Question: I’ve been seeing this great guy for about 6 months. He’s sweet, smart, and ridiculously generous with his time and attention, and I like him a lot. All this makes me feel terrible about telling him to shut up about the angst he feels about his friend who’s moving back to her home country soon. The two of them have been working together for close to a year, and even though she turned him down when he asked her out on a date when they first met, they have remained friends.
In the interests of being upfront and honest when I started dating him, he told me the whole story. Now, he still seems to have some lingering feelings for her – especially since she’s leaving. At this point, I’m tired of being supportive and listening to him go on about how much he’s going to miss her, and how he feels as if her leaving is a bigger deal to him than it is to her. It grates on me to hear about his issues with his former crush. Is there a non-bitchy way I can call him out on this and help him move on?
Dr. ZZ: The good news is you’ve got it made over his old crush. Number one, she’s leaving. Number two, the situation is bound to improve with time.
In terms of confronting your boyfriend, you’ll do best to be compassionate and direct. Obviously, he is free to chew over his feelings for her and to contemplate grand gestures like taking her out to dinner one last time. By the same token, you are free to tell him that you have compassion for what he is feeling and want him to process it in whatever way he needs. But it’s also perfectly okay to ask him not to process his grief during your time together or to use you as a sounding board – that hearing about every detail makes you feel insecure and depressed.
Say something like, “I know you’re really bummed that she’s leaving, and it’s bringing up a lot of complicated feelings for you. I appreciate your being so open with me about it, and I know that your intentions are good; but I also think that I’m not the right person to comfort you about this particular set of worries. Can you confide this stuff in one of your other friends, and let our time together be about us?”
Question: I met a guy in a nightclub on his last night in Bali, and we hooked up. I figured it would be a one-night stand, but after having sex, we decided to keep in touch, and we have been emailing, texting, and calling each other and talking throughout the night. In one conversation, we discussed our sexual histories, and he said he hadn’t been with “too many women.” When I asked him how many, he waffled. Then, as we talked about all the different places we have traveled, it became clear that most of the countries he has visited are notorious for sex tourism, and I am the first woman he didn’t pay for sex.
As a feminist, I have read and heard about girls enduring outrageous brutality at the hands of sex tourists. I loathe the demonization and dehumanization of women who work in the sex industry for a livelihood. Thinking of him as a sex tourist turns my stomach, and I wonder if what he did means he’s a bad person. Is a man who buys sex from a woman, maybe even a minor, a person whom a feminist should avoid? I could use some illumination on this. Thank you.
Dr. ZZ: Everyone has a history, and we do best to approach another’s sexual past with respect and gentleness. That doesn’t mean that everything is in bounds, or that you can’t find something to be a huge turnoff or morally unacceptable. But, if somebody judged you harshly for hooking up with a guy for a one-night stand, for example, how would that jibe with your politics?
We live in a patriarchal society, and prostitution is the world’s oldest profession for a reason. There’s no telling how many kind, smart, eminently datable men have paid for sex at some point in their lives. If the price of that experience is that they must never admit it and instead keep the experience as a filthy little secret, then we feed the duality monster that pretends there are “good” girls and “bad” girls, and that we can somehow tell the difference.
Without judgment, you may want to ask him what it was like, what he experienced, and what he feels about it in retrospect. There may be things about his story that weigh on you so much that you can’t let it go, and you can’t have a relationship with him. But you don’t know that until you talk about it like adults in a way that admits the complexities of the world and of desire, and admits the agency and humanity of people who sell sex.
No “Feminists Commission” is standing at attention to audit you if you see this man again. There’s just you and he and the choices you make. This is not to minimize the horrors of human trafficking and underage prostitution; it is just to suggest that it’s better to deal with truth than with speculation, and that you ask him what happened. He may have some complex feelings about it after the fact. Chances are a lot of men have paid for sex and are not honest about it. This is an opportunity to get a first hand account of what that world is like.
Dr. ZZ has a Ph.D. in Counseling and a doctorate in Natural Healing. Drawing on a background of over thirty years as a professional therapist, she offers self-help in the areas health, relationship and personal growth. All queries are answered by email and, if they appear in print, are subject to editing. Please email your questions : <email@example.com> All identifying information is kept strictly confidential.
Copyright © 2017 Say What?
You can read all past articles of Say What at