How Do I Accept My Girlfriend’s Cheating Past?

On struggling after graduating, trying to get your parents off your back, and tolerating your partner’s unsavory past.

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada, formerly the managing editor of Hazlitt. Her debut collection of essays, The Pursuit of...

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How does any woman do anything anymore?

I think about this a lot, usually when I am explaining to a male friend that I do not want to go to his house at night because then I will have to walk home alone at night. Or when someone invents a rape-drug-detecting nail polish and my instinct isn’t, “God, I can’t believe someone thought to invent that,” but rather, “Ooh, does it come in matte?” Or when this talking Chapstick wants to discuss rape culture and how Lena Dunham’s rape story wasn’t “real” rape because she didn’t immediately cry “RAPE” after it happened.

I am a human lady, but I am always amazed when I see other human ladies out there, doing stuff, because there are all these people trying to stab and bite and grope us all the time. Considering all the men who would like us to stop doing stuff, it really is amazing that stuff keeps getting done.

Anita Sarkeesian is one of these human ladies, who manages to be so impressively adult while a bunch of untrained monkeys throw their shit in her direction because mean feminist hurt man. Sarkeesian is dealing with a steady stream of harassment and death threats simply because she dares discuss the topic of misogyny in video games (which kind of proves her point, but we’re beyond the point where logic matters). Even still, she stuck it out, showing up for her speaking engagements despite the very reasonable people threatening to murder her.

Or she had been, at least, until Utah State University—the location for her next speech—told her they were legally unable to restrict firearms at her lecture. And since they couldn’t promise her that they’d stop anyone carrying a concealed weapon from walking into a space in which someone had threatened to shoot her, she cancelled, because bravery in the face of harassment stops right around the moment it becomes that the Second Amendment trumps your entire existence.

So what do you do when it feels like all the men in the world are doing everything in their power to smash your skull against the pavement, thereby proving the exact injustice you’re railing against? Or when you, no matter how hard you work, you can’t help but shake the feeling that you’re up against a system explicitly designed to dismiss and discriminate against your gender?

I have no idea what you’re supposed to do. I’ve been trying to think of what to realistically suggest to the average woman handling harassment, from smaller infractions (this idiot on the subway keeps calling me “sweetheart”) to some of the worst things imaginable (no one grows up thinking, “One day, I will proactively avoid an assassination attempt”).

So instead of trying to come up with unique advice to Sarkeesian or the many women who find themselves in similar positions through no fault of their own, I offer instead a tip to the Internet gremlins threatening to shoot her if she shows her face: you are tremendously, tragically, unceasingly, aggressively on the wrong side of history. You are ruining the lives of and threatening grievous bodily harm against women whose greatest crime is talking about how prevalent sexism is in the community of which you have chosen to be a part. How do you think this looks? What exactly do you think you’re proving right now? You are undoing years of gamers fighting the idea that they were nothing more than a bunch of anti-social anthropomorphic trench coats. Congratulations: you are self-fulfilling stereotypes.

At the very least, listen to your mothers.

I have spent a lot—A LOT—of money on a degree in Art History. As a student, I loved this subject and thought I would enjoy a career in this field. Turns out, after three years of exploration, I think the art world is despicable and most people in it are douches. Besides, about 99 percent of employees are unpaid interns (with titles such as Gallery Manager—who the fuck falls for that?!), so I am getting nowhere. Naturally, now I am completely at a loss as to what to do with my life. I can’t really go back to school because I am already financially crippled for life. Any tips and tricks?

— Your Average Quarter-Life Crisis

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: do not go back to school yet. For a lot of recent graduates (and, sometimes, their parents), going back to school is the last resort of the desperate. It’s one final grasp at the stability that academia ostensibly offers, but it can also delay your progress, saddle you with even most crushing debt, and leave you 28, unemployed, and still not all that sure about your future.

So unless you have a very clear idea of what other career you think is more viable, do not give another institution another $30,000 so that you can spend another four years gearing up for another big dream.

What you’re facing presently is the quandary that most recent graduates face: the realization that your dream job is actually the pits. Almost everyone realizes this at some point, and it’s almost a blessing that you found out sooner rather than later.

Today, I talked to him for 25 minutes about how much I like the fake cheese in those Ritz cracker sandwiches. I am a blister on his life, but he likes what he does, so he splits the difference and comes to work but goes home and cries in his pillow a lot.

I don’t know that three years is enough time to determine if you’ve made a huge mistake. Do you still like art history? Because it sounds like you’ve become disenchanted with a subject you do enjoy largely because the industry itself is full of people you do not. A lot of people like the things they work on without liking the people they work with or the system they work in. (Lots of ladies like video games; not a lot of them like the harassment that comes with it.) So if you’re still enjoying art history, you need to find a way to make it into a career without letting your peers bum you out. Do your best to find an internship that pays, or one with flexible hours so that you can work part-time. Reach out to people whose work you respect; chances are, you’ll find some likeminded veterans who are well aware of the community’s shortcomings and would be happy to mentor a marginally less-terrible newcomer. I know you’re annoyed with the sorts of people in the industry, but everyone who works in any place hates almost everyone they work with. Do you think Hazlitt deputy editor Jordan Ginsberg likes having to see me five days a week? Today, I talked to him for 25 minutes about how much I like the fake cheese in those Ritz cracker sandwiches. I am a blister on his life, but he likes what he does, so he splits the difference and comes to work but goes home and cries in his pillow a lot. One would assume. [Define “a lot.” – ed]

If you’ve given it an honest chance, though, and are still not convinced you’ve made the right choice, then you need to think of how your skills can align in another profession. And if that doesn’t work, then yes, you would do well to consider a new career entirely, and weigh the benefits of going back to school with the complications of paying for it with time and money.

Also, what does an Art History major do, exactly? Real question. Please email me back.

*

I’m a pretty solitary person. My family knows this, or should, but lately they’ve been ramping up their efforts to make themselves a part of my life. I’m grateful, sure, but I like being left alone. I do my due diligence: I call once a week, etc. But things are getting a bit crazy. Texts, FaceTimes, phone calls for no reason. Bonus: they get upset because I haven’t signed onto the schedule they’ve created because, uh, my life, work, my girlfriend. What do I do?

—Airplane Mode

Has your mother met my mother? Maybe your mother should meet my mother. Because a few years ago, my mom called my cell phone and I didn’t answer it. (I was in the shower.) Then she texted me and I didn’t answer. (I was still in the shower.) Then she called three of my cousins and my brother to see if they had heard from me. (They had not, because I was in the shower.) Then they asked two of my cousins who lived in the same city as me to go looking for me because I was likely dead. (It was around this time that I got out of the shower.)

If our parents had it their way, we would shower with our phones strapped to our faces, “just in case.”

You are never going to convince your parents to not want to talk to you all the time. It’s an unfortunate cliché, but you have no idea what it’s like to be a parent until you are actually a parent, with a little piece of yourself walking around, doing stuff, running into trouble, breaking bones, and sometimes coming perilously close to death. So if your goal is to get your parents to be satisfied with whatever portion of attention you’re willing to dish out, that may be an impossible request.

If our parents had it their way, we would shower with our phones strapped to our faces, “just in case.”

Instead, you need to give them enough so that they think they’re in control. This is a long process. In the process of conditioning my parents, I’ve worked them down from needing me to call them twice a day, to once a day, to once every second day, to a few times a week. This takes some extra care. If your parents want to talk every day, try texting them to keep them apprised of your goings on. If they call and you don’t answer because you’re either busy or you do not care to deal with them, text them so they know you are alive and that you haven’t forgotten about them. Then, once a week, have a calm, detailed conversation with them that lets them know you are very much invested in their lives and that you are also doing well.

This will not fix everything, especially not overnight. They will still try to FaceTime with you while you’re at work and they will still frantically harass you to be a better child. Do not succumb to the guilt. The only way to set boundaries with your parents is by being consistent, loving, and firm.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my mother has texted me six times about whether I had dinner or not last night so I am going to tend to this before she calls the police and asks them to bring a tuna sandwich to my cubicle.

*

I recently started dating this girl, and it’s going pretty great, except for one thing. She recently told me that the last relationship she had was with a guy who was married, and while she obviously isn’t proud of it, I wouldn’t say she’s too ashamed of it, either. We’ve been dating for a few months, and I like her a lot, but I feel so weird about her past now. I can’t stop thinking about that kind of decision—like, why would you do that to someone else’s family? It also makes me anxious about her ability to not cheat on me. Should I stay with her and hope we can work it out, or is a cheater always a cheater?

Don’t Cuckold Me

When I was 19 and living in my cousin’s basement and making a series of poor decisions largely fueled by end-of-teenagedom-angst, I went out with a guy whom I called Superman Chest. (He had a chest like Superman, what do you want me to say?) I liked Superman Chest plenty: he bought me food (great), let me watch whatever TV I wanted (greater), and knew not to ask me to go out on a weeknight (truly spectacular; nothing good ever happens on a Thursday). Still, there was always something seedy about him. He was viciously protective of his cell phone, his apartment had like, six things in it, including a broken guitar, a stack of records including multiples of My Bloody Valentine that led to a fight over whether they are terrible or not, though not a single pot or pan, and he was mysteriously unavailable on weekend afternoons. We went out for a month before it ebbed away, but months later, I started to put together some of the weirder parts of our time as a couple. I’ve never tried to confirm it, but I still suspect that he was actually married (or entrenched in another relationship) while trying to court me with cheap Thai food and his widescreen television.

Sometimes I run into him in weird ways—why is he always on my LinkedIn?—and I think about what I did. Was it my fault? Should I feel bad? Because I don’t. It was his choice. I was a teenager—what do I have to feel guilty about?

He was viciously protective of his cell phone, his apartment had like, six things in it, including a broken guitar, a stack of records including multiples of My Bloody Valentine that led to a fight over whether they are terrible or not, though not a single pot or pan, and he was mysteriously unavailable on weekend afternoons.

This is obviously not quite the same as what your girlfriend did; I wasn’t aware of his marital status, and it wasn’t a prolonged arrangement. But look: everyone has a wretched history if you dig far back enough. Are you telling me you’ve never done anything shameful with an ex-girlfriend? I guarantee that if I brought all your former flames into a room, they’d give me plenty of dirt on your pious ass. It’s easy to hold information over someone else’s head if they volunteer it in the first place.

Now, if she has a long history of dating married men, or goes after men who are in relationships, or has trouble staying faithful in a relationship, then yes, you should pick up your ball and go home. A cheater is not always a cheater, but they come with complications. She’s going to have to work to gain your trust (which she presumably knows, if she was forthcoming about her record), and you might have to do that horrible thing (talking) to determine if she’s willing and able to work at monogamy (if that’s your jam, and if it is, you should tell her, and determine if it is indeed her jam too).

You say she’s not proud of what she’s done, but isn’t ashamed. She shouldn’t be. What has shame ever gotten anyone? If she’s not proud, then she knows it wasn’t a good decision and is moving forward. What will guilt do, anyway? Don’t expect her to grovel for forgiveness—and besides, like the song says, it takes two to fuck around.

If she told you about something like that from her past, it’s because she trusts you and expects that you won’t judge her, and she feels she can start fresh with someone new. What she needs now is someone to be nice to her about the mistakes she’s made and to give her a little bit of breathing room to make new ones with you.

Sanctimony isn’t sexy.

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