She's itching to move on

Q: I have been dating my girlfriend for about a year and a half now, but there is a problem that just won't go away: her past relationships bother me. She has had significantly more relationships than I have. While she was my "first," she won't even tell me the exact number of lovers she's had because she is afraid it will upset me too much. I trust her completely not to cheat on me, and I feel like it is wrong for me to be so bothered by her past lifestyle. What does this mean, and what should I do about it? Is taking a break and seeing other people the right move?

Dr. Susan: It's more common than you realize for women to have more intimate partners than some of the men they date. Men the world over like to feel they're the more experienced half of the couple, and when that's not the case, it makes for a certain insecurity. Even a certain sadness: before we were married, when my husband was told by a previous girlfriend that she'd had a hundred lovers before him, he broke down and wept. How many somewhat inexperienced men are going to believe deep in their hearts that they're "the best" when the competition is so keen? And we all crave being the best. So the fact that you're bothered by your girlfriend's past isn't unusual. That alone is nothing to worry about. As more time passes, her past will seem trivial in comparison to all the great times you two have spent together.

You ask if seeing other people is the right move. Why would you jump to that conclusion unless you're either (a) looking for an excuse to leave her anyway, or (b) hoping to even out the numbers, which would be pretty cold and calculated and would certainly doom this relationship (and maybe the next one, too).

Your next step, then, is to open up the communication between you and your girlfriend. Don't harp on getting particular numbers - they don't mean a thing by themselves. Does she delight in your lovemaking? Is she kind and generous and fun to be with in and out of the bedroom? But if you feel compared unfavorably, or you're truly feeling as though you've missed something, having tied yourself to your first serious girlfriend, that feeling probably won't go away any time soon. While I wouldn't suggest giving up someone perfectly wonderful, I also wouldn't advise sticking around if you're intensely sexually antsy or feeling put down in the bedroom.

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