November 17, 2010 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
So recently things heated up with an ex of mine. It was completely unplanned and totally out of left field on my part but also kind of wonderful. He’s one of the few whom I’ve been able to keep a friendship with and in many ways we’ve become much better friends since our brief affair so it’s been just comfortable and easy. When I told my friends about, they said exactly what I’ve said to them “That’s great. You didn’t add a number.”
Ok. The number. I actually hate this discussion because it’s an inherently sexist conversation but the fact is, we live in a world where it matters. So let’s go there. At some point, we girls know that when we are in “the” relationship, we’re going to get asked how many people we’ve, ahem, “dated” in the past. And we know that they are looking for a low number. Now some girls lie about this; I know girls who are happily married to men that think their wife has dated only three other men, and the women feel absolutely no remorse about it. And some women tell the truth and are with men that are completely fine with it. But every girl fears being asked it. There’s no good answer. If you said you were a virgin, the guy would be wondering what’s wrong with you or what type of fundamentalist religious nut you are. If you lie and say just a few, you’re lying to someone you love. And if you confess a high number, most men will bristle. If you think your girlfriend/wife is the exception and when she told you her number was one, she was actually telling the truth, well having plausible deniability has long kept many relationships alive. Look, I know there are some genuine exceptions, but if the girl went to college, then moved to an urban setting, and is reasonably attractive, she’s going to end up dating more than one guy before you. (If she’s unattractive, lives in the Ozarks, and couldn’t get her GED, well then this blog isn’t for you.)
This gets me so angry because girls don’t bristle at the number of women their boyfriend has dated. In fact, when a girl finds out a guy is a player, she usually romanticizes that she will be the one whom he finally falls in love with - the reason he gives up lusting after other women. It’s almost a bragging point for some women - like they were the only one who could turn him. I personally have no desire to learn this number from the men I’m interested in. It doesn’t matter to me. If there are ex-girlfriends who have had a big emotional impact on him, then I’m sure he’ll share it with me as I would with him. But this momentous number of his - well it would never even occur to me to ask. In fact, I have had exs tell me their number and I can’t even remember it. Why is anyone counting? The number is irrelevant as proven by the plethora of women who lie about it and go on to have healthy relationships.
And yet, it’s there. This looming number that I’m subconsciously trying (and succeeding according to many standards) to keep low. But why can’t I stop caring? Not adding a number really did seem like a valid plus when this ex reentered my romantic life. I’m just recycling a number. But is this keeping me from meeting someone who I might actually have a future with? Exs by their very nature are usually exs for a reason. And the fact is, this abstract number should have no bearing on if you decide to date a guy or not. If you like him and it’s right or even if you don’t like him but you’re going through a period of exploration while on a Kibbutz - whatever your reasons are, they shouldn’t have to include this number. Women should have the exact same rights to choose how many people they want to date as men. And while of course on the surface they do, we live in a society where they really don’t. Dating many men comes with a stigma. It’s still a no no. That changed for men (and it would seem permanently) in the Sixties and Seventies. Why has it still not changed for women? I’m not saying that a high number for every woman is right. I’m just saying that for those women whom it is right for, why are we still casting aspersion on them?
So this is why I love recycling. It doesn’t add a number which my friends and I are constantly pointing out to each other. You’re both single, you’ve been there before, it’s comfortable, why not? But when I think about it, in the last two years I’ve recycled two exs. And neither time did it turn out well. In fact, after our first relationship ended, we had a better relationship than we do now. After the second time around with both of them, I barely speak to either one. So maybe it’s a terrible idea? Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to remain friends with an ex. You keep them around till you end up recycling, but once you’ve done that, there’s an impetus for all contact to be cut off. I just wish I didn’t care. I really wonder if either of these two recycling relationships would have occurred if I didn’t dread having this discussion one day. But on the other hand, maybe my friends are right and it is a truly great thing. After all, I get to keep a low number and at times like now when I’m not dating anyone, I get to have the warm comfort of someone whom I trust and like.
So for the women out there with high numbers, I salute you on your ability to make decisions that are not limited by societal conventions. Forget the recycling. You’re only young once! I truly admire you.
For me, I’m probably going to go text my ex. I guess in the end, I have to admit I love recycling.
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