Ask the Advice Goddess

Past And Furious

I've been with my boyfriend for over a year. During our first six months, I slept with three ex-boyfriends. Horrible as that sounds, I don't take cheating lightly. I think I was confused about my readiness to be in a serious relationship, and wasn't really over my most recent ex or a guy in Ireland I'd had a love affair with a few years back. When I returned from a trip to Ireland in February, I realized how much I love my boyfriend and wanted to commit to him. Our relationship became more solid, and we moved in together. Shortly afterward, he searched for and read my journal, suspecting something had happened in Ireland. Like an idiot, I'd put everything in writing. He was crushed, but said, if given time, he could forgive me. Well, any minor conflict now turns into a huge screaming match, with him dragging everything up and threatening to leave. (He always apologizes afterward, says he's happy with me and doesn't want to leave.) I feel he's holding this over my head to make me feel guilty whenever something doesn't go his way. Is it likely to blow over in time? Should I accept this as my punishment? —Hester Prynne

There are many different styles of conflict resolution. Some people stare into space, waiting for the answer to crack them over the head like a falling ceiling tile. Others look high and low for the answer, even stopping off at ex-boyfriends' places to make sure it isn't projected on the ceiling tiles above their beds. Some people enlist friends or mediators to help them strip the issue down to bare essentials. Others prefer to strip out the middlemen and the issue, and just get naked with Larry, Moe and Curly.

Apparently, you wanted to be very, very, very sure you made the right decision: "No, no ... not another night of investigative wild sex!" We all feel your pain. Really, we do. And, while it isn't the prettiest picture for your current boyfriend, your adventures in ex-boyfriend boffing did serve an important purpose — helping you finish unfinished business so you could pick his face out of the crowd.

Of course, there's a right way to go about doubt-eradication, and it isn't giving your boyfriend the impression you're his one and only while passing yourself around like a cheese plate behind his back. It certainly would have been nice if you'd gone to the trouble of breaking up with him before you set off on your international sex tour.

Right now, all that matters about the past is whether it predicts the future. When there's a decision to be made — "Would you like fries with that?" — it seems unlikely you'll respond by trying to maul the pimply guy behind the register. It's your job to make your boyfriend understand that. It's also your job to tell him his job: deciding whether he'd rather be in love or in archeology, and acting accordingly. Love requires walling off the past instead of weaponizing it, and resolving conflicts as a "we," not a "him" vs. the girl who snuck off to Stooge-a-palooza.

Unfortunately, unless you can convince him to stop tipping the scales with a stack of dirty pictures whenever you want Thai and he wants Italian, he'll probably end up with only his grudge to take to dinner: "More Chianti, my love?" The waiter will be too polite to mention that he's sitting across from an empty chair. It's sure to occur to your boyfriend later, however, since moral high ground never makes much of an impression in bed.

Message In A Bottleneck

I've been seeing a really sweet guy for about two weeks. He told me that he likes me a lot, but he just wants to be friends and be by himself so he can get his life together. I don't know what to do to get him to open up and tell me what's wrong. How can I help him if he doesn't let me know what's on his mind? —Ready To Listen

Look carefully at this guy. Is he in the habit of wearing a dress? Buying tampons? Gossiping about fast-drying nail polish with all his friends? If not, it's probably safe to make an assumption about him: He's a MAN! A man isn't in need of psychiatric attention because he doesn't want to blubber on about what he feels. In fact, a man's reluctance to blubber on to a near stranger might even point to sanity on his part; especially when the stranger is really asking "How can I help him know that all he really needs is me?" In other words, you're the one who needs help getting the message. Although he might not be able to tell you what's on his mind, maybe with vigorous hand gestures he can get you off his back.

Copyright 2003, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail [email protected] (www.advice

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