Ask Dave-I’m Jealous Of My Boyfriend’s Past

His new guy has many exes…and it's causing him to worry. How can he get over it—or can he?

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
My boyfriend of six months and I are both in our thirties and fairly social. The problem is my jealousy. When we were first dating, we talked about past relationships. I'd been with the same partner for 12 years until last year. He hasn't been in a relationship that's lasted more than nine months. So obviously, he's dated more than I have. He was
I think of all the guys he might have been with and it bugs me.
concerned early on that I would think he was "poor marriage material," since his history with men has been what he described as "lots of dates and some short-term, serial monogamy." I was concerned that he'd think I was still hung up on my ex (which I am not).

I thought we worked these issues out, but now, for whatever reason, I hate hearing about his dating past. When he brings up someone he dated, it makes me jealous. I think of all the guys he might have been with and it bugs me. When we run into someone he dated, which is frequently (this is a small town sometimes), he always tells me about the guy's history. I have told him that it's fine to tell me the truth about these men. But I am torn between wanting and not wanting to know. When we're at a party, I feel uneasy when he gets involved in conversations with other guys, wondering if it's another ex or if he's tired of me and interested in someone else. I have no real basis to worry. He tells me we are doing great as a couple and that lots of couples are fine with "past talk." But I fear that his past is getting in the way. Any advice on the right way to deal with this?
-Jealous Boyfriend

Dear Jealous,
It's not that it's right or wrong to discuss past dates or relationships. Instead, it's a matter of respecting your partner and agreeing on a level of interest/tolerance for hearing about your dating life before each other.

If the past is getting in the way of a happier present and promising future, then manage it better by:

Allowing at least carry-on baggage.
Unless you are each other's first partner, you both have dating pasts. So it's fair to say that most of us journey into new relationships carrying some baggage in the form of dating history. But apparently, your boyfriend is toting steamer trunks that, perhaps, could be condensed into carry-on bags. While I can understand your desire to limit your exposure to the details, the truth is that what matters now is your present relationship. You can't change the past. You can only look to the present and hope for the future. Your boyfriend could have an entirely different approach to this relationship than any before it. You have the chance to create something meaningful and new together. Focus on what you can create or change, not on people that came before you.

Fighting the green-eyed monster.
Battle it with reinforcement of rational thought. Does your boyfriend do or say anything that makes you question his interest in or commitment to you? For example, when he talks about former lovers, does he wax poetic or make unfavorable comparisons to you? If the answer is yes, then call him on the carpet for disrespecting you. If not, then get at the root of your green-eyed demon by asking: Are you yourself unconsciously putting up a relationship roadblock? Dr. Betty Berzon,
You get to decide how much "past talk" is too much.
psychotherapist and author of The Intimacy Dance: A Guide to Long-Term Success in Gay and Lesbian Relationships, offers this insight: "Getting lost in your jealousy is possibly a way of keeping your lover from getting closer to you, which would mean having to be more open with and vulnerable to him."

Taming your insecurity.
Could some of your jealousy come from insecurities that you need to address? If he's giving you no reason to doubt him, don't feed your insecurities by getting overly possessive at a party, hounding him when he mentions a former date, or even doubting his future potential based on his past. Remind yourself that it's OK for him to chat with other guys at social events and occasionally mention a former date. While you're at it, accept that his past behavior doesn't preclude his ability to commit and be faithful to you.

Setting your own rules.
To borrow from Hillary Clinton, it may take a village to raise a child—but it does not take a village to set the rules of your romance. You get to decide how much "past talk" is too much. Do you want to adopt a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy when it comes to all previous dates? Or, would you rather apply "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" only to casual dates and encounters? For instance, you might feel that it's beneficial to discuss past relationships in the context of what you/he learned from them. It's possible that hearing from him why previous relationships didn't last long might give you insights into who he was and who he has become. This information might well set the stage for what you want your relationship to become, too.

The bottom line: It's important to accept your partner as-is, which means accepting his past. But it's also smart to protect a budding relationship so that the focus stays on what you are creating together. To the extent that past information interferes with that focus, partners need to respect each other's feelings. The important thing is that you decide together what level of information is OK to reveal and what "past talk" should stay in the past.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at
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