Advice: Dating a woman with a past

Advice: Dating a woman with a past August 22, 2013

Dear Love, InshAllah:

I’ve met a girl I really like. We have been good friends for a while. She and I are both Muslims, both born in a Muslim country, but raised in America. I really like her however, she had (relatively) many sexual relations prior to meeting me. She has never been married. In fact, she never even dated the guys she had sex with – they were just flings and so forth. I know that this is common in many cultures, but when you are from a background that doesn’t approve of this it doesn’t make much sense to me as to why she would have done this.

Obviously, she says she regrets it all. But I don’t know what to do. I really like her and would like a future with her, but her decisions make me conflicted. Most the time I feel at peace with her, but there are times I feel angry, upset, and hateful. The root of the feelings are obvious. I just don’t know what to do.


Dating a woman with a past

Miss Sunshine replies:

You’re right that the root of your feelings are obvious. You feel “angry, upset, and hateful” because someone touched something that you want to one day be yours’. Many men grow up in an environment where this kind of jealousy is praised as a natural and correct expression of healthy masculinity. Masculine men, we are taught, protect what is theirs. But wives aren’t possessions: they are partners. Women are individuals whom Allah has invested with a free will equal to men, and an accountability equal to men. Your anger over not being able to control her sexuality stems from the idea that you have a right to do so. You do not. God gave that right to each of us, and your desire for control is oppression. Jealousy is a sign of insecurity, not healthy masculinity, and certainly not love.

The words you’ve used to describe your emotions are powerful, and they are alarming. The fact that you feel this strongly over how she chose to use her body in the past should be a warning sign that you’re not ready for a serious relationship with any woman. A man who feels anger and hate toward a woman is dangerous. You’re dangerous to her. If you love her, then you should let her go.

Your anger may never result in physical harm, but hanging this woman’s sexual history over her head hurts both of you. It hurts you because it is abusive and manipulative behavior which can only retard your spiritual growth. It hurts her because your refusal to move on, your idea that she is somehow untrustworthy and/or tainted despite her repentance, shames her and keeps her tied to the past even though she’s ready to move on. It’s cruel. Everyone who makes it through the birth canal alive acquires a past. A person’s “past” is everything that happens before their present. Someone’s “past” is not polite euphemism for out-of-wedlock sex. It’s a sexist euphemism used to degrade women for doing the same things men are praised for doing.

Additionally, this woman was raised in the U.S., so she is not from a culture that disapproves premarital sex. She is a product of many cultures, and those cultures have different messages about premarital sex. She didn’t betray her culture by having sex with men she had no commitment to. She chose to embrace some messages from one of her cultures over other messages.

You say that she regrets her previous sexual encounters. That’s between her and God. She doesn’t need your anger providing an obstacle in her path to make peace with her actions and change her life according to what she thinks is best. No one’s body belongs to you. You have absolutely no right to feel anger– much less hatred– toward her because of her past decisions. The fact that you do, demonstrates that you have very little respect for a woman’s autonomy over her own body. You have very little respect for her at all. If you can’t respect her, then you’re only harming each of you by trying to marry her.

Shy Desi Boy replies:

I understand your concern. As Muslims we are told to avoid sexual relations outside of marriage and when someone does not adhere to this, it can cause us to raise questions about ourselves and our relationship with our faith.

But I think we need to parse this out a bit more. One way to look at this — and this is how I would approach the situation — is to appreciate your partner for who she is, including her past.

This does not mean endorsing her past actions but realizing that we are who we are because of the choices we made yesterday, even choices that others might find disagreeable. Your partner might have a stronger sense of who she is, what she wants in life, and what she wants in a partner because of these experiences. I am a firm believer that the pressing matter is who this person is today: is she kind, is she conscious of her relationship with God, is she honest, and does she make you make happy?

Another way to look at this is to be cautious about her past. For one, there is the question of STDs and I recommend both of you get tested before getting married. There is also a question of what this says about her relationship with God and that is something you need to explore. And there is the issue of why she had these flings and what that reveals about her. Will she be able to commit to just one person? What are her expectations of sex? Have you discussed this? I recommend doing so and doing so before marriage. The more honest the conversation about sex before marriage, the better the sex will be in marriage. At least that is my theory.

And there is yet another way to examine this and that is to ask questions of yourself. Why are you angry and resentful? Why do you care who she has slept with? I know many Muslim guys who have slept around but get upset when they hear that a woman has done this same. This is unfair and in many ways we men expect women to behave in ways that we do not ask of ourselves. Often we men do not like when our partner has had more sex than us have because that makes us feel inadequate.

I will say I prefer being with a woman who has had sexual relations. Part of the reason is because I have had multiple partners and I am most content being with someone who understands that this journey of life is messy, unpredictable and that sometimes we make choices that in hindsight make no sense and are un-Islamic. But they made us the people we are today.

Wishing you my best.

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