Dear Wendy: “How Many Sex Partners Is Too Many?”

Recently I was talking to my 21-year-old boyfriend about how many sexual partners was considered “too many.” I told him how there was a 21-year-old guy friend who says he’s had over 20 partners but they had each meant something to him so he didn’t see a problem with it; only when you have meaningless sex does it become a problem, he said. Most of my other friends, especially my girl friends, only have had a couple partners, and I have always thought that was the norm for most people my age. When I asked my boyfriend how many he thought was “too many,” he said that if you lose count, then that’s when it becomes too much. He also said that he’s had nine and didn’t think that that was a lot at all. I personally have only had one other partner, and when I found out that he had nine, it kind of took me by surprise. I’m not mad and don’t think any differently of my boyfriend or my friend than I did before, but I’m just curious, what do most people consider to be too many partners and at what age? — Number Cruncher

I am positive that the number people think is “too many” sex partners varies greatly not only across generations and cultures, but from person to person. And, really, what difference does it make what other people consider “normal” or what they’re comfortable with? What matters is what you think, what your values are and in what way those values serve as a lens through which you view other people. What matters is that your boyfriend told you something about himself that surprised you but rather than freak out, you’ve been able to step away and see the bigger picture — you’re able to see that your boyfriend is the same person you thought he was before you found out what his number was and that maybe, just maybe, that number doesn’t really matter as much as the way he treats you and how well you get along and how you he makes you feel. I’d say that if you’ve got that much figured out at 21, you’re doing pretty well, and really, truly, honestly, you don’t need other people’s ideas of what’s wrong or right or normal messing with that.

Dear Wendy: “I Was Invited To My Ex’s Wedding, But I Don’t Want To Go

I have been dating Mr. Awesome for the past seven months. When we met I was recovering from a long-term relationship that included lying, cheating, deceit, etc. It took me a few months, all the while still dealing with the ex and his nonsense, to understand what a truly great catch I had. At the four month mark we talked about our relationship and he said he felt me withholding, doubting, and being generally slow to show affection or genuine interest. I vowed to fix it — for me, and for us. I found a therapist and went devoutly. I attended every week and felt like I was truly understanding my inner demons — leftovers from the ex, etc. I was becoming the partner we both needed me to be and with his support was truly giving it my all.

I came to a point where I had to put everything my ex had done to me to rest before I could tell Mr. Awesome I loved him. With my therapist’s urging I flew back east to confront him, collect some of my things (left at his place from the year before) and say goodbye to that life. It was completely successful; I had everything I needed to come home and throw myself into the arms of Mr. Awesome and tell him how I felt. And so I did, and all I could do was smile and dream about our amazing future.

Well a month later while I was sick in bed, Mr. Awesome spent a Friday night taking advantage of my unattended phone and found evidence that I had visited the ex and that I had been dealing with his past baggage. He packed my things and asked me to leave and never to speak to him again. I may have hid my trip, but my intentions were pure. I have never cheated on him, or lied about anything other than this instance. My therapist says he has insecurity issues from a past relationship (he was cheated on before) but that my privacy was invaded and that I should give him room to heal. Problem is, I know him — he will forget all his feelings, dive into work and never think of me again. This is the first relationship I have truly cared about, put serious effort in, and am absolutely devastated. It’s been a week and I can’t think about anything else. What do I do!?! — Devastated But Determined

When your therapist urged you to fly across the country to confront your lying, cheating ex in person, did she also tell you it would be OK to hide that little trip from your boyfriend? Because if s/he did, I think you’ve got at least one more breakup in your immediate future since I’d advice you to dump the crackpot therapist. But let’s face it, if Mr. Awesome is the type of person who invades people’s privacy when they’re sick and can move on lickety-split from an intense seven-month relationship without giving it a second thought, maybe your quack doctor actually helped you — inadvertently, of course — dodge a bullet.

But you want advice; you want to know what to do now, so I’ll say this: reach out to him. Call him up, send him an email, go to his apartment and apologize profusely for keeping such a big thing from him. Explain to him that you see in retrospect how wrong you were, but that you were so desperate to put your past behind you so you could devote yourself wholeheartedly to your future with him that you put all your trust in your dumb therapist who gave you bad advice, and you’re just really, really sorry and you hope he can forgive you and learn to trust you again. Tell him that while it was a bad idea to keep the trip a secret from him, it actually did help you to confront some your demons and now you’re emotionally available to be the kind of girlfriend he’s wanted you to be this whole time.

That’s really all you can say. If it’s not enough for him, it’s not enough. You can “give him time to heal,” like your therapist advises, but the truth is he’s not really “healing” from anything. His trust has been betrayed and he needs to know why and whether it can be regained or he’s going to move on. So, get on it, girl, and hope it isn’t too late to save this relationship.

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