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Tell Me About It | by Carolyn Hax

Boyfriend's quest for 'the truth' has an insidious meaning

Boyfriend's quest for 'the truth' has an insidious meaning

Q: My boyfriend wanted to have the Numbers Conversation. I already know what you think about this generally. I was perfectly comfortable trading our numbers, but he has pushed the issue further, wanting to know more about the specific circumstances of each person on the list.

I was date-raped about a year ago. I've been counseled and have recovered healthily from the trauma, but I worry that revealing this to him will change the way he treats me. If I hadn't already told him the number (which is single-digit, so I know he'll remember), I would be fine with just omitting this detail for now, but I don't want to lie. What do you suggest?

Wrinkles in the Numbers Thingy

A: I often get letters from people who have been sexually assaulted, every one of them representing a unique, private pain. For every such victim, there is, of course, an assailant, someone who felt comfortable objectifying another human being — inflicting that pain in service of their own interests. Clearly disturbing.

Even more disturbing, though, is a recurring theme in letters from people recovering, even "healthily," from assault: Many are now in relationships with someone who is objectifying them all over again. More subtly this time, maybe, but no less destructively.

I am not a professional counselor, as yours presumably was. I'm working from two paragraphs of your life.

But I know objectification when I see it. Your boyfriend is more concerned about mining your sexual details than he is about you as a whole. Otherwise he wouldn't be digging for such private, useless dirt.

He wouldn't be pushing, either; he'd not only respect your resistance, but you'd also resist less. In fact, if you and he had a trusting relationship, you'd both be giving up half of this stuff on your own in the course of routine conversation.

And, you wouldn't be worried about his treating you differently. Give yourself some credit here: You know full well he wants this information so he can judge your value to him. That's why you're afraid he's going to value you less. This alone is a deal-breaker.

A "healthy" new relationship means being equally attentive to his being good enough for you, as you are to your being good enough for him. When you withhold a part of yourself for fear of scaring someone away, it means this crucial balance is off.

You, and he, and whoever else defends this dehumanizing practice of sexual bean-counting, might well be thinking, maybe he's been as open with her, maybe he isn't in this to judge her, maybe he's responding to the defenses she's putting up.

Wrongheaded, but also easy to prove or disprove, when you're ready for it emotionally: If he has demonstrated a kind heart — i.e., if he deserves you — then tell him your truth. Let him show you he won't live down to your worst fears. But know, please, that if he does judge you harshly, it's an ugly gift, but still a gift: a get-out-of-hell-free card. Just be sure you use it.

By the way, I would argue this should change the way he treats you. You responded to a trauma by getting help and working to get well. Both of you need to treat you with a lot more respect.


Boyfriend's quest for 'the truth' has an insidious meaning

06/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:38pm]
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