Updated: Sep 16
Q: Dr. Ranjan, I loved the 5-part article you wrote about love and relationships. It really got me thinking about my current situation. One of my very good friends, who is male, recently admitted to having romantic feelings towards me. I really care and love this person, for we have been good friends for about 10 years. Although I don’t have the same feelings towards him, I am reluctant to tell him that because I’m nervous to how our friendship will be afterwards. I know he will still be a good friend to me, but I also don’t want him to feel bad about himself or be upset if I start to date someone. How should I handle this?
A: Friendship is a wonderful thing. It is not uncommon for one person to develop romantic feelings towards the other when a man and a woman become good friends. Often a good friendship is the beginning point for romantic relationships. However, when the romantic feelings are not mutual, which is the case in your situation, your best bet is to tell him kindly but very directly. I would highly recommend against being wishy-washy. You do not want to, even unintentionally, give him mixed signals. It is almost cruel to keep someone’s hopes up when you very well know that you have no intentions to reciprocate his feelings. You do run the risk of losing your friendship if he gets that upset, but it will be his decision, not yours. And this is the risk you must take for the right reasons. You should also understand that it may be very painful for him to be around you, even though he obviously likes you very much. Once he realizes there is no chance of the two of you being in a romantic relationship, he might want distance to heal and re-coupe himself from the disappointment.
Q: Hi, Dr. Ranjan. I have been dating my boyfriend for about 4 years now. We’re starting to get really serious in our relationship and have been talking more and more about marriage lately. He also has been asking me about my past dating life. Like how many people have I dated, been intimate with, etc. I don’t really feel comfortable telling him about my past, not because I am ashamed but because I’m afraid he might get jealous, resentful, etc. I am not embarrassed of my past but I’m afraid he will think of me differently.
A: It is rather unusual for a man to be curious about his girlfriend’s history of intimacy once the couple has reached the point of considering marriage, especially since you have been dating him for the past four years. Typically, this type of curiosity occurs early in the dating process. In my experience, people who want to know about their potential partner’s dating history do it for various reasons. Now before we delve into those reasons, let me make some observations. We all should understand that we are a product of our past. Our past experiences, small and large, shape our character today. Also, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I do know that people can change if they really want to do so and learn from their past experiences. I believe that any romantic relationship should be founded on total honesty. If you are afraid that your boyfriend may judge you in the wrong way based on your past dating, it indicates one of the following: You actually may not be, at some level, very proud of your past dating experiences. Or your boyfriend has certain “standards” (even if they are misguided) in his mind for his future wife. Or your boyfriend does not feel like he has all or enough information about you to move forward in the relationship. Or your boyfriend is insecure and wants to find out how he measures up to your past dates. Or your boyfriend is the jealous type and you will have to decide if you want to stay in the relationship or not. Lastly, he may not be feeling very confident in your fidelity and is looking for a pattern in your past dating to ensure himself.
Now, I have heard many people say, “I should not have to tell him/her about any of that.” I’m not so sure about that. Some people don’t really care about peoples’ past dating, and that is perfectly alright. But if your boyfriend/girlfriend wants to know about your dating past, then you must be totally honest, even at the risk of being looked upon in a way that you may not want. Imagine this: you hide certain facts about your past dating from your boyfriend and get married. Later, he finds out about it accidentally. It will be much more detrimental to both of you to invest all your emotions and energy into a marriage and then end up with a bad marriage or divorce. My first advice to you is to really understand his questions. You should clarify if he wants to know about your serious relationships, casual relationships, or both. People clearly have different preferences as to how much they want to know about their boyfriend/girlfriend’s past relationships. Once you understand the question, you either decide to tell him all about your dating past (I am not talking about gory details) and don’t hide anything or if that is not acceptable to you, get out of the relationship now.
I must say that if you decide (which will be the right move in my opinion) to tell him everything about your past dating, then he must voluntarily tell you the details about his.
In my experience, it’s not uncommon for people to lie about past dating. I’m sure almost all of you know of a couple where he/she lied about past relationships. People lie about their past relationships mostly for 3 reasons. First, they do not want to be viewed unfavorably by their current date/partner. Second, they are embarrassed about their past dating experiences. Third, they want to withhold certain information about certain relationships so that they keep options open of revisiting them. Regardless of the reasons, lying about your past relationships at any level, when considering a serious relationship, is not wise. And it’s definitely not fair to the person you profess to love.
Lastly, I must emphasize that a need to know about your partner’s past dating is not a moral issue. It’s not a right vs. wrong issue either. It all comes down to how people make important decisions in life.
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for NAMI for Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each Wednesday, Dr. Ranjan will address some of these questions in this column. All contact info will be kept confidential.