Dear Carolyn • My girlfriend has told me about her unfaithful past. It has me worried quite a bit. She told me she dated someone for three years, and in the last year she became unfaithful. It started with just hanging out with a guy she liked, but she didn’t engage in anything physical. However, she did meet someone at work and that went into physical territory — weekends away to hotels. Her then-boyfriend found out and she lied to him.
After that ended, a year and a half ago, she became very promiscuous. We met four months ago and have been dating ever since. She told me she would never cheat on me, and that her past was full of mistakes. She says she used sex to cope. Sometimes I worry. I’ve heard the saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” and I’m trying my best not to become a jealous, possessive boyfriend. Any advice?
Dear R. • How come you never hear, “Once a freeloader, always a freeloader” or “Once a whiner, always a whiner” or “Once a self-obsessed, chaos-sowing pain in the butt, always a self-obsessed, chaos-sowing pain in the butt”?
People can be a bad relationship bet for countless reasons, often in glorious combination. Fixating on only one of them automatically forces you into a narrow view of a person, just when thinking broadly would optimize your judgment — not just of her, but of yourself with her.
For example, why are you stressed by her cheating, but not relieved by her honesty? Is cheating the only, or even the most serious, way she could hurt you? Have you ever mistreated a girlfriend? Did you disclose exactly how, when and why to your current girlfriend?
Of course it makes sense to be concerned about her destructive past. Of course it’s going to be on your mind. Of course infidelity is near the top of the bad-news food chain. But tease out the contributing elements of cheating, and you’ll get a much less tidy, but much more useful set of traits to screen for — in part because they’re behind all kinds of destructive behavior, not just infidelity.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.