• Relationships

Dear Wendy: “I’m Ashamed Of My Stripper Past”

When I was a freshman in college, I made a really bad decision that has been on my conscience ever since. I was attending an expensive private school and I didn’t make enough at my part-time job to support the kind of lifestyle I wanted and that most of my wealthy peers lived. So for three weeks, I took on the pseudonym “Scarlet” and worked the pole at a local strip club. I was constantly worried that one of my parents or someone at my school would find out. Eventually, I was so overcome with guilt and shame that I quit. My friends have always been very supportive and accepted me despite the social stigma associated with exotic dancers. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and am now working towards my Ph.D. However, I can’t help but feel that I am tarnished when it comes to seeking a romantic relationship. I’m afraid that my love interest with judge me and consider me easy or corrupt. But I do think that whomever I end up dating has the right to know. Do you agree? If so, should I downplay the severity of the situation (i.e., it was only three weeks and it was not a full nude club)? How should I go about overcoming this major insecurity? Or, is that the consequence of taking my clothes off for money? — Reformed Bad Girl

First of all, no, the person you date doesn’t necessarily have a “right” to know every little thing about your past, including a three-week stint as a pole dancer at a strip club. Furthermore, there’s no need to be sharing something like that about yourself with every guy you go out with. If, however, it’s something you want to reveal about yourself to someone you’ve grown to care about and trust and have begun to build a strong foundation for a committed relationship with, think about your motivations for spilling the beans. If it’s because you consider it a scar on your personal history and you feel someone should know the “whole ugly truth” about you before making a full commitment, it’s time for you to examine that part of your personal history through a different lens.

Instead of thinking about yourself as “tarnished” because of this job you did for three weeks when you were all of 18 or 19, think of how it helped you evolve. Yes, evolve. Surely, something good came of the experience. Maybe it made you a more compassionate person as you were able to see how people who perhaps didn’t have the privilege of wealth and a great education supported themselves and their kids. Maybe you learned something about the human condition — about desire and greed — and that knowledge made you a more well-rounded, informed person in the long run. I bet you learned how to move your body in a beautiful way. Maybe you gained confidence in yourself and your ability to turn on a partner. Maybe you simply learned a lot about your personal boundaries and priorities, lessons it can take people years to learn.

I recommend making a list of at least five ways your experience in the strip club years ago had a positive impact on you. This will help you change the lens through which you view that time in your life and re-frame it from a tale of shame to one of immense personal growth. (And, should you choose to share your story with a romantic partner, that should be the way you frame it). Your experience didn’t hurt anyone; it wasn’t anything scores of other young women in similar circumstances haven’t also tried; and you have since gone on to achieve some great accomplishments. So, let go of the shame. The weight of it far exceeds any value it has.

I recently started dating this guy and everything seemed perfect until he brought me to his house for the first time to show me where he lived. Along the way, he pointed out another house that he rented out to people to make some extra cash. Smart, you would think … and maybe rich, which wouldn’t be bad … But, oh was I in for a surprise when he pulled into the driveway only to find out he lives with his parents. Now, I wouldn’t think twice about the matter if he were in his early 20s or didn’t have a job where he was making enough money to live on his own and was trying to save up. But he’s 29 and owns a house (the one he rents out) and has a very stable job and has made it clear that money is not an issue for him. It’s not even about the money to me at all, but I’m worried about what it says about the person he is. Living with mommy and daddy at 29 and having no intentions of moving out anytime soon makes me wonder if he is just incredibly dependent on being taken care of and cannot and does not want to take care of himself.

His family is from Italy and raised him slightly different than your traditional American family. Most Italian children do not move out of their parents’ houses until they are engaged or married. I understand the cultural differences there but it doesn’t change the fact that I am bothered by it. I would never feel comfortable staying at his place or having any sort of physical relationship with someone at his parents’ house, as I feel it would be disrespectful. Plus, it would just be weird. If I didn’t feel strongly about this guy I would probably just say forget it and move on but we have everything in common and get along great — plus, he’s incredibly sweet. I tried to ask him what his reasoning was for not wanting to move out and he could only say that he’s lived in his other house on his own before and has had roommates who have gone off to get married and he doesn’t want to live by himself. Is he so dependent on his parents to care for him? What about when he’s married — is he going to expect his wife to do everything for him? Am I just over reacting like he thinks I am or should I be worried? — Too Old to Live At Home

While I understand your concern and think you are being totally smart in considering what your new boyfriend’s living conditions might say about the kind of person he is, I’d recommend you keep an observant eye on him and his behavior to get the full story. As you say, there’s a cultural difference at play here, which could very well imply some over-dependence (by American standards) on his parents, but it could also imply strong family values and smart financial choices. Sure, he might be doing well financially, but for all you know, maybe his parents aren’t, and by living with them and renting out his own house, he’s able to help them out. Maybe he has debt he wants to pay off (including his mortgage) before he marries and settles down, and living with his parents allows him to accomplish that more quickly. And perhaps his parents aren’t doing well physically, and by living with them he’s able to care for them more conveniently than if he lived elsewhere.

My point is that there could be a variety of perfectly sound reasons why your new boyfriend lives at home — not all of which have to be signs of stunted emotional growth — but until you get to know him and his situation better, it would be premature to dump him because of this. When and if you get to a point where his living situation is greatly interfering with your relationship, it would be appropriate to talk to him and discuss some other options that work for you both. Until then, I wouldn’t worry too much about what his living with his parents “says about the person he is,” and let him actually show you what kind of person he is. I suspect you won’t be kept in the dark too long.

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