. That should make it easier to tell if you want to be part of it or not, and to what extent.

3. I don't think the value of a relationship is a numbers thing. If that was the case one should go for virgins instead of more experienced partners, regardless of their virtues, and I think even sex inside a relationship would devalue it. However, the currency of love is virtue, so the question is wether or not she's a virtous woman. Can a person have had many sexual partners and still be virtous? I think so, and I also think that people can change for the better. This is why I think it seems like a good idea to learn more about her, especially on how she is today. Just pursue the relationship to the level you are comfortable with, in an open-ended fashion, without any commitments you're not sure you can honour(I mean, you don't have to be sure you want to marry her to have some sort of relationship to see if there's any long-term potential).

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Tom,

"Either she has had terrible luck (things beyond her control) or bad premises. She started with bad premises and fixed them and then went through terrible luck thereafter. That's what I think it has been. My trouble is that, after such bad luck and bad premises and indiscretions is it possible that an intimate romantic relationship can never be as valuable?"

To build on realitycheck44's point, I'm reminded of one of those generic success books I leafed in once, where the writer did say something of great value, which I will attempt to paraphrase very badly. "People try to get relationships at all costs, they go and date, they meet people in bars, and none of these relationships work. If you want a great relationship, build yourself to have the values you are looking for in your perfect wife, and eventually she will fall into your life."

I think applying this advice leaves relationships up to luck. Sure, many people look for relationships for the wrong reasons, and I think that to have a great relationship you must build a great character. However, without trying, and possibly failing, chances are slim to find a good partner. If you wait for someone to just walk into your life you may have to wait a long time. The alternative is to go looking in different venues, and some of those relationships do actually work.

Indiscretion is certainly bad, but I don't think it's a bad thing that she's actually tried and failed a few times.

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Red - I didn't mean that! I meant perhaps the kind of people she has attracted are due to the set of values she is holding. I trained as an engineer so my communication skills are not great -_-

Also, I don't think this approach is necessarily wrong. Sure, staying inside your shell (indeed, creating a shell) and not meeting people and waiting for things to magically happen doesn't work in relationships, but then nor does it in your career! Most of my relationships so far have been me meeting a great woman in a professional/non-date setting (for example after a concert where she may have led the orchestra, or a conference where she had spoken) and immediately taking it from there. Arranged dates have never worked.

It's not about people "dropping" into your life, it's about the great people you meet on a daily basis "sticking", if you see what I mean (and this also applies to friends - one of my best friend is somebody I met in a professional setting, and he was on the other side). If my code of values did not prize Roark or Dagny, I wouldn't have had more than a few minutes conversation with the women in question.

I do agree with what you say about knowing what she is like *now* (in effect, the objective truth).

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Red, I am grateful for your insight. It helped me make some things click in my mind when I read some of your points. Honestly, there is a conflict between my fixation on her past, and my admiration for her as she is today. And you are correct, I believe she had the virtue young in life (the events that set off her depression and poor judgment was actually due to something she did that was good) and these were exceptional events compared with the rest of her life. I think I have the connections made in my mind I can look at this more objectively to see what good can come from a relationship with her. Thanks!

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Red - I didn't mean that! I meant perhaps the kind of people she has attracted are due to the set of values she is holding. I trained as an engineer so my communication skills are not great -_-

Also, I don't think this approach is necessarily wrong. Sure, staying inside your shell (indeed, creating a shell) and not meeting people and waiting for things to magically happen doesn't work in relationships, but then nor does it in your career! Most of my relationships so far have been me meeting a great woman in a professional/non-date setting (for example after a concert where she may have led the orchestra, or a conference where she had spoken) and immediately taking it from there. Arranged dates have never worked.

It's not about people "dropping" into your life, it's about the great people you meet on a daily basis "sticking", if you see what I mean (and this also applies to friends - one of my best friend is somebody I met in a professional setting, and he was on the other side). If my code of values did not prize Roark or Dagny, I wouldn't have had more than a few minutes conversation with the women in question.

I do agree with what you say about knowing what she is like *now* (in effect, the objective truth).

Ah, I see what you mean now! I also agree with that. However I also think it's very difficult to make judgements based on who the person is attracted to, and I believe it's because you need to know what she sees. For example, what if someone is attracted to the other persons percieved honesty, but finds out that he's a liar. What I mean is that a person can be attracted to someone for all the right reasons but can make errors in judgement as to the reality of that person.

I also agree with the rest you are saying. I think it boils down to pursuing ones values, and having them i proper order. Finding people through your career and other interests I believe is a very good way(atleast chances are higher that you share the same values), however I wouldnt exclude exploring other venues either - though I would agree that they are often more ineffective.

Red, I am grateful for your insight. It helped me make some things click in my mind when I read some of your points. Honestly, there is a conflict between my fixation on her past, and my admiration for her as she is today. And you are correct, I believe she had the virtue young in life (the events that set off her depression and poor judgment was actually due to something she did that was good) and these were exceptional events compared with the rest of her life. I think I have the connections made in my mind I can look at this more objectively to see what good can come from a relationship with her. Thanks!

I'm glad you found it helpful. I wish you the best of luck! -_-

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