My girlfriend and I are both in our early 20's in the US. We have been together for almost 3 years and have been living together for a few months now.

While I've been with other girls before her, I am her first for everything. First kiss, first boyfriend, first everything. This has been a sore point for her and though I don't consider it a big deal, I know that it's something she dwells on. We've had many long conversations about it in which I try to emphasize that I'm not with those people anymore, I'm with her now because I love her now. However, while she may put it out of her mind for a time, I know it's something she always comes back to.

Early in the relationship, maybe two years ago, we had a conversation about my past relationships where she wanted to know who I had been with and what we'd done. Knowing already about her insecurities with my past relationships, I withheld some of what I did. I told her about all the girls, but I specifically told her I only kissed a girl I in fact slept with (this would be a big deal as outside of my girlfriend I'd only slept with two other girls).

I know this was wrong and whatever pain I was trying to shield her from will only worse now when she finds out. It was honestly probably mostly selfish of me to withhold the information anyways. But it's something that's been eating at me all these years.

We just had another conversation about my past the other day, and I was forced to continue the act. I really love this girl and I don't want to continue hiding things from her, even if they happened years and years ago.

How can I come clean about my past and tell her how much actually happened in a way that will minimize both her mistrust of me and her self-consciousness?

(Note: I'm completely open to a frame challenge that argues against telling her at all, but as I'm pretty set on telling her, it would have to be a very strong argument)

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    One factor that might complicate things is whether any of your previous partners are still in your life; if you're still friends with them, they live down the street from you, they work with your brother, etc. – DaveMongoose Sep 25 at 15:56
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    @DaveMongoose good point. I already rarely interact with ex's, but we moved across country about half a year ago so my interactions with all of the people I knew before this relationship are definitely at an all time low. – user22026 Sep 25 at 17:07
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    @user22026 That meta applies better to non-subjective and less broad questions. You're welcome to revert it, but the title is not only vague, but doesn't offer any insight as to the question you actually ask. Please consider adding to the title to closer mirror your actual question. – Anoplexian Sep 25 at 20:28
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    @Daniel honestly I was the one who brought the conversation up since I suspected I was her first for everything and I'm glad I did so I could know not to rush things. That being said, I think her fixation is a small piece jealousy (she wishes we had been each other's firsts), a piece insecurity (she's shown this in other ways in the relationship as well) and a piece curiosity (she likes to hear about my friend groups and treat them as her own personal drama show). That being said, I think the main issue here is not the reason she wants to know or the validity of that, but the fact that I lied. – user22026 Sep 26 at 16:37
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    @Tom to reiterate my above comment, she's halfway across the country from me along with everyone else from that period of my life. I haven't seen or heard from her in maybe 2 years. – user22026 Sep 26 at 21:09

11 Answers 11

I've been married for over 20 years and have discovered a couple of things.

  • She's always going to find out
  • It's better if you tell her
  • You both have pasts that you have no control over

A lot of this depends on the strength of your relationship. If it's still fragile, then you've got a whole different issue going on after 2 years. But let's say things are going well.

I'd suggest picking a time when you both don't have a lot of other things going on. So don't do this at a family gathering, holiday, or important event. Take an evening when you both are calm and not in the middle of some other discussion. Then, lay it out. "There's something I haven't told you. My thought process was this..." and explain WHY you chose to not tell her. Take responsibility for your decision and apologize, and then lay out what you should have told her. I've found that just telling her works better than getting into a long explanation: tell her what you have held back, give a short explanation why, and then apologize for messing up.

It's important to tell her everything you held back at this discussion. If you tell her more later, she'll question whether there's other stuff you haven't told her. That can be... damaging to your relationship.

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    And I'm guessing after all that it's just a matter of waiting and letting her be upset with me until she accepts what happened? Any special advice for what I can do while in the doghouse? – user22026 Sep 24 at 15:48
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    When you're in the doghouse, don't try too hard to get out of it. Let her be mad, let her process it, and wait for her on the other side. There's nothing you can do to speed up the process and anything you try will just look desperate. the big thing is to show her that it's past and not your current state. – baldPrussian Sep 24 at 16:05
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    I'm curious about the "She's always going to find out". How would she possibly find out that you slept with someone? Especially if you have no contact with them. My wife certainly wouldn't know the difference if I told her I slept with 3 girls or 50. – Behacad Sep 25 at 23:13
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    @Behacad If anyone knows, they'll probably wind up saying something at some point. A friend might give you a hard time. Someone in the family might call her the wrong name. Someone from your past might reach out. Someone might decide to be jerk. There are many ways that secrets come out by accident. I'd just prefer that I control that particular narrative. – baldPrussian Sep 26 at 0:07
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    @baldPrussian and even if they don't, you're constantly living with the stress that they might. – Kevin Sep 27 at 13:07

Your only mistake was lying about things when asked the first time...

It may be an unpopular opinion, but you still have a right to privacy in a romantic relationship. Your past is your past, and you shouldn't be coerced into divulging intimate details that you aren't comfortable sharing. It's one thing to get to know someone, it's something else when they're grilling you for information that they'll hold against you later.

It sounds like these questions are coming from a place of insecurity, which is a red flag on it's own. If she "needs" to know all the intimate details of your previous relationships for any other reason than simply getting to know you better, it's perhaps a sign that she's not really ready for an adult relationship. As you get older, it should probably be expected that your partner has dated other people before you. Thinking less of them, or constantly questioning how you measure up, is a strong indicator of immaturity and self esteem issues.

Your initial response could have been something more along the lines of:

I don't kiss and tell.

Or:

The past is the past, I'd rather not discuss my failed relationships.

Or, perhaps ideally, you could have unapologetically laid your past out on the table. If she could accept your past relationships as just more background information about you, then great; if she couldn't it would have been better to move on early.

But.... That ship has already sailed. So, if you really want to continue the relationship with this person you'll likely need to come clean. Not because she has a right to know any of it, but because you made the mistake of lying about it.

Your best bet will probably be to focus on apologizing for the lies. Your mistake wasn't the previous relationship, it was lying about it. Like any apology, admit what you did wrong, accept responsibility, and be prepared to accept the consequences.

Try not to excuse yourself with things like "I wasn't honest because..." Or "I was just trying to protect you" Having a reason for your actions isn't the same as having an excuse. You had reasons, but they're not great reasons, and they're not going to make the lies feel better. And I suspect if we're being honest, you lied to protect yourself as much as you lied to protect her.

Basically, you screwed up. Now it's time to admit it, apologize, accept that she's going to be hurt and angry, and see whether this current relationship is going to be salvageable.

If you find that she can't forgive you, returns to the subject to pick at old wounds, it may be better for the both of you to take it as a lesson learned and go your separate ways.

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    Also this would be a great time to make her feel better about the reasons she was insecure over it in the first place. Was she simply upset that she was possibly not as experienced as you and therefore not able to keep up? Make it clear that you're still with her and that the relative lack of experience is no big deal. – fluffy Sep 25 at 17:14
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    Note that immaturity and self esteem issues are not the same thing. Trauma, stress, mental illness, etc could also be the cause of them. – Kevin Sep 29 at 20:15

Firstly, please take a good look at what you have actually written.

You wrote that:

  1. You need to tell her because it is "eating at you"
  2. When you tell her, she will likely react with "self-consciousness and mistrust".
  3. She is already very bothered that you have more "experience" than she does.
  4. It was "selfish of you to withhold the information" in the first place.

So you want to tell her in order to make yourself feel better even if it makes your girlfriend feel worse?

It sounds to me that if you do this, you are just being selfish again.

You didn't do anything so terribly wrong. You may have had selfish reasons but you were also protecting her feelings. You also avoided revealing secrets between you and your ex-es who also have their rights to privacy.

Your whole reasoning is in fact so flawed, that I need to ask you: Are you sure that all this is not an elaborate self-deception aimed at achieving some other goal. Perhaps you are looking to hurt your girlfriend or feed her doubt? Perhaps you want her to break up with you?

I really suggest you talk to a therapist or at least a very good friend before you go through with this.

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    "Perhaps you are looking to hurt your girlfriend or feed her doubt? Perhaps you want her to break up with you?" Sometimes people just feel guilty about their actions, whether they were objectively bad or not. If you account for "I can't stop feeling guilty about it", the reasoning becomes clear. He'd like to stop feeling guilty. – fredsbend Sep 29 at 0:40
  • Yes, that is what he is claiming and my main point is that his plan is yet another selfish act so will not work to alleviate his guilt. If he goes through with this, he can add making the girlfriend feel betrayed, hurting her self confidence, and destroy their already fragile relationship by hitting it at its weakest point. How will any of this make him feel "less" guilty? – GroovyDotCom Sep 29 at 21:42
  • How exactly does this discussion go? "Remember how you are always pointing out how I'm more experienced than you and this causes you to have doubts about our relationship? Yeh? Well, remember how I told you that I never did anything serious with other girls? Well I feel bad about lying to you because I love you so much, but in fact I slept with those girls. In fact, just because I don't want any secrets to come between us, I slept with them and it was really great. I mean wow! There was one thing that she did with her...Uh... Well anyway, I guess I can stop feeling guilty now. Right? – GroovyDotCom Sep 29 at 21:47

A "frame challenge" to the idea that you must continue to respond to your girlfriend's request for more details of your past:

You did nothing wrong by not revealing every detail of your past

It's normal that people don't discuss detailed romance and sexual history. The past is the past. Dwelling on the past causes confusion and blurs the present. The only exception is when that history is likely to impact the current romance, such as a vengeful ex. You did nothing wrong by not doing a "tell all" about your past, and your girlfriend should not be making you feel guilty.

You aren't going to help your girlfriend by telling her more details about the past.

This has been a sore point for her and though I don't consider it a big deal, I know that it's something she dwells on.

If after all you've told her, she's still "dwelling" on it, she has a problem with the very idea that you have a past. This problem affects your relationship, but it's not your problem to solve. You can help her with it, but you can't solve it for her. Whatever you tell her won't fix her insecurity.

If she is insecure about women in your past, she will be insecure about women in the present

"Coming clean" about the past may seem like a quick fix, but it's just opening the door to more trouble. What will happen when you work with women? Or go to a gym or join a running group that has women? Perhaps she's only disturbed by comparisons with past girlfriends, but there is a strong possibility that she's going to be upset by friendly relationships with other women in the present.

You are showing her by your actions now that she has nothing to worry about. Continue to treat her with respect and love, but also establish reasonable boundaries, and close the door on the past.

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    These are excellent points, but they don't don't address how the OP can deal with the lie(s) he has already told. – DaveMongoose Sep 25 at 15:52
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    @DaveMongoose: OP was open to "frame challenge" and I think this is it. – R.. Sep 27 at 1:55

I disagree with the first answer and "She'll always find out".. If she hasn't said anything for two years, why would she all of a sudden find out now. Bringing it back up now will only bring up trouble and shatter any trust you've built up, even if that trust was built on 1 minor oversight. The longer you wait, the easier it will be to forgive, imo. Plus, if you wait long enough she might even forget that you didn't tell her about the sleeping together thing.

I don't believe you should feel any guilt over sugar-coating your past. As long as anything you had in the past is completely over and could never happen again.

  • The way she finds out is usually via OP's friends who knew about his previous relationships. – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 1 at 10:30
  • It is possible she already found out, and was giving him another chance to come clean. – J. Chris Compton Oct 1 at 13:56

You might want to consider it as a matter of pragmatism instead of morals or ethics with this in mind:

  1. Telling her only helps you by reducing your guilty conscience
  2. She's not at-risk for any STIs or surprise-babies showing up in your life
  3. She already has shown how insecure this subject makes her

So what does telling her do for her?

Not a whole lot of good. And what do you get out of it? The "relief" of coming clean? Seems kind of selfish for very little benefit to either of you or the relationship.

You're going to have all kinds of trials in any relationship, and trust is one of the hardest things to build after being broken. You lied back then and know it was wrong. You feel bad now. Use that feeling as motivation to use honesty as your policy from now on. Remorse rarely has any practical application, but in this case it might be just what you need to stay honest, ironically.

  • I've heard very similar arguments from people who cheat on their significant others. Which is, if you leave morals and ethics out, not that harmful if you know how to keep the affair secret and avoid STDs. – Dmitry Grigoryev Oct 1 at 10:37

As a woman myself, living with insecurities and etc, although I would want to know the truth.. but I would rather not know.. after knowing the fact..

Every woman wants an ideal.. you are an ideal now.. don't tarnish that.. of course she would want you to tell her everything, in the hope that you are the ideal man, you are her first; and likewise; but you are not... so live with it, but don't tell her. This is small matter, there are thousands more important things in life you both can focus on, then dwelling in the past.

Regardless... coming clean or not, it's not worth it, because now she will have someone that will become the ghost from the past that will always haunt her, or a shadow that can never leave her because it will always be at the back of her mind, what if... what if... what if... some of the what ifs could be. What if she is better than me, prettier than me, or what if you still thinks of her at times, though not the whole time; especially when you ran into problems like fighting over things, etc. Trust me, what lies in the past, just bury it there, focus on the future, live in the now..

My partner never comment on his past relationship, though I would always be curious and naturally, I would want to hear things like oh, you are so much better than x or she is nobody, but come on, you can't live your life reassuring her of her own insecurities your whole life. Woman is always insecure, so to save you the trouble later, dont talk about it now, or ever.

Just my humble 2 cents.

If you're going to come clean, now is the time.

Broad recap:
The first time she inquired about it, you decided to withhold part of the information, I'd consider this a bad move, but not exactly uncommon, I'm a little surprised you felt that three sexual encounters was substantially "worse" than two. but there it is.

The second (I assume) was only a few days ago and you upheld your original lie.

Anywhere up to a few days after that is narratively the perfect time to approach with a "I'm sorry, I'm feeling guilty about this" conversation. You've had time to reflect on the mistake and conclude that you need to take action.

If you leave it a week, it'll be further and further away and it'll be less fresh in her mind. Context is everything, so Do it now.

Don't make any excuses, admit that lying was stupid and that it's been eating at you ever since. Reinforce that you love her and apologise sincerely. If she takes it badly, take the consequences on the chin and wait patiently for her to cool off.

That's how to come clean. It's not likely to be as tidy as that, but being honest and open, apologising and accepting the consequences is the only way to break this sensitively.

Will she be happier for knowing you lied and covered it up? Probably not, but the reveal and apology will demonstrate how you feel and she may well feel more secure that this relatively minor thing is the worst you have to hide.

(Woman's point of view)

Best way of dealing with your problem, coming from a woman that was lied so many times, cheated on and many other things, might be:

Dear ..., since we are moving in together and since I never was more certain that I want to wake up next to you every single day of my life, I have a confession to make. Remember when I told you about my previous relationships, well, at that time, I didn't intended to lie to you, but felt like telling you less than it really happened. I know this talk is out of the blue, but if I m not going to tell you the whole true, it might eat me alive. ....

Remember to start and to end the conversation telling her how much she means to you, and highlight the fact that you love her so much that you could not continue keeping stuffs like that from her. And that from now on, although she wasn't your first, she will be your last and that is way more important than being the first.

For a woman the first means the world, for a man, the last means the world so make that clear for her too in case she forget due to the mass of information that hit her! (she might not be your last, but at this very point she is, so make her realize that too).

What I learned from all my relationship is that if you learn to dress nicely and sweetly any kind of information, it can be delivered and understood more easily that saying it all directly. It might sound cliche but I would give my everything if in any of my past relationship, my lover would tell me the truth, instead finding it out on my own or in an verbal aggressive way.

Like the others commented, try and choose a moment when you are both relaxed. And also be prepared for a "little fight" or for her asking for more details. And try not to fall in her trap and answer nicely to anything she asks but with dignity. Since is your past, you don't have to be ashamed of it, but embrace it and show her through words that all of those are in the past and are called "failed relationships". And since you decided to open to her with your everything this means only one thing: that you love her so much and coming clean even after such a long time means you are ready for a bigger step (like moving together, not really marriage if you don't feel like being there yet, make it clear).

But remember one single thing : is you past, it doesn't define you, but is part of you. If she can't accept, she might not be the one. Because if she truly loves you with all her heart, this conversation will go on smoothly and even end up in a romantic way. If she is the one she will pick only the part where you really wanted to come clean in front of her for a better tomorrow. Even if she will end up being a little upset, comfort her and assure her, she won't end like the others.

I know it is really hard consider you already have 3 years, but keep in mind that usually what goes easy, ends, and the hard things to get, lasts forever!

Update: I understand that you already moved in for 3 months, yet turn the conversation into "being a huge fuse for yourself that you moved in with her". Maybe that's the reason that you are ate up from inside because of you past. Moving in comes with responsibilities and you have to point that out. You don't have to act it, since already will be difficult for you to say it, but show her how excited you are and that what you are about to say or said is a big step/thing for you.

They were only white lies to you, lies that you didn't feel like sharing them due to a lot of reasons (reasons you can't remember), but lies that you are ready to speak them out, now, thanks to her.

Last update: If she asks you "why did you hide the fact that you slept with x", tell her that you did that because you felt like being the right choice at that moment (and that you can't remember exactly what you were actually thinking), but blamed yourself from hiding her this for so long. And you finally come to your senses and realized how much your lover means and that you can no longer keep secrets from her.

Best luck!

  • early 20's in the US. We have been together for almost 3 years
  • sore point for her [...] she dwells on
  • many long conversations
  • she always comes back to
  • I [...] continue the act

This triggers a lot of memories for me. Young, inexperienced couple, one overly sensitive/clinging partner, the other one (you) going for the protective role. Long discussions which resolve nothing. Acting.

It took me about 15 years to figure out that relationships just do not work this way. You are thinking a lot about what you can say or do to avoid her hurting, but this is most certainly futile. There will always be a pit for you to fall in, and you will never find the way to shield her from everything.

Knowing what I know today, I wish I had done this some decades ago:

  • Don't think too much about what you are saying will do to her. Obviously you love her, so there is no reason to be mean to her, but if you have something to say, then say it. If you cannot tell the truth to the parther you are going to be with forever, then there is no point in being together. Especially if children should join the picture, a trust-less relationship is hell.
  • And yes, this is about trust - you have to trust that your relationship can survive whatever you tell her, about any topic whatsoever.
  • If your woman is at all like mine was back then, I understand that it seems incredibly hard if not impossible to tell her something that you know will make her angry or hurt. Your whole post screams "I want to protect her". This is a fallacy damaging both you and her. You are both adults. She may need your protection from outsiders, but if she needs protection from YOU, then that is a disaster. Think how it will feel if you are on vacation, in a nice restaurant, you say something seemingly harmless, and she starts crying. Believe me, you do not want to live through such a relationship.

So. My advice:

  • Shift your own frame of reference and forget about that girl you slept with. That is not the issue at all.
  • From now on, say what you truly think. Always, about any topic at all. Never double-guess. Never think how much it will hurt her. Treat this as a benchmark for the state of your relationship - if it does not survive this, then it was not meant to be.
  • If this particular topic (about that girl) comes up later, then obviously (by rule #2), you tell the truth. Don't see it as "admitting" or anything, you did nothing wrong. If she says that you lied, you tell her (truthfully) that you wanted to protect her and did not, at the time, know how to do that in any other way. If you wish to make her feel that this will not happen anymore, then do not tell her that you won't lie again, but tell her that you won't try to protect her (from silly stuff like this) anymore.
  • Accept the conflict. Your experience with her will probably change, you may have more fighting or crying. If that happens, learn how to work that out - find a pair therapy, or ask here again.
  • You don't outright say it, but if she is constantly down and depressed, and easily brought into that state, there may be a deeper problem - depression, inferiority complex, such things. If you get that feeling, then it is very important that you do not judge her, or try to be her therapist. This is one sure-fire way to kill your respect for her. Stick with her, make sure she knows you love her, and try to get her into contact with friends etc., maybe find a therapy, whatever.
  • First and foremost, stop being her protector. She is not a child where you have to manage their emotions. Of course, don't be rough or mean. Be truthful and treat her like an adult.
  • If this still nags at you, then go by rule #2: tell her. But don't come crawling about that old relationship, but tell her that you are having a problem right now about that old lie, and that you wish her to know that, so you can sleep again. Make it about the lie (which is the only thing you actually did wrong regarding her and yourself), not about the sleeping-with, but be quite clear that you did sleep with that other one before you met your current partner. I'm sure, with the described mindset you will find out what to say.
  • Although this may sound cruel: before you decide to get children, do a lot of soulsearching and find out if these kinds of problems have been fixed thoroughly. If not... think about what will happen when you have children and an emotionally unstable partner and come to whatever conclusion seems right for you.

I can't say whether telling is right, but it probably is, especially given your own strong feeling that have persisted. The flip side is "will it eat at her", and that you have to judge and weigh in the balance.

I would admit human fallibility and fear, and tackle it like this.

"When we discussed past relationships, I didn't tell you everything. I was nervous and fearful, and I took the cowards way out, I didn't tell you about everything. I know you better now, and I want to put that right. I'd rather have you know I did wrong before, but that I chose to put it right. I did have other relationships. They weren't great, but I felt they put distance between us and I was scared what that would do. I rationalised that it was okay not to tell, and now I'm more and more sure that was wrong. I'm sorry I lied, and I want to put it right."

This does several things. It admits cowardice,fear, and wrongdoing. Those may have been easy to rationalise but they are accurate and worth admitting - she may probably have those words in mind so you might as well admit them and take some of the "sting" out of it. Also it shows acceptance of serious fault, and that might help her to be a bit sympathetic if she sees you were scared, did wrong, and now want to fix it.

It also leaves the door open for her to say how she wants to handle it. Don't offer anything, even as little as "do you want to talk about it" or "what do you think". Your statement and silence after, will clearly invite her to consider how she wants to reply. She might not want details, or she might. She may have a reaction or may say "I want to think about this, can we talk later.". So by not saying anything, you let her digest it, and choose in her own time, and own way, what she wants to say in return, and what she wants to know (if anything).

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